The New Abuse-Aware Church

There is a new trend in Christianity. It is the trend of being abuse-aware in churches. Many of the biggest marriage and family organizations have joined it, as have many large and very influential churches. They are publishing articles, making statements, removing damning statements from public view, and generally rushing about to shine up their image on an issue that is becoming more and more vocal in the church.

The problem is – the actions being taken clearly reveal that underneath the public polish, nothing has changed.

As recently as a few months ago, there was a huge stink about public transcripts posted by Saddleback Church on their website, clearly stating that their policy was to insist a victim of abuse remain in that marriage unless she was being physically beaten on a regular, ongoing basis. Their statements about divorce left NO POSSIBLE allowance for divorce for abuse.

In a move I predicted, they removed those transcripts from public view quietly and without comment. But not before I transcribed them word-for-word. And apparently, that was a wise choice because they have gone into deny-and-cover mode. This article clearly reveals they are attempting damage control. The article says Jim Wilke stated what happens is pieces are taken from the whole of their stand, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. Really? The “pieces” were the ones THEY publically published – nobody took anything out of context there!

In fact, I have communicated personally with more than one individual who received the exact destructive abuse counseling from Saddleback Church of which myself and others are trying to raise awareness.

If Saddleback really didn’t mean what they plainly said in the transcripts, why has there not been an equally public retraction and acknowledgement of error? By attempting to tell people what they clearly expect to hear (as in the case of the above linked article) and minimizing the reality of what actually has happened they are, in fact, underscoring their error.

What was plainly taught in those transcripts, and which my private and extensive communication with some counselees in that church supports as accurate, is unscriptural and literally dangerous. If that is not their policy now, there should be a statement saying they were wrong and have changed their policies in specific ways. This has not happened. Instead, those who specifically ask (obviously wanting to hear that the church isn’t locked in the Dark Ages of misunderstanding and handling the Word) are being told what they want to hear and blame is shifted to vague others who have misunderstood – what was clearly and publically stated.

Unfortunately, Saddleback is not the only highly visible church or ministry in this same boat. Family Life recently published an article which glorified and applauded remaining in an abusive marriage and “suffering for righteousness sake.” When there was a huge outcry, recorded for posterity in the comments section (which they may delete since attention is being called to it) the article was modified and editorial comments added to the beginning. In fact, this clearly revealed that they do not grasp the issues of abuse, since those familiar with abuse can plainly see an abuser and victim in the original article.

However, these adjustments made by Family Life change nothing. It is another public relations cover, as clearly indicated by the fact they also recently featured Mark Driscoll as a model of teaching godly marital values. Unfortunately, Freedom For Captives is just one of quite a few sites which chronicle, in detail, Mark Driscoll’s own abusive teachings. If you read enough, you will find quotes that describe how Driscoll teaches absolute subjugation of the wife, and an abusive “leadership” style of husbands.

You can also hear for yourself, Mark Driscoll describing his own abusive behavior toward his wife (especially the last 5 minutes). What he describes is controlling, abusive, even violent – it doesn’t matter if it was toward others! This is the way he treats his own wife, and this is what he uses as an example of “protecting” your family. No, that is not protection – it is ownership, control, violence and abuse. That is classic abuser behavior. He expresses exactly the same attitudes toward his church and even the men in his church in the above sermon to men. It is all based on control, authoritarian dictatorship, ownership, violence and abuse.

And just to clarify, verbal violence is just as significant as physical violence. Words carry the power of death and life – that is not metaphorical. God Himself does not treat us that way. Driscoll’s clearly stated theology and example cannot be justified by any teaching under the New Covenant – in fact, quite the opposite. The Word is very clear that God is not extending wrath to the world at this time because of Jesus’ sacrifice — and He certainly doesn’t extend it to those of us who are hidden with Christ in God and whose every single transgression is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice and gone from His sight “as far as the east is from the west.” (For more on this subject, see my article Does God Get Angry At Us?.)

These are just three of the very visible churches and ministries which have similar policies and have made similar “adjustments” in a public nod to abuse which changes nothing on the level where it matters most. I suspect it has recently become unfashionable to take a hard stand on abuse. So they “say” they are understanding of it, wrap it all up in a good PR package – and change nothing.

When it comes down to it, judgment of what qualifies as abuse still sits in the hands of an uneducated (about abuse) pastor or counselor, the victim is assumed to be exaggerating in an attempt to get out of their marriage, the abuser is believed because the pastor/counselor doesn’t know how to read the signs, and abuse is still “graded” with physical abuse being the “bad kind” and everything else negotiable and subjective.

I am frankly alarmed by this new trend by forefront Christian leaders to say they understand abuse and are intolerant of it, while their real treatment of the issue hasn’t changed. In reality, this puts victims in greater danger than they were under blatant ignorance and rejection. Now, the church is telling them it does understand, and in light of that “understanding” victims are still being told the same old things. There has been no new understanding of what abuse is, the roots and heart of it, what the Word actually says about it — nothing. The old stuff has just been re-wrapped in shiny new tissue, with the dangerous contents hiding behind an attractive and disarming package.

8 Responses

  1. I agree with you. Wiping off the recordings off their website, and re-writing articles isn’t understanding.

    Until the day they admit they didn’t grasp it, and show people how they learned to….I don’t trust them personally.

  2. Hi Danni,

    Awesome article. You really did your homework, and it’s a good thing too. Abusers, be they a system or an individual, are notorious for the ol’ lie and cover up strategy… damage control always… admit the minimum they can get away with admitting, minimize that, and then lie about the rest… That is the dynamic I see in the facts you presented re: Rick Warren’s church, Saddleback. And it is shameful behavior. There is no integrity, no Christ-likeness in it.

    Just tonight in the marriage group my husband and I attend at church, we were discussing forgiveness… I felt a little uncomfortable as forgiveness was being conceived of by some as a blanket “reset button,” which would magically resolve everything. I know the leaders did not mean it that way, and yet I did speak up about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, that the former could be done by an individual regardless of the offender/abuser’s heart condition (hardness of heart vs repentance), but that reconciling–trusting that person again and opening up to them again–REQUIRES repentance, which entails a change of heart and of behavior.

    During break I spoke with two of the leaders, stressing that one out of four homes have domestic violence going on within its walls, and this needs to be addressed in any marriage group. Fortunately, they agreed, so we’ll see.

    Church leaders MUST 1) be informed of the reality of domestic violence and all forms of abuse many husbands, including those claiming Christ as their Lord, take out on their wives, 2) they must have policies in place to protect the victims (wives and children) and 3) they must take action on those policies, which should include directing both parties into INDIVIDUAL counseling until they are ready for couples counseling and the husband is slowly reintroduced into the home–if he has owned his abuse and has shown evidence of change.

    NOTE: Couples counseling is contraindicated when there is on-going abuse and should therefore NOT be offered to such a couple (the husband will manipulate the sessions, threaten the wife in private not to tell, and punish her at home if she does).

    Anyway, I SO appreciate your work, your heart and your voice.

    Keep it up!!!


    • Yes, you are exactly right on all points.

      This distinction re: forgiveness is one of many major misunderstandings that keep people in bondage. God never commands us to remain within reach of someone who refuses to repent! We can forgive AND stay out of range of fire.

      This requires an understanding that, while God has told us to forgive, He has also given us responsibility for the temple of God within us and for our relationship with Him – especially His lordship in our lives. To remain in relationship with an abuser is to violate both of these other responsibilities God has given us.

      The church cannot cherry-pick principles out of the whole of the Word and misapply them. I know this is not being done deliberately, but it is being done (as very well illustrated by the comments here by Ancient on May 29, 2009). And we have to speak up for the truth.

      — Danni

  3. The sun is rising…It has been NIGHT for long enough…it may pierce the eyes…but just like water is wet and rocks are hard. TRUTH IS TRUTH and FACTS ARE FACTS


    Woe to those who call good evil and evil good!

    NO MORE LIES, NO MORE COVER UPS! No more marking members who head for the light switch!

    Danni, thank you for covering this matter in the way that you have.


  4. Danni thanks so much for this post. It is excellent. And Sheri, congratulations for your standing up and speaking out.

    Yes, God hates ‘he who maketh a lie.”

    To my mind, the tinsel and tissue is far worse than the former approach. It will raise the hopes of victims and keep them waiting patiently for justice and Biblical resolution even longer than they used to do in the past..

    Sheri persevered for four years with Saddleback. I persevered for about six months with my former church. How much longer will future victims persevere in churches which are re-packaging the same old toxic teaching in pretty tissue, before they finally realize that the only solution is to shake the dust off your feet?

    How long, Lord, how long?

    If anyone reads this post and disbelieves us, I challenge you to read “Why Does He DO That?” by Lundy Bancroft — from cover to cover — before you presume to assert how you understand domestic abuse.

  5. Just a note on the statistics: from my reading of the research studies in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, the rate of “one in four women experience domestic violence” is a LIFETIME rate. A few put this rate at closer to one in three. It depends on how you define domestic abuse. These studies define domestic vilence as acts of physical violence, or else acts-plus-threats of physical violence. These large population studies have usually not covered emotional and other forms of abuse. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to get a mutally agreed exact definition of domestic abuse amongst researchers. Maybe one day we’ll get there, but we ain’t there yet.

    This means that for all women who have ever been partnered, ONE IN FOUR WILL EXPERIENCE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AT SOME STAGE DURING HER LIFE. This is quite different to saying that one in four homes are experiencing domestic violence this year.

    Let’s try to use statistics accurately, to give the doubters no chance to dismiss our genuine concerns.

    • Barbara,
      Thanks for clarifying as to the stats. I agree we do need to “try to use statistics accurately…” It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying. My “one in four homes…” statement was taken from the info I remember from grad school. But like you state, the numbers can mean lots of things due to lack of solid, consistent criteria for “domestic violence” and/or “abuse.” Also, it could be that I may have written my notes incorrectly, or misunderstood the prof. But I trust that since you’ve read many of the studies, from what they can tell at this point, it is “1 out 4 women over her life time will experience DV.” Truly, that is a horrible enough stat as it is.

  6. I’ve found a great article on forgiveness and linked to it from my site under my Resources tab
    Look in the left hand column.

    I’ve taken the liberty of calling the article “What Forgiveness is, and What it is Not.” rather than the actual name given by the author (Bob Kerry).
    This is because many victims are need to understand what forgiveness is and what it is not, since they are so often advised to forgive and reconcile with the abuser as if forgiveness is the same thing as reconciliation.

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