A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a reader of this blog and asked if I would be willing to read and review his book on abuse and the church. The author, Jeff Crippen, is a pastor and former police officer. His book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church, was written after his church went through a terrible and eye-opening experience. Pastor Crippen’s desire is to equip pastors, elders, church leaders, and even church members to recognize the signs of abuse and to be prepared to help the victims.

I agreed to read Pastor Crippen’s book, and he was kind enough to send me a copy. After reading it, I decided to write a series of articles addressing the main themes of the book. The first article, this one, will be on the basic premise of the book: what is an abuser, what typically happens in a church when a victim seeks help, and how to help a vicitim. The second will be on recognizing and dealing with abusers in other relationships. The third will be on the very sensitive topic of divorce, remarriage, and abuse.

First off let me say that I highly recommend Pastor Crippen’s book. It is an extremely important topic, and I believe all pastors and anyone else in leadership would benefit from reading this book.

Now, to get down to the purpose of this article, Pastor Crippen begins his book by explaining that there is a growing problem within the evangelical church:

The local church is one of the favorite hiding places of the abusive person. Conservative, Bible-believing religion is his frequent choice of facade. Within the evangelical church, women (and sometimes men) are being terribly abused in their homes and marriages. The children of such abusers are suffering as well. And when those victims come to their churches, to their pastors, and to their fellow Christians, pleading for help, well … Victims of abuse are often discounted by their churches (12).

According to Pastor Crippen, the church doesn’t understand the true nature of abuse and the effects abuse has on its victims. (128) His goal in writing, then, is “to educate the reader in the nature and tactics and mentality of abuse and, in doing so, to help us all to come to understand the pathology of this unique sin (15).”

So what, then, is an abuser? How does one recognize him? [As Pastor Crippen points out, the vast majority of abusers are men. Because of this and for the sake of brevity, he (and I) will use the masculine pronouns, although we are not suggesting that men are the only ones who are abusers.] Pastor Crippen spends a good majority of the book explaining the “tactics and mentality” of abusers. Here is a brief definition of “abuse” and “abuser”:

Abuse then, is a mentality of entitlement and superiority in which an abuser uses various tactics to obtain and enforce unjustified power and control over another person. The abuser thinks that he is absolutely justified in using these tactics to maintain this power and control over his victim. Abuse is effected in many ways: both physical (including sexual) and non-physical (verbal). It can be active (physically or verbally) or passive (not speaking, not acting). Abuse, therefore, is not limited to physical assault. Indeed, the non-physical forms of abuse often are far more damaging, deceptive, and cruel (18).


An abuser is a person whose mentality, mindset, and even worldview is dominated by:

  • Power

  • Control

  • Entitlement (to that power and control)

  • Justification (in enforcing that power and control) (19)

Pastor Crippen points out that “it is a serious mistake to assume an abuser thinks like everyone else does.” (19) An abuser has no problems doing horrible things to others and then sleep like a baby at night, without any remorse or attacks of conscience. (42) This is because very often abusers “operate in a world largely or entirely devoid of a functional conscience.” (48) Because of this abusers do not act like everyone else, instead they:

  • Lack shame.

  • Have no empathy.

  • Experience little or not real anxiety.

  • Display false repentance very convincingly.

  • Lie, even in the face of plain facts that controvert their lie.

  • Use what appears to be real emotion or feeling, but in fact is just an act designed to manipulate. (49)

Pastor Crippen believes, despite the fact that many of these abusers are members of churches, that abusers are very likely unregenerate as they do not show evidence of saving grace or true repentance. (43)

While I’m sure that certain abusive tactics are familiar to most people, Pastor Crippen give a list of common tactics used by abusers. Some of these are: controlling the activities of others, abusing things that belong to the victim, harsh criticism (usually with very vulgar language) of victims physical appearance, isolating his victim, sleep deprivation, keeping his victim in poverty, preventing adequate medical care, cruelty to pets, and alienating the children from the victim. (33-34)

There is a great deal more information in A Cry for Justice on the tactics and mentality of abusers. It’s important to remember that not all abusers will use exactly the same tactics. However, after familiarizing yourself with the typical behaviors described in the book, you will be much more aware of the warning signs.

One of the main reasons that Pastor Crippen wrote A Cry for Justice is that all too often churches, pastors, and well-meaning Christians end up hurting victims and protecting abusers. Here is an example from the book that outlines what happens when a victim comes to her church for help:

1. Victim reports abuse to her pastor.

2. Pastor does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.

3. Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly, damage control (to himself and to his church).

4. Pastor indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50” blame sharing.

5. Pastor sends the victim home, back to the abuser, after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.

6. Pastor believes he has done his job.

7. Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.

8. Pastor decides to do some counseling. …

9. As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor and others int he church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.

10. After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police, and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!

11. The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor and church into believing that his victim was the real problem (21-22).

It may sound far-fetched, but I know of a woman whose experience fits this to a “T.” This is the all too common experience for many, many women (and some men) in our churches. This should not be so.

So, how then can churches, pastors, and concerned Christians help the victims of abuse? The first step is to become very familiar with the tactics and mentality of abusers. Books such as A Cry for Justice can help a educate leaders and others on what abuse looks like and how abusers and their victims often behave.

When a victim comes to you for help, you will need to be ready. Pastor Crippen lays out some guidelines to help leaders do the right thing. The first is to believe the victim. Pastor Crippen points out that this is not blind acceptance but that “in most cases those who report abuse are speaking with honesty.” (186) Other guidelines include not being swayed based on who the abuser is, understanding that all forms of abuse (not just physical or sexual) are serious, reporting abuse to police and allowing the justice system to act, protecting the victim from accusations, a warning not to attempt to cover up the abuse, and preach

ing on the topic of abuse to prepare and protect your congregation. (186-188)

In addition to giving guidelines on how to help victims, Pastor Crippen also gives a list of rules for how to deal with abusers:

1. Question everything. Even “facts” he states with absolute confidence.
2. Believe nothing without corroboration.
3. Assume he is attempting to deceive you.
4. Accept nothing less than full, unqualified repentance.
5. Do not pity him, no matter how emotional he might be.
6. Accept no excuses.
7. Do not let him blame others. (237-238)

If this seems harsh to you, remember the definition of abuse and the abuser:

Abuse then, is a mentality of entitlement and superiority in which an abuser uses various tactics to obtain and enforce unjustified power and control over another person. The abuser thinks that he is absolutely justified in using these tactics to maintain this power and control over his victim. Abuse is effected in many ways: both physical (including sexual) and non-physical (verbal). It can be active (physically or verbally) or passive (not speaking, not acting). Abuse, therefore, is not limited to physical assault. Indeed, the non-physical forms of abuse often are far more damaging, deceptive, and cruel (18).

Abusers are not acting and thinking like everyone else.

In closing, I’d like to say to anyone who recognizes her (or his) situation in reading this article, to please seek help. There are good resources available to you. If your church will not help, please find one that will. My prayers are with you.

Lord willing, parts two and three of this review will be finished soon.

31 thoughts on “A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church

  1. reformedsinger says:

    I also know someone who had a similar experience in their former church. She had even stopped attending all churches for a period of time; she was afraid of being hurt again by others who might have heard about her from someone from her former church and who believed the abuser. Sad.


  2. Rnkristen says:

    I know of a man being abused by someone who is very active in their faith. I find it even worse coming from a person who is so devout. I not know they sit there in services knowing what they have done. This is very timely as I just found this out a couple weeks ago and am torn about wether or not I approach the situation.


  3. Anne Turner says:

    At one time I prayed A LOT to understand the abuser’s mindset. I got the impression that this person — if also sexually abused as a teen or earlier — on the first encounter, is seeking to return to the moment of his (usually, but guess it could be a “her”) initial undoing and its terror and freakishness that spoiled his being. He seeks to go back there as a means of figuring out what happened, how it happened and where he can escape it. When he abuses, he can re-experience this “marvel” and feel sorry for himself as he performs the same crime on an initiate. He becomes that youth in his mind’s eye and despises himself, and the act of degradation that brings in a new victim to the world of Satan’s perversion is an act of obedience to demonic urging. To become “one flesh” with an innocent youth is the ultimate confusion of identities, both in the abuser who seeks yet another new identity and tragically, in the youth who now is ruined and psychically tethered to the abuser.
    To imagine that one can get free somehow of his ruined identity by re-experiencing it in the same act with someone who is like he once was, is “imagining a vain thing.” (Ps 2:1) There is no excuse for the abuser, no matter his past and he knows that, because just under the confusion is the conscience. I guess the “entitlement” mentality is in response to the conscience.
    It’s so important to pray for our youth today because of all the sliding standards and acceptance of promiscuity (and worse) in our culture. Thanks for this post.


    • desean says:

      You have described how one or some abusers are thinking. However, I seriously doubt that you are describing the majority. I was married to a very intelligent abuser. I lost my family and friends because they believed him.


      • Anne Turner says:

        I am sorry if you were offended by my comment. Yes, this only describes a certain type of abuser, and I failed to note that the concept of reliving a first encounter to find answers is, for the offender, a subconscious or barely conscious, fleeting (at warp speed) thought. On the surface the predator is a pure deceiver, yet at one time I caught a glimpse of the underbelly, and saw a person striving to re-experience what he endured, for relevant as well as evil reasons. The aspect of self-pity is deep, which both opens a door for Satanic possession and reveals a human heart that has been deeply wronged. For you, let us pray that the Lord will make every hidden thing known. He is able.


    • Anonymous says:

      Lundy Bancroft addresses this concept wonderfully in his book, “Why Does He Do That?” He addresses the fallacy that people abuse, because they have been abused. Granted, abusers may have been abused, but they don’t necessarily abuse because of the abuse done to them. They abuse because of their beliefs and indoctrination of thinking they are entitled. This tends to be the generational findings of abusers. They abuser passes on and indoctrinates his/her children and they grow up abusers, but it is not necessarily because they were abused. How many people do we know, who were abused as children, who do NOT abuse? Bancroft’s concepts support the statistics in this area.


  4. desean says:

    First, I was not offended. That implies sin and I didn’t think that was sin. Also, I am very sorry that you had a “glimpse of the underbelly” of a predator/abuser. Sounds scary.

    Second, could I ask you what you mean by Satanic possession? desean


  5. Mater Magistra says:

    This is a topic I’ve been dealing with for the last 2 years, contemplating and researching, now in counseling for myself. The abuser is my dad, and my mom has for 2 years been trying her best to confront the problem but with no positive results. The interactions with their pastor (non-denom) have happened exactly as you’ve described. I’ve been following Aquila Report and other Christian bloggers (pastors, theologians, etc) for years. I’m elated to see this addressed with such compassion. Thank you.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I just want to note that we don’t always know who God will redeem, so we need to handle BOTH parties with care. After over a decade of marriage, I am seeing the Holy Spirit completely renew my spouse. My kids & I haven’t faced physical abuse, and there have been times of relative calm. I haven’t had it as bad as some people. But I don’t regret my decision to stick it out. Sometimes God will change even the abuser. (It’s important for the church to recognize and deal wisely with abusers, but it’s also important to note that they can change, too.)


    • Anonymous says:

      Not speaking to your individual situation, as they are all different, but just one word of caution to you here. Only time will tell. True repentance definitely brings “newness” and only time reveals if what was abuse, has been cleansed and made new. As Barbara Roberts indicates, often times, one form of abuse just gets substituted for another form. Often times it seems that one of those forms takes on a new mental/emotional abuse that can leave the victim confused and blind-sided, making it difficult for the victim to really identify the behavior as abuse, until the victim is locked into it. I guess it could be said that the victim is just so thankful that the one form of abuse has stopped, that he/she tends to ignore the new set of rules set down by the abuser.

      Yes, God can certainly do anything, including regenerate a once abusive person, but man can also “fake” repentance and many times does, as is demonstrated numerous times over and over, in the cases of abusers.


    • anonymous says:

      After nearly twenty five years, and earnest praying that wrong teaching be replaced by the Counsel of the Holy Spirit, I came to know the origin of my husband’s theology. Many pastors helped us, predominantly Presbyterian. The elder had witnessed this within his own family early on and recognized it right away. Our pastor who is our age, treaded lightly, confirmed there was other personalized pastoral care, and prayed vehemently. The organized church structure learned from the faith of these pastors, imo


  7. Anonymous says:

    God has also said it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, but “with God all things are possible.” I see in the post above that most abusers are actually unregenerate. That’s a very important point. If God regenerates an abuser, I have no doubt he can change. Look at Paul. God can do anything. It might be only a small minority of cases, but he can even change an abuser.


    • Anonymous says:

      It may be shocking, but if you visit A Cry For Justice blog, you will see just how many of these abusers profess Christ and claim to be Christians; and how many churches believe them and end up mistreating the victims and their children.


    • anonymous says:

      I agree with you and pray for this. However, it must be said that a prayerful wife will listen to the Counsel of the Holy Spirit and ask her faithful friends will support her and pray for understanding.


  8. anonymous says:

    I agree the description of abuse, knowing it to be an accurate description from personal experience. I have been counseled to beware of not describing things with Biblical terminology. I have definitely seen the Proverbs and other places describe the power of the tongue. However, where in Scripture do we see that those who have some abusive characteristics (always right, criticizing, countering, blameshifting, discounting, undermining, accusing etc.) are motivated by entitlement and power and are also characteristically liars and lack shame and empathy?


    • Jeff Crippen says:

      Anonymous: One of the most characteristic abusers in the New Testament are the Pharisees. You will find a mentality of entitlement in them, namely that they are entitled to power and control over others. They embrace the letter, but use Scripture to abuse their victims. They loved exaltation in public. They used their ecclesiastical power to cast the oppressed out of the temple. And when all else didn’t silence Jesus, they murdered Him. They were of their father the devil and like him they lied and they murdered. There is much Pharisaical religion around us today doing some very similar things.

      Then you have Diotrephes in 3 John who “loved to be first.” When people would not bow to him, he put them out of the church. This is classic with the abuser mindset – to be first. Narcissism.

      And of course you have Satan himself. He uses evil cunning and deceipt, lying, murder and a whole host of evil tactics. Why? What’s his goal? “I will be like the Most High.” That has been his game ever since Eden – “you shall be like God.” He tempted Christ to bow down and worship him. He is always right, he criticizes and is the accuser of the brethren, he counters God’s Word, he blameshifts, discounts, undermines, and all the rest. Empathy? Forget it. There is none in him.

      So what we see discovered even (and in fact, primarily) by secular psychologists who deal with abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, is an evil that, as they describe it in their words, illustrates very perfectly the ultimate abuser – Satan. In the end, abuse is a very devilish evil.

      There are numbers of these types in the Old Testament as well. Pharaoh – talk about entitlement to power and control! And check out Sanballat and his buddies as they used all kinds of tactics on Nehemiah. And one of the classics is Haman –

      Est 3:1 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him.
      Est 3:2 And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage.
      Est 3:3 Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?”
      Est 3:4 And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew.
      Est 3:5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.

      One of the reasons I have benfitted so much from studying abusers is that they are in a way one of the most “pure” forms of sin. I don’t mean sinS, but sin in its very essence. Studying it makes us wise and it opens up Scripture to us even more because we have so many more of those “ah” moments when we see what the Bible has been telling us all along, but we just hadn’t seen it.


    • anonymous says:

      There is an explanation of speaking to those justified by law and those who are free. The explanation is not a comparison, but a guide to help a conversation between each of these people in covenant with one another.
      It’s contained in Martin Luther’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.


  9. "T" says:

    Malachi 2:10-17 teaches us the choice is seperation; from God or ‘violence.’
    16; “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.” says the Lord Almighty.
    The Book of Hosea is the model.


    • anonymous says:

      Thank you, Barbara. At the very time I was given and chose the Malachi verses, I understood the Word as you gave in the 2011 NIV, except that the divorce God hates is the man covering himself. When I presented this with Hosea, to one of my counselors, a man degreed and practiced clinically, seminary-trained and practicing pastorally, he asked for a minute to study it.
      With a ‘hmm’ the counselor told me the book of Hosea is the story of his conversation with God and his love for his wife Gomer, and the problem in reading this story is that we don’t know how it ends for them. a


  10. help is on the way! says:

    THANK YOU for exposing this. Please also note some other wonderful resources, one by Our Daily Bread ministries. They have a DVD called When Love Hurts: Understanding and Healing Domestic Violence. It addresses all types- verbal, physical, emotional, and spiritual. I have experienced all forms, but the kind that hurts the most is the spiritual and emotional. Go to http://www.dod.org for video, under the Day of Discovery series. Also, is a booklet at RBC Ministries http://www.rbc.org you can print called When Abuse is Worse than Divorce.” Lundy Bancroft boks on amnazon.com was mentioned- EXCELLENT! In addition, a book by Susan Greenfiield on abuse and the church called Will The Real Church Please stand Up? Yes, I hoped, prayed, fasted and saw glimpses of change- nothing more than manipulation. If you are in any type of relationship where you are in fear, GET OUT. God will provide you a safe place where you can think clearly and heal. YES, you deserve that- You are worthy of pure Love as God shed His blood for you, not for yours to have to be shed ” in the name of love” which is control in a disjointed, unhealthy relationship! Please see also Paul Hegstrom and his counseling ministry Life Skills International. This is one story of an abuser that did, in fact change, through the re wiring of ther brain through God’s Word. He has many resources on relationships and the Bible and the Brain. He also has a group counseling available for men as a group and women as a group at different locations around the country called Learning to Love, Learning to Live Finally, for women who want to know why they are in these types of relationships and how to recognize what is happening a testimony in a book by Dianne Scwartz called Whose Face is in the Morror available at amazon.com And, Women Who Love Pyschopaths by Sandra L. Brown available at amazon.com or saferelationshipsmagazine.com. The books by Bancroft, Schwartz and Brown are not Christian, but have excellent research and true testimony. In fact, Women Who Love Pyschopaths has a comparison of the pyscopath with the accuser or satan with Biblical scriptures. You, if you are a victim of abuse are being blamed, through the blood of Christ, we are blameless. Take a step of faith and God will be there when you leave. He is faithful. He was and has been there for me. His promises are yes and amen and He keeps His Word. He really loves you and wants you to find freedom. Get in fellowship with like minded people who will support you and help you- this is important. You are not alone! May God give you His Spirit and His help in a very present way today. In Jesus name amen.


    • anonymous says:

      Thank you. The daily bread was one of the many daily devotionals I used during this difficult time. Many days of tearful prayer and deep study of the Word, cross referencing verses. I was even given a fast. Once I was ready to downsize, I went back to just one, the Upper Room, ‘Where the World Meets to Pray’


  11. Free says:

    I was in an abusive relationship for 21 years. The emotional, spiritual, and verbal abuse is the most damaging. Went to my pastor for help, he took my ex to lunch and told him EVERYTHING I said. Ex played everything down, said I had emotional problems. Entire church turned against me telling me I was going to hell for divorcing my husband. Had I not been very strong in my faith… It was awful. How my children and I were treated all those years AND how the church threw us under the bus was no less than evil and straight from the pit. He stayed at the church, my kids and I left. Almost 6 years later, they now see how wrong they were in their view of him. He has not changed and has no relationship with his children. Not only do I not feel guilty for leaving and rescuing my kids, I feel completely free to remarry. He broke our vows with his abuse. People who hold the view no divorce for any reason except adultery…I would have stayed if it had just been adultery. Obviously you have never been in an abusive relationship. You have NO idea!


    • anonymous says:

      The reason scripture says and God gave adultery as reason for divorce is human nature. I always prayed for the work of the Holy Ghost. I was counseled not to preach. Eventually, heartbroken, I prayed to be delivered from my marriage without having an affair. My father had passed and I felt the last man who loved me was gone. I prayed to know the man who loves me.
      These were trembling prayers, as best I could I was expressing my need to be a godly-submissive wife.


  12. The Persistent Widow says:

    Free, it is amazing that what you wrote is almost exactly what happened to me. Like in your story, the first thing the pastor did was take my reviling, abusive husband to lunch, (1 Cor, 5:11) and it was downhill from there. The church refused to discipline him, and left me open to retaliation, which included death threats and attemps to financially ruin the family. It took me over a year to realize that they had no plan other than force me to take him back. The church’s unspiritual intervention was really nothing more than meddling. When I finally questioned their proceedure, (or lack of), the pastor turned on me and slandered me to many people in the church. I finally had to put up boundaries and leave that church to protect my family. I am thankful for the validation that I found at the A Cry for Justice website as I now can see through the fog and know that the Lord delivered me from much evil. Evil from my husband’s abuse and evil from the church’s abuse.


    • anonymous says:

      The church organization is lack in training pastors here. I have found good pastors, moving tenderly within the organized churches guidelines, in the Presbyterian church.


  13. Cindy C. says:

    My husband was having difficulty after the birth of our first child. Thankfully, he recognized it and we called the pastor to come to the home to counsel. After pouring out our hearts, pastor turned to me and rebuked me for not being submissive enough and if I didn’t tow the line, he would refuse to baptize the baby. We got a “Christian” counselor and the same line of thought came through. I was “childish”, expected too much, wasn’t submissive enough. We finally found a non-Christian counselor who labeled his abuse as abuse and helped us make changes. Our experience with the Christian world left scars that are with us today. It’s sad too.


    • anonymous says:

      Thank you. You are strong. Your husband is God-fearing. The church has historically had trouble supporting its men in godly submission. Your discernment is good. From personal experience, I can say, as a presbyterian I have found support there. I appreciate hearing from a sister.


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