Here are some of the most common ways I believe abuse is promoted – consciously or not – within churches:
- Holding fast to incorrect theology
This, I think, has got to be the most dangerous of all. We tend to quote scripture incorrectly and out of context in order to promote our own opinion. This is first and foremost abuse of the Word of God. The Bible does not exist as an accessory to our own gospel – it should be a sacred guideline that steers our hearts, minds and behaviour. It should not be used a manipulation tool, because when we do that, it becomes a weapon in the hands of the evil one, and we become his agents of bondage rather than God’s agents of freedom.
- Holding leaders to a different standard
We place leaders on a pedestal and allow them to do ungodly things, simply because they have a title. Just because someone is in a leadership position in a church, does not mean God placed them there – they could have placed themselves there. The Bible outlines clearly the requirements of being an elder, but we have ignored it and made church into a show for our own entertainment.
- Discouraging open dialog
Instead of the church being a place of open, safe dialogue; it is a place where wickedness is swept under the rug. This is why abusers flourish in the Christian community. We are quick to over-spiritualise things, we are too quick to tell victims to forgive their perpetrators, and we make excuses for the actions of abusers. Yes, we ought to forgive, but forgiveness does not equal brushing off the perpetrator’s abusive behaviour. In the Christian community, it is often discouraged for people to be honest about their painful experiences and emotions. You are quickly labelled as “negative” or “un-Christlike” when you do not fit the Christian image, which is why so many people do not feel free to open up about the trials they are facing and suffer in silence.
- Couples Counselling
This is a major mistake churches make: insisting that abuse victims go to couples counselling together with their perpetrator. In some cases couples counselling definitely works, however, in cases of abuse, it will most probably have the opposite effect. We have to understand that in the mind of an abuser, their victim dragging them to counselling is already an unforgivable deed. They see it as an insult. On top of that, they have to sit through their spouse discussing their toxic traits, which is only giving them more ammunition to justify their abuse. It sparks rage in the heart and mind of an abuser. An abuser cannot simply be counselled into changing. In fact, some of them will do everything in their power to make you believe they have changed, so you can leave them alone to abuse their spouse further in peace without your interference.
- Lack of personal responsibility
Everything is either the devil’s fault, the pastor’s fault or because of the trauma they have experienced in life. It is everyone and everything’s fault, except their own, and unfortunately we entertain this mindset in church. We rarely encourage people to mature and take responsibility for their own sinful actions; we would rather encourage the victim to “forgive and move on”. We generally also teach imbalanced gender responsibilities: we teach that the husband is the head of the household, yet we blame the wife for the misdeeds of her husband. If a husband lives an ungodly lifestyle, we tend to shift responsibility onto the wife’s shoulders – is she praying enough for him? Is she doing everything she is “supposed” to do as a wife? Because she must be doing something wrong if he is living wrongly, right? This in itself is a form of abuse.
- Creating a culture of appearances
We tend to focus more on how people look and sound, rather than the fruit their life displays. It is all about looking the part; meanwhile we are unaware that we are dealing with an abuser. We allow ourselves to be fooled by appearances. “Church culture” is unfortunately what we see being portrayed when we look at most Christians today: a habit of going to church and “looking the part”, but living a lifestyle that is far from God. 2 Timothy 3 v 1-5 says:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
This is exactly what we see transpiring in today’s life, even in supposed Christian communities. Unfortunately, the church has become a place where abusers flood to in order to gain victims, and they are usually people who like to have a following. This goes unnoticed and abusers fly under the radar; flourishing in a community filled with vulnerable people, largely because they do and say all the right things to make people believe they are harmless.