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.

Can God Hear Our Prayers for Our Nation?

Waneta Dawn wrote an excellent post in answer to this question. Ironically, this is something the church in general is not thinking about. We call for prayer for our nation – but will God hear and answer? Does the church have issues that make our prayers unanswerable? There is a very clear answer in the Word to that question!

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

One of the accusations hurled at me regularly regarding this blog is that I am over-exaggerating the seriousness of the situation of abuse in the church. I am told that the problems of both clergy sex abuse and domestic violence in the church are rare and limited to strange, extreme, non-mainstream churches.

I have addressed the fallacy of this assumption elsewhere on my blog, but another thought occurred to me today. To give a little bit of a picture of how big this “molehill” really is, here are some facts.

Click on the link in the right sidebar for “Protestant Clergy Sex Abuse in the News.” See how many pastors and church workers appear there. Now, remember that my collection is quite incomplete — I don’t find every news story. Also, by far, most instances of clergy sex abuse are never reported. Almost all of the ones I know about personally have never been reported.

Now, looking at the number of news stories about clergy sex abuse, consider that I talk to many people experiencing domestic violence in the church to every one of those clergy abuse news stories. And again, I’m only talking to the tiniest fraction of women and men experiencing domestic abuse in the church.

And every one of those people I talk to, and every one of those news stories, literally affects many, many other lives — and the well-being of future generations.

Now, there’s one other important step to this exercise. What is God’s perspective?

For just a tiny peak, here are a couple statements by Jesus.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! — Matt. 18:6-7

The one who is giving offense is the church! Not all the church is giving offense, obviously. But it includes a large segment of mainstream Christianity, not a small set of fringe weirdos.

And God has more to say about what He thinks of this problem, in this same context…

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. — Matt. 18:10-14

So, does it matter? Am I over-exaggerating the seriousness with which God views this?

Rather than me making a mountain out of a molehill, the church is making a molehill out of a mountain. We are so busy picking the splinter out of the world’s eye, we have utterly neglected the beam blinding our own.

An Example of Proactive Church Direction On Clergy Sex Abuse

At this point, it appears that most denominations on the U.S. are taking the head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with clergy sex abuse. Not the least of these is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, there is another way – actually several – and it can be done. Here’s an example of how the Church in Wales is taking proactive measures to address the issue of clergy sex abuse – both providing for the aid of victims and accepting responsibility.

Now, why would US churches not want to do something like this? There are only two reasons which make any sense to me, since our mandate from God to stand up for the afflicted and oppressed is very clear and often repeated in the Word. One reason is simple pride in keeping the public image polished to a high gloss. The other reason is money – what would happen if all those people sued the church? That could put entire denominations out of business.

So what is more important? Image and money, or healing for the afflicted and oppressed? I can’t see Jesus having a single pause over that question. And His answer would be the opposite of the one US churches are choosing. That should be such an indictment that anyone with the Holy Spirit in residence would be overwhelmed by conviction.

Why is reality different from this? And what does that say about the denominational leadership of churches that persist in avoiding this very serious problem?

Southern Baptist Churches Establish Database

After the Southern Baptist Convention’s appalling decision last year against building a database of Baptist clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse, the Baptist General Convention of Texas has completed a $2.4 million database.

Can it be? Did a state convention override the national convention and build a sex-abuser database anyway? Did the largest SBC state organization realize the church’s complicity in crime and their abandonment of God’s basic requirement that His people – and especially the leaders – stand up for the afflicted and oppressed?

Well, no. Christa Brown with Stop Baptist Predators said it best:

Instead, the largest state-wide Baptist convention in the country implemented a “customer-relations management system.” It tracks church giving records and other church statistics. Eventually, it will also track product sales to churches.

They created this “customer-relations” database at a cost of $2.14 million.

Did you catch that? In tough times, the Baptist General Convention of Texas took $2.14 million of offering plate dollars and used it to create a database that would track the “giving records” of churches.

Christa goes on to put this in further context:

I’m reminded of the conversation I once had with a BGCT official who kept tossing out the phrase “good stewardship” as an explanation for why the BGCT couldn’t do anything more about clergy sex abuse.

I was pleading with him: “Even if you can’t do anything to rout out the clergy-predators, can’t you at least minister to the wounded?”

He answered that they had a responsibility to make the best possible use of God’s money. “Good stewardship,” he said.

It is all about priorities. Money (and tracking our “giving units” – otherwise known as church members) matters more than lives – that is the very clear and unmistakeable message here.

Evicted From the Church

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Revisiting an issue I’ve written about previously, there is a great analogy that gives a good picture of what is happening when abuse victims leave the church.

Everyone knows that a landlord can evict a tenant for a variety of reasons. If the tenant persists in non-payment of the rent, violates the terms of the rental contract, destroys the property or engages in illegal behavior on the premises the landlord is legally allowed to evict the tenant.

This landlord right and process of eviction is analogous to the church’s right and process to remove someone from fellowship for persistent, unrepentant egregious sin.

Another appropriate analogy here, is that there are limits to the reasons for which a landlord may evict a tenant, and there is a legal process that must be followed. In the same way, churches do not have a Biblical right to evict a member for just any reason – like speaking up against unbiblical practices, resisting ungodly authority, not giving enough or serving enough, etc. The Word has a specific list of things for which church discipline is appropriate.

There is also a Biblical process for accomplishing a church “eviction.” The pastor or elders cannot just call someone in the office and pressure them out of the church or kick them out. Matthew 18 outlines a very specific series of events which must be followed – without twisting the concept to serve the objectives of the human leadership.

However, there is another type of eviction in the world of landlords and tenants. It is called constructive eviction. When a landlord fails to maintain the property to the point that life, limb or health are endangered, a tenant may abandon the property without financial penalty or process of “giving notice.”

The church is constructively evicting abuse victims and other members who don’t “walk the line.” The church has made itself so toxic to these people that their spiritual, mental and emotional well-being are endangered by the church. Church leadership maintains innocent bewilderment about the reasons for the steady stream of people disappearing. But instead of assuming this absence can be attributed to “normal” attrition, the church needs to look closer and find out why there is a common theme to the reasons these people are leaving.

Chalking the disappearance of an entire block of Christianity up to attrition and back-sliding is foolish and short-sighted. The numbers will only get bigger and the voices of protest louder. Can the leadership of churches receive correction? Those who would be willing to learn would find their church life radically empowered – because the answers to the problem will change everything. And people are hungry for a church body that actually lives and practices a Biblical model of life in Christ.

A Look at Why Abuse Victims Stop Attending Church

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

There are quite a few of us out here now – people who have experienced abuse in the church and are not able to attend church as a result.

Unfortunately, we are then looked upon as back-slidden and everything we attempt to say to the issue of abuse in the church is discredited because “we are not in church” and, therefore, so out of touch with God we couldn’t possibly have anything valid to say. I have been openly discredited on this blog because of my church status, not to mention in private e-mail. I have also seen others in the same situation receive the same treatment.

However, this perspective turns reality upside down.

What has really happened is that the church has put us out of fellowship with its treatment of abuse.

How can I attend a church which predicates my acceptance on the idea that they will forgive me for getting a divorce since God does? It is not true that “God forgives me for getting a divorce” – since He directed me in taking that action. My behavior wasn’t sinful and doesn’t need forgiveness. This statement also blames me for the failure of my marriage. To attend a church under this presupposition, I have to live a lie – a lie that violates my conscience before God.

How can I attend a church which views me with disrespect? Because of my divorced status I am excluded from teaching in the church or using the gifts God has given me (except singing). This means the church is saying I am less than what God says I am. The church is also limiting me from doing what God has called me to do. So to attend that church I have to deny God in my life.

How can I attend a church which teaches and fosters unbiblical gender role stereotyping when I know that this teaching is both unbiblical but also leading to the abuse of other people in the church? To attend that church I have to compromise my conscience, call evil good, and give tacit consent to the continuance of abuse in the church.

How can I attend a church where I know an abuse victim will receive the same treatment I received? The result of this treatment is literal physical abuse, and potential death, to the lives of people in the church, at the insistence of the church and its erroneous doctrine. And I know better! The church may be acting in ignorance – but I would not be! To attend that church I would again have to compromise my conscience and I would have to be an accessory to the crime of abuse – because I do know better.

These are the reasons I cannot attend any evangelical church I know of. It is not because I refuse to attend church or do not want to attend church. The church will not let me worship with them in good conscience.

So, instead, I have to go the heart of the Word and remain “in fellowship with believers” through more unconventional means – which I do.

And I am not alone. I am merely one of a very large and growing group of people that the church is barring from fellowship through their actions. But, in true church irony fashion, guess who is being blamed for being “out of fellowship?”

[Now, the next step is for us to bond together in church relationships where we are accepted and acceptable. Something I’m praying about…]