Lessons in Discerning False Victim Advocates

1Peter 5:2-3 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

In my last post, I showed you sermon outlines and a church position paper from a church that claims to be an advocate for victims of abuse. I stated in that post that a church that has the rules and policies outlined in those documents is most certainly not a church for victims to entrust themselves to. We continue to see far too many professing Christian organizations, pastors, local churches, counseling agencies and so on who claim to be experts on the issue of abuse and who energetically invite (or even require) victims to place themselves in their hands. We must be wise and not be duped. The visible church abounds in “nice” people, but far too often these nice ones turn out to be Pharisees who desire to exercise power and control that the Lord has not given them.

Here, once again, is the position paper which that same church (from my previous article) published. I encourage you to read through it again. Immediately following the document I have pasted in several comments which I received from abuse survivors and true abuse victim advocates. Those comments will help you see in more clarity why any supposed victim advocate agency that holds to such positions is not a resource to trust and in fact will, in the end, enable the abuser and further oppress the victim.

As I expected, I received loud outcries from those I criticized in my previous post, denying that what I said about them is true. But I have grown quite familiar with this kind of duplicity. I have seen it over and over again. Claiming one thing, but practicing something entirely different.

Here then, once more, is that position paper (from a church that claims to be a champion of abuse victims). I have included my own boldface to emphasize particularly revealing portions of this paper:

CHURCH DOCTRINAL ELDER PAPER

Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

Prerequisites for Marriage

1. God’s design is for one man to be married to one woman, for life.
Gen. 1:27 …male and female He created them. Gen. 2:24 & Eph 5:31 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

2. The foundational requirement for Christian marriage is that a believer should not marry an unbeliever. 2 Cor. 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?

3. A couple must have a pure relationship if they desire to know God’s will about marriage.

1 Thess. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.

4. Those preparing for marriage should also be mature and responsible so that they can meet the appropriate biblical expectations of the partners in marriage.
Eph. 5:22-33 wives, be subject… Husbands, love your wives…

1 Tim. 5:8 But if any one does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse that an unbeliever.

Foundational Principles of Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

1. Marriage was established by God to be a life-long, intimate, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18, 24; Malachi 2:14; Proverbs 2:17). Jesus issued a general guideline that what God joins together, man should not separate (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9).

2. Christians must exhaust all biblical means to preserve their marriage. Permanence in the marriage relationship has been, and always will be, God’s ideal and intention.

3. While every divorce involves sin, not every divorce is sinful (Jeremiah 3:6-10; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:15; Jeremiah 31:31-32; Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

4. This pursuit of permanence may involve enduring a marriage that is less than God’s ideal (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16; 1 Peter 3:1-2). The desire for God’s glory must supersede one’s desire for comfort or happiness. This principle would not require someone to indefinitely endure unrepentant acts that constitute biblical grounds for divorce (see biblical grounds below). Decisions must be made under the spiritual care, counsel, and authority of the elders.

5. Divorce may be permissible, but is never commanded. Two believers should always be willing to pursue repentance and reconciliation as part of a life seeking to honor God.

6. Biblically allowed divorce implies the right before God to pursue biblical remarriage. They must seek the counsel and care of church leadership in this process.

7. In cases where Christians come to the church having already participated in unbiblical divorce or remarriage situations, the church will strive to provide compassionate counsel that will lead to personal understanding of these biblical principles, and a careful repentance for all involved.

Biblical Grounds for Divorce

Divorce is allowed for two reasons. Below are explanations of those two broad biblical categories.

1. Divorce is allowed in cases of unrepentant sexual immorality (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:8-9).

  • The “sexual immorality” referenced (Greek, porneia), is broader than adultery, and would include the litany of sexual sins listed in the Old Testament (specifically Leviticus 20:10-21).
  • This provision may also include other violations not specifically mentioned, but which are similar in nature. To constitute biblical grounds for divorce, the sexually deviant behavior of this kind must be continual and unrepentant.
  • Evaluations and decisions must be made under the spiritual care, counsel, and authority of the local church elders.

2. Divorce is allowed when an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage covenant (“unbelieving” may be determined by their profession, or through the application of church discipline).

  • The unbeliever leaves. First Corinthians 7:12-15 clearly teaches that when an unbelieving spouse “consents to live with” the believer, then the believer should remain married to them. When the unbelieving spouse separates/leaves, however, the believer is not bound to the marriage covenant.
  • The unbeliever says they want to, or are going to leave, but will not. An unbelieving spouse’s unwillingness to remain married (1 Corinthians 7:13-15) may be broader than physical separation or leaving. Repeated expression of resolve and/or desire to divorce, while not pursuing the good will of a mutually beneficial and healthy marriage, may also be not “consenting to live with.”
  • The unbeliever does not threaten leaving in any way, but live as though they have abandoned the marriage. There may be other extreme cases where church leaders determine that the unbelieving spouse has “effectively abandoned” the marriage covenant, although they do not pursue or express a
    desire to separate or divorce.
  • Evaluations and decisions must be made under the spiritual care, counsel, and authority of the local church elders.

Now, here are a few comments abuse survivors and advocates sent to me in response to the first post:

  • Look at all the ‘shoulds and musts’ in this, and the mention of ‘church authority’ and ‘church discipline’. The victim is not permitted to make her own decisions.
  • Where is the scripture that says you must “entrust” yourself to church leadership? To God, yes, but the church elder board, just like the Pharisees of the time, did not have the authority to tell people if they could or could not get divorced. It’s not their place. (Abuse survivor/advocate)
  • You know, the Bible makes no clarification about a divorce taking place only when the adulterer is unrepentant. It only says divorce is allowed if there is adultery, period. So all these additions they make about being unrepentant are the Pharisees making additions of their own man made traditions and doctrines. (Abuse survivor)
  • The Bible also makes no clarifying statements about the leaders or Church making those decisions for a believer about abusive marriages. None! It’s all additions by power hungry leaders taking control of believers’ lives. (Abuse survivor)

My last post also included two sermon outlines from messages preached by the pastors of this same church. Here is a portion of one of those outlines to refresh your memory, followed by a very insightful comment by an abuse survivor and professional counselor. You will notice here that the very same theme laid out in the position paper continues to rear up in this pastor’s teaching – that victims must not make decisions for themselves but are required to put themselves under the “care and counsel” of the pastors:

Sermon outline-

  1. Individuals should put themselves under the care and counsel of godly shepherds
  2. Church leadership must understand and respond properly to abuse
    • Scripture requires God’s people to protect the innocent sufferer, and to seek justice toward the oppressor (Psa. 82:3-4; Psa. 10)
    • God-given authorities exist to bring justice where it is needed (Rom. 13:1-4)
    • Discernment must be used to measure and apply principles of repentance, confession, forgiveness, and accountability
  3. Victims must understand and respond properly to abuse
    • To not “cry out” ignores God’s desire for justice, and neglects God’s provision and protection for you and others
    • The abused must overcome fear, and entrust themselves to God and those called to protect and care for them

And here is the victim survivor/professional counselor’s comment:

I have a problem with statements like this: “Discernment must be used to measure and apply principles of repentance, confession, forgiveness, and accountability.” Yes, their discernment usually means and they go by how the abuser presents himself to them (fake). Also, after they said all that, then they offer the only two biblical reasons for divorce! And abuse isn’t included, so they would be compassionate and offer “care and counsel,” but not authorize (which of course they don’t have the authority to do) divorce for abuse. Very cleverly worded on their part to look like they are advocates for victims.

We must be wise. Professing Christians – pastors, elders, church members, counselors, etc – so often present themselves as experts who are wiser than we are, who are appointed by God to rule over us, as people who claim to “care,” when in fact the authority they are claiming has not been given to them by God at all. Such people are quite capable of displaying a kind, caring, knowledgeable appearance, but only later do we find out that in fact they intend to enslave us.

The local church does indeed have authority – the authority of Christ. But notice that virtually all of the authoritative statements in this position paper and in these sermon outlines, apply to the abuse victim, not to the abuser. In fact, the authority of the local church to deal with abuse in its midst (as with all sin by professing brethren) applies to the abuser, to the wicked! It is the evil man who falsely claims to be a Christian who is to be put out of the church. That is genuine authority (see 1 Cor 5). But this church focuses on what the innocent must do, the authority the victim must submit to.

Finally, in any claim to be a true advocate of abuse victims and justice-seeker in regard to abusers, a church like this that is associated with John MacArthur, Jr. needs to openly break with MacArthur’s longstanding position and teaching that abuse is not grounds for divorce. And any past wrong dealings with victims and abusers needs to be humbly confessed and repented of before I would begin to think that just perhaps such a church is on the right track to genuine advocacy for the oppressed and abused.