Christian Abuse

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at
Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

Christian abuse should be an oxymoron, and it is, so how does it happen in Christian churches and Christian marriages?

My guess? Nobody wants to talk about it. Abusing and being visibly upset by abuses suffered reflects poorly on the idea that God’s grace is all sufficient. Since God is able above all we can ask or think, then God can make the abuse stop. Also, if God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, then we must be able to take what we’re given, drink the bitter cup, and trust God. It hides behind a veil that is either faith or denial, perhaps both.

Besides that, there’s the issue of shame in revealing to the world that what looks perfect on the outside is full of dead men’s bones on the inside, a situation that goes for relationships and too many churches. In Stephan B. Poulter’s Mother Factor, a psychology book helping people identify how the patterns they learned from their first human relationship–their mother–set a template for all future relationships, he explains that perfectionist mothers reproduce their own self-hatred in their children through controlling their choices and discounting their individuality and imperfections. We reproduce after our own kind in the spirit as in the natural. In my time in United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), there was an underlying pattern of focusing on externals while whole congregations were paralyzed by self-loathing, a feeling of never being good enough.This is not everyone’s experience, I realize. And the point of the book and the connection I’m making is not for the sake of blaming anyone. Rather, the point is that it does happen, and we should be talking about it. We should be addressing it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. We shouldn’t reproduce broken people after our own broken image but be restored to the whole image of God.

Another reason not to talk about abuse: it’s simply not an easy story to tell. It’s not a clean narrative. The plot is hidden from the people involved. The characters never know when the climax is coming–or if it has already–or what their role is–or if their character will be cut off somewhere in the beginning, the middle–or if they will make it to an end–or if there is an end. If you don’t know what’s happening or what’s going to happen, how do you tell that story? One cannot make sense out of fragments.

And then there are blocks to accusing people publicly. It is too close to slander to speak of something that can ruin a person’s reputation. There is no telltale white undershirt. Where are the witnesses to what goes on behind closed doors? There are none. Besides, it’s not like abuse is a 24/7 state, like a disease that can be assessed at any time. It can be moments, flashes here and there that seem disconnected to anything, disconnected to everything. And the same people can be loving, giving, compassionate, spirit-led, admirable… To label a person an “abuser” for the infrequent indiscretions that tend toward violence, a mere 0.0001% of a lifetime of moments, seems unfair. And I bet abusers don’t even remember the things they say and do in the critical seconds. So they wouldn’t be lying if they said they didn’t think they did the things they were accused of and then accused the original accuser of false accusations. It would be the truth, for them.

A final thought: supposedly abusive behavior escalates. What starts with yelling moves to twisting fingers, than arms, than shoving, than hitting or kicking, and then it intensifies from there. This makes sense to me. Affectionate touch escalates in romantic relationships, so why shouldn’t destructive touch escalate too? Do we all have a threshold of what we will do to another person, or are we all in danger of crossing every line in the heat of rage? There is a temptation to try to control it, to tell oneself “I had better not set him/her off again, for who knows what will happen next time?” But this is foolishness if nothing set him/her off the last time. How can you hope to modify someone else’s behavior? I’m being deliberate, by the way, with the two genders. As many (or more) men are abused as women. And the men don’t talk either.

I have said all this to say, I think the situation is more difficult than it seems. But I wish we could talk about it.


5 thoughts on “Christian Abuse

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  1. I grew up in an abusive Christian home. You nailed the struggle in this post. The father is a narcissistic sociopath the mother and abused enabler who didn’t protect us very brainwashed.
    The father was a deacon, elder, S.S. teacher, youth leader in the church and I know people saw his crap. No one did anything. The “family” is no longer in my life at all as they are still abusive to me and toxic.

    There is such horrible denial within my “family” and within the church. Don’t even get me started with how much damage the church has done…so sad

  2. There will always be people who abuse their power, whether in church, business, marriage, work – they all wear the same mask. I am grateful you have opened the door, yes, we need to talk about it. Thank you, powerful post!

    1. True. I can’t wait to read Cloud and Townsend’s _Boundaries_ books; I am enjoying your posts on them. They seem to be helping people remember that God wants us to uphold justice and help the oppressed!

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