By Danni Moss
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One excuse I’ve frequently heard offered by clergy as a reason to proceed with caution when someone claims their spouse is abusive – generally meaning proceed on the presumption that abuse allegations are false unless there is concrete proof otherwise – is because people “usually” use the abuse card as a “get out of marriage free” pass.
I can hardly deny that people do use the abuse card as a “get out of marriage free” pass. It is especially handy to try to use an abuse claim in a custody battle. And, yes, it happens frequently.
However, operating on a presumption that most claimants of abuse are lying puts all genuine abuse victims at serious risk, while proceeding with cautious acceptance pending further investigation of claims (following the Biblical Matthew 18 process) protects all parties involved.
Let me give an example of the danger of the assumption that most claimants of abuse are lying.
Being a breast cancer survivor I have to have frequent mammograms. My mammograms, obviously, undergo considerably scrutiny and I have surgical consult follow-ups for every little thing.
But what about the mammogram of a 35-year-old woman with no history of breast disease? Does the radiologist who evaluates her mammogram think, “Well, most mammograms of women at age 35 have no breast cancer so this one is probably clear. I can give it a quick glance and toss it in the ‘all clear’ pile.”
Most certainly not! S/he would miss someone’s cancer within a minimal period of time, be sued in short order, and it wouldn’t be long before that doctor was no longer practicing medicine – we all surely hope.
The same applies to pastors – and the numbers are in favor of the radiologist, not the pastor. The doctor is less likely to find cancer in a 35-year-old woman than the pastor is likely to find a false report of abuse. 35% of women report experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their intimate relationships. While 35% of Christian marriages do not experience abuse, it is still foolish to think that there is not a very real percentage of marriages in every church in which abuse is a reality.
Whatever this number is, it is way higher than the number of women at age 35 who are diagnosed with breast cancer. The domestic abuse statistics are lower for men, but domestic abuse is no respecter of gender.
So let me ask you – how reasonable is it for pastors to approach allegations of abuse with the assumptions that the accuser is probably lying if there is not concrete proof?
How likely is it the pastor will cause that accuser, who has perhaps reached out for help in genuine desperation, real harm if he goes to the accused to ask whether the allegation is true? This is the extreme height of foolishness!
In reality, in could be said that using the excuse that accusers of domestic abuse are likely making a false allegation may be more about giving pastors a “get out of sticky responsibility free” pass than anything else. Or it could be a response made in ignorance because that’s what “everyone” is doing. It is far easier and faster to wash our hands of having to spend months in humble prayer seeking God for Holy Spirit wisdom and discernment, and to just assume this one is probably a false allegation, too, since “they usually are.”
I’m not saying that all pastors are deliberately attempting to avoid responsibility. However, that is the net result. And I suspect it may also be an significant underlying, and unsuspected, motive.