My Experience with Patriarchy

Since I began writing about the dangers of patriarchy years go, I have had several comments that I’ve completely misunderstood/misrepresented patriarchy and its adherents. I’ve been told that there might be a few abuses of the system, but that on the whole people are happy and well cared for in patriarchal churches, organizations, and families. I’ve been told that women aren’t hurt by patriarchy.

On the other hand, I regularly hear from women, and some men, who affirm that what I’ve described is exactly what they’ve lived through with patriarchy. Occasionally, these comments are made publicly on my blog, but more often, they are sent to me privately. One such comment came in yesterday, and I asked the author if I could share the comment anonymously on my blog. The author agreed.

I want to share it here because it speaks to many of the problems that I’ve addressed about the patriarchy movement. This is not meant to be experiential proof, but it is an illustration of the damage I believe results from patriarchal teachings. I have edited out a couple of details to maintain the privacy of the author.

“I just had a long conversation with someone sparked by your post about Nancy Wilson. My gosh, it’s so exhausting trying to explain how Patriarchy hurts women. I still cry sometimes because I feel inferior to men because of my gender, but I guess that’s just me being an emotional, easily confused woman.

I’m marrying a wonderful man who will give his life for me everyday. The only time I’ve ever known him to ‘pull rank’ and tell me what I need to do is when he is directly concerned for my well-being. We talked about vows, and I will promise to ‘obey’ him. That doesn’t scare me, but sometimes I’m scared the entire rest of the world has gone crazy.
What I hate about Patriarchy now is how paranoid it’s made me. My guard is always up. The pastor pulls out Ephesians 5 in our premarital counseling, and I’m thinking ‘What’s he going to say? What’s he going to say?’
I have anxiety attacks in some of my classes because I’m afraid that what’s being said about male/female roles will prove that I’m inferior. I had to leave a class one day, because I can’t hear Genesis 3 taught without falling apart.
But to some that’s all in my head. That’s my malfunction. Nothing wrong with teaching that a woman’s identity is in her husband, that her body is his property, that she can never speak up to or disobey him. That can’t be it– it must be me.
I was incredibly depressed as a teen. Okay, I might have been depressed no matter what, but you know what made it the worst? Not knowing what to do with myself. Sure, everything about me was inclined towards academics, but I was supposed to prep for marriage. I was supposed to be satisfied at home: cooking, cleaning, decorating, and I WASN’T. It felt like something was wrong with me. I wanted so much to be a man–because I didn’t feel cut out for whatever it was to be a woman.
I never told anyone what I was feeling either. Because it was sinful and wrong to feel it. I was supposed to be happy with who God made me to be, but I was rebelling.
So that’s a disjointed rant. I don’t know what to do with all these emotions. The fear can cripple me sometimes. I just want to believe that people (well, to be honest, probably specifically MEN) care that that was my experience with Patriarchy. And no, I wasn’t doing it wrong.”

A Question for Wilson Fans

[Update: Some have questioned whether or not it’s accurate to say that Wilson is self-ordained. I have added a quote from Wilson on how he became a pastor. Many thanks to the reader who shared the quote with me.]

There are many articles right now about Doug Wilson and his role in the court cases and subsequent marriages of two pedophiles who attended New Saint Andrews in Moscow, ID. This is not the first controversy that Wilson has faced, and many of his supporters are adamant that he has done nothing wrong. I know that there are many people who are members of CREC churches who have chosen to align themselves with Wilson and his denomination. This question is not particularly for them.

My question is for those in the Reformed, Presbyterian world who say they really like or appreciate what Wilson says/has written/teaches on various subjects. My question is: what exactly do you like about Wilson?

Is it his credentials?

Doug Wilson is self-ordained, has never been to seminary, founded his own denomination, publishing house, university, seminary, and classical school curriculum. He is the head of his denomination. He is under no authority but his own.

Wilson’s explanation of how he became a pastor:

Having written this book, I must now apologize, at least in part, for how the book came to be written by someone like, as the Victorians used to say, the present writer. At the time of writing, I have been a minister of the Word for twenty-three years. But how that came about contains more than a few ecclesiastical irregularities.

I came to the University of Idaho in the fall of 1975, fresh out of the Navy, and ready to study philosophy. My intention was to study various unbelieving philosophies and to then get involved in some kind of evangelistic literature ministry in a university town somewhere. Right around the same time, a church was being planted in our town by an Evangelical Free Church in a nearby community. The fellowship was successfully planted, but this new church never affiliated with the Free Church. This was not due to any doctrinal or personal differences; it was due mostly to the fact that it was the seventies. I was at the organizing meeting for this church and wound up as one of the guitar-playing songleaders. The best way to describe this would be to say that it was some kind of “Jesus people” operation.

After about a year and a half of meeting, the man who had been doing the preaching (ordained by a Baptist denomination) announced that he had gotten a job elsewhere and that he was moving. We were on our own the following Sunday. As I said, it was the seventies. The idea of going into pastoral ministry had not occurred to me, but when it did, I didn’t like it very much. Nevertheless, as things turned out, I was up in front with the guitar. That was my call to the ministry; I knew all the chords. I began to preach.

Our church had been planted by an established denomination, but we had no constitution, no doctrinal standards, no established leadership. I started what we called a “responsible brothers” meeting to fill the void of leadership — ad hoc elders. We knew from the Scriptures that we needed to be governed by elders, but we didn’t have any. We received some teaching on elder qualifications from the pastor of the Evangelical Free church that had established our church, and as a result different men among the responsible brothers removed themselves from consideration. In this situation, I presented myself to the congregation and asked them to bring forward any objections to my holding office of elder within the next few weeks. If no one did, then I would assume the office. As it turned out, no one did, and I have been working with this congregation of faithful and longsuffering saints ever since.

All this, as I said earlier, was highly irregular, and I would rather be dead in a ditch than to go back to that way of doing ecclesiastical business. . . . (Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001] 267–268)

On the formation of Christ Church:

In early 1993, Doug advised the elders of CEF of a shift in his understanding of the nature of the church, of the means of entry into the New Covenant, and of the proper subjects of baptism. Those views became what he now calls the “Federal Vision.” After many months of joint discussion and study, the elders of CEF concluded that Doug’s emerging hyper-federalism contradicted the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution at key points, and that, according to those documents, Doug was no longer qualified to hold office at CEF. In early December 1993, Doug was informed in writing of the conclusion regarding his qualifications, and advised of the following choice; either return to fidelity to the CEF doctrinal and constitutional standards, or be removed from office in three months. The families of the congregation were also informed, of this course of action. The elders of CEF called a meeting for December 10, 1993, to discuss the contents of the letter, answer questions, and receive comments from the men of the congregation. Almost to a man, those in attendance at the meeting rejected the conclusions and leadership of the CEF elders, and affirmed their confidence in Doug Wilson and intent to follow him. At this point the CEF elders could have simply changed the locks on the door, removed Doug from office, and continued to meet as CEF, with an albeit smaller congregation. Instead, they chose to yield, with  Bob Callihan and Terry Morin resigning office and leaving the congregation, and Fred Kohl remaining in office in semi-retirement. New elders, supportive of Doug, were installed to take their place and the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution were revised to eliminate the confessional and constitutional issues.

Is it his views on slavery?

In 1996, Doug Wilson published a pamphlet, Southern Slavery as It Was, with Steve Wilkins, a former board member of the League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization. The pamphlet generated a good deal of controversy. Here are some quotes from it. (HT: Libby Anne)

Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates. This happened to such an extent that moderns indoctrinated on “civil rights” propaganda would be thunderstruck to know the half of it.

Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.

With the slave trade, the vast majority of the slaves had already been enslaved in Africa by other blacks. They were then taken down to the coast and sold to the traders. The traders transported them, usually under wicked conditions, to those places where a market did exist for their labor, but where the civil leaders had repeatedly and consistently tried to stop the slave traders. One of those places, Virginia, had attempted on no less than twenty-eight occasions to arrest the slave trade, but was stopped by higher (non-Southern) authorities. If the slaves were not sold in the South, they were taken on to Haiti and Brazil, where the condition and treatment of slaves was simply horrendous. The restoration of these slaves to their former condition was a physical impossibility. Now, under these conditions, was it a sin for a Christian to purchase such a slave, knowing that he would take him home and treat him the way the Bible requires? If he did not do so, nothing would be done to improve the slave’s condition, and much could happen that would make it worse. 

Is it his plagiarism?

The other controversy over Wilson and Wilkins pamphlet on slavery was over plagiarism:

As they prepared Southern Slavery As It Was for publication, Douglas Wilson and his co-author, Steven Wilkins, plagiarized extensively from Fogel and Engerman’s “Time On the Cross,” a book that was highly criticized by historians of the South.

Another source explains:

Professor Robert T. McKenzie, a civil war expert at the University of Washington and a member of a sister Christ Church in Seattle, urged Wilson to withdraw the book for another reason other than its ugly, unsupported thesis. McKenzie knew Time on the Cross very well and he was able to determine that about 20 percent of the slavery booklet had been lifted from the book.

Wilson first explained that it was sloppy editing on this part, but Wilkins finally came clean and admitted that it was his entire fault. …

The original slavery booklet was republished as it was (the footnotes were fixed) in The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War(Bluebonnet Press, 2005), John J. Dwyer, general editor.

Is it his Federal Vision beliefs?

In 2007, Wilson co-authored and signed “A Joint Federal Vision Profession.” There have been numerous articles and books on the Federal Vision. Nearly every NAPARC denomination has a statement on it explaining why it’s contrary to the Bible and to the Westminster Standards. For this article I’ll focus on two crucial points, the denial of justification by faith alone and baptismal regeneration. Because Federal Visionists deny the distinction between the law and the gospel and because they teach that all who are baptized are united to Christ, they deny justification by faith alone and teach baptismal regeneration.

The denial of justification by faith alone:

This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.

Baptismal regeneration:

Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).

Many might wonder what in the world this means. Happily, they define this “regeneration” elsewhere:

In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ — in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God (p. 4).

This “regeneration” is the renewal of life in Christ. That’s what all the baptized receive at baptism.

Is it his teaching of paedocommunion?

Connected to the Federal Vision teachings is the belief in paedocommunion. Because baptism unites a person to Christ, and babies are baptized, then why deny young children, toddlers or even younger, their place at the communion table?

Wilson writes:

We cannot argue for paedocommunion, urging that little children be allowed to come to the Table that disciplines us all, and then protest if when this discipline starts to take effect. Just realize that it takes effect, in this instance, with the parents. Bringing your children to the Table involves far than bringing them to bread and wine. It means bringing the whole family, heart and soul, hugs and swats, mom and dad, the whole fam, to the Lord Jesus, and He receives us here. So come and welcome.

And:

My toddler grandchildren coming to the Table have true faith — but it is blade faith. We’re not anywhere near done.

Is it his views on patriarchy?

Wilson says patriarchy is “inescapable“:

Patriarchy simply means “father rule,” and so it follows that every biblical Christian holds to patriarchy. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23), and fathers have the central responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are required to obey their parents (both of them), and since the wife is to follow the lead of her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24), this means that the father is responsible to provide for and protect his family. Father rule. That’s the good part.

The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement. The thesis is not that men are good, but rather that men are crucial. When they are crucial and selfish, a lot of bad things happen. When they are crucial and obedient, a lot of good follows.

Is it his views on marriage?

Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on marriage. Valerie Hobbs and I wrote an article looking at way Wilson addresses husbands and wives in wedding sermons. Here are some other Wilson quotes on marriage:

He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord—Dominus—at the cross. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 24). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Nevertheless, the dominance of the husband is a fact; the only choice we have in this regard concerns whether that dominance will be a loving and constructive dominion or hateful and destructive tyranny. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 25). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Second, wives need to be led with a firm hand. A wife will often test her husband in some area, and be deeply disappointed (and frustrated) if she wins. It is crucial that a husband give to his wife what the Bible says she needs, rather than what she says she needs. So a godly husband is a godly lord. A woman who understands this biblical truth and calls a certain man her husband is also calling him her lord. It is tragic that wholesale abdication on the part of modern men has made the idea of lordship in the home such a laughable thing. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 80). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

A man may not be a vocational theologian, but in his home he is still the resident theologian. The apostle Paul, when he is urging women to keep silent in church, tells them that “if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home” (1 Cor. 14:35). The tragedy is that many modern women have to wonder why the Bible says they should have to ask their husbands. “He doesn’t know.” But a husband must be prepared to answer his wife’s doctrinal questions, and if he cannot, then he must be prepared to study so that he can remedy the deficiency. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (pp. 40-41). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

The first time the dishes are not done, he must sit down with his wife immediately, and gently remind her that this is something which has to be done. At no time may he lose his temper, badger her, call her names, etc. He must constantly remember and confess that she is not the problem, he is. By bringing this gently to her attention, he is not to be primarily pointing to her need to repent; rather, he is exhibiting the fruit of his repentance. He does this, without rancour and without an accusative spirit, until she complies or rebels. If she complies, he must move up one step, now requiring that another of her duties be done. If she rebels, he must call the elders of the church and ask them for a pastoral visit. When the government of the home has failed to such an extent, and a godly and consistent attempt by the husband to restore the situation has broken down, then the involvement of the elders is fully appropriate. ‘Not Where She Should Be

Is it his views on sex?

Another area that has drawn controversy for Wilson is his teachings on sex. Here is one of the most frequently quoted passages:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed. But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 978-985). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Is it the way he treats women who disagree with him?

Wilson frequently responds to critics with sarcasm and sharp words. Here are some examples for how he’s talked about women who disagree with him:

the clueless women who blindly liked Wilkin’s article on Facebook, but who are themselves pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes ‘Waifs With Manga Eyes

So feminism — smash the patriarchy feminism — wants us to be ruled by harridans, termagants, harpies and crones. That sets the tone, and the pestering is then made complete by small-breasted biddies who want to make sure nobody is using too much hot water in the shower, and that we are all getting plenty of fiber. ‘Smash the Complementarity

Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. ‘On Why Christian Women are Prettier

The silly women here are perpetual students — bluestockings — and they are constantly learning, but never getting the point. It would be hard to come up with a better modern example of this than the evangelical feminists. ‘Bluestocking Feminism

Is it the way he never apologizes or admits he’s wrong?

Given the number of controversies that Wilson has been a party to, it would makes sense for him to have apologized at times for saying or doing the wrong thing. Everyone makes mistakes. However, aside from a handful of posts that apologize for wording things in an awkward way, Wilson has not apologized.

I know that every man is a sinner and that even my favorite pastors/theologians are almost certainly wrong about something. And we certainly shouldn’t dismiss every author out there because we disagree on a point or two. But is there a point at which the depth or breadth of the problems becomes significant enough that it’s time to rethink defending a man?

To all those Reformed, Presbyterians out there who are willing to look past the recent Wilson controversies, is it time to consider if what you like is worth defending? For anything that he’s written that you’ve appreciated, isn’t there someone else who has said something similar without all the baggage? Are the qualifiers worth it?

Doug Wilson in his own words

There has been much discussion recently about Doug Wilson’s participation in the Steve Sitler’s wedding. Sitler is a convicted pedophile with a long history of sexual attraction to and abuse of very young children. In June 2011, Doug Wilson presided over the wedding of Steve and Katie Sitler. At one point during the wedding, a man prayed that the couple would be blessed with “the gift and heritage of children.”

Before they could get married, Sitler needed approval from a judge. At that status hearing, the concern was raised about the potential for children:

The discussion amongst Latah County Prosecutor , Bill Thompson; Judge Stegner; and Mr. Wallenwaber, focused, in part, on the legal consequence if/when Steven Sitler and Katie Travis have children. It may be the case that Mr. Sitler will not be allowed to share a home with his wife and child or children. This remedy may be utilized in Idaho when the father is a convicted pedophile. Judge Stegner ruled that the wedding could go forward and issues regarding the protection of children will be addressed if and children are a factor in the marriage.

Earlier this year, Sitler had his first child, and there are significant concerns being raised about his interactions with his son. The question being asked in many places is should a pedophile be encouraged to marry and have children. Given the nature of the sexual perversion and the risk to any children he might father, was it wise to marry Sitler and for someone to pray that he might be blessed with children?

I recently read Doug Wilson’s book, Fidelity, and I think it’s worthwhile to consider what Wilson writes in his book about lust and fleeing temptation.

First, let’s consider Wilson’s definition of lust. Even though he speaks of lust as imagining a “woman” in some sexual way, I think it’s reasonable to include “man” or “child” or “animal’ or anything else:

The answer is that lust is in a man who imagines or sees himself to be with a woman in some sexual way and who consequently has a physiological reaction, usually manifested by an erection. He is aroused and is physiologically interested in sexual intercourse of some description. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 132-134). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Having described what lust is and explained why it’s sinful, Wilson sets out various ways to fight against the problem of lust:

I want to outline a biblical response to the problem of lust which will apply equally to men who are single and men who have a wife. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Location 315). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

What is one of the ways men are to respond to lust? Run away:

The fifth thing men must do is run away—flee the occasions of sin. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Location 357). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And he means it very literally. Men are to actively fight the temptation by doing something about it:

You cannot fight something with nothing. Those who want to fight the temptation to watch some topless women on HBO by sitting on the couch with the remote in hand are likely to be disappointed. Flee. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 361-362). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Not only should a man flee, he should be careful never to look at images that could be used for lust at a later time:

Third, a man should not ever look at images which could serve as lustful fuel at any time. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 1275-1276). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Wilson repeats his exhortation to flee, making it even stronger. Get rid of the things that tempt you:

At the same time, one of the important means for mortifying our internal lusts is to flee the external occasions of lust. So, if you cannot resist the temptations created by the technology in your home, you must get rid of that technology. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 1832-1834). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

What would temptations and external occasions of lust be for a convicted pedophile? From what I’ve read, repentant pedophiles are aware of their struggle and are the first to say that they are not safe to be around children. If children are the temptation, the previous quote would read:

“So, if you cannot resist the temptation created by [children] in your home, you must get rid of [children.]”

It is certainly a hard thing to tell someone that it isn’t wise for them to marry and have children. In the case of a pedophile, it might mean never marrying. However, it may be the wisest and most God honoring decision.

Wilson addresses the issue of a homosexual man who is not attracted or able to have a appropriate sexual relationship with a woman. He concludes that celibacy may be the wisest course of action:

God requires sexual purity, both in thought and deed, and such a man is like a man with heterosexual temptations with no immediate possibility of marriage. Lust is always prohibited. If it is true that such a man could not be interested sexually in a woman, then he needs to come to understand that God’s will for him is celibacy. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 1186-1188). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Granted these examples from Wilson’s book are not specifically about how to manage the lust of a pedophile, but Wilson argues that we should use biblical principles to address those situations that are not specifically covered in the Bible. Surely the same principles apply here:

In many cases, it is necessary to reason biblically from the examples given in Scripture. This is because not every situation is covered, and we have to learn to think like Christians when it comes to situations that do not receive specific attention in the Bible. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 827-829). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Given Wilson’s teachings on the subject of lust, it seems odd to me that no one sat Silter down and counseled him against marrying and having children.

Interestingly, Wilson does specifically address the issue of sexual abuse of children in his book:

[W]hen we are dealing with young children who are abused by adults (pederasty, child porn, etc.) the penalty for those guilty of the crime should be death. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 961-962). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Obviously our laws do not give the death penalty for convicted pedophiles, but wouldn’t the Biblical principle here be to support pedophiles being punished to the full extent of the law? Sitler was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Wilson wrote to the judge asking that the punishment be “measured and limited“:

I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have a good hope that Steven has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.

A few years later, Wilson presided over the marriage of Steve and Katie Sitler. I wish Wilson had followed his own advice and told Sitler to flee temptation. As Wilson noted, the marriage was certainly a legal one. There wasn’t a legal reason not to marry the couple. However, legal doesn’t always mean wise:

 ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

Abusers in the church

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. – 3 John 1:9-10 ESV

In his book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, Pastor Jeff Crippen gives an excellent description of an abuser’s tactics and mentality. Having studied what abusers do and how they act, Pastor Crippen realized that not only are there domestic abusers “hiding out” in churches, there are also people who use these same abusive tactics to attempt to control churches. Sometimes these are members of the congregation, and sometimes these are leaders of the church: pastors, elders, deacons.

Pastor Crippen uses the 3 John passage quoted above as an illustration of the type of person who uses the tactics and mentality of an abuser to bully his or her way around a church:

I originally planned to entitle this book In Search of Diotrephes, because abusers, like Diotrephes, so effectively disguise themselves as “sheep” and hide in the local church. If you are a faithful pastor or church member, the probability that you have met one or both characters in this evil duo is quite high. In Scripture, Diotrephes and Jezebel were both abusers. Today, they still exist within many if not most churches. Masquerading as pious saints, they set themselves up in power and expect the pastor, the elders, and the people to do their bidding, all the while ready to punish any who resist them. Diotrephes and Jezebel are bullies (263-264).

As a pastor’s daughter and a faithful church member, I can vouch for the truth of Pastor Crippen’s statement. I have seen these abusive men and women in many churches. I’ve even been on the receiving end of this type of abusive behavior myself. Pastor Crippen devotes a chapter in his book to applying what he’s learned about an abuser’s tactics and mentality to the Diotrephes type abusers in the church.

So who are these abusive people?

These are people who have caused great harm to Christ’s flock, and in particular, to Christ’s under-shepherds- pastors. Such people see themselves (as Diotrephes apparently did), as entitled to power and control over the flock, and thus regard their abusive tactics, which they use to gain and maintain power, as fully justified. This is one of the most common reasons pastors have short tenures in many churches (264).

Going back to 3 John, Pastor Crippen lays out a description of Diotrephes in the church:

  • He opposes genuine servants of Christ.
  • He undermines the real work of Christ.
  • He exercises an evil power and control over the flock of Christ.
  • He slanders Christ’s servants.
  • He works to isolate Christ’s people from genuine servants of Christ.
  • He opposes the Word of Christ, not acknowledging the Apostles.
  • He drives genuine believers out of the church.
  • He is motivated by a craving to be first. (265)

Pastor Crippen believes that Christians should not be surprised to find these “worst of the worst” in our churches. Scripture warns believers many times that there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing in the church. We should be prepared for people who seem pious but are not actually regenerate. When we recognize them, we should, as John writes in 3 John, expose them for what they are doing. (265)

What kind of tactics can Christians expect from modern Diotrephes in the church? Just as we saw with domestic abusers, there will be:

  • Blaming, false guilt.
  • Re-writing the facts.
  • Playing the victim.
  • Pitting people against one another.
  • Threatening in order to instill fear.
  • Morphing the victim’s words (and God’s Word).
  • Accusing.
  • Deceiving with a cloak of excessive charm.
  • Gathering allies.
  • Particularly targeting the pastor and other genuine believers who are active in the Lord’s work. (Sometimes Diotrephes is the pastor himself. An entirely new dynamic of abuse occurs in such a case.) (266)

A pastor who has come under the influence of a Diotrephes may very well exhibit certain signs and symptoms in his behavior:

  • A loss of personhood.
  • A mind dominated by the presence of the abuser.
  • Erosion of his ability to focus his thoughts, prayers, and energies upon his flock.
  • A loss of confidence.
  • Loss of enthusiasm.
  • A sense of isolation.
  • A burden of guilt and a sense of failure. (271-272)

That last point is one that I’ve seen a number of times. As Pastor Crippen points out, having created an unbearable atmosphere of division within a church, the abusers are “quite masterful at convincing everyone, including the pastor, that this division and unpleasantness is all his fault.” (272)

So what is a pastor or church member to do when a Diotrephes has been sowing division and abusing the church? Pastor Crippen believes that the best approach is to confront them. He highly recommends that pastors and leaders familiarize themselves with the tactics and mentality of abuse. When we know who we are dealing with, we will be better equipped to recognize them and to confront them. (273)

We should also be familiar with the weapons we have to fight against this enemy. Knowing that abusers are not harmless, we must stand against them, and we must put on the whole armor of God. (277) Pastor Crippen uses the passage from Ephesians 6 to show how we must prepare ourselves to do battle against Diotrephes:

These are not imaginary or mystical items. They are very, very real. And they are mighty! They work! In fact, the powers of hell cannot stand against them. He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4) (278).

At the end of the chapter on abusers in the church, Pastor Crippen describes four types of approaches that pastors (and others) should be aware of:

1. The Flatterer: This type of approach is used by abusers to appear pious and draw others into trusting them. Always be careful of those who lay the praise on way too thick. (280)

2. The Concerned Citizen:

Feigning a genuine concern for the cause of Christ, the abuser uses this deceptive tactic to launch what is actually a wicked, discouraging accusation. If you feel a fearful, uneasy knot “in your gut” when someone does this, recognize that you are feeling this way for a valid reason. … As soon as you feel that “pang” of fear or sense that you are talking to an unsafe person, take a deep breath and slow down. Very often your feelings will tip you off before your thoughts will! (280)

3. The Setup:

Abusive, entitled individuals often work to “set up” the pastor for criticism. … Set-up scenarios are most often launched in front of other people int he church. … The best way to respond is to not respond. By this, I don’t mean not saying anything, but rather not permitting yourself to be drawn into a question which is really an accusation (280-281).

4. The Friend: This approach may take a long time to unmask. Abusers are good at hiding their real actions and motivations. Be aware that abusers will attempt to win you to their side. (281)

Interestingly enough, when I had just finished reading this section of the book, I was contacted again by my own personal Diotrephes, a “friend” who turned out not to be. While I would never equate my experiences with those of the victims of domestic abuse, it was both encouraging and freeing to realize what was happening to me. Thanks to having read Pastor Crippen’s book, I was able to recognize her behavior for what it was and act accordingly.

Again, I highly recommend Pastor Crippen’s book, especially for pastors and leaders. Too many people have been hurt by abusers, both domestic and ecclesiastical. Too many churches have been damaged as well. I share Pastor Crippen’s hope that greater familiarity with the tactics and mentality of abuse will allow the church to protect victims and to stand up to abusers.