“She’s at it again,” the church secretary sighed. “Yesterday she called me on the phone and laid into me about the font size we use on the bulletin. She said no one could read it and that I needed to change it by Sunday. And then this morning she called me again and apologized.”
“So, what’s the problem?” I asked.
“The problem is she’s done this to me … and to almost all of our leaders … over and over and over again. She flies off the handle and then apologizes. And she totally expects us to all ‘forgive and forget,’ as if it never happened.”
As I pondered the issue, I realized that the Church Bully and Church Terrorist terms that we’ve been using for so many years doesn’t really fit this situation. Although this person is definitely a church bully, she’s so much more. She’s an abuser of the nth degree.
Pastors and marriage and family therapists see these kinds of abusers all the time. The abuser who smacks his (or her, I’ve known both) spouse around either physically, mentally, or emotionally and then shows up the next day or so with flowers and a Hallmark “I’m SO sorry” greeting card and expects to be forgiven and the deed forgotten.
But it’s one thing to blow it once. It’s something else again when the behavior goes on and on and on. Although a single instance of harm is abuse, an abuser or a predator is someone who’s like a broken record. Abuse … Apologize … Repeat.
I don’t know any legitimate therapists who advocate that a spouse should tolerate this kind of behavior, but especially not when it’s a pattern of behavior. On the other hand, in the church …
Too often, the same church that advocates safety for an abused spouse chooses to tolerate bullies who abuse the bride of Christ. Instead of confronting the issue, church leaders cite Matthew 18:22 as “proof” that the church should somehow allow bullies to keep on bullying the bride.
However, there’s a difference between forgiving someone for abuse and continually tolerating abuse. In the “real” world, we’d likely (and we should!) council the spouse to put some distance between them and the abuser, at least until the abuser has worked through their issues and there’s evidence of behavioral change. But the church? Rather than causing a scene, too often the church acts as if the abuser has found a legal loophole to continue their reign of terror on the bride.
The solution is simple. Grow a spine; draw a line in the sand; and deal with them firmly and finally. Church bullies, terrorists, and abusers are responsible for killing church after church after church across North America. At best, they usher in a spirit of fear, discomfort, and distrust. At worst, they are an infectious pandemic that sucks the life out of everyone they breathe on. Either they repent and sin no more or else they’ve gotta be removed from the church as surely as a cancer gets removed from the body.
Is it easy to throw an abuser to the curb? Of course not. It’s why so many spouses remain in abusive relationships … it’s hard to leave, especially when you hate the sin, but love the sinner. But for the sake of the church – and for the sake of the kingdom – those who abuse the bride of Christ need to be held accountable.