It’s been a while, but I’ve read some of Kevin DeYoung’s earlier books, and liked them. They’re still on my shelves. I’ve given his books as gifts. So my reaction to his article “Toward a Better Discussion about Abuse” is… you can do better, Mr. DeYoung.
(Thank you to Dee of The Wartburg Watch for posting about this.)
Following are my initial reactions when reading through what he’s written. Fair warning, I’m apparently wearing my sassy-pants today.
Those who perpetuate abuse must be confronted in their sin, called to faith and repentance, and offered the one true hope that can be found in Christ alone. Those who are sinned against must be comforted in their suffering, helped to put away misplaced shame, and offered the one true hope that can be found in Christ alone.Kevin DeYoung
But beyond these foundational truths, the current discussion about abuse… gets quickly twisted and tied up in knots.Kevin DeYoung
Which is exactly how perpetrators of abuse want it.
To some degree, this is simply what happens when emotionally charged issues get talked about online (especially on Twitter). Social media has not been known to foster a spirit of charity or cultivate an intellectual atmosphere interested in careful distinctions and patient deliberation.Kevin DeYoung
Can we please stop blaming everything on social media? “The establishment” used to get annoyed at the ease with which dissenting voices could spread through the medium of the printing press, too. But that didn’t make the printing press go away, or stop the dissenting voices.
For others, there is another concern, that abuse is becoming a totalizing category and that even the accusation of abuse takes down everyone and everything in its path.Kevin DeYoung
I’ll grant him this. There should be a due process. But it should be a due process that neither disadvantages nor advantages the perpetrator, unlike how the current set-up works.
I admit I am concerned that correcting the church’s failures when it comes to abuse has given way in some places to an unhealthy overcorrection.Kevin DeYoung
I wonder if this is how Pope Leo X felt about Martin Luther.
And yet, you can correct one error in a way that produces new errors.Kevin DeYoung
In which case it’s generally called “a bigger mistake” instead of “a correction.”
One, abuse is in the church. As much as we strive to be different from the world, there is still worldliness in the church.Kevin DeYoung
Interesting that he calls it “worldliness” instead of “sin.” Like it’s easier to shift blame to “the World.”
Two, the church has not always handled abuse well. Even when church leaders have not been guilty themselves of abusive behavior, and have not sought to cover up abusive patterns, they have sometimes failed to handle abuse situations with biblical fidelity, pastoral sensitivity, and Christian grace. These failures may include: failing to put proper safety measures in place, failing to act in a timely manner, failing to warn others and share information with pertinent parties or assemblies, failing to include women (when appropriate) in matters of domestic abuse, applying Matthew 18 in a wooden fashion, treating abuse situations as straightforward matters of personal reconciliation, being slow to listen, and being ignorant of proper reporting procedures.Kevin DeYoung
I do appreciate that he gets very specific here with the list of “failures.”
I do wonder why it is only appropriate to include women in matters of domestic abuse. The male gender is not bequeathed with special knowledge about proper safety measures, timeliness, child abuse, mandated reporting regulations, etc. And given that women tend to be primary caregivers of the very young and the very old (both populations with which it is important to be the opposite of “slow to listen” in order to do your job effectively), they might be particularly suited to handling issues of abuse.
Also, I note that he refers to Matthew 18 as being applied in a “wooden” fashion, as opposed to being “misapplied” or “applied in situations in which it really shouldn’t be.” Almost like he’s defending its use, but implying that others are being overly sensitive to the specific manner in which it’s being used. Like whether almond is “all-mund” or “am-und.”
We can be deeply hurt by words as well as actions, by emotional pain as well as physical harm, by subtly manipulative leaders as well as by obviously tyrannical ones.Kevin DeYoung
Yes. Thank you, Mr. DeYoung.
Of course, institutional boards and presidents and pastors cannot cease to be wise, responsible leaders.Kevin DeYoung
I’m not sure what this means… Yes, actually, they can cease to be wise, responsible leaders. (Senility is going to hit all of us, if we live long enough.) In which case, they need to step down (or be made to step down). Or is he saying that they should not stop being wise and responsible?
Then there’s always the scenario in which they were only pretending to be wise and responsible, but the mask has slipped and now you’re getting a glimpse of who they truly are.
At times, the topic of abuse gets put into a category by itself where—unlike other pastoral or theological topics—any efforts at nuance or dispassionate analysis are completely off limits.Kevin DeYoung
Wait, wait. “Other pastoral or theological topics” like complementarianism? I’m just going to borrow a few of Mr. DeYoung’s own words here:
- “The existence of rival interpretations does not preclude that one of them is right or at least more correct than another.”
- “Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus”
- [The title says it all.]
Anyway, back on track.
Too often there is an unrealistic expectation that every internet article or podcast comment or pulpit sermon must speak as you would in a one-on-one counseling situation. We do not produce balanced thinking by making the internet a counseling office, nor will victims be helped in the long run by giving them the expectation that the care they need can be found from strangers online.Kevin DeYoung
I don’t understand what he’s trying to say… What specifically about a counseling session is different than an internet article or pulpit sermon? If said article or sermon is coming from a “genuine” Christian (to borrow Mr. DeYoung’s use of the “genuine victim” phrase) who “genuinely” cares about those who are hurting, wouldn’t it be written/spoken with humility, care, and concern? The same kind of humility/care/concern a good counselor would bring to a counseling situation?
If he’s trying to say that victims are well served by a relationship with a proficient counselor, I would whole-heartedly agree. But that doesn’t mean that “strangers online” can’t be part of the healing process.
Or is he trying to get in another jab at social media, here? If so, see my comment above about the printing press.
Also, Mr. DeYoung is a stranger online to probably the vast majority of people who are reading The Gospel Coalition articles he writes. But I don’t see him stopping anytime soon.
Does Mr. DeYoung have a Twitter account?
[pause to search]
He does! How delightful.
Two, sometimes there is an unwillingness to distinguish between the abuser and anyone else in “the system.” It’s true, the system—and those in it—can fail victims and cover tracks for the abuser. And yet, we should be cautious about charging “the culture” with producing iniquity—a charge that is usually impossible to prove or disprove. We must not impute guilt to anyone and everyone who is somehow connected to “the system.”Kevin DeYoung
If the system is “fail[ing] victims and cover[ing] tracks for the abuser” more often than not, isn’t that by definition a system that produces iniquity? The whole rotten-fruit-from-a-bad-tree kind of thing?
“Guilty until proven innocent” is not a Christian way to pursue justice, nor is it loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved.Kevin DeYoung
Two things, here. First, many Christians operate under the assumption that anyone who isn’t a church-goer is not a Christian and thus judged to hell. So, “guilty until proven innocent” is technically a Christian way to pursue justice.
Second, “innocent until proven guilty” is from (indirectly) the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Not the Bible. So what’s his point, here?
Third, why is he bringing “our neighbors” into this? Generally speaking “our neighbors” in Christianese refers to those outside the church (as implied by the parable of the Good Samaritan). But so far Mr. DeYoung’s article is about victims of abuse inside the church. So, which “neighbors” is Mr. DeYoung referring to?
When hurt feelings, gruff personalities, ill-conceived jokes, run-of-the-mill staff disagreements, and the ordinary misunderstandings of life get labeled as “abuse,” we not only run the risk of slandering the accused, we also make it more difficult for the genuinely abused to get the help and attention they need.Kevin DeYoung
Sorry, Mr. DeYoung, this is just lazy. Or rushed and unprofessional. If you’re going to say “but this isn’t abuse,” then you need to give us a definition of what you actually consider abuse to be. Otherwise, how are we (or our church leaders) supposed to be able to recognize it and put a stop to it?
No matter how much we want to listen to and sympathize with people in their pain, there must be a place for fact-finding, for hearing from both sides, and for objective analysis—whether from journalists, boards, pastors, investigators, or whomever.Kevin DeYoung
I’m pretty sure fact-finding, hearing from both sides (not just the perpetrator), and objective analysis are what both the abused and advocates want.
This is making me go down memory lane. When we left a former church after an elder questioned my character, his response to us (in writing) included the line, “We are sad that you have chosen to leave and avoid fully working through your concerns and ours in-person as Matthew 18 would encourage us to do.”
My response at the time was: “Bring it.” I wanted the entire church to see the documentation we had of his lies. And yes, we had documentation. (Still do.) David, who thinks much more clearly than me in the heat of the moment, talked me down. Because he realized that (a) the church would only ever hear the elder’s side of the story and (b) there would be no objective analysis.
So, to Mr. DeYoung, I say the same thing: “Bring it.”
Abusers can be blind to their abusive behavior, and those who consider themselves victims can misread what actually transpired. We must allow for the possibility that sheep can mislabel as “abuse” what is, in fact, necessary pastoral correction and oversight.Kevin DeYoung
Gonna be blunt, here. Mr. DeYoung, this is dangerous. First, you don’t tell us what abuse specifically is, so that we can recognize and respond appropriately. Then, you say it might actually be “necessary pastoral correction,” without defining for us what exactly is “necessary pastoral correction.”
You have just given abusers another weapon.
And if, as you say, “abusers can be blind to their abusive behavior,” how are they supposed to know what is abusive and what is “necessary pastoral correction” if you don’t spell it out?
Is it because you don’t think abuse actually exists? That it’s all a misreading of “necessary pastoral correction?”
And finally, and somewhat controversially I know, we must acknowledge that even when we were sinned against, we are still responsible for the sins we commit. The existence of a power disparity, for example, does not automatically eliminate personal agency. Clearly in some situations—when dealing with minors, for example, or when one is physically overpowered—there is complete exoneration of guilt. But in other situations, the one with lesser power can still bear moral responsibility, even if the one with greater power is guilty of a much more heinous transgression…Kevin DeYoung
The very first sentence in Mr. DeYoung’s article (which I haven’t quoted until now), includes “Abuse [is] an immensely difficult and heavy burden to bear by those who are victims of it.” Believe me, Mr. DeYoung, “genuine” abuse victims are already keenly aware of the “sins” they’ve committed. This is what contributes to the “immensely difficult and heavy burden” you readily acknowledged in the beginning. This is the very “misplaced shame” you talked about at the very beginning of this very article.
If Joseph had slept with Potipher’s powerful, conniving, and threatening wife, she would have had the greater sin, but Joseph’s actions would still have been a great wickedness and sin against God.Kevin DeYoung
Two observations. First, I don’t think that Mr. DeYoung realizes that, speaking as a (spiritual) abuse victim, church leadership sounds a lot like Potipher in this story. Didn’t bother getting both sides of the story, going on a fact-finding mission, or seeking an outsider’s objective analysis.
Second, Joseph was the only one at stake, here. As Mr. DeYoung has noted previously, talking about abuse can require nuance. In the story of Joseph and Potipher’s wife, Joseph was the only one who had to bear the consequences of his decisions not to “give in” to Potipher’s wife.
**heads up – if you are a survivor of sexual assault, you may want to skip to the next DeYoung quote, and not read the rest of my response to the Potipher story**
I wish I could remember her name. I read the story once of a young Polish woman who was a maid for a Nazi officer during the occupation of Poland in World War II. She was hiding several Jewish people in the house. The officer found out. He told the young woman, a devout Catholic, that he would keep her secret if she slept with him. It wasn’t just her life at stake, but also those of the refuges hiding in the house. So she slept with him. And went to a priest to be absolved.
And the priest refused to absolve her, because she was going to continue to sleep with the Nazi officer as long as it would keep the Jewish refugees safe.
Isn’t that the kind of self-sacrificial “love one’s neighbor” Mr. DeYoung mentioned earlier in his article?
And this is hardly an unusual situation. While far, far down on the whole “self-sacrifice scale,” David and I were not sure how far to push it when we realized a pastor had lied from the pulpit (yes, Mr. DeYoung, I have documentation for the “fact-finding mission” that leadership is apparently still getting around to) because David’s family attended the church, and we knew making waves could affect their new-found community there. There are often ripple effects of consequences if a victim says “no.” Where is Mr. DeYoung’s recognition of this “nuance?”
I also remember reading Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson, her memoir of an early childhood in extreme poverty. More than once, an adult woman (including her own mother) gave herself “voluntarily” to a man who otherwise would have assaulted the young Christina. Is this what Mr. DeYoung would call “the one with lesser power” still bearing “moral responsibility”?
If so, I find that kind of thinking very disturbing. And disgusting. And not of Jesus. Again, that’s what perpetrators want you to think.
But the response to a fire in the kitchen must not be to burn the whole house down.Kevin DeYoung
This is a great analogy.
There is a fire in the kitchen. While advocates and victims are trying to get a fire extinguisher, call the fire department, repair the damage, and figure out what caused the fire in the first place to keep it from happening again, Mr. DeYoung is shouting from the study all the way across the house, “What’s all the ruckus?! Can’t you quiet it down over there?! I’m trying to figure out why the smoke detector is going off, again! Maybe it needs a new battery.”
Listen to what the smoke detector is trying to tell you, Mr. DeYoung. And the firefighters, and the people looking for the fire extinguisher, and the inspector. Otherwise, this house is going to burn down around you while you’re still looking for a new battery.
After sleeping on it, I was struck by a further thought.
It strikes me that this lack of clear definition (on Mr. DeYoung’s part) is dangerous for both abusers and the abused. The abused will continue to be hurt, to be driven from communities of believers, and to continue to wonder if it is fallible (“sinful,” to use Mr. DeYoung’s lingo) shepherds or God Himself who condones the abuse.
As for the abusers, if they aren’t made aware that what they’re doing is wrong, how else are they going to be called to repentance and to a fuller understanding of God’s love, mercy, and grace?
I’ve also realized that I (like Mr. DeYoung) have been indulging in a bit of proof-texting when it comes to the story of Joseph and Potipher’s wife. In this scenario, I’ve been making the assumption that Joseph and Mrs. Potipher were on equal footing.
While it’s true that Joseph was likely physically stronger than Mrs. Potipher, in terms of socio-economic status and raw authority, Mrs. Potipher was the clear superior. (See, for example, Marg Mowczko’s article on male slaves with female masters.)
If we’re using the story of Joseph and Potipher’s wife as an allegory of abuse in the church, it isn’t about a leader falsely accused of rape. It’s about a subordinate who is falsely accused of sin by a person in a position of power. It’s a story of other people in positions of power rallying around the perpetrator instead of the victim, and abusing their authority to silence and intimidate the victim.
As far as we’re aware, from the Biblical evidence, Potipher and his wife went to their graves unrepentant and fully culpable for their sin in this matter. Is this what Mr. DeYoung wants to happen with abusive leaders in the modern church?
I’m reading through the Book of Zechariah at the moment. In one of the prophecies, Zechariah reports God’s story of two false shepherd’s who are oppressing the flock. In spite of their oppression, the flock detests God, who hands them over to the false shepherds. “Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh” (Zechariah 11:9b). A gruesome image.
Is this what Mr. DeYoung wants to happen? Does he want us, the sheep, to continue to accept the oppression of the false shepherds, to the point at which both we and the shepherds are handed over to destruction?
Well, this sheep would rather get out of the burning house while Mr. DeYoung is looking for a new battery for the blaring smoke detector. This sheep would rather follow the Good Shepherd (John 10) who promises rest (Matthew 11:28-30) instead of the questionable shepherd who makes vague promises of “pastoral correction and oversight.”