Abusive Women in the Church

Rev 2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

In our ministry to victims of abuse – specifically victims of domestic abusers who parade as “Christians,” we normally find ourselves speaking of the abuser as a man. And most often he is. Fundamentally, domestic abuse is the sin of wicked men, though we have dealt with some women who are domestic abusers as well.

However, this morning I want to write about a particular kind of woman who I have met far, far too often in my pastoral ministry. It has happened with remarkable frequency. In fact, this kind has shown up in every single church I have pastored. The abusive woman. And if we are going to be wise as serpents about evil, we need to acknowledge the existence of such women hiding in the pews. Of course we know that there are wicked men in churches as well who also seek power and control over the flock. But as I said, today I want to talk to you about women who abuse all the while parading as “daughters of righteousness.”

Let me tell you some stories. The names have been changed to protect the guilty…ha!  I don’t know why they deserve any protection, but I will at least expose their deeds.

Here is Brenda. Brenda “teaches” a women’s Bible study in her home each week. Brenda is of German heritage and likes to remind people that her husband refers to her as “the German general.” Brenda embraces a smorgasbord of theology – a little here, a little there, and some of that thrown in too. All the women who attend “Brenda’s study” as they call it also attended the church that I was sent to pastor. Brenda plays the piano at church as well.

Now, the church planting organization that sent me to that small church required that I send in monthly reports of all church activities, attendance, and so on. Not long after I arrived, I phoned Brenda one day and asked her if she would give me the attendance figures for her women’s group. Brenda became very, very irate and informed me that this was HER ministry, that it had nothing to do with the church, and that she wasn’t about to report anything to me. Fun, huh?

Of course her “group” had much to do with our church. The women who attended it attended the church and would claim to be members of it. Brenda, also a member of the church, was teaching these women. So, here you have a church member who refuses any accountability about what she is teaching in “her” ministry. And as it turned out, in subsequent days, I found out that Brenda was teaching several points of serious false doctrine. About four years later Brenda stormed out of the church one Sunday after announcing that I had “grieved the Spirit,” and said she would never be back. She took a number of those women in her group out with her.

And then there was Linda. Linda was the choir director and church pianist when I arrived at another church some eight years later. Linda announced quite early on that the choir and the musicians were her sphere of ministry, not to be interfered with by the pastor. Linda prided herself on her skills as a pianist and opened the services with her performances. When I designed the weekly order of service and selected the hymns, she grew angrier and angrier, until one Sunday in front of the sanctuary, just before the service began, she threw a real tantrum, throwing down a book and storming out the side door “because the pastor had changed the order of the hymns.”

I phoned Linda on Monday morning and told her that my wife and I needed to sit down and talk with her. She refused. I told her that we would have to address her issues then at the weekly worship committee (I now hate committees!) meeting. At that meeting she lasted about 2 minutes before she blew up in anger, demanded that I stop “meddling” in her ministry, and stormed out the door. We had to endure this for another few months until another confrontation over her behavior led to her leaving the church. Linda had enjoyed immunity from discipline for her sins for years. Previous pastors and church board members disguised their cowardice by saying “yes, Linda is difficult, but we love her anyway.”

Shall I go on? Believe me, I can go on and on and on. Let me give you just one more.

Pat was a long time member of the second church that I was called to pastor. She was a proud graduate of Bob Jones University – the mecca of legalistic, condemning, fundamentalism. And Pat was a legalistic, condemning person, along with her husband. They had been largely responsible for the resignation of the pastor who had preceded me but their sins were not confronted by the church.

One Sunday a very fine young man, a member of the church, was teaching an adult Sunday School class. He utilized a very good video that presented in the form of allegory how the gospel is passed on to the lost by Christians. It used some image to represent the gospel – I can’t recall right now what that was.

At the close of the class as everyone was standing up to go out to the sanctuary for the worship service, Pat also stood up and said very, very loudly in the hearing of all – “That was in no way appropriate! It never even mentioned Jesus! What do you think you are doing showing that nonsense in church!” Everyone was rather shocked and just melted away out of the room. This is the kind of behavior that was characteristic of Pat. Yet she was called a Christian and never confronted. I only stayed at that church a bit over 2 years. I knew that the leadership was not willing to confront evil.

Now, here is my point. Notice that all three of these women (and believe me, there have been many more) were in “ministry.” The church, you might say, was their “life.” Oh, people would say, how they sacrifice and labor for the Lord. But if you know abusers, you know what Brenda and Linda and Pat were really all about. Power and control. And “in Jesus’ name” they felt absolutely justified in using all kinds of evil tactics (anger tantrums, threats to resign, accusations, putting on a disguise of “sweetness,” tears and weeping) in order to obtain and maintain that power and control. They really were female Diotrephes (see 3 John).

These kind are the kind of people that Christ admonishes us for not putting out of the church. They are really a kind of false prophetess because by their actions, even if they aren’t formally teaching, they are informally modeling a false gospel. When Jackie “serves” in a church for over 30 years as choir director, and all the while Jackie is a counterfeit Christian who is wicked and mean in real life yet who is touted as “the finest Christian woman you could ever know” by church members, be sure that a false gospel is being preached. And Christ says of anyone who preaches another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel, is anathema. Devoted to destruction under God’s wrath. And justly so. These kind continue to keep the little ones from coming to faith in Christ. They have custom made millstones waiting for them that will take them down to hell on that Day when Christ comes.

When I was writing my first book on domestic abusers hiding in the church, I quoted the verse from Revelation quoted at the beginning of this article. The Lord rebukes the church for tolerating “that woman Jezebel.” I had several people tell me not to include that Scripture in my book because it would “trigger” women who were abuse victims. It might sound, they said, like I was somehow, as a man, blaming women “Jezebels.”

Well, I don’t buy that. I think that most all of you who have been victims of domestic abusers, especially in the church, have had your sad experiences with plenty of Jezebels. You have had women as well as men side with your abuser and add to your oppression. The pastor’s wife. The saintly leader of the women’s ministries. The church pillar who has been a member for decades. And I don’t think you have any problem with acknowledging that the spirit of Jezebel is certainly present in local churches.

Jesus plays no favorites. Man or woman, evil is evil and it is to be confronted by us and put out from our midst. That is the command of the King.