Making sense of the church world’s epidemic of abuse

I’m all about making sense of things. If a movie has a gaping plot hole, then no other redeeming qualities can redeem that movie for me. If a song can be interpreted a dozen different ways, then I don’t really want to listen to that song.

Needing to make sense of things is one of my best qualities. It’s also one of my worst qualities.

I’ve been told that my strength is analysis. People send me articles or teachings, asking, “This feels off to me. What’s wrong with it?” and I explain what’s wrong with it, and sometimes I make a blog post out of it, and they’re grateful. This is because I look at things logically, see how terms are being misdefined and Scriptures are being misapplied, where things make sense and where they don’t.

So when things in the world don’t make sense to me, they can lay me flat. (That’s where the “worst quality” part comes in.) It used to be when this happened, I would ignore them. But in the past ten years or so, I haven’t been ignoring them any more. This means my natural response is to strive to try to get them to make sense, but in this particular battle of “reason,” I’ve been driven to prayer again and again.

In 2006, when I first stepped into the world of domestic abuse in the church, green as a gourd, not even having a working familiarity with terms such as “abuse” or “PTSD,” as I listened and listened, some things still made a lot of sense.

It made sense to me that my friend’s thoughts would be scattered. I thought to myself, “Well, if I’d been through what she went through for 25 years, my thoughts would be scattered too.”

It didn’t make sense to me at first when she told me something happened at 5:30 but then corrected herself to say it happened at 5:27, and I told her anyone would say 5:30 was just fine. Well, I got a lesson that day, that an abuser would not say 5:30 was just fine, and would accuse her of lying for saying 5:30 when it was really 5:27. Then it made sense to me that she would work to be precise to the tiniest detail in every account she gave about anything.

It made sense to me that she took a lot of notes in the meetings that I attended with her with the Christian counselor, even though the counselor seemed to think it was somewhat eccentric. I knew by then that her own words had been twisted and her abuser had denied saying things he had said, so she needed to have a record of everything. It made sense that she would want to have that record.

In 2012 when I began to learn about sexual abuse in the church, embarking on an even steeper learning curve, I studied diligently to try to make sense of phenomena such as flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation that I was seeing or being told about. I attended many conferences and listened to seminars and online lectures, I read many books, and I listened and listened and listened to the abuse survivors themselves. Over time, the phenomena I was seeing made more and more sense.

But three things didn’t make sense. And they laid me flat.

1.  One of those things was the inhumanity of man against man. I was hearing first-hand, from the survivors themselves, about acts of such utter degradation (and in some cases such unspeakable torture) that I didn’t even understand how the human mind could devise such acts. And yet . . . they were being done by the deacon, the choir member, the Sunday school teacher, the homeschooling father, the pastor husband, the college professor, the check-out clerk at the grocery store, the charming entrepreneur, the head of a large business.

Of course, well, yes, of course I knew about the Nazis. Of course I knew about the North Koreans. Goodness, I knew history and could tell you that the Assyrians killed people by skinning them alive.

But that was there. That was then. That was “them.”

This was here. This was now. And this was “us.”

 I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I was laid flat.

2.  And how was it that Christians could be so complacent, so uninterested? How could church leaders turn away? How was it when Christa Brown, for one example of many, tried for so many years to stop Baptist predators, the leaders of the Southern Baptists treated her like an annoying gnat they needed to wave away? How could that be? How could church leaders mock, not just ignore but actually indirectly mock those who had been sexually abused as children?

I was absolutely sick. It didn’t make sense.

3.  And why wasn’t God intervening? Why wasn’t He changing this? Why wasn’t He stopping the abuse, calling predators to account, calling the church to wake up, calling more and more people to be willing to suffer the secondary trauma of entering this world, to walk with the abused and to fight the abuse? Where was He?

My world was shaken.

Even though I was regularly being laid flat (literally, if I make a full confession), I could see that my mind was still working to try to make sense of these things. From the beginning, in 2012, I mentally made categories that overlapped like Venn diagrams, which I wrote about in the early days of my advocacy work here on the BJUGrace blog, with the very boring title “Today I prayed.” (I’m learning to make better titles.)  An expanded version of the development of this thinking was guest posted on Leslie Vernick’s site as “The other kind of hypocrisy.”

So my “making sense” of #1 came in the form of realizing that monstrous evil has invaded and infested the churches, and in some cases had even set up churches, because what better way to hide monstrous evil than behind a church? This whole picture has taken me several years to fully grasp, much prayer and Scripture, lots of listening to abuse survivors, lots of reading and listening to those who started on this journey decades before I did, and, I admit, lots of sleep (because that’s one way I recover from grief).

I believe that now I have fully grasped it. I’ve seen and heard up close, from the mouths of the survivors, that the human heart—I’m talking about the unregenerate human heart, the human heart with no Holy Spirit present—has absolutely unlimited capacity for evil, even while hiding behind a mask of good and even surrounding oneself with true but naive and gullible Christians, because what better disguise is there for evil than an entourage of true Christians?

There is great evil, and it is in our churches and other Christian organizations, even perhaps in the guise of your favorite man of God.

And I understand this as a matter of spiritual warfare, because the evil is entrenched in our churches, and we cannot fight it without the armor of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Making sense of #2 came in part with a major mea culpa, because I myself had been so busy with life and other forms of ministry that I simply didn’t pay attention to these things. They were not part of my world, I said. I didn’t know any of these people, I said.

I could not possibly have been more wrong.

Once I started to speak I realized it was all around me—they were all around me—and I began to feel that I, as a person who had never been abused, was in the minority.

Why was I so naïve? Why did I ignore this for so long? And then when I first saw it, why did I let fear of it being “too horrible” intially stop me from being able to go forward?

Well, I have repented. I am naïve no longer, I am ignoring it no longer, and I am afraid of the “horrible” no longer. I know that outside of Christ I would have the potential for evil that is every bit as great, but the fact is, I am not outside of Christ. I am in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is in me, renewing me. So I can say that the primary evil I fight is outside of me.

Also, what I’ve seen especially through personal one-on-one work with abuse survivors, is a far greater understanding of “you have not because you ask not.” If we as His people were to be more unified in both individual and corporate prayer against the evil and for healing of the wounded and cleansing of His church, in prayer for the ones who have survived the unspeakable and remain silent out of fear, in prayer for the ones who are at this very moment being abused and tortured in ways that many Christians would find beyond the realm of imagining, if we as His people would truly pray, we would see our Lord doing miracles of rescue of the oppressed, miracles of healing of their trauma, and miracles of revitalization of His church beyond the programs and curricula and formulas and plans.

In my own quiet way, in my one-on-one interactions with abuse survivors, I’m seeing miracles, miracles that I can’t report because the individuals involved are not ready. But it has impressed me again how very greatly the church of Jesus Christ needs to pray.

So this is my answer to #3, and I know it isn’t that popular among some Calvinists. We do not have because we do not ask. We need, in faith, in faith, brothers and sisters, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to keep asking, keep expecting, keep standing against the spiritual forces of evil, keep scanning the skies, and trust that the Lord God, our Abba Father, our Savior Jesus Christ who loves His people, will in fact, bring justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty river.

He has not forsaken His people. He will accomplish His good work. Let us pray.

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David Finnamore
Guest
David Finnamore

Well done. I’m puzzled by your comment under #3 about it not being popular with some Calvinists, though. Having moved from fundamentalism as a child to mainstream evangelicalism as a young adult to conservative Presbyterianism (and employment at Ligonier Ministries) as an older adult, my perception is the opposite. Calvinists are the prayingest people I’ve ever met. As for Calvin himself, well, just read his chapter on prayer in the Institutes. Anyone who calls himself a Calvinist but doesn’t see the need to pray hasn’t read much Calvin, I can tell you that. They’re really just deistic determinists.

David
Guest
David

Rebecca,

Great write up.

I’m all about making sense as weil. I’m sitting here watching the business channel after reviewing what you have written about when you started in 2006 on domestic abuse.

First of all I want to mention that I think when it comes to domestic abuse, the penalty isn’t severe enough to the abuser.. But also the difficulty of the victim to escape abuse.

But how often do any of us consider how economically trapped the victims have felt in the last 12 years? In 2005 when you began dealing with abuse, was the early signs of the economic meltdown. by 2008 with gas at 5/gal put the squeeze on small business, the middle class and the poor.

The more affluent victims had a greater ability to escape abuse and be compensated. Not so for the less affluent.

What hurt poorer victims economically, is way too much Gov’t over-site, over-regulation and higher tax burdens and an over the top globalist mentally partnering with Middle East nations that hate us who abuse women, but funded certain political foundations buying access to control our geopolitical environment, that has existed up until 2017 when the noose eased up considerably.

I suspect as the economic climate improves with an “America First” philosophy, as economic conditions improve for poorer victims, they will have greater ability to escape abuse.

What does concern me, is no matter how much the economy grows, it may not be enough because of the damage the Federal Reserve has done from 2000-2016 has been severe.

Since 2000, we went backwards simply elected candidates that don’t know economics and fiscally has trapped victims. It remains to be seen if America First will economically help or hurt victims or keep things the same.

David
Guest
David

David Finnamore,

There are some pretty extreme Calvinists’ that literally practice Election Theology within the Congregation and believe you are either in or out of God’s grace. So there wasn’t very much prayer going on. The Elect were already in the club and Non-Elect wasn’t. So who are you going to pray for?

This happened to our church where a Preacher came into the church, not fully disclosing he was a Reformed Calvinist, or New Calvinist or Hyper Calvinist that he covertly and exclusively centered his Preaching strictly within the perimeters of TULIP. The Congregation didn’t even know TULIP existed until he was confronted and ask if he was a Calvinist.

I took notes of his preaching and then researched the notes when I discovered he was a Calvinist, many SBC Congregations never payed attention to the existence of Calvinism until a few years ago when the resurgence re-ignited.

He spent more time being covert and rebuking those that asked questions, trying to get where he was coming from,,, for me it felt like the law, sin centered, works and doubt based faith comparable to the Catholic Faith I grew up in instead of a Christ Centered Faith, though Catholics were more Christ Centered than the Calvinist that infiltrated our church.

David
Guest
David

Rebecca Davis,

I totally get where you coming from.

This use to be a more Godly nation, at least in my view.compared to even 20 years ago. It truthfully got worse during the 2000-2016 pollical cycle

I do believe whether we have Godly or less Godly leaders, it is ultimately God that allows them to be in the position they are in. I think of what Christ said to Pontius Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”

So I agree with you that praying to God instead of relying on Gov’t is everything.

Praying for discernment and understanding so we can pursue solutions. Aside from not punishing ir lack of consequences, the enemy to many who are trying to escape domestic abuse is poverty.

I wanted to include that part, because it seems as if those trapped in abuse increased from the year 2000-2016.

I know I probably didn’t need to bring that up, as it may seem off-topic, but poverty does trap the victim. Less poverty existing victims have a better chance of fleeing.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Men, please stop “mansplaining.” This article has NOTHING to do with politics or Calvanism, the US government or military. Abuse didn’t suddenly start rising in 2000. It has always been around. I was trafficked and abused by Baptist missionary parents, christian teachers, christian leaders in the 1970’s. Just stop.
My mom tried to leave several times but there was NO support in the christian world. I am not a christian. I cannot even sing “Jesus Loves Me” without a full on panic attack because my abuser would get me to sing that song while he took pictures of me for other’s viewing pleasure.
I never got any support from christian schools, university, churches, etc. NONE. The reason why the “worldly counsel, therapists, etc” are better at working with survivors is because they unabashedly look us in the face and listen. THEY LISTEN. They don’t explain it away or make us feel like we could have, should have, would have done more.
Do you even know what you are looking for? Then listen and learn. Do you know the signs? Then listen and learn. Sit on your hands and listen. Please, I beg of you. I’m honestly not sure about the prayer part. I prayed constantly as a child that god would just end my life. Maybe he doesn’t listen to me. Maybe he’ll listen to you.
All of you have these words, words, words but where is the wisdom? How does Calvinism help me when I was 7? I don’t care about Calvin, just give me a safe place to sleep and a piece a bread. It doesn’t have to be much. If I had had one teacher to look my way and tell me they wanted to help me, how could they help me, THAT would have made a huge difference; instead I was told I was a cockroach just begging to be stepped on and hurt, on purpose.
When victims come to YOU, what are YOU going to do? So, if you pray, then pray that you notice. If you pray, pray that you seek out understanding of what to do. Because, the survivors are coming, they are rising up, and they outnumber and will overwhelm you. So be ready. The “world” is ready. I would think your god would want you ready, as well, if you believe him to be a caring and merciful being.

Rachel Nichols
Guest

Hi Rebecca.

Abusive wives who put down or even beat their husbands seems to be on the rise in the outside world, partly due to third wave feminism. Girls young enough to be your granddaughters who absolutely hate men because they are men.

In our own little subculture the reverse seems to be going on. Kind of an ugly “counterculture.” Fearful of their wives/daughters morphing into Betty Friedan quoting, radical misandrists, churchian men (their conduct is light years from Christ’s) try to retain their power by brow beating if not literally beating “their women” into subjugation.

(That didn’t work for Rehoboam by the way. And he had been divinely appointed just like husbands are. And those godly men never let us forget it. Heh heh.)

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Showing the world the opposite evil–wife abuse instead of husband abuse won’t win them over.

I’m not a feminist by the way. I’m sort of a moderate complementarian. Men and women have different gifts. And men should be the head of the household. (If they don’t have something constructive and responsible to do men tend to get into mischief.)

But they can lead without being abusive tyrants. The leaders should condemn this behavior. Enabling abusive monsters in their churches is a threat to those family values they extol. Funny how they don’t think of that.

Meri
Guest
Meri

Thanks Rebecca, I have actually read through this several times so much truth here.
…..and Lisa your story stopped me, I too am pretty much speechless. I read it before picking children up from school, I cried all the way there. Any words from me would be inadequate, you wrote so beautifully and bravely, so much love to you.
I just wish the ‘christian’ population would learn to keep quiet until we really began to deeply understand, especially the response to #3 ‘Not by might nor by power but by my spirit’…. Unfortunately this often looks so different to what goes on in church. ‘A day is coming the timing is God’s’.
Thank you again Rebecca for allowing your life to be God breathed.

Not broken
Guest
Not broken

Hi Rebecca ,
Thank you for your poignant article. I completely resonate with the scattered thoughts and head shaking. I am a shattered wife of 29 years that after asking my gay abusive husband to vacate our home for my emotional saftety. I was told by my (former) independent evangelical pastor I could have 30 days – we will call it a sabbatical. You will then come in for couples counseling and shortly after that be restored to the marital home. I am sure he meant marital bliss 🙁
That in and of itself is heaping abuse upon an already fragmented wife by being patronizing and degrading to her true needs for emotional safety and well being.
Fortunately , their unbiblical response has not shaken my faith but strengthened it in recognizing that these men are fallible and temporal against a God that provides and loves.
I grieve for the silence that women must endure in the face of these intuths and controlling behavior that call themselves servants of God.