Scapegoating, Victimhood and Abuse

*Updates below

Rene Girard died a couple of days ago.  I’ve read one of his books, “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning From Heaven”, and it was incredible.  It showed how ancient religions all heavily depended on the scapegoating mechanism, the random selection of some sacrificial victim on which to place the blame for the problems of the community, and lynching him.  This lynching has a powerful effect on making the community feel like their problems were ameliorated and thus creating catharsis and solidarity, that the problems of the community really do feel like they are solved, and thus the lynching was justified.  So this lynching over time takes on mythic proportions, and are reenacted in sacrificial ritual.  Very interesting.  Girard shows how Christianity upends the whole scapegoating mentality, showing that the problems of the community are not due to evil outsiders but the sin in our own hearts.  The envy and covetousness that rules in all our hearts and causes our communal conflicts escalates and escalates, until it’s all located on one bad person- usually some victim already culturally accepted as a suspect- a creepy old woman, a foreigner, a Jew, a homosexual, etc, and sacrifice him.  It’s a bit beyond the scope of this post to do justice to Girard’s insights, but I highly recommend his books.  Girard really should be viewed as one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century.

What Christianity points us to is the problem of sin and covetousness in our own hearts which feeds the conflict in our communities and the scapegoating mechanism that keeps it at bay.  God takes the side of the victim, shows him to be innocent.  Christ Himself is the ultimate example of this, the truly innocent victim that by His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world, and fully exposes the scapegoating mechanism in the process.  The result has been that Christian society, unlike other societies especially of the ancient world, has always been intensely concerned with the innocent victims of society- the poor, the slave, the woman, children and the like.

I raise this because of the way I see a lot of people talk about abuse and victimization today.  Girard points out how the devil’s tactic, his own scapegoating mechanism having been thoroughly exposed by Christianity, is to try to use Christianity’s very concern for victims to create a new set of scapegoats.

Look at this post, for example.  Shane Lems gives us ways to identify the spiritual bully and abuser (first posted here).  He gives us a list of signs by which we can recognize them.  When we take the whole picture, Lems seems to be saying that there is no hope for these people.  Any defense that they raise is just proof that they are bullies.  One of the signs of the abuser is that they will play the victim and gather allies; therefore any protestation of innocence is just further proof of guilt.

Note that every one of these accusations could have been made of Jesus; many of them were.  He gathered allies.  He “played the victim”- “Why do you seek to kill me?”  He protested His innocence.  He introduced tremendous confusion.  He used the Scriptures against the Pharisees.  And etc.  But according to Lems’ article, once you have identified the abuser, suddenly your obligations to follow the Scriptural patterns of church discipline are out the window.  You don’t listen to them or anyone else defending them.  You just shun them, reject them, get rid of them.  He says,

If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people!  These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes.  In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people.  If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock!

This is a huge problem.  It does not follow the Scriptural procedures for church government, and it does not reflect the Biblical teachings on grace, humility or the awareness of self-deception.  Once you think you’ve decided someone meets this list of criteria, all of a sudden you don’t have to treat them as fellow Christians anymore?

Rev. Lems quotes Jeff Crippen’s book “A Cry for Justice”.  This is an author who claims, among other things, that when someone comes to us with a claim that they are being abused, we should believe them, and immediately treat the other person as an abuser.  He will give you the signs to know how to spot the abuser- some of them are listed in Rev. Lem’s article.  Mr. Crippen quotes a number of passages to support his claim that we should just believe the one claiming abuse, but they all amount to the fact that God wants justice, and wants the church to support the oppressed.  None of them support his claim that it’s right to reflexively believe the one who claims to be a victim or even that we should be predisposed to believe them.  He downplays the Bible’s concern about false witnesses:

This is what God’s Word warns us about. Are there Scriptures that deal with false allegations? Yes. But clearly the main thrust of Scripture in this area is NOT to restrain some excessive thirst for righteousness and justice, but quite the opposite.

Quite the contrary, the commandment not to bear false witness is one of the Ten- the ninth in fact.  We have more than one prominent story of false accusations being used to destroy people- Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, and Nabal and Ahab both spring readily to mind.  One might even remember Jesus Himself, murdered by false accusations.  The Bible’s concern for scapegoating is very prominent, in fact.  Abel, Jacob, the prophets, David, many others- all victims of false accusations.  The Bible’s concern for false witness is so great that if someone made a false accusation against someone else, then whatever punishment that person would have received, the perjurer receives instead:

16 “If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing,
17 “then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days.
18 “And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother,
19 “then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
20 “And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.
21 “Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deu 19:16-21 NKJ)

This passage shows a very high level of concern regarding false witnesses, and demands “careful inquiry” into a matter, not just running off to judgment.

Exodus 23:1-3 among many other places addresses false witness, not running with a crowd to do evil, not being swept up by a mob to lynch someone.  It specifically tells us not to favor a poor man in his dispute- the Bible recognizes and refutes any preferential treatment given to the supposed underdog.  Poor people, women, children, the weak, are just as capable of lying as the rich, the strong, the man.

Proverbs 6:19 says that a false witness is one of the abominations that God hates.  It’s definitely a concern, and one thing I’ve learned is that anything the Bible warns us about, especially something we see crop up repeatedly, is something we can bet we’re going to actually see in practice.

Here’s an article from Jeff Crippen claiming that anyone who comes to the defense of the one you have identified as an abuser is probably an abuser as well.  So that’s a good way of scaring off any potential defenders of the subject of your lynch mob- guilt by association.

We never assume guilt without proving it by Biblical evidence.  We never assume our ability to see people’s hearts, to “discern” by some list on the Internet of the “signs of abusers.”  We must recognize the deceptiveness of our own hearts.  Whether it be domestic abuse, pedophilia, bullying in the church or whatever, the Scriptural procedures must rule.  Assumption of innocence, careful examination of evidence, giving both sides a chance to be heard, always desiring the restoration of the brother, being very cautious of our own ability to deceive ourselves and be deceived by others.  The idea that we can accept a man like Jeff Crippen’s definition of how we can spot an abuser, and then we can put him in a box labeled “wolf” and then the Biblical procedures of church discipline and concern for truth no longer matter but he can just be “gotten rid of” as soon as possible without any concern at all for the well-being of the one you have labeled an abuser is absolutely contrary to the gospel.

We also must recognize the very powerful scapegoating tendency built into our hearts by sin, the desire to focus the blame for all of our problems on other people.  Is there abuse?  Are there men who beat women, men who molest kids, people who are bullies in churches?  Of course.  But there are also liars, and some of them are women and children and the poor, who recognize just how potent the accusation of abuse is, and use it to get their way.  I’ve seen it more than once.  The Bible tells us these stories too.

And we are all sinners.  We have all abused people.  It might be comforting to think of a nice bright line with all the bad guys (wolves, bullies, abusers) on one side and all the nice people like me on the other.  But this is a classic scapegoating setup, a classic way of transferring all the problems of our own lives onto some evil monster who we can then lynch and feel better about ourselves.  This is absolutely encouraging us to do what Exodus 23 forbids, running after a crowd to do evil, being quick to accuse and find guilt.  Following Jeff Crippen’s advice on this, as Rev. Lems is encouraging us to do, basically lets us take anyone we don’t like, label them as an abuser, and then shun them and run them out of the church without due process or possibility of forgiveness.  This is absolutely horrible teaching, and we must reject it.

If you’re going to read Jeff Crippen, I’d also strongly suggest you read Rene Girard.

Your problem is not the other guy.  Your problem is you, always you.  It’s not what goes into a man that corrupts him, it’s what comes out of his own heart.  Jesus was the ultimate victim of abuse, and because of the righteousness of His own heart, that abuse from evil men never kept Him from being faithful to His heavenly calling, and in the end He overcame and God vindicated Him fully.  This is where our trust must be.

So absolutely, the church should be advocating for the victim, those subject to the evil abuse of others.  But we must do so in the way Scriptures tell us to, and fully recognize the deceptiveness and the limitations of our own understanding, that sometimes the one we think is the victim is actually the bully.


*Edited for clarity and grammar.

*Update:  Rev. Shane Lems is a pastor in the OPC, a denomination with which the RCUS has fraternal relations.  I have a great degree of respect for the OPC and for its ministers, though I have not met Rev. Lems personally.  I think the teaching I linked to above is unwise and mistaken, and has the potential to foster a great deal of abuse, but that should not be interpreted as saying that Rev. Lems himself is a false teacher, a bad pastor or anything like that.

This issue in particular is one I think that is particularly difficult to see clearly on, as we all hate abuse and bullying, and hate to see people victimized.  I have been involved in my fair share of very difficult cases in churches in which abusive behavior was taking place, and believe I have been the target of it myself.  I have also been the target of accusations of it.  This is why I believe we need to be sensitive to both sides of the issue, and why it is so important to mistrust ourselves and apply the Biblical principles of church government to all cases impartially, whatever the appearance of the matter.

*Second update:  I had a good exchange with Rev. Lems via email, and he wanted me to know that his blog post should not be taken as a whole-hearted endorsement of everything Crippen teaches.  So that’s very helpful.  Thanks, Rev. Lems.

15 thoughts on “Scapegoating, Victimhood and Abuse

  1. Medward, I believe you have misconstrued Jeff Crippen’s and Shane Lems’ advice and have created a straw man argument.
    Neither the book “A Cry For Justice” nor Shane Lem’s post advised what you claim in your post they advised. You said their advice is: “Basically let’s us take anyone we don’t like, label them as an abuser, and then shun them and run them out of the church without due process or possibility of forgiveness.”

    Jeff and Shane do NOT say we can label anyone we don’t like as an abuser.

    They DO say that there are certain common marks that are found in abusers; and as part of our job as maturing Christians, we all do well to learn what those marks are.

    Jeff also teaches (and I agree with him) that church discipline takes more varieties and forms than just the Matthew 18:15-17 procedure. Sometimes church discipline is much more sharp and quick than the step by step Matthew 18 process. The case study and principles of that ‘sharper quicker discipline’ are found in 1 Corinthians 5.

    Jeff and I both agree that it IS possible for Christians to learn how to discern and identify abusers and bullies. Yes, believers still battle against their own flesh and so they must guard against becoming proud or arrogant about their powers of discernment. But as believers we do have the Holy Spirit guiding and leading us, and if we work on our sanctification we can indeed become more wise and more discerning as we live our Christian lives. To denounce or discount any claim by a Christian who asserts he or she has learned discernment about the common characteristics of evildoers and how one may generally detect evildoers from knowing these ‘red flags’, is rather harsh and unbending of you in my opinion.

    If you had read and learned and studied about the mentality and tactics of abusers as much as Jeff Crippen has, and if you had runs on the board for ministering to as many victims of abuse as he has ministered to, I think you would come to agree with him about the marks of abusers, bullies and coverts-aggressive individuals.

    Yes, there are such things as false accusations of abuse. In my observation (and the professionals who work in the domestic abuse and violence field agree with me on this) false accusations of abuse are COMMONLY made by the *perpetrators* of abuse.

    Genuine victims of abuse commonly take years if not decades to realise that what they are suffering is properly called “Abuse”. If they *do* come to that realisation, they are often very tentative and self-doubting about it at first, so they may not assert it very firmly when initially seeking help from bystanders. When the victim does seek help from bystanders or officials in authority such as church leaders, the perpetrator typically turns the tables and accuses the target (their victim) of being the *real* abuser. In other words, perpetrators feign victimhood and seek pity and ‘support’ from bystanders and authority figures.

    That knotty problem means that a standard Matthew 18 process is more likely than not to end up with the church leaders condeming the true victim and condoning the perpetrator. Seminaries do not teach this stuff adequately, so most pastors are ill-prepared for recognising the marks of a true victim versus a pretend victim. And likely, they are ill-prepared to know how best to deal with abusers.

    I invite you to read this article of mine:
    Marks of a pretend victim versus a true victim

    You also said, and I quote:

    “Your problem is not the other guy. Your problem is you, always you.”

    That is an unbiblical assertion because it is far too much of a generalization. Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees as whitewashed tombs, vipers, hypocrites full of greed and self-indulgence. As blind guides straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! He denounced large cohorts of men who were passing themselves off as highly religious people. He said in no uncertain terms that they were sons of Satan wearing the masks of believers. People like that are in the church today. It is foolish to think that because someone says they are a brother we *must always* treat them as a brother.

    We are told to know them by their fruit. The marks of an evildoer. The fruit. It’s pretty simple really, once you take on board that there ARE wolves right now who are disguising themselves as sheep. And the Bible clearly says Put Them Out! Hand them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

    Imagine a victim of an abusive husband. Imagine that she is told: “The problem is not your husband. The problem is you, always you.” That advice will greatly intensify and complicate her suffering. It is one of the most unjust and wrongful things you can say to a woman whose husband is abusing her.

    Please reconsider what you have said. Please become more informed about the mentality and tactics of abusers.

  2. Matt Powell says:

    Hi Barbara,
    Thanks for reading and responding. I have no doubt that you have a great deal of concern and compassion for people hurting and suffering at the hands of others. However, everything I see in your comment and everything I’ve read on your blog says essentially, “Scripture is not sufficient but my expertise (or that of Jeff Crippen) is.” That pretty much confirms all my concerns.

    1 Corinthians 5 says nothing about the speed or process with which the man should be ejected. It is true that sometimes a different process than Matthew 18 is appropriate, but 1 Corinthians 5 is outlining a public sin. A man’s living arrangements are a matter of public knowledge. In such cases private admonition is unnecessary. But that still does not suspend the Biblical requirements of evidence and witnesses. It just changes the place where you start. An accusation of domestic abuse simply does not fall into this category. It is not a public matter. It must be proven.

    I’d also note that in this situation in 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church did not immediately excommunicate the man, as it appears in 2 Corinthians 2. They exhorted him and inflicted some lower level of discipline, and the man responded with repentance, and Paul said to receive him back with love, to forgive him. Note particularly verse 11, and the warning about falling prey to Satan’s devices by being too harsh on the man and being unwilling to forgive and love him.

    I did not say that Jeff Crippen literally says you can label anyone one you don’t like an abuser. But I am saying that these signs of the abuser are so ambiguous and subjective they could be applied to anyone you want to. If a man defends himself, claims to be falsely accused, has friends that defend him, and there is confusion in the situation- all of that is proof to you that he is an abuser. Those things could be said about anyone. Those signs are useless. They could all be applied to someone who was falsely accused just as much as someone who is truly accused. And the danger of false accusations is huge, and the Scriptures warn us sharply against it. Remember Potiphar’s wife. Remember Nabal and Ahab. In the rush of a moment, it is easy to get swept up in a mob and make mistakes. Thus Exodus 23:1-3.

    As for the statement of mine that you quote, I stand by it. A great many godly Christian people have lived and do live in situations of terrible suffering that they were powerless to change, and they need to know that Christ is sufficient for them. It is better for a Christian to suffer abuse than to sin in addressing that abuse, as many Scriptures testify, like 1 Peter 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 6:7. Paul tells slaves to be patient and obedient in their slavery (and I’m sure you know what slavery in the Roman Empire involved), though they should take opportunity to be free of it if possible. He never tells them to run away from it. Consider Philemon and Onesimus Onesimus is required to return, but Philemon is urged (not commanded) to free him, and at any rate to treat him well, like a brother.

    So the one who is suffering must first and foremost look to Christ to meet their needs and to be sufficient for them. It is all too common for us to blame our problems on other people. But Christ is our model, who was humble, meek and mild, and the servant of all. He trusted His heavenly Father to see Him through every difficulty.

    I did not say there aren’t evil people. Of course there are, and they should be denounced and resisted, according to Biblical principles. My point is that all of the circumstances of our lives are under the control of a sovereign God who works all things for our good, so that the most important thing is not to change the circumstances of our lives, but to learn to deal with them in a godly way. This is I think the big message of 1 Corinthians 7, especially verses 17-24. We can be good and faithful Christians wherever we are. Our greatest enemy is always the sin in our own heart.

    None of this is to say the church shouldn’t address abuse or that wives should never leave their abusive husbands. Of course not. But our hearts are deceitful above all things. We constantly justify our own sins and magnify the sins of others. And we all abuse each other. We all sin against each other. And the Scriptures give us ways to deal with that, and those ways are sufficient. I have a fair degree of experience myself dealing with sin in churches, in marriages, and in homes, and I have learned enough to know that none of us are that smart. We need the Scriptures to guide us. We need to restrict ourselves to its procedures. Better for us to suffer abuse from others than to violate the will of our Father in heaven, as the Scriptures repeatedly tell us.

    The Biblical procedures, as well as the constitution of my own denomination, require me to treat any offender as a brother until the point when the church, following the rules Scripture gives us, determine that he is not. I never get to just decide on my own that someone is not a brother, is a wolf, and therefore does not deserve due process. In addition to the Scriptures quoted above from the Old Testament and Matthew 18, consider Galatians 6- it applies to “any trespass” including domestic abuse, the great desire is to restore the sinner in a spirit of gentleness, and we are warned of the danger ourselves of falling into sin in the process. What would we be tempted with here? Given the stress put on restoration and gentleness, it is clear what Paul is warning us about is rushing to judgment, being overly harsh and the like. Everything about your approach violates this passage. And it violates every principle of my own church’s rules of discipline which have been around for a couple hundred years, and which is very similar to every other Reformed denomination’s procedures which I have had the opportunity to examine. These constitutions represent centuries of accumulated wisdom on these matters. Our rules require due process, rules of evidence, plenty of opportunities to repent and respond to rebuke. I am stunned to see you say that following Matthew 18 in a domestic abuse situation would more often than not return bad results! These are the instructions of Jesus! And He gives us no instruction to apply His principles only to some kinds of sins.

    Titus 3:10 is another example- a divisive man is to be rebuked after the first and second admonition. Not immediately- but after rejecting repeated admonitions.

    If a man doesn’t respond to rebukes, the time will come to expel him. But that process must be followed. These are not our sheep. They are Jesus’ sheep, and we will answer to him. We don’t get to decide, by our own criteria and experience, that Jesus’ sheep are really wolves and we can throw them out. We have no right to make that determination except by the criteria and by the process that Jesus Himself gave us in Matthew 18. Anyone accused of a sin must be admonished and given opportunity to repent. Our own constitution requires a six-month period minimum before someone can be excommunicated, and that’s after a trial, the verdict of which they have the right to appeal to both classis and synod. During that time they are to be admonished as brothers. We don’t get to suspend this process for certain kinds of sins.

    In particular, any suggestion that domestic abuse of any kind is some kind of unforgivable sin that nobody ever repents of is absolutely unbiblical and a denial of the gospel.

    The weak and vulnerable are protected by laws. When church leaders become free to ignore the rules based on their feelings about people, it is the most weak and vulnerable that always suffer. Even if you are starting with good intentions, it is a terrible precedent to set, that I can excommunicate someone based purely on my opinion of them and without any real evidence or due process. That is an approach ripe for abuse itself.

    And perhaps you are concerned about situations where churches covered up and facilitated abuse. Rightly so- many of those situations are horrible. But those situations aren’t failures of Biblical church government or due process. Those situations were caused precisely by this kind of thinking- that a man’s experience can enable him to spot abusers and know people’s hearts, so if an experienced, well-intentioned church leader “just knows” that a guy is a good guy, then there’s no reason to follow through with proper investigations. A Biblical approach demands that all accusations be taken seriously and dealt with properly.

    We do not take the position of some, that divorce is never an option. I want to make that clear. And if a man is physically violent, the cops should be called and the woman protected while the church goes through the process of discipline. Physical violence is absolutely grounds for divorce. Verbal violence might be as well in certain extreme cases. Verbal violence is certainly a cause for church discipline, and church discipline has a way of driving the rebellious man away. The Bible lays all of this out for us.

    So again, I thank you for reading and I really do appreciate your great concern for the oppressed. But I’d urge you to recognize that the Scriptures are sufficient, and the best thing we can do to promote God’s ends is to restrict ourselves to Scriptures’ procedures, for the protection of all of the sheep.

  3. Medward, you said in your reply “I did not say that Jeff Crippen literally says you can label anyone one you don’t like an abuser. ”

    In the second sentence of my above comment I quoted your post accurately word for word — and I put the quote in quotation marks to make it ultra clear. Your post (paragraph 18) said: “BASICALLY let’s us take anyone we don’t like, label them as an abuser, and then shun them and run them out of the church without due process or possibility of forgiveness.”

    Now you slide in the word LITERALLY to try to get out of what you claimed ‘basically’. I am unimpressed with your argumentative style. It is too slippery.

    Your argument about 1 Cor 5 being ONLY for publicly known sins is unprovable. Yes, the sin of the man in 1 Cor 5 was publicly known to the church. But when Paul gave his directive in verse 11, he did not qualify it by saying that instruction was *only* to be applied to publicly known sins. You are engaging in selective interpretation and eisegesis which results in enormous injustice to victims of domestic abuse.

    “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV)

    It does NOT say: Now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if it is *public knowledge* that he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.

    Nor does it specify if the person’s sin is not public knowledge but is known to one or a few members of the church, rather than putting them out pronto you have to follow the Lord’s teaching of a step-by-step process of investigative discipline.

    If a so-called believer is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler, then that person’s character is such a danger to the church (leaven: the Corinthian church was arrogant and Paul told them so! )— then that person needs to be put out of the church for the safety of the congregation. That is the trust of Paul’s teaching.

    Paul’s instructions about excommunication being applied pronto must (by common sense and the whole counsel of God) apply when the sin(s) of the indidual are entrenched and recurrent. The instruction wouldn’t apply to a one off or small veering from the path into one of those sins. But our definition of Domestic Abuse covers that. As you will see on our blog, we give this definition in the sidebar:

    Domestic abuse is a pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.

    … key word:
    PATTERN. Pattern of conduct. Pattern of behaviour. Pattern of an attitude of entitlement. Pattern of an attitude of ‘owning’ his wife as if she is an object or a servant.
    … Another key word: exercising POWER and CONTROL. Not the occasional rudeness or discourtesy or insensitivity which even the best of us show sometimes to other people. The domestic abuser uses power and control intentionally, malignantly, by choice, not by accident. He anticipates that his victim will resist and he makes plans to squash her resistance.

    Many many domestic abusers are guilty of most if not all of the six sins listed in 1 Cor 5:11.

    Sexual immorality? check in many cases — porn addiction and/or serial adultery . Not all abusers use porn or engage in adultery. However, those who don’t may still sexually abuse their wives by coercively controlling them to submit to sex they don’t want and punishing them if they refuse to submit.

    Greed? check — often in countless ways, many of which result in financial abuse of the victim

    Idolatry? check and double check! — the abuser expects his partner to worship him and put him before God. And churches and abusers also spiritually abuse the victims by claiming that God prioritises the institution of marriage over the wellbeing and safety individuals within it. This is nothing less that the idolatry of marriage.

    Reviling? check — verbal abuse! That is the meaning of the word ‘revile’.

    Drunkard? sometime this applies. Some abusers are addicted to alcohol or other substances.

    Swindler? check! — e.g. courting a woman while claiming to be a Christian when he isn’t one; fraudulently putting on a nice mask during the courship to entice her into marriage only to take it off later once he’s got her trapped. Plus all the swindling (extortion, taking things by force) which he does during the marriage in countless ways. Abusers lie and deceive and use threats and standover tactics to get what they want. All of that comes under the meaning of this word, when you look at the meaning in the Greek.

    So most abusers are guilty of several of these six sins, and it is not uncommon for an abuser to be guilty of all six. Habitually. Intentionally. By choice.

    And are you really wanting to argue that if an abuser can ‘keep these sins hidden from public knowledge’ then the church may not do pronto excommunication when his victim discloses her plight and seeks help? Your doctrine leaves the victims in a very dangerous position. They are likely to be disbelieved by the church — not least because the the abuser will pull out all stops to get bystanders and church leaders thinking the woman is crazy and is therefore that she bears fault for the marriage problem.

    It is NOT a ‘marriage’ problem – that term mutualises the sin. It is an ABUSE problem and abuse is always unilateral.

    And btw, I was doing the work I do long before I met Jeff Crippen. I do not ‘follow’ him or take everything he says as gospel. He and I are colleagues now, that’s all. I feel insulted by this characterization you gave of my attitude and beliefs: ““Scripture is not sufficient but my expertise (or that of Jeff Crippen) is.”

    You said ” I am stunned to see you say that following Matthew 18 in a domestic abuse situation would more often than not return bad results!”

    This indicates to me how little you have read about the experiences of Christian victims of domestic abuse. We have a tag on our blog for Church Discipline. If you read the posts in that tag, or do a search for “Matthew 18” using the search bar, you will find many many stories from victims whose churches employed Matthew 18 with the result that the victim was expelled from the church … . or if not expelled, she chose to leave because the injustice and disbelief she received from the church was so injurious to her wellbeing and safety.

    As I said, I am unimpressed with your argumentative style. I don’t think it’s worth engaging with you much more. This will be my last comment on this post.

    I have no doubt that if you publish this comment of mine you will write a reply to try to shred my arguments. Don’t expect me to respond again because I won’t. So of course you can have the last word if you wish, since it’s your blog.

  4. Matt Powell says:

    I apologize for insulting you with regard to Crippen. I do not know your relation to his ministry, only that you were quoting him a lot.

    You’re twisting my words though. I said that following Crippen’s advice lets you label anyone you don’t like an abuser. I did not say he said that. I said that was the practical effects of his teaching. That’s pretty clear. I’ll let the reader decide.

    I also note that you are again holding your experience above the clear teachings of Scripture. Your response to my issue with your refusal to apply Matthew 18 was to cite all the times you know that it didn’t work. I am likewise unimpressed with your argumentation.

    Paul’s teachings can’t be pitted against Jesus’. Paul doesn’t give us a procedure. He doesn’t tell us how fast to put them out of the church, or with what process. So you can’t use those statements to say that Jesus’ teaching doesn’t apply.

    God is sufficient. We never get to say that we know better than God’s own instruction. We cannot improve on His instructions to us by violating what He has commanded. You will not serve the interests of the oppressed by disobeying the God of justice. He will repay. Vengeance belongs to Him. When we have done the best we can to apply His principles of church discipline, we can always be confident that God will bring justice in His time. But we don’t have any right to transgress His instructions. We are not wiser than Him. Jesus did not limit His instructions in Matthew 18 to just some kinds of sins. If an abuser successfully hides his sins and evades church discipline, then we will trust God to make it clear in His time. But you cannot sincerely ask me to believe that your process is better at ferreting these things out than that of Scripture itself, let alone that of churches who have been doing these things for centuries, can you?

    The principles of evidence, of giving everyone a hearing, of not condemning a man unheard, of assuming innocence until guilt is proved, of not reflexively taking one side in a dispute, are all Scriptural principles, embedded in the Mosaic Law, taught in the Proverbs and reiterated by our Lord and His Apostles. I thank you for your interaction, but I will continue to adhere to the practice of my denomination, as I believe it to be Scriptural, and that your teachings are not.


  5. Misti says:

    Did you not notice that Ms. Roberts pointed out that you’re defining verbal testimony alone as evidence, ignoring the evidence of actions and the fruits thereof? That makes your appeals to authority, about how we’re to examine evidence, actually support her, not you.

    Otherwise, you’ve intended to indicate that verbal testimony is all that qualifies as evidence, and actions and the fruits thereof are not evidence—which is blatantly unScriptural (ref. Matthew 7:16–20) and is inconsistent with your claim to follow Scripture.

  6. Matt Powell says:

    I have done no such thing, and I do not believe that. I have said is that you cannot convict a man in your mind based solely on an accusation and that you should not convict a man quickly. You have to look for more evidence than that, and a lot of the evidence that has been proposed is not evidence. It’s not evidence of guilt, for example, for a man to defend himself, or for a man to have others defend him. The accused must have an opportunity to defend himself from accusations. Of course you look at other evidence, including strongly considering the evidence that might be part of a criminal case against an accused abuser, or a conviction of such crimes.

    What I objected to in the article was this list of vague and broad characteristics by which you could know an abuser, when most of those characteristics would be present in a man falsely accused of abuse as well.

    1. Misti says:

      Anything can be misapplied. Your very protest does so, misrepresenting what the article actually says. Nothing in it precludes defending oneself from accusations. (I just read it again to check.) The article is specifically answering what church bullies and abusers do to deceive others.

      I’m not sure if you’re unfamiliar with the jargon or if you’re just using the wrong definitions common in some parts the PCA, but the terms describe abusive patterns of behavior. Such patterns are a person’s fruits.

      That means your claim that “most of those characteristics would be present in a man falsely accused of abuse” is saying that a man falsely accused of abusive patterns of behavior would engage in abusive patterns of behavior—that a healthy tree would bear bad fruit. That’s directly contrary to Scripture (ex. Luke 6:44).

      Abusers and victims speak differently, even in their phrasing, and the fruits they display will differ. For example, there’s “Sorry if I offended you” and “Sorry that you feel offended.” One indicates that the speaker is taking responsibility for the consequences of his or her actions. The other does not.

  7. Misti,

    “That means your claim that “most of those characteristics would be present in a man falsely accused of abuse” is saying that a man falsely accused of abusive patterns of behavior would engage in abusive patterns of behavior—that a healthy tree would bear bad fruit. That’s directly contrary to Scripture (ex. Luke 6:44).”

    No, what I am meaning to say is that a lot of those behaviors are not abusive behavior. They are things that an innocent person would do too, like gather allies or defend oneself. One of the items for example was “minimize the situation.” Well, if a man was being falsely accused of violence, of beating his wife, and he says, “I never beat her. One time I got mad and punched a wall.” If that was actually true, he could be accused of minimizing the situation. But it might actually be true. Punching a wall is certainly a sinful expression of anger, but it doesn’t fall into the same category as beating your wife. Women make false accusations sometimes (something ACFJ says almost never happens), and if a man were to defend himself from these false accusations, ACFJ would just say he’s minimizing, he’s creating chaos, he’s gathering allies. All just more proof he’s an abuser. That’s why this teaching is so vicious- it makes it impossible for a man to defend himself once accused. Anything he says to defend himself can simply be described as more abusive behavior.

    And really, if you’re a reader of ACFJ, then you’ve seen plenty of this, where anyone who disagrees with them or teaches different things than them (like John Piper) is denounced as an abuse enabler, a wolf, even an abuser themselves. Look at the way they treat anyone who disagrees with them. They’ll have people come into their comments and briefly describe their husbands’ behavior, and Crippen or Roberts or others in the comments will instantly diagnose the man as an abuser and tell her to leave her husband. This is based on the most minimal information, and sometimes not much more than “my husband is mean to me sometimes”.

    So yes, they use “pattern”. But who defines what a pattern is? Actually seeing Crippen and Roberts in practice, they will diagnose a “pattern” very quickly, and yes, in theory the accused can defend himself (like the Communists allowed you to defend yourself in their show trials), but in practice, anything you say just is further proof of your guilt in their mind.

    1. Matt Powell says:

      So what I’m saying is, yes, a lot of these behaviors are things an abusive man does. But they’re useless in actually diagnosing a man as abusive, because they will give false positives. Men who are not abusive would do a lot of these things too, if falsely accused of abuse. It’s like saying, “An abusive man is sometimes nice to his kids,” and therefore every man who is nice to his kids is an abuser.

  8. Does the teaching on church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 ONLY pertain to ‘public sins’ — to sins that are publicly known? No, it does not.

    See these two posts:
    Does 1 Corinthians 5:11 apply only if there is common knowledge of the person’s sin? (Part 1)

    Does 1 Corinthians 5:11 apply only if there is common knowledge of the person’s sin? (Part 2)

  9. After accusing me of being an abuser just because I disagreed with her, Barbara Roberts is no longer welcome to post on the blog.

    I’ll leave up the posts she’s already put up to allow readers to judge for themselves the quality of exegesis and argumentation coming from A Cry For Justice.

  10. Ray Rogers says:

    Those who go to the woods to look for Bigfoot will point to all sorts of things as evidence: piles of branches, broken sticks, the odd rock etc.
    When challenged that all of these can be otherwise explained, they will say that more conclusive evidence is so hard to find because Bigfoot is so smart, and coverts its tracks.
    Just something to think about.

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