In their helpful book on abuse in the church, Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood give an outline of what typically (and sadly!) happens when a victim goes to her pastor for help. In other words, the following is an outline of how abuse is sometimes swept under the rug in Christian churches. Why am I posting this? Basically, I want Christians (especially elders and pastors) to be aware that abuse can and does hide in churches. I also want to point out this helpful resource for those needing some guidance on the topic of abuse in the church. (Note: since victims of abuse are often women, the authors use a woman in this example, but they make it clear elsewhere that sometimes men are the victims as well). I’ve edited a bit for the purpose of this blog:
1) Victim reports abuse to her pastor.
2) Pastor does not believe her claims or thinks they are exaggerated. After all, he ‘knows’ her husband to be one of the finest Christians he knows, a pillar of the church.
3) Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often damage control.
4) Pastor indirectly (or directly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as a wife, mother, and Christian. He suggests that both the wife and the husband are each to blame 50%.
5) After prayer, the pastor sends the victim back to the home where the abuser is.
6) Pastor believes he has done his job.
7) Victim returns, reporting that nothing changed. She tried harder and prayed harder, but she still faces abuse.
8) Pastor decides to do some counsel. He has a ‘little talk’ with the husband, or a meeting with the two of them, which is ineffective and the abuse continues (since the abuser manipulated the facts and controlled the meeting).
9) Time passes, and the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and church. She is seen as the one causing the problems, since her husband is a ‘good Christian’ who would never hurt his wife. She is pressured to follow the Bible by submitting to her husband and ceasing to cause division.
10) More time passes, and the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The pastor and church still have a hunch she is in the wrong. Having handled the situation poorly they never called the police or disciplined the husband (though they did threaten to discipline the victim for causing problems!).
11) The final terrible injustice happens when the victim leaves the church, viewed as the guilty party. The abuser, however, remains in the church and in good standing since he has duped the pastor and the church that he is innocent and the victim is guilty.
I hope readers don’t think this is a made up case study for the classroom. The authors note that they have seen this scenario played out in real life more than a few times. And I believe them because I’ve seen it before and/or heard of it before. Please, don’t take reports of abuse lightly! Take them seriously – and get this book to help you walk through these tough situations in a wise and biblical manner. The church needs to be a place of mercy for sure, but justice should stand next to mercy: learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression because the Lord loves justice (Is. 1:17, 61:8)!
rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)