what's new   ::  search our site


About us
Who We Are
Our Mission
Contact Us

Articles by Topic
Scripture Study
Word Study
Women in History
Bible Women

Healing Ministry
Healing Words
Dealing with Abuse

Online Books
Recommended Books
Recommended Links
Site Search
Site Map
GWTW Podcasts

Current News

Purchase Books
About GWTW
Available Books

Abuse Among Christians


Catherine Clark Kroeger is adjunct associate professor of classical and ministry studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  She holds a Ph.D. in classical studies from the University of Minnesota.  Catherine is founder and former president of Christians for Biblical Equality.  The following article is the introduction to Healing the Hurting Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women Catherine Clark Kroeger & James R. Beck, Editors.

For Cathie's Testimony click here

Working Together to Listen and Learn

 Catherine Clark Kroeger,

The inner prison door slid shut behind me as I started down the tunnel-like corridor. In one of the cubicles that lined the wall sat a member of the Christians for Biblical Equality--a man who had killed his wife and two children.  As president emerita of the organization I had come to tell him that he was not beyond God's love and care.  The terrible tragedy could not be undone, but he could still experience God's forgiveness, and he could still know the healing grace of repentance.

He told me that when the realization of that he did sweeps over him, he stuffs a pillow in his mouth so that others cannot hear him screaming.  As I was leaving, the horror of the ghastly murders flooded over me, and I too wanted to scream.  Clearly, membership in Christians for Biblical Equality had not been enough to prevent this terrible crime, nor had his long-standing profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Both he and his wife had been raised in evangelical Christian families and had committed themselves to Christ.  Had the wider Christian community--the churches, pastors, Christian therapists, and friends--failed them both?

This case is far from unique.  In America, three thousand women are slain by their domestic partners each year, and thousands of others are permanently injured.  Children are abused and murdered at a lower rate than women, but the blood of these innocents cries out to those who will listen.

Even though abuse happens in Christian homes at nearly the same rate as in society as a whole, Christians do not recognize it or do not properly address it.  Few pastors have received training in the treatment of domestic abuse, and in one survey, less than ten percent of Christian therapists, when provided with cast studies, were able to identify abusive family situations.  Often, abused wives are mistakenly told they are partly to blame for the abuse and that greater submission or more prayer will solve the problem.  Nowhere in the Bible are wives told to submit to abuse.  The Bible does tell us, however, that the wrongdoing of a Christian is to be corrected by other believers.

For many evangelicals, the uneasiness associated with confronting abuse in Christian homes springs in part from their perplexity in interpreting certain biblical passages.  If the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, then our standards must be consistent with its directives.  Distortion of Scripture can prove dangerous as we go farther than is warranted by honest exegesis.  Evangelicals also long to see families harmoniously untied.  In our zeal to hasten the process, we sidestep the slow and painful steps that can lead to true transformation and healing.

Churches can make major blunders.  I remember another visit that Christians for Biblical Equality asked me to make.  Angela, an emaciated young missionary, stood in the middle of her mother's living room looking at me with frightened eyes.  Her first words were, "Don't tell me I have to go back to him." Already crippled with a permanent spine injury caused by her abusive husband, she cringed at the thought.

The story was a sad one.  Angela had endured years of abuse, hiding it from her family and fabricating excuses for her injuries.  At last, she had become too ill and traumatized to continue in the para-church ministry she shared with her husband, Peter.  Only after her parents brought her and the children back to their home did she discover that her daughters had been violated by their father.

At first Peter had stayed half a continent away at the headquarters of the mission organization they served.  Angela's request that he attend a Christian batterers' group went unheeded even though an excellent facility was available near the mission's main office.  After six months without a reconciliation, the church that had commissioned and supported Peter and Angela became aggressively involved, insisting that they both return to the pastor and the congregation.

Two lines of argument persuaded Angela that she had little choice in the matter.  First, she was told that only in this way would she be doing the will of God, and Angela wanted desperately to be obedient to her Lord and Savior.  It was made clear to her that any other course of action would be dishonoring and displeasing to God.  Her wounded spirit could not bear the thought of abandonment by the heavenly friend who had been her only consolation through so much abuse and degradation.

Second, the church offered to provide her with a place to live and help with expenses.  She would even be given counseling with a Christian therapist, albeit one who had no previous experience with battered women.  With no other way to provide for her children, Angela was compelled to yield despite her fears.  She was caught in the twofold trap that forces so many women back into life-threatening situations: religious pressure and financial duress.  The pastor's wife told her, "Angela, even if this does not lead to reconciliation, you will be able to stand before the Lord and say, 'I gave it my best shot.'"

Initially, Peter won the support of the church members with his charm, persuasive tactics, and feigned repentance.  He was considered the high priest of the home, and it was Angela's duty to submit.  Despite being forewarned that couple counseling was not a proper technique in cases of abuse, the pastor insisted that both Angela and Peter take part in joint counseling sessions every Sunday afternoon at his house.  During these sessions, Peter found was to avoid admitting his responsibility.  He used phrases such as, "I had anger, rage." Never did he say, "I did terrible things to her.  I am so sorry."

As the congregation became increasingly aware that Angela truly had been abused, Peter was obliged to make a public confession, one that was forced by the circumstances.  There were no other signs of repentance, and Peter resented having to go through such an exercise.  Yet, Angela was still the one who was held responsible for the marital crisis.  For the most part, Peter was artful enough to dodge the demands for accountability that were being made on Angela. 

The pastor's wife later reported to the mission organization under which the couple had labored:

I confronted Peter.  Whenever anything went wrong this past year, he blamed Angela.  Except for the one time he made the public confession in church, he blamed everyone else for his problems.  He lost his jobs because his bosses were unfair; he couldn't go to our church because of Angela; the girls didn't want to visit him because Angela turned them against him; he didn't have any money because he and Angela were separated .  .  .  He has called Angela on the phone and verbally abused her for all that has happened.  He came uninvited into her house one night when bringing the children home.  He would not leave until he said what he wanted to say.  We have told him over and over again not to go in the house unless invited.  The girls will not go with him now as a result of all this.

Angela could not understand how the church could be so hard on her and so lenient with Peter.  Finally, she wrote a letter to the church leaders.  In part she said,

I feel I have done my best, but I have not had the support I needed from you, the leaders.  I feel church discipline was not there when my husband needed to be confronted on many issues.

I was asked one and one half years ago to come here at your request in hope of reconciliation.  But Peter continued his abusive ways to me and the children, and himself.  Because of the situation, I suggested separate counseling, but you did not listen.  Marriage counseling was not the answer, so I asked Mark [the therapist] to become my mediator and to hold back everyone to give me time to pray and to think.

It became apparent that Peter has a drinking problem, and it was decided that he needed to get help for his substance abuse through a drug and alcohol program.  He never completely followed through with the counseling for substance abuse.  He quit going, and nobody ever got in contact to see how he was progressing at the rehab.  Again, Peter was running the show.  Perhaps if the church would have followed up on Peter's progress, they would have found out that he had quit the program and still continued to drink.  Maybe you could have helped him or disciplined him then if you would have gotten involved.  I had asked the leaders, "Do you know Peter is still drinking?  “Yes," was the reply.  "Are you going to confront him?  Your response was that he has a spiritual problem.  I know that, but what are you going to do? 

Angela was left with the knowledge that the church has excommunicated Peter not because he had abused his wife and children but because of his drinking.  Several church members admitted that in their well-meaning efforts they had abused Angela more than had her husband.

In retrospect, the pastor's wife reported:

If I had to do it over again, I would do what one of her counselors recommended.  We should have sent Peter to a physical abusers' group.  The problem was that the closest one was an hour's drive away.  There is now one in this city.  I am convinced that going through a program with a group of men with the same problems would have done far more than we were able.

Angela continues to live in the community and to participate in the life of the church.  She leads a Bible study for abused wives and seeks to bring healing to troubled situations.  The haunted expression is gone from her face.  She has gained weight and is a beautiful woman.  Peter has asked what he must do to win her back, and she was able to spell out, clearly and firmly, what would be necessary.

She knows that the church cares deeply for her and her children.  Members of the church have apologized to her for their ignorance and mishandling of a very delicate matter.  Others, including the pastor and therapist, have expressed deep regret for their bungled efforts and have vowed that if they are confronted with a similar situation in the future, they will handle it differently.

Through a sad experience, these church members learned that it is necessary to address the abuser directly, to hold him accountable, to mentor and monitor him, and to show zero tolerance for his behavior.  They now realize that a forced confession brings only resentment from the husband and more hardship for the family.  They know they did not utilize the help that was available from resources outside the church.  They have learned that the Bible's directive of stern discipline for an offender is the most effective remedy.  (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 3:2-11; James 5:19-20).

These Christians have learned that blaming the victim only intensifies her suffering.  Support, on the other hand, can help to rebuild lives and to sustain the family's faith in the God of love and justice.  This is a church that is ready to serve another family caught in the terrible web of domestic violence.

Angela believes that both abuser and victim can be transformed and that a community of faith can do much to help.  God is in the business of healing.  That is the message of the book, Healing the Hurting.


In 1994, Christians for Biblical Equality held a conference on Women, Abuse and the Bible.  We sent out calls for papers and proposals flooded in from theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, therapists, social workers, sociologists, psychologists, survivors and even an offender.  Although we ran three concurrent series of presentations, we still could not make room for all the papers and all the concerns that were raised.  We knew that the material must be made available to Christian communities around the world.

The first set of papers, dealing largely with theological and theoretical issues, we published as Women, Abuse and the Bible and is available in both American and British editions.  But theory alone cannot solve the problem of abuse.

This second collection of essays is intended as a sequel that moves our concern forward to basic application and moral imperative.  We present here the more practical papers--papers that provide insights into the souls of frightened, hurting people and point to realistic paths of prevention and healing.  This book is intended to help Christians confront both the reality and the potential for remedy.

The time has come when we must both listen and learn.  Only as we perceive the vile in our midst, prayerfully bring the Word of God to bear on it, and take appropriate action can we become agents of reconciliation and healing.

God calls us to deliver the helpless from the hand of the violent and to correct the way of the sinner.  We must heed that call. 


top of page  I  home  I  about us   I   book  
 studies  I  healing  I  newsletter  I  current events  I  resources   I  contact