A couple weeks ago, we did a topic that struck a nerve with many of you, when we talked about Narcissism in the Church. Apparently lots of us have had experience with narcissists, and sadly, too many of us have experienced some form of abuse in our past, with a parent, with a spouse, and even with those who have been ordained and charged with protecting our souls. While that last one is far more rare, it does seem to be common that someone victimized by an abuser can be hurt all over again when she tries to get help from her church, only to be told, “you just need to submit.” And So today we’re taking a candid look at abuse in the Church. Here to lead us in this topic is teacher and author of the book, “Broken Yet Blessed”, Kathi McCarty.
Table Talk Notes
Defining abuse: To abuse is to use something or someone to bad effect or for a bad purpose, especially regularly or repeatedly. It can involve anger or some form of physical violence. It is mistreatment or misuse of virtually anything or anyone motivated by selfishness.
- Life Skills International “Types of Abuse” (from Phase I Student Workbook):
- Physical, Power, Stalking, Emotional, Threats, Economic, Financial, Intimidation, Property Violence, Knowledge, Medical, Isolation, Using Children, Humiliation, Responsibility, Spiritual, Sexual
- Selfishness underlies all abuse. It is a sinful heart, not the emotion of anger that is the root cause of abuse. (anger is a “secondary” emotion—the visible symptom of a deeper problem)
- Fear is also a hidden underlying cause
- At the core of the abuse issue is the wrong assignment of responsibility (i.e. it is NOT the victim’s fault that she has been victimized.)
What does the Bible say about abuse?
John 13:34-35 – It is a sin because we are called to love one another.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
1 Thess 4:3-8, 23-24 – strongly condemns taking advantage of or abusing others.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (Ex 22: 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.
23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Isaiah 10:1-2 | Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!)
Rom 8:10 – every believer falls short to love sacrificially.
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Looking at spiritual abuse
Spiritual abuse is closely associated with spiritual manipulation. Isolation; fear of punishment; fear of being ostracized for their opinions
2 Peter 2:1-3 | Insist that the leader alone can rightly interpret God’s Word. But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
1. A great emphasis on performance-related works
Heb 13:17 – Misuse Scripture to bolster their own authority & keep members under thumb and to demand blind loyalty and unthinking obedience. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Eph 1:22 – our loyalty is to Christ who is Head of His church. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
2. Red flags of abuse
- It is often difficult to determine who is an abuser because many are skilled at hiding their true natures, especially if the abuser is a narcissist
- Short list to look for: Irrational jealousy; need to be in control; quick temper; attempts to isolate the victim; alcohol/drug abuse, or other addictions; disrespect for boundaries, personal space or moral values; disregard by a “supposed” believer for the Word and its mandates.
- Gaslighting: From a 1944 movie called “Gaslight” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslight_(1944_film)
The Seven Stages of Gaslighting
- Lie and Exaggerate. The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.
- Repetition. Like psychological warfare, the falsehoods are repeated constantly in order to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship.
- Escalate When Challenged. When called on their lies, the gaslighter escalates the dispute by doubling and tripling down on their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, blame, and more false claims (misdirection), sowing doubt and confusion.
- Wear Out the Victim. By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down their victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question her or his own perception, identity, and reality.
- Form Codependent Relationships. The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter elicits constant insecurity and anxiety in the gaslightee, thereby pulling the gaslightee by the strings. The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away. A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability, and marginalization.
- Give False Hope. As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the gaslightee false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “Let’s give it a chance.”But beware! The temporary mildness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins. With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.
- But beware! The temporary mildness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins. With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.
- Dominate and Control. At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society. By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercions, the gaslighter keeps the gaslightees in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can then exploit their victims at will, for the augmentation of their power and personal gain.
3. What if I’m married to an abuser?
The Bible is silent on the issue of spousal abuse as a reason for divorce, but abuse should not be tolerated. Whether physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual, a victim (& kids) must be given a safe space.
Matthew 5:31-32 – The Bible specifies only two acceptable reasons for divorce – abandonment of a believer by an unbeliever or adultery. Therefore we are careful to limit our advice to separation.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
1 Cor 7:10-16 | To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Reconciling with abusive partner
Reconciling with an abusive partner depends completely on the abuser proving his/her reliability which could take years, if it happens at all. Separation from an abusive spouse is likely to be long term. Restraining orders may be necessary.
Once separation has been established, the abuser has the responsibility to seek help, first from God through repentance, and then intensive biblical counseling.
Ps 119: 29-30 | Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! 30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
While the abuser is in counseling, it is advisable for the victim/family to seek counseling as well, particularly if the victim has been married to a narcissist. (Prolonged and protracted psychological trauma creates chemistry changes in brain leading to PTSD)
If you are in an abusive relationship
- Talk to your pastor and find a “safe” way to extricate yourself from the relationship if there is physical abuse especially.
- Solicit the help of law enforcement or the courts if necessary.
- If there is a court order of restraint, alert schools, the church, family, friends, etc.
- Even without a restraining order, it is important to establish very specific boundaries for contact with the abuser while separated.
- Never be alone with the abuser until such time as a counselor can verify that the abuser is doing the work of healing and is no longer a threat (this could take years)
- Seek Biblical counseling for yourself/kids
- Stay in the Word; develop a deeper prayer and worship life; keep godly relationships close.