Every pastor that has ministered for any length of time is familiar with abuse. Some pastors or pastor’s wives grew up in abusive situations. Others see kids or spouses in their community that are abused. We understand that in our sin-soaked world, abuse happens and we compassionately do our part to minister, care and rescue those in abusive family situations.
But one of the things we pastors don’t think much about is abuse in our churches. I am not talking about sexual predators that all churches should be on guard against. Rather, I am talking about seemingly ordinary families in our churches, people perhaps in leadership or in ministry that are secretly either abusers or victims of abuse. This is the topic of Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood’s book A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church.
I do not know either of the authors personally. A couple in my church gave me the book, sharing with me that Jeff Crippen was an ex-pastor of theirs in the years before they moved to our area. Jeff has a background in law enforcement and has been a pastor for 20 years. Anna Wood is an abuse survivor who writes and blogs to help other victims of abuse.
A Cry for Justice is a powerful book. It is obvious that the authors feel passionate about their subject. Anna dealt with it first-hand as a victim, Jeff as a pastor of a church with abusive families. It is a call for believers, and especially pastors, to open their eyes to the fact that there may be families in our churches who outwardly appear normal, but in reality are hidden centers of abusive behavior. The book is a hard read, because it is a hard topic. Jeff and Anna delve into the mentality of the abuser – their motivations and thought processes. They present a clear picture of the ugliness of sin and the true depravity of man.
The authors argue that the serial abuser has a mentality foreign to our understanding. While pastors deal with sinful people all the time, we can often see that solid biblical counsel, confession, prayer, forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives can bring true life change. For the serial abuser, that is not the case, mainly because the authors argue that the serial abuser, even the one who holds a leadership position in the church, is not a believer. They argue that:
The authors argue that when we see the serial abuser who he really is, as someone who does not know Christ, we are able to see the abusive situation as it really is.While every Christian can certainly hurt, mistreat or be insensitive to another person, and more frequently than we think, it is impossible for a Christian to be what we have defined as an abuser in this book. That is to say, Scripture makes it plain that a person whose very mentality and habitual practice is that of entitlement, power, control, and justification, does not know Christ, nor does Christ know him. (p. 241)
The book is a valuable resource for pastors. In addition to chapters on how the abuser thinks and operates (which are very disturbing), there is good counsel about the effect of abuse on children, how the church can help an abuse victim, how abuse often continues after separation and how the church should deal with abusers, especially those who are on a quest for power in the church. I am not sure I agree with the authors on every point. They argue that abuse qualifies in Scripture as abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15) and thus enables the abuse victim to pursue divorce without sin. Another controversial point they make is that pastors should be reading secular experts in the subject of abuse; men and women who have made is a specialty to delve into the mentality of abuse. I for one am not totally convinced on these last two points, but I do plan to hunt down some further resources to pursue these questions in greater depth.
Despite the fact that it contains truths that are hard to read, pastors should read this book. Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have done a service to the church. They have lifted the lid off something we do not want to talk about and have shed the light of the Scripture upon it. While it should not prompt us to see abuse under every tree and bush, it should equip us to recognize the signs when we see it, and have the tools to compassionately and justly care for the victims of that abuse.