Abuse, Southern Baptist/SBC

A Pastoral Response to the SATF Report

Listen in as two of my pastors discuss the SBC Guidepost Solutions / Sexual Abuse Task Force report and recommendations.

If you’re serving as a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim next week, it’s a conversation you can’t afford to miss.

Abuse, Church, Sin, Southern Baptist/SBC

Preventative Measures: 6 Steps SBC Churches Can Take to Prevent Sexual Abuse

Originally published February 22, 2019

The state I live in is heavily Catholic and Southern Baptist. For many years, journalists and others have been delving into the gobsmacking number – thousands – of pedophile and sexually abusive Catholic clergy across the globe, and, in recent months, my own local paper has been tackling the issue as it pertains to priests and other Catholic leaders in our area who have been revealed as abusers. So I was kind of prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention to be the next entity to be investigated. My guess is that either Presbyterians or Mormons will be next.

It’s absolutely appropriate that the news media conducted this kind of investigation into the SBC. What’s not appropriate is that SBC leadership appeared not to be ready for it because – at least from my perspective as the average person in the pew – it’s not something the Convention has a history of policing itself on in any appreciable way. SBC leadership should have been ready and eager to fling the doors wide open and transparently welcome any sort of investigation by the media, demonstrating whatever progress has been made in dealing with perverts in our pulpits. Instead, they seemed to be caught virtually unprepared despite the fact that the signs of the times should have indicated to them that this was coming.

In my opinion, the Houston Chronicle did an excellent job of exposing the problems with abuse in the SBC in its three-part series of articles, even taking the time to explain the crucial point of church autonomy, which sets SBC churches apart from the governing structure of Catholicism and other organizations, and which has, in many cases enabled abusers to move from church to church undetected. SBC leaders who have explained that they have no authority to force churches to participate in any sort of registry of abusers and the credibly accused are correct (but couldn’t it be voluntary?). SBC leadership, unfortunately, has no such authority over individual churches. Each church has to set its own standards and methods for preventing abuse. So what can individual, autonomous churches do to prevent abuse?

1.
Preach the Gospel

That might sound pretty basic, but it’s one of the basics we desperately need to get back to. We need to be churches who hammer on the gospel – the wretchedness of sin, the supreme holiness of God, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, grace, mercy, repentance, forgiveness – week in and week out. Not only is that…well…it’s just what any biblical church is supposed to do, but my guess is that the vast majority of the perpetrators in these abuse cases are not actually Christians – despite what they may claim or what office they might hold – they are false converts because a lot of churches they’ve been part of have neglected their duty to preach the gospel.

Too many SBC churches teach an easy – “Just repeat this quick little prayer, and boom, you’re in!” – believism that unrepentant sinners hang their eternal hats on as a “Get out of Hell, Free!” card. They’ve never found themselves filthy and undone before an unfathomably holy God because they’ve never been confronted by that God or that characterization of their sin in the preaching and teaching of their churches. Could some of these perpetrators be genuinely regenerated Christians? It’s possible, but not likely. By and large, true Christians are not out there abusing others – it’s the false converts.

2.
Meaningful Membership

Some churches have done away with formal membership altogether. Everybody’s welcome, come and go whenever you want, if you want, no requirements, no accountability. That’s not biblical, nor is it how the church has handled membership over the course of church history.

Traditionally there have been three main ways to join a SBC church: a newly saved person makes a public profession of his faith to the church body and is baptized into membership, or membership can be transferred from one church to another. You can transfer your membership by promise of letter (your previous church sends a letter to your current church recommending or not recommending that you be accepted for membership) or by statement (when obtaining a letter from a previous church isn’t possible, this is an “honor system” personal testimony that you are a baptized Believer).

Promise of letter in particular is a decent and biblical system that needs to be upheld, adhered to, and taken gravely seriously rather than just waving every Tom, Dick, and Harry through the wide open doors of the church. And in the case of new church members and new staff members (new staff members have to transfer their membership, too), it could help curb abuse if both the sending and receiving churches would look upon it as far more than a mere formality.

One of the very valid problems the Chronicle articles cite is that sending churches (the churches the abusers came from) did not inform subsequent churches of the problems with the abuser. They silently foisted people they knew were dangerous onto unsuspecting congregations. If sending churches would respond honestly to inquiries from receiving churches (the churches the abusers are going to) about their former staff and members, and if receiving churches would ask probing, personal questions rather than sending out perfunctory form letters, that would be a good start to making more headway on preventing abuse.

Furthermore…

Meaningful membership makes it harder for people to anonymously breeze in to the church, abuse, and slip out before anybody realizes what’s going on.

There are sexual abusers out there who find and attend churches with loosey-goosey membership policies for the express purpose of cultivating a pool of victims. They know these churches are blindly and ignorantly trusting, so they show up for a couple of weeks, talk a good game, and promptly volunteer to work in the nursery or with the youth. If your church has a firm membership policy, required membership class, requires members to sign a church covenant, only allows church members (not just anybody who wants to or seems talented) to serve in any office, task, role, or capacity – and only after they have been members for a specified amount of time (ex: must have been a faithful member for at least six months to teach, serve on a committee, etc.), that sort of abuser isn’t going to waste his time or chance being caught by attending your church.

3.
Church Discipline

One of the failings of far too many SBC (and other) churches is sweeping sin under the rug and refusing to biblically exercise church discipline before it’s too late and calamity strikes. Church discipline isn’t just for the “big” sins like a pastor who commits adultery. Church discipline is for all observable, unrepentant, biblically defined sin. If we have verifiable knowledge that a brother or sister in our church is sinning, we have the obligation not to please ourselves by turning a blind eye and avoiding a confrontation, but to lovingly go to that person and plead with her, for her own restoration and reconciliation to Christ, to repent and walk blamelessly. Often (hopefully), that first step in the church discipline process precludes the need for the remaining two.

Churches that consistently, lovingly, and biblically practice church discipline help prevent abuse in four ways…

First of all, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to start sexually abusing others. There are always “smaller” sins leading up to abuse – obscene comments, dirty jokes, leering, pornography, inappropriate touching in public. If we would address those “smaller” sins when we see them happening, we might just prevent the potential abuser from continually hardening his heart by getting away with sin, bring the gospel to bear on his life, and keep him from becoming an abuser in the first place. He might actually get saved, which is one of the goals of church discipline.

Second, if a church cultivates an atmosphere of practicing church discipline, unrepentant abusers aren’t going to hang around long. They don’t want to be caught.

Third, if a church ends up having to go through all the steps of church discipline with an unrepentant potential abuser, the last step – bringing this person before the church to remove him from membership – is public. Church members are made aware of the problems with this person so they can avoid being victimized by him and the procedure of removing the potential abuser from church membership goes into the church records. When he then goes to a new church, that receiving church should inquire of the sending church about him (see “Meaningful Membership” above). The sending church can then provide the record of his removal so the receiving church will be aware of the problems with this person.

Fourth, if we practice church discipline on the “smaller” sins with an unrepentant abuser, he is likely to be removed from membership in the church before he gets to the point of abusing someone.

Another aspect of church discipline is tightening up the rolls and removing members who are dead (no, I’m not kidding), have moved away, have stopped attending, or are no longer members in good standing for other reasons. This may not prevent someone from abusing, but at least if he does abuse, the media won’t be able to report that he’s (still) a member of your church, thus tarnishing your church’s, and possibly God’s, good name.

4.
Take Biblical Requirements for Leadership Seriously

It’s not like the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of man should be a pastor, elder, or deacon. It’s right there, in black and white, twice, in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And yet there are churches who barely give those requirements a glance in favor of “more important” qualities they want in a pastor: Does he have at least a master’s degree from seminary? Is he a certain age? Does he rub elbows with Christian celebrities? Does he have a track record of successful building programs, fundraising, and attracting lots of new members? Is he charismatic and a dynamic speaker? None of those things are inherently bad unless they take precedence over the biblical qualifications.

But when churches are hiring men as pastors, youth directors, etc., whom they know have been in prison for abuse, as the Chronicle articles cited, we have to think some other factor is more important to those churches than the biblical requirements. Because someone who has been accused, tried, convicted, and imprisoned by worldly courts for sexual abuse is no longer “above reproach” – the very first requirement in both passages (and Titus mentions it twice for emphasis) – he is not “respectable”, and he is not “well thought of by outsiders”. The very existence of the Chronicle’s articles proves that. It boggles the mind that something like this has to be said to professing Christians who are supposedly spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable enough to be on the pastor search committees for their churches, but…

People who have criminal records as sex abusers are permanently disqualified from professional ministry because they no longer meet these biblical requirements.

(And just as an aside, if your church has a “no hire” policy for men who have ever been divorced for any reason but yet you’ll hire a convicted sexual abuser…well…I’m just at a loss for words at that level of hypocrisy. OK, maybe one word: repent.)

But, “forgiveness for repentant sinners!” I can hear compassionate Christians cry out. Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a loved one who was radically and genuinely saved while he was in prison for child molestation. God can and does save sexual abusers, and those forgiven Christians need a church home just like everybody else does. We lovingly welcome into membership repentant sinners who are transparent with the church about their previous sin and who volunteer to be kept accountable. But we do not put them back into the position of pastor, elder, deacon, etc., first because they are biblically disqualified, and second, because it is not loving to that person nor to the rest of the church to allow him access to facets of church life that would tempt him back into sin. And it is putting God to the test to intentionally put such a person into a tempting situation as some sort of way of “proving” that God has really saved this person. We would not make a convicted embezzler the church treasurer and we should not be putting sexual abusers in positions that would tempt or allow them to abuse again – even volunteer positions. That doesn’t mean we doubt their salvation or the work God has done in their hearts, that means we recognize that Satan is cruel and crafty and we humbly admit that we still succumb to temptations to sin. It’s not holding a grudge or unforgiveness, it’s exercising biblical wisdom.

5.
Stop Being Afraid

When we allow the fear of man to determine our actions instead of the fear of God, we are in grave spiritual error.

Peter and the apostles stood up to the authorities who threatened and imprisoned them, insisted on obeying God’s Word, boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men,” took their licks like men, went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name, and kept right on trucking in obedience to God. How far have we fallen when we won’t even address a brother’s sin with him because we’re afraid of confrontation? When we cover up a predator’s behavior and unleash him on others because we’re afraid of a defamation lawsuit? When we must obey men rather than God because we’re more afraid of the earthly consequences than spiritual consequences – because we don’t trust God to take care of us or His church?

Brothers and sisters, this must not be.

How far have we fallen when we cover up a predator’s behavior and unleash him on others because we’re afraid of a lawsuit?

Should we act wisely? Of course. Make sure we’re obeying the law and not hurting anyone as far as we’re able? Certainly. Get some legal advice? Absolutely. But when the rubber meets the road of choosing what’s right in God’s eyes versus what’s safe or comfortable in our own eyes, we choose what’s right in God’s eyes every time and we trust Him with the outcome. The God who parts seas, cools furnaces, and raises the dead is powerful enough to handle court cases and the ire of sinful men. Let us say with the Psalms and the Proverbs:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Proverbs 29:25

…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

6.
Practical Wisdom

Do the practical stuff. God has given us brains, experience, resources, and promises us wisdom. We would be failing to honor Him if we did not make use of all of those blessings in order to protect our churches from predators.

Perform criminal background checks on all staff members and on anyone who works with children, the disabled, or vulnerable adults regardless of how well you know them or how trustworthy you think they are.

Check references on every employee from the pastor to the janitor. Do it thoroughly and diligently, not flippantly.

Put accountability measures in place such as requiring at least two adults to be present in children’s and youth activities and classes at all times. No teen or adult – including the pastor, youth pastor or any other staff member – should ever be alone with a child on church property or at church functions.

Hold training sessions for the whole church on your church’s security measures, and how to report suspicious behavior and suspected abuse. Specifically address parents on the issue of trusting other adults in the church. Time after time, we hear that children are victimized because parents have left their child alone with a pastor or other Christian adult assuming that person was trustworthy. Teach them instead to assume that any adult – regardless of his title or position – who seeks to be alone with a child is untrustworthy.

Explore the services of organizations like Ministry Safe and others who can help you make your church a safer place. Pick the brains of sister churches who have put precautions in place for helpful suggestions and resources.

In the aftermath of bombshell news of abuse, the most common line of reasoning is, “How can we fix this? What can we do?”. Thoughts turn to practical solutions. That’s not wrong. In fact, it’s very, very right. We should make every effort to put pragmatic safeguards in place. But we can’t focus on the practical and tangible and leave out the spiritual. Because abuse is a spiritual issue way before it’s a safety issue.

We can’t focus on the practical and tangible and leave out the spiritual. Because abuse is a spiritual issue way before it’s a safety issue.

And if we get the spiritual part of it right from the get go, we drastically reduce the chances that we’ll have to fall back on practical safety measures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a church striving to uphold the highest Scriptural standards of holiness will find itself fortified with tons of both.

Abuse, Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Must I reconcile with my abusive ex-husband?

I was in a very volatile marriage to an abusive, lost man and I was also lost at the time. There was violence in the marriage which caused me to run away and divorce him out of fear. This was seven years ago and I have not seen nor heard from him since.

I have recently been saved and have repented of all my past sin and divorce1. I do understand that God hates divorce, and why, and that He would want me to reconcile with my ex-husband, if possible. But I am terrified about inquiring of my ex-husband because of the abuse I experienced. I don’t want to go back to him, if he’s even unmarried currently. I want to move forward in my new life as a daughter of God in the situation I am currently in – where He called me.

Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven? I did write my ex a letter that I sent to his parents’ address asking for forgiveness (for sins I had committed against him) about a year and a half ago and I believe he knows where he could find me if he wanted to reconcile; I have heard nothing. I have had nightmares about all this. Part of the reason we don’t live in the same town is I didn’t want to be found. I was so lost in my sin until God opened my eyes and now I cannot change my past and that has left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

First, I just want to take a moment to rejoice with you that God has brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light! Welcome to the family! I also praise Him for rescuing you out of such a terrible situation and placing you in a safe environment. I hope by now this wicked man has been brought to justice and is no longer able to harm anyone.

OK, let’s take this one step at a time, for you and for any others who may be in a similar situation…

I was unable to glean from your email whether or not you are now joined to, and faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound church. If you’re not, that’s step one for many reasons: a) God commands it, so you’ll want to be obedient to Him, b) all Christians need training in the Scriptures and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, c) you need to unlearn all the ungodly ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others that the abuse taught you and replace them with godly, spiritually healthy ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others, and d) you need pastoral counsel about this particular situation you’ve asked me about.

If you haven’t yet found a doctrinally sound church and need some help, I would encourage you to go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page and click on the Searching for a new church? tab. When you get there, study up on the resources under “What to look for in a church,” and then begin exploring the many church search engines to find a good church near you.

Once you find a solid church (or if you’re already in a solid church), step two is to set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling. You need a shepherd who can walk through this situation with you face to face, long term, and can take the time to listen to all of the details. Binding up the wounds of injured sheep and tending to them while they heal is part of a shepherd’s job.

Next let’s take a look at some of the biblical issues.

You are correct in saying that, if possible, it’s God’s desire for a husband and wife to reconcile. But the only way that would be possible in your situation is if your ex-husband:

  • has thoroughly and completely repented of all of his sin (including, but not limited to, the abuse and violence)
  • has trusted Christ as his Savior,
  • has joined, and is faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound local church
  • is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance as witnessed by doctrinally sound mature brothers and sisters in Christ at his church (in other words, we can’t just take his word for it that he’s changed)
  • and all of this has been going on for a significant amount of time (like, at least year or two, not last week).

One of the things you should discuss with your pastor in counseling is whether or not, and how, to find out if your ex-husband has gotten saved and is living a repentant life that honors Christ. If he has not written you back or attempted any contact in the past seven years, chances are he is still lost and unrepentant.

This is another reason it’s important for you to be in a good church – you should not be the one to approach, or have any contact with, your ex-husband. Even if you’re not worried for your physical safety, clearly, contacting him would traumatize you at this point in your life. If any research is to be done into your ex-husband’s spiritual condition, it should be done by your pastor, elders, a deacon, or whoever your pastor designates as the wisest choice.

If it is discovered that God has graciously saved your ex-husband (and all of the items I bullet-pointed above are true of his life) and he has not remarried, then your pastor, his pastor, you, and he will have to put your heads together and figure out how to proceed biblically from here. And I imagine that will involve a lot of time and intense counseling before any decisions can be made.

You should not return to your ex-husband if he is unrepentant and/or still unsaved. (And if your pastor tells you that you should or you have to, you’re at the wrong church. That’s pastoral malpractice.) Notice I said “return to,” not “reconcile”. To be reconciled is for two people to be made right with one another. It’s for two people to come together in agreement to forgive past hurts and move forward together in a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Two people. That’s what the word “reconciled” means. In other words, you cannot be reconciled to someone who will not be reconciled to you because he still wants to hurt you.

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Amos 3:3

Returning to your unrepentant ex-husband is not only unwise for the sake of your own personal safety, but consider what the Bible says about you – a Believer – voluntarily2 entering into a marriage with an unbeliever:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

While this passage doesn’t apply exclusively to marriage, marriage is one of the relationships it does apply to. If we are not to yoke with unbelievers in ministry, or enmeshed business relationships, or close friendships, how much more should we not yoke with an unbeliever in the most intimate relationship of all – the oneness relationship of marriage?

You alluded to “remaining in the state in which you were called,” which is an excellent point Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 Corinthians 7:24

The basic idea Paul is trying to convey here is not that you shouldn’t make Zacchaeus-like restitution or apologies for sins you’ve committed whenever that’s possible, but that you can’t undo your pre-salvation past (just like Zacchaeus couldn’t undo the fact that he cheated people in the first place). And you don’t have to. That was nailed to the cross, and it stayed dead and buried when Jesus came out of the tomb.

That’s precisely why you shouldn’t feel helpless and hopeless. That is our help and our hope: Jesus did for us what we so desperately needed and could not do for ourselves. He took our sin, our shame, our disgraceful past away – as far as the east is from the west – and dressed us in His royal robes of righteousness, making us clean and right with God to walk in newness of life! No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

Not only that, this bit about remaining in the state in which you were called comes right on the heels of verse 15, which says:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

1 Corinthians 7:15

Your unbelieving ex-husband is separated from you. Let it be so. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” you might say. Keep the peace that God has blessed you with by not opening up this can of worms and unnecessarily creating what could be a volatile situation.

You ask, “Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven?”. No, honey. It means God blessed you with good sense that still works. If this were a situation in which you divorced a godly (non-abusive, obviously) husband for your own selfish, sinful reasons, subsequently got saved, and still refused to be reconciled to him, there would probably be some issues of sin that your pastor would need to counsel you about. But getting saved, honoring all of the Scriptures mentioned above, and refusing to poorly steward the mind, body, and spirit God blessed you with by pointlessly putting them back in harm’s way? That demonstrates that you have repented and been forgiven and that God is hard at work healing you and renewing your mind.

Now, go make that appointment with your pastor.

1The reader stated that she “repented of…my divorce”. I did not deal with biblical and unbiblical reasons for divorce in this article because the focus of her question was, “Where do I go from here?” not, “Did I sin by divorcing him?”, and if she did sin in some way by divorcing him (and I’m not saying she did), she has already repented of it. But I do want anyone reading this to know that if you’re in an abusive relationship, it is not a sin to get yourself and your children somewhere safe. Getting to a safe place is not the same thing as getting a divorce. If you are being abused, get to safety immediately and call your pastor for help.

2This is not a proactive instruction to currently married people to divorce their unbelieving (non-abusive) spouses. Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Abuse

4 Ways Christian Advocates for Victims of Abuse Need to Get Biblically Back on Track

Abuse. There’s no other word in evangelicalism these days that evokes as much passion – and compassion. And rightly so. Abuse – sexual or physical – is one of the most egregious sins a person can commit. It ravages the victim’s body and soul and leaves scars that never completely vanish. It is evil, and abominable, and horrifying, and something I wish no one on the planet ever had to experience.

For Christians thinking with the mind of Christ, our perspective on abuse ought to be reflexive:

•love and sympathy for the victim

•a desire to help the victim come to biblical healing and wholeness (and salvation if she is lost)

•hatred for the sin of abuse and the pain it caused

•a desire to see the perpetrator brought to justice

•a desire to see the perpetrator repent of his sin and be redeemed by Christ

I don’t know of a single genuinely regenerated, Bible-believing Christian who wouldn’t take this visceral approach to abuse. It’s when we start acting on various aspects of this perspective that things can go awry – in many different directions.

Victim advocates have helpfully explained one direction in which we can react inappropriately to cases of abuse. Victims have been told the abuse was their fault, or that they just need to forget about it and get over it. Abusers have had their sins and crimes overlooked or covered up. Grace-extending Christians have believed abusers’ fake repentance and unwittingly allowed them access to more victims.

It is good that these things have been exposed and that we now have a more heightened awareness of them in the church so we can respond to cases of abuse more carefully, wisely, and biblically. We owe a debt to courageous victims for telling us their stories, and to victim advocates for making sure we hear them, because their experiences help us to take helpful, rather than harmful, action. We cannot prevent or respond appropriately to that which is invisible to us.

And because of that, it’s important that we make visible and be aware of another way in which our approach to the abuse issue can take, and unfortunately, in many cases has taken, a wrong turn. As Christian victim advocates have helped me and so many others see inappropriate ways to respond to abuse, I hope advocates who desire to advocate for and serve victims biblically will find this article helpful in bringing to their attention other inappropriate ways to respond to the abuse issue. This is what we do as Christians. When we see a brother or sister getting off track, we lovingly come alongside him or her, point back to where the track is, and walk back to it together.

Here are four ways I’ve seen Christian victim advocacy getting off the biblical track lately…

1.
The abuse issue is giving false teachers
a new avenue into the church.

I’ve said many times that the two primary ways I’ve seen false doctrine and false teachers creep into relatively solid churches is via the worship music (Bethel, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, Elevation, etc.) and via women’s “Bible” study (Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Lysa TerKeurst, IF: Gathering, etc.). The abuse issue seems to have opened a new, third door for unbiblical teachers and teaching to be welcomed in.

I discussed this issue at length in my articles From Victimhood to Victory: Biblically Helping Abused Women Heal and Band-Aids vs. Chemotherapy: Why Suffering Women are Drawn to False Doctrine and 7 Things We Can do to Help. In a nutshell, multiple high profile false teachers are in the spotlight of the abuse issue. Many have been telling their personal stories of abuse for years, and are now speaking at conferences on abuse, instructing pastors and churches on how to minister to victims, etc. Because these women are in the spotlight, they are the “experts” pastors, women’s ministry leaders, and others turn to for resources on ministering to victims. And when these false teachers walk through the victim advocacy door of your church, they bring their false doctrine on everything else with them.

Getting Back on Track:

Churches must exercise discernment and vet the experts they listen to on this and all other issues, remembering that just because someone claims to be a Christian, is an evangelical celebrity, has written lots of books and is on the conference circuit, is sold at major Christian retailers, is endorsed by other evangelical celebrities, and really cares about victims of abuse does not guarantee that person is teaching and behaving in accordance with sound doctrine.

Victim advocates must also carefully vet the evangelical celebrities they point victims to, whose materials they use, or whom they choose to share a stage with, recalling that Scripture forbids Christians from yoking in ministry with false teachers, and that to point victims to false teachers is to victimize them a second time.

2.
Scripture is being abused by the
“abuse hermeneutic”.

Ruth was an abuse victim. Rahab was an abuse victim. Mary Magdalene, and the woman at the well, and the Syrophoenician woman, and Bathsheba, and Gomer, and Hagar were abuse victims. Every biblical passage that talks about male headship, or says that wives are to submit to their husbands, or that women are not to serve or function as pastors and elders is only and always a “potential for abuse” passage.

Are there victims of abuse in Scripture? Undoubtedly. And we know this when the Bible clearly tells us someone was abused. Have abusers sinfully twisted headship and submission and pastoral leadership passages? Of course. But that doesn’t mean we should try to hide them in the closet and ignore the good and holy purposes for which God breathed them out.

And one of the good and holy purposes for which God breathed out the passages about the biblical roles for men and women in the home and in the church is to protect women and children from abuse. As many godly pastors, husbands, churches, and the women who love them could tell you, a proper teaching and understanding of these passages results in Christian men who value and treasure women for all that God created them to be. Men walking in obedience to the headship and pastoral leadership passages would never think of being abusive or sexist. They lay their lives down for the protection and flourishing of the women and children under their care.

Is it the fault of these godly men that sinful men twist and abuse these passages? Is it the fault of God or His Word that sinful men twist and abuse these passages? No. Just like it’s not the fault of the woman when a sinful man abuses her. To fault or punish God for putting those passages in the Bible, or complementarianism for upholding those passages, or godly pastors for teaching those passages, or godly husbands for living in obedience to those passages, or to place the guilt anywhere besides on the man sinfully twisting and abusing Scripture is victim-blaming. Because all of the godly are victims when sinful men – and women – abuse Scripture for their own purposes. Even for the purpose of victim advocacy.

Far too many Christian victim’s advocates see nearly every passage of Scripture through the lens of the abuse issue. This does violence to the text and a disservice not only to their own understanding of Scripture and their growth in the knowledge of Christ, it also teaches abuse victims to use this same hermeneutic and stunts their sanctification every bit as much as New Apostolic Reformation heresy, the prosperity gospel, works righteousness, or any other false teaching. It’s a hermeneutic that warps the user’s view of God, Scripture, the church, the family, and the fellowship of the saints.

Getting Back on Track:

For the sake of their own spiritual lives as well as the spiritual lives of the victims they minister to, it’s important that victim advocates learn to submit to and carry out Scripture’s admonition to rightly handle the word of Truth, to stop reading abuse into Scripture (eisegesis) when it isn’t there, and to trust that our almighty God is powerful enough to work through a proper reading and teaching of what Scripture does say about abuse to convict the abuser and comfort and heal the victim.

3.
Abuse is the only, or most important,
issue for pastors and churches.

If you just read that sentence and you think it says, “Abuse is not an important issue,” despite what it actually says and despite what I said earlier in this article, it might be because you believe abuse is the only, or most important, issue in the church. It isn’t. There isn’t just one important issue in the church, there are lots of them, including abuse, and they all need to be handled biblically as they arise. God did not intend for the church to center around, and focus all its energy and teaching on abuse, or abortion, or homosexuality, or discernment, or feeding the hungry, or the environment, or any of the other issues that may be especially meaningful to any one of us.

But I have seen some victim advocates who are so solely focused on the abuse issue that they practically expect every church and pastor to be focused on abuse to the exclusion of nearly everything else. And if they find a church or pastor who doesn’t focus on abuse to that extent, they proclaim that church to be an unsafe place for victims, or a place that doesn’t care about abuse, or even a place that harbors abusers. I recently saw this outrageous statement by a victim advocate on Twitter: “If a pastor asks a serious but sincere question about whether or not church meetings really violate CDC guidelines [regarding COVID-19], chances are that pastor cares only about not being able to preach AND likely also disputes the seriousness of sexual abuse and domestic violence in the church.”

That kind of thing is wrong, and it’s slanderous and verbally abusive toward pastors and churches who do care about handling the abuse issue – along with all the other issues they’re facing – biblically.

Additionally, regarding the abuse issue as the only or most important issue worthy of spotlighting minimizes the very real suffering of others in the church. Yes, abuse victims have suffered horribly. So have people who have lost a child or spouse, people who have a terminal disease, people whose spouses have been unfaithful, people who have lost everything in a natural disaster, and so on. Everyone suffers. The Bible says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” not that only one type of member suffers.

Getting Back on Track:

Have you ever heard someone say that even a good thing can become an idol? It can. I know from firsthand experience because I’ve been guilty of that sin. Advocating for victims of abuse is a good thing. It is a worthy and necessary thing. But if you’ve gotten to the point where the abuse issue is the only thing you can see and that perspective is causing you to sin, you need to get alone with God and His Word and ask Him honestly and objectively to reveal to you whether the abuse issue has become an idol in your life. Because maybe it has. And that’s not going to help you, or the victims you’re trying to minister to, or the churches you’re trying to advocate to. Repent and ask God to help you prioritize your passion His way. And remember, God tells us that the Body is made up of many parts – different people with different passions – and He’s the one who created it that way. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” Let’s strive to each do our part in the Body and cheer on other “body parts” as they do their job so the church can be balanced and healthy – addressing all issues in a biblical way.

4.
Looking to secular abuse experts first can undermine the authority of Scripture and the church.

More and more I’m hearing Christian victim advocates tout the virtues of seeking out psychologists, victim help groups, legal agencies, and other secular professionals and organizations because pastors “aren’t properly trained” to help abuse victims. That may be the case (and it may not be – in one interview I heard with a Christian victim advocate, she made it sound as though any pastor who isn’t an expert in every aspect of abuse with years of training under his belt isn’t “properly trained”), but the solution to a problem in the church isn’t to give up and look outside the church, it’s to biblically fix the problem in the church.

In other words, if pastors need more training than the pastoral counseling training they’re already getting in seminary, let’s get them trained – biblically. Not in psychology (which, as someone who has a degree and a half in psychology and counseling, I can tell you is humanistic at its core), not by non-Christian abuse experts – by doctrinally sound, biblically knowledgeable, experts in biblical and pastoral counseling.

“But women who have been abused won’t go to a man for counseling!”. Then get some godly, spiritually mature women from your church trained so they can minister to women who are hurting.

And really, I am all for training because we should strive to do everything with excellence, but I want us to stop and think about something for a minute. Are we over-educationalizing this? Christians have been ministering to hurting people for 2000 years with Scripture, prayer, and godly counsel, and without benefit of specialized secular experts or even seminary training. And it has worked, because God has worked through those prescribed means to help and heal those people. Any Holy Spirit-indwelt, spiritually mature, biblically knowledgeable, humble, obedient to the Word Christian can come alongside an abuse victim (or anyone else who’s struggling) and listen, work through Scripture with her, pray with her, cry with her, and be there for her, because the help and healing that victim needs is not dependent on the person helping her, but on God working through the person helping her. God calls Christians to do those things, and those are the means spelled out in Scripture through which He works. You will not find a passage of Scripture that tells you that godly, mature pastors, elders, and older women can’t rightly help the hurting because they haven’t been “properly trained,” and especially not by non-Christian “experts”. Abuse is an issue of sin for the abuser. For the victim, it’s about finding healing, wholeness, and, eventually, the ability to forgive in Christ. That’s not something the best trained non-Christian expert in the world can help with.

Are there sometimes things we can learn from non-Christian experts that don’t conflict with Scripture? Yes (particularly the legal ins and outs of the abuse issue). But pointing victims and “untrained” pastors and church members outside the church to non-Christians as their primary, or “first line of defense” source of help is wrong-headed, unbiblical, and ultimately detrimental for all involved, because long before abuse is a legal or advocacy issue, it is a spiritual issue. And putting a spiritual issue in the hands of unbelievers is never the right answer. “Don’t look to the church for help, look to the world,” is not the message we want to send anyone.

Getting Back on Track:

I’ve said that “Holy Spirit indwelt, spiritually mature, biblically knowledgeable, humble, obedient to the Word Christians” are equipped to help abuse victims. Perhaps part of the reason Christian victim advocates suggest looking to the world for help and training is that the “churches” they’ve most often worked with don’t grow Christians like that. And that would not surprise me. Many churches have devolved into entertainment centers with unqualified “pastors,” no gospel, no serious training in the Word, and rampant false doctrine. Basically, they are the world.

Pastors must take seriously Scripture’s charge to preach the Word, and to train their people in Scripture, prayer, and growth in holiness. Biblical training for ministering to abuse victims is great, but that training isn’t going to stick or be effective if it’s not carried out by godly, genuinely regenerated people.

 

Ministering to and advocating for victims of abuse is a challenging task – even more so for Christians than for the world because we are obligated to seek to do so in a way that pleases God and is obedient to Scripture, not just in a pragmatic way. When we minister to others, we’re going to get things wrong sometimes (something else I know from firsthand experience), but when we turn back to the standard of God’s Word, see things from His perspective, and trust Him to do His good work through His prescribed means, we will find that He works through us to minister His heart to the hurting.

Abuse, Suffering

From Victimhood to Victory: Biblically Helping Abused Women Heal

Ever since the Me Too movement exploded on social media a couple of years ago, we’ve been hearing more and more heartbreaking stories of women who have experienced physical and sexual abuse. If anyone can help and should be helping victims of abuse, it ought to be the church. But, unfortunately, it seems that the people in the evangelical spotlight who are stepping up to advocate for victims are often popular false teachers.

In 2019, we saw Beth Moore take the lead at the Caring Well conference, which centered around helping abuse victims. Christine Caine is the founder and leader of A 21, an anti-human trafficking ministry. In 2018, Lisa Harper was the keynote speaker at the Pastors’ Wives Conference at the annual Southern Baptist Convention where she addressed the issue of abuse. And in addition to stepping out into the spotlight as champions for abuse victims, Beth Moore, Christine Caine, and Lisa Harper, as well as Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Lysa TerKeurst, Jackie Hill Perry – and many more, I’m sure – share their own personal stories of abuse at their conferences, in their books, and so on.

These are the people being showcased to the average Jane in the pew as those who care about abuse victims. These are the people who are actually (supposedly) doing something about abuse. By and large, we’re not seeing doctrinally sound men and women being put forth on the stage of the visible church as caring about abuse victims or doing anything about abuse.

And so, when an Evangelical woman is coming to terms with her abuse, these are the women she’s seeing, so these are the women and their resources that she reaches out for. And by the same token, because these false teachers are in the spotlight and have name recognition and resources available, and there aren’t very many well known doctrinally sound resources available, churches who want to help abuse victims are also reaching out and grabbing hold of false teaching to try to help the women in their churches.

So what we’re finding is that women who are victims of abuse are especially vulnerable to false teaching because they see these teachers as someone who has gone through the same thing they’ve gone through: “This teacher knows how I feel. She has experienced the same thing.” And that’s the primary reason victims seek out these false teachers, rather than seeking out someone who – regardless of whether or not he or she has experienced abuse – can help them to heal with rightly handled Scripture.

This is one reason I am purposely not disclosing in this article whether or not I have ever been abused. Because biblical healing from abuse isn’t about me or my personal experiences. It’s about what the Bible says. My experiences don’t change what God’s Word says. The Bible remains the same whether I’ve been abused or not. Scripture is our standard, not our personal experiences.

But, unfortunately in the church, and particularly in the realm of women’s Bible study, we have indoctrinated women with the idea that personal experience reigns, not Scripture. So what abused women get when they seek out these false teachers for help dealing with their abuse is exactly what I’ve said before is the problem with women’s Bible study in general: narcissism.

These victims of abuse don’t get taught how to biblically come to terms with what happened to them and how to biblically heal from it. They get a cheap, shallow compassion that teaches them to focus on their own pain and feelings, and to harbor bitterness against their abuser and everyone and everything else they can assign blame to for the abuse (some of those things supposedly being biblical complementarianism, sexism in the church, misogyny in the church, not enough women in positions of leadership in the church, as Beth Moore said at the Caring Well conference, etc.)

These women are being victimized twice.

And so these women are being victimized twice – once by the abuser, and once by false teachers who are not only not helping them to heal biblically, but are actually eroding biblical teaching and sound doctrine – for that woman personally and in the church in general – by saying that biblical precepts, such as leadership of the church being restricted to men, are at fault for their abuse. It’s really insidious, because what’s implied by this whole paradigm is that this mixture of focusing on your feelings and believing unbiblical teaching is the quick fix that will make them feel better right away. This is what will finally bring them healing and wholeness. They’re being sold a lie.

Praise be to God, there are lots of doctrinally sound Christians out there who are quietly, out of the spotlight, helping victims of abuse in a biblical way, one on one, in their own local churches. So, how are they doing it, and how should we be doing it? What are some biblical ways we can help abuse victims?

Genuine Compassion

Abuse is a horrible, despicable thing that no one should ever have to suffer. The pain that it causes doesn’t just magically disappear because it happened years ago. It is not something about which any woman should ever be told, “You just need to get over it and forget about it.”

And certainly no woman should ever be made to feel that it was her fault, or that if she had just done something differently it wouldn’t have happened. The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

So when we disciple a woman who is just beginning the journey of healing from her abuse, it should be handled with biblical compassion every step of the way. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to do what Romans 12:15 says, and “weep with those who weep”.

Let her pour out her feelings of pain and anger, and sit there in that with her.

Yes, that was awful.

No, you didn’t do anything to cause it. It wasn’t your fault.

That man was evil and took advantage of you. It was his sin, not yours.

We need to have that same heart for her that God has in Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

A Biblical Perspective of Suffering

It’s imperative that we have a biblical perspective of suffering so we can teach it to abuse victims. Because one of the things you’ll notice about the way false teachers approach the issue of abuse is that this component is completely missing. Why? Because walking through suffering in a biblical way can be hard and scary and painful and messy. It’s much easier to just smile and exude sympathy and say, “Just listen to me and I’ll tell you how to feel better right now.”

And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Our flesh doesn’t want to suffer, we just want to feel better now. And that’s what makes this a hard sell that false teachers don’t want to deal with. It doesn’t fit in with their ear-tickling paradigm. But if we want to offer victims true help and true healing in Christ, we have to address the issue of suffering, and address it biblically and correctly.

A biblical theology of suffering applied to the issue of abuse understands that…

Everyone suffers. You’re not the first person to suffer, and you won’t be the last. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” When it comes to suffering, you’re not special, and neither am I. We don’t all suffer in the same way, but everybody suffers. It’s just the human condition resulting from the Fall.

Even Jesus suffered. Isaiah 53 tells us: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,”

Abuse is not a special class of suffering that exempts you from dealing with it in obedience to Scripture. We’re kind of seeing this line of thinking with homosexuality- that it’s a special class of sin that people don’t have to repent of. That homosexuals can hold onto their sin, cherish it in their hearts, and maybe even live it out, and still supposedly be biblical Christians.

And that’s the same sort of mindset a lot of the false teachers espouse: Abuse is a special class of suffering that you don’t have to walk through in a biblical way. You get to wallow in your victimhood for the rest of your life and think and act and feel and express yourself however you want to because you’ve been hurt so deeply. That’s not right. Perpetual victimhood is not biblical, it doesn’t help you heal, and it doesn’t bring your abuser to justice. It makes God look impotent and uncaring. If He can’t or won’t transform someone from victimhood to victory, how could He have the power to raise Christ from the dead? If He doesn’t care about a victim of abuse, why would He care about anybody else’s problems?

I would never minimize the pain and suffering of abuse victims, but all Believers are required by Scripture to act in a godly way regardless of their particular kind of suffering. Believers who have terminal diseases have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who have lost a child have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers whose spouses have cheated on them have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who are being tortured and persecuted just for being Christians have to deal with that in a godly way. We all have to bear up and respond to suffering in a godly way, regardless of what kind of suffering we’re dealing with.

1 Peter 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Jesus understands your pain and serves as your perfect example for responding to suffering. Go back and read Isaiah 53. Go back and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials, flogging, and crucifixion. He knows what it feels like to be abused. And look at the way he handled it. He didn’t give up. He didn’t feel sorry for himself or lash out at his abusers or become bitter. He didn’t blame God or the church or anyone else or His circumstances.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be abused.

Jesus kept his eyes on the Father. He continued to walk out God’s plan for Him and didn’t let the abusers distract him from that plan. He continued to behave in a godly way. He forgave his abusers, even though it must have been extraordinarily difficult. Remember what He said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

You don’t have to suffer alone. If you are a Believer, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. He will enable you and empower you to suffer well. You are never alone.

“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Ask God to carry you through the difficult times. Ask God to heal you, to help you forgive, to give you strength. Whatever you need, ask Him for it.

God has a purpose for your pain. The abuse you suffered was horrific, but in God’s economy, it wasn’t random and senseless. God can take what that abuser meant for evil and turn it around and use it for your good– to grow you and strengthen you. There are so many passages of Scripture that talk about this. One of my favorites is Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Jesus didn’t save you for you to live in self-pity, bitterness, unforgiveness, and victimhood. That is not the abundant life He promised you in John 10:10. It’s no life at all. Christians are not weak, helpless victims. Jesus makes us victors. Yes, what happened to you was unspeakably evil and hurtful. But in Christ, that’s not where your story ends!

Jesus makes us victors.

As you walk with Christ – trusting Him, obeying Him, loving Him – day by day, He will bring you that peace that passes understanding. He will reveal Himself to you as hope of the hopeless. He will heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re missing out on all of the good things God wants to use that pain for – the godly character He wants to build in you, the healing He wants to give you. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re choosing to give that abuser the power to continue to stand in the way of all those good gifts God wants to give you.

Your pain and suffering won’t last forever. Once Christ begins healing you, your pain will fade over time, and eventually He will wipe it out all together in Heaven. Consider these two wonderfully comforting and hope-giving passages:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Revelation 21:1,3-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Your suffering has a time limit.

Your suffering has a time limit, and one day God is going to take it away forever. Rest in that hope.

 

How can we biblically help abuse victims move from victimhood to victory? We continually take them back to the truth of God’s Word and remind them of His goodness and grace, and the hope and healing He wants to bring them through Christ.


Additional Resources:

This article is excerpted from the A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast episode It’s Time for Sound Leaders to Talk About Abuse

Band-Aids vs. Chemotherapy: Why Suffering Women are Drawn to False Doctrine and 7 Things We Can do to Help 

Weeping with Those Who Weep 

Christ- the Suffering Servant 

Six Reasons to Rejoice that Christ is Enough in Our Suffering 

True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? 

God’s Good Purposes in Suffering