Meagan

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John Crist & Abuse in the Church

The news about allegations against Christian Comedian John Christ broke yesterday. The article shared stories from scores of women who claim Crist engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, gaslighting, and manipulation. If you haven’t read the whole article yet, I encourage you to do so here.

Recognize It For What It Is

I have known way too many women in the church who’ve found the courage to share about their husbands’ manipulation, control, and abuse just for the church to tell them they need to be “submissive”. Or that “God hates divorce”. Or that her husband just needs to learn how to express his anger and communicate effectively. I once went to a church where the pastor sent a woman, who expressed that her husband was abusive and controlling, to spend time together at a hotel–because they clearly just needed time to work things out.

I have known women who share that their husbands are emotionally abusive, controlling, and manipulative with their friends and family just to hear that they could “never see him doing something like that”.

I’ve been a part of a church where women would accuse husbands of abuse, and then we’d never see the now-ex-wife again. But the accused husband continued to come to church and be “supported” through his “time of pain”.

I’ve heard stories of women who were told many of the above things, which resulted in them staying in an abusive marriage for 12 years. And then in a different abusive marriage for another 12 years.

The church has not always supported women well through abuse. Church has often perpetuated abuse. Sometimes out of naivety or ignorance, sometimes out of full intention, but always out of neglect.

The accusations about John Crist represent a much larger problem that is going on within the church. The things John was doing weren’t illegal (as far as I’ve heard). They are calling them manipulative and controlling. But there’s a description a lot of people aren’t using: abusive.

We Need A Proper Understanding Of Abuse

The church needs a full understanding of what abuse is. A comprehensive understanding of it will help the church recognize and begin to help care for victims of it. This article does not give a comprehensive explanation, so I encourage you to research and read books about it. So many more things can be categorized as abuse, but here are some brief examples.

Abuse is:

  • Intentionally making degrading comments to put another down, in order to weaken their will and eventually gain control of them.
  • Holding out a gift and then later pulling it back, then guilting the person for not doing what you wanted.
  • Saying flattering things to someone and then saying everyone else is “out to get us” and “don’t really love you” in order to keep them close to you. (quote from above article, referring to Crist’s statements to a woman).
  • Telling someone their negative experience with you never happened, and that you’re just “crazy.”
  • Saying you’re faithful to someone with other relationships on the side, and then make it the other person’s fault when everything comes out. Or saying “I’m so sorry, I love you the most. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” In other words, they don’t take responsibility.
  • Gets angry when someone criticizes them or brings up an issue they have caused.

When these things happen in an isolated incident and the person apologizes and doesn’t do it again–that is not abuse. Abuse is when these kinds of things are done systematically to gain control or influence over another person. Abuse is emotional, verbal, manipulation, and control– It is not just physical.

(Note: Crist was not accused of all of the above examples.)

The Issue Of Judgment And Discernment

Someone left a comment on Crist’s Instagram page saying, “Judge not…he who is without sin cast the first stone…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”. Another quoted the same verse and then said, “oh wait, that’s none of us.”

This raises the question: if someone is being accused of manipulation, control, abuse, and moral failure, is it “judging” or “casting the first stone,” to make a judgment about the situation? Because if that’s true that silences victims and empowers abusers.

The bible verse so many are referring to is John 8, where Jesus confronts the woman caught in adultery. In those times, women were stoned for being an adulterer. This woman was likely brought out naked, about to be stoned by the group of men Jesus was surrounded by. The Pharisees questioned Jesus about the law, and he replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her (John 8:7)”.

People interpret that verse to mean that we’re not supposed to judge others because none of us are without sin.

But this verse means that we do not have the authority to judge whether or not someone is condemned or forgiven.

If we as Christians are commanded never to judge, I hope you never have an opinion about anything, even about good things. Making judgments is all about discernment. Making judgments means making a decision about everything that goes on around us. Google defines judgment as, “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.” If we’re not supposed to judge, then we’d never get anywhere in life.

We are not called to judge whether or not someone is condemned or forgiven, but we are supposed to use discernment to judge truth.

If we were never to judge at all, we wouldn’t be able to tell a woman that she needed to seek help or protection from her husband or boyfriend. Because that requires a judgment.

We are not condemning abusers that they are beyond the grace of God. But they may be beyond our trust. They may be beyond a relationship with us. And that is okay. We can still acknowledge that the person is loved and offered grace from God through repentence, but we can use our judgment to say that the person is not trustworthy or safe.

The Dangers of Restoring A Relationship With An Abuser

The abused often feel shame. They often feel like the abuser’s negative repercussions are their fault, or that everything was their fault to begin with, as “Sarah” says below:

Sarah says, “You want to be Christlike, and you want to show love. But at a certain point, showing love to someone is being bold enough to speak up…”. Why do we equate Christlikeness with not calling out sin? Why do we equate being a Christian with being the one responsible for destroying a person’s character who has actually destroyed it themselves? Why do we think showing love means staying quiet about sin?

Maybe because we think that making judgments about sin is “judgmental.” Which pushes us into silence.

After Jesus said to not cast the first stone, he said, “now go and sin no more.” Which is a judgment. He is discerning truth versus sin, but then offering forgiveness based on his status and works, not her own.

If we think it’s a sin to make judgments about others’ sin, we put ourselves and others in danger of staying in potentially dangerous relationships.

Failing to discern if someone is trustworthy or safe, regardless of their past behavior, means that people will continue to put up with and be affected by that behavior. Because those who are abusive often do not change their behavior even after being caught, confessing, and claiming repentance. Read what Sarah has to say in the second paragraph here:

Sarah made an incredibly wise judgment about his character. We, as fellow Christians, are free to do the same. We likely won’t know if John Crist’s response was genuine. Even though we are not free to cast condemnation and hate, we are free to be disappointed, no longer trust him, or even personally question if his repentance is genuine. We need to be careful with that last example, because it doesn’t mean we are judging his salvation. Instead we’re judging patterns of both his abusive behavior and what we know about abusive behavior in general: that it’s hard to change. That it often doesn’t change.

Just like if you knew someone like this in person, you would be free to not trust that his repentance was genuine. If we are not free to judge that, then we would be required to stay in the same patterns of relationship with an abuser.

Abuse, Forgiveness, & Grace

Maybe you’re thinking: Meagan, you’re taking this situation a little too seriously. He isn’t accused of anything illegal. You’re right. But 1) A common response I’m seeing to this issue, to not judge, keeps people from making needed judgments. 2) The church has not historically handled abuse well. I want to share the seriousness of it. And how common it is. 3) The common understanding of judgment silences victims and empowers oppressors.

I personally have not experienced abuse. I think the only person I know of in my extended family who was abusive was one great-grandfather. And his son, my grandfather, is anything but abusive.

But my husband was abused growing up. Meaning my mother-in-law was too. And all of my brother and sisters-in-law. Then, my mother-in-law was unknowingly in a second abusive marriage. Although I haven’t experienced it first hand, I’ve learned a lot about it from their experiences.

We can simultaneously acknowledge and empathize that Crist is experiencing deep struggle in the public eye right now and that he has lost our trust. We can pray for him, forgive him, and believe that God will continue loving him, and not trust his future work. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

If you’ve related to this article a little too much, maybe you’re in an abusive relationship. Remember, abuse is not just physical. It can be emotional, verbal, sexual, or even financial. And also remember: it’s not your fault. Please find a safe person to ask for help. If you’re local to me, I know a wonderful Christian counselor who specializes in treating people who’ve experienced abuse.

Remember…

Abuse is not your fault. But being a victim doesn’t mean you are powerless.

You can use discernment to make a judgment about someone’s character and decide they are not trustworthy.

Biblical judgment is about discerning truth, not salvation.

We left the church that continually retained abusers and drove away the abused. The church whose pastor told wives that their abusive husbands just needed to learn how to communicate and express their anger. We now go to a church where a woman from my old church, who accused her husband of abuse, attends. Where another woman with a large family is single parenting while trying to find healing from her former husband’s emotional and verbal abuse. In our time there, I haven’t heard stories of an abuser staying in the church. Although Christians have a bad history of abuse and supporting abuse, that’s not how it’s meant to be. The church is supposed to discern truth and make judgments that can help and support those facing abuse and other forms of oppression.

A common understanding of judgment silences victims and empowers oppressors. But the church, as it’s supposed to be, empowers victims, disempowers oppressors, and points both to the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

 

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November 7, 2019

Culture

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