Toxic Christian Relationships

photo by Mitch Hodge

There is an intriguing story in the book of John. You’ll find it in chapter 8:1-11.

Now [a]early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear, (NKJV).

Picture the scene. Jesus in the temple, teaching his followers and those who were curious. Suddenly, the religious leaders burst in with a nearly (or completely) naked woman and thrust her before Him. Moreover, she is accused of adultery before Jesus and the crowd.

There are so many problems with this scenario.

The scribes and Pharisees gloated over this humiliated woman because they believed that Jesus would have to agree with them. Otherwise, He would be going against the Mosaic Law. On the other hand, if He disagreed with them…then He must be a fraud!

However, as is often the case with abusive men, they told a half-truth. Actually, if they were interested in following the Law, it required the death of both the man  and the woman. The Pharisees were conveniently silent with that information.

photo by Sora Shimazaki

Whose Responsibility?

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers[j]of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Clearly, Jesus quickly assessed the situation. He saw the toxic dynamic of men placing the weight of their agenda onto a woman. In addition, He knew who needed to own the responsibility at that moment…and it wasn’t the woman before Him. (Please note that He did admonish her not to continue in her sin.)

Jesus simply waited until the scribes and Pharisees realized they had responsibility for their own sin. The men had no right to place the burden of their hidden, personal sins onto the woman, (i.e. judging, conniving to trap Jesus, lying about the Law, using another person for their own benefit.)

Then, in love and mercy, Jesus sent the woman on her way.

Unfortunately, the number one characteristic of abusers is denial of responsibility. It’s nearly impossible for them to take responsibility for their behavior.

Where Does Abusive Behavior Begin?

Each of us have met people with varying levels of emotional maturity. Some “never seem to grow up,” while others were “grown before their time.” We know that abusive behavior is often learned in the home, whether by witnessing abuse or experiencing it. In addition, Bob Hamp, counselor and owner of Think Differently Counseling, ( said, The backbone of emotionally healthy development is the movement from dependence to independence to interdependence.

Ideally, parents begin early to train their children toward independent thinking and feeling.

If that doesn’t occur, these children learn to constantly look outside themselves for success, affirmation, and fulfillment. Furthermore, they usually grow into dependent adults who:

  • have an inability to face consequences for personal behavior
  • cannot manage conflict
  • have trouble with differing thoughts, emotions, opinions of others

Many become addicts, abusers or serial adulterers. They have internal pain, but unfortunately, lack the resources to meet them…and no longer possess a desire to do so. Therefore, they look to outward methods to soothe it.

In addition, they use a position of power to assign responsibility to their victims to carry the weight of their sins, emotions, or daily responsibilities, (Bob Hamp.)

Covert Agreements

Surprise! Abusers find victims who do have the resources they need! This person was likely groomed in her own family of origin. She may meet a financial need for the abuser, but most often it’s emotional, as well. Usually, the victim is an empath. She’s caring, and understanding; surely she can meet his gnawing inward needs.

This is the ideal person to carry the abuser’s pain, and believe me, before long, she’s carrying all of it.

Therefore, the two unconsciously enter a covert agreement:

(Abuser) You will meet all my emotional needs, and anything else I can think of. (Victim) I’ll be fulfilled by being the most amazing helper who will change this poor man.

Remember, the victim never sees herself as a victim, (until she’s completely burned out, that is.) She just wants to help him. If she could just do more to change him – perhaps she can fix him or…soothe her own fear.

Furthermore, abusers don’t see themselves as abusers. They think they may have a little problem with anger, (or porn, or alcohol…) that only gets worse when she doesn’t do her job. Of course, her job consists of meeting all of his needs when he needs them…and always being understanding and forgiving of him…

every. single. time.

photo by Yan Krukov

Abusive Christian Relationships

We began with a story of self-righteous religious leaders using their power to exploit a woman’s personal sin, merely to prove their point to Jesus. Consequently, as difficult as it may be to acknowledge, we are aware that religion has had harmful elements since the beginning of time.

With that in mind, is it such a big leap to realize that there are Christian marriages where women are being abused? (I use the term Christian here loosely.) I realize that sometimes men are abused, too. However, the vast majority of the time when abuse is present, whether Christian homes or not, the victim is a woman.

Actually, the doctrine in Conservative Christian circles, makes it easier for abusers to blend in. Contrary to the example of Christ, far too many in fundamentalist leaning churches continue to see women as second class citizens of the Kingdom of God. This feeds directly in to the ego of an abuser, who sees his victim as someone who lives to meet his needs.

For an example, look no farther than a recent article about a schism at Bethlehem Baptist, John Piper’s former church.

photo by Karolina Grabowska

Christian Abusers

According to Natalie Hoffman, writer and educator regarding domestic abuse, you can’t tell an abuser by his cover. To outsiders, he can appear shy and gentle or charming and gregarious. However, these are a professing Christian abuser’s core beliefs. At home, they are revealed as follows:

  • Women follow men
  • Women cause men to trip up
  • If rape happened, there had to be witnesses or it wasn’t rape
  • Women cannot give feedback unless it’s done in a meek and quiet way
  • A wife cannot have personal boundaries
  • Grace is only allowed for men
  • Women must die to themselves, not men
  • If a woman stands against her husband, she is against God’s will
  • If there is not peace in the home, it’s the woman’s fault
  • When a husband says he’s sorry, a wife owes him a clean slate – 70×70!

You can easily see the distortions, but these are deep-seated beliefs an abuser lives by. He expects his wife to live by them, too.

Next week I’m going to talk about the 5 areas of abuse. None include him lifting a hand, but all inflict pain.

Until then, keep in mind that Jesus did not condemn the woman thrown at his feet. Conversely, He was gentle, kind, and forgiving toward her. His judgment was toward the religious leaders.

The heart of God has always been tender toward victims of injustice.

Please know – You are loved.






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