How Church Bullies and Abusers Deceive Us Sadly, there is such a thing as a church bully.  He’s the guy who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12).  This kind of person is very similar to an abusive husband (or wife – but most of the time a husband): he plays mind games on his wife, plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy, and tricks people along the way with his compulsive lies.  One big question is, “How do church bullies and abusers deceive us?”  The answers to this question are important.  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have some helpful answers.  I’ve listed them below and edited them for length.  (Note: Crippen and Wood specifically talk about abusive people, but many of these points could also apply to church bullies.)

1) They create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.  One of the most common effects of the abuser’s tactics is the creation of a cloud of chaos and confusion around him.  Victims will tell you what it’s like, though early on they can’t even articulate it.  Abusers have many ways of promoting doubt, chaos, and confusion for those who are in their world.  Of course, as is true of all the abuser’s tactics, the purpose of this chaos is quite calculated.  Confused people are easier to manipulate.

2) They make the real victim(s) crazy.  Abusers frequently work to make their victim begin to doubt their own perceptions.  A person who no longer fully trusts in what their senses tell them is a person who is very easy to control.  For example, many (if not most) abusers play dual roles.  One moment they are charming, the next moment evil.  This makes the real victim believe (or start to believe) she’s crazy.

3) They play the victim.  Abusive people are often wickedly cunning in garnering pity for themselves.  One of their favorite methods of choice for garnering this pity is what is called, ‘playing the victim.’  The abuser’s goal is to have people perceive him as the victim instead of the perpetrator.  Then they shift the blame to the real victim.

4) They twist words.  The abusive person is truly adroit in his ability to alter the victim’s words, morphing his/her statements into an altered reality that makes her look like a fool, or crazy, or even abusive herself!  (As a side, when an abuser/bully twists words, it goes together with tactics 1-3 above – spl)

5) They gather allies.  One of the most formidable weapons of the abuser is his ability to use tactics such as playing the victim, lying, and manipulation to with the people in the victim’s relational sphere over to his own side.  He alienates them against her by convincing her relatives, children, friends, and co-workers that she is the real culprit in their marriage difficulties.

6) They minimize the situation.  The goal in this is to make the abuser’s deed less serious than it really is.  Red-flag identifiers of minimization are ‘just’ and ‘only.’  For example, “I didn’t mean it…no harm was done.  I was only joking.”  The abuser will thus neither accept responsibility for his deeds nor will he acknowledge that they are evil; he minimizes everything.

7) They are experts at maintaining a double standard.  What is right for him is wrong for her.  He can spend all the money he wants, but if she spends anything, he punishes her.  He can speak angry, hateful, sexist words to her, but if she raises her voice she is being cruel.  He can treat the children very harshly, but if she loses her temper, she is a terrible mother.

8) They change the rules.  The abuser keeps his victim guessing about what he wants, how he will react, or what time something is going to happen.  He acts unpredictably and inconsistently to keep the her more focused on him, dependent on him, and unable to make her own plans or have her own thoughts.  He does this to maintain tyrannical control.

9) They project their thoughts onto others.  This means the abuser accuses his victim and projects his mindset upon her, but does it maliciously and on purpose.  Because he uses people, he thinks she does too.  Because he is unfaithful to her, he thinks she is unfaithful to him.  Often to unmask this you simply have to listen to his accusations against his wife: most likely they are the exact things he actually did to her.

As you can see, this is a very serious issue.  If it happens in the home, it can lead to physical and mental torture, pain, and harm.  If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people!  These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes.  In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people.  If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock!  Be alert for people like this – don’t fall for their deceitful tactics.  Be sure to protect the real victims, which is promoting biblical justice.

On this topic I highly recommend this book: Crippen and Wood’s book: A Cry For Justice.  The above edited quotes were taken from chapter 3.

shane lems

18 Replies to “How Church Bullies and Abusers Deceive Us”

  1. Shane, did you know that Jeff Crippen has just published a new book? It’s called “Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church.”

    I recommend it highly. In many ways it’s even better than “A Cry For Justice”. It is aimed at pastors, church leaders and sincere Christians who are dealing with domestic abuse situations in the church. Victim-survivors of domestic abuse will also find it very helpful. It has many quotes from victims who tell their stories of what their abusers did to them and how the church responded to their plight.


  2. Really enjoyed this article. All of the points, save for 2 and 6, match to a T what my father has just gone through at our current (now former) Christian Reformed (CRCNA) church. A “church bully” mounted a campaign against him, gathered allies (many of whom were our closest friends in the church) and as of last week, succeeded in getting him “terminated” over what amounts to a bunch of lies and false accusations. It’s really disgusting.

    Not sure what your readers or you will think of this, but there’s definitely what some call an “Absalom spirit” that’s been at work on that man and in our church.

    Anyway, I’m really tempted to link to this article on my FB account for all the world to see, but I’ve set it up so that people from that church won’t see it, just to play it safe for now. (People have been fussing about me stating my opinions on FB such that the gag order being forced on my dad is supposed to be applied to me to. Stupid.)


  3. A fine and timely article; however, in my experience church bullies more likely to be church officers than laymen, as the former already have control. Blocked courts, trumped-up charges, and a willingness to confuse one’s personal agenda with God’s mean that thee only question in a victim’s mind is whether or not he will be able to get a letter of standing in order to leave in peace.


  4. I’ve observed that abuse isn’t necessarily more common with husbands than wives, but that wives tend to display more subtlety…and cover their unChristian actions with Christian-sounding words.


    I’ve had a pastor husband and his wife (led by the wife) seek to get me out of their Sunday school class…AFTER they’d already been informed that I literally couldn’t go to the other class for allergy reasons.

    They kept encouraging me to go to the class I’d already said I couldn’t go to, then shifted to things like “We wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable” and “Don’t you think it would be inappropriate?” Because apparently an unmarried 27-year-old shouldn’t be comfortable discussing Song of Solomon, even though it’s an image of a courtship and therefore something that’s extremely pertinent to even unmarried men and women.

    After I politely disproved all their attempts to pressure me to leave, they jumped to the flattery side of things, trying to charm me with how great and supportive they were…even while they actively sabotaged what support they (well, one of their children) gave me.

    But don’t you dare point it out to them. Oh, no! Because confronting someone in authority over you is disrespecting that authority and sinning against them!

    [rolls eyes]


    1. Note: some equate age as being in authority over, where the “How dare you!” even applies if the person is younger (or younger in the faith, or some other reason that “invalidates” their opinion). And when I say “confronting”, I am referring to the polite, calm, respectful form of it—not the angry in-your-face-in-a-crowd form of it.


    2. Caradee, in my Christian life and in my work as a victim-advocate for domestic abuse survivors in the church, I concur with you that there ares some women in Christian circles who display bullying tactics, covert aggressive tactics, hypocrisy, pride, and contempt towards others in the church. I have observed that quite often they are women who have some leadership status in the church — either in their own right, or by virtue of being the wife of a male leader. And of course there are men who display those characteristics too.

      At our blog A Cry For Justice, we do not assume that women are more virtuous than men. We have learned to detect the language of abusers (we call it ‘abuserese’) and we support and stand with all victims of abuse, whatever their gender.

      Having said that, we can also discern the language of abusers who portray themselves as victims. And we do not give such people oxygen.


  5. According to the current day construct of churchianity where the idol of feminism is firmly entrenched, Paul would be one of those bullies that “…plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy…”.


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