Confronting Abuse: We Must be Like John the Baptist
Matthew 14:1-12 ESV
(1) At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus,
(2) and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”
(3) For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,
(4) because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
(5) And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.
(6) But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod,
(7) so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.
(8) Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
(9) And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.
(10) He sent and had John beheaded in the prison,
(11) and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
(12) And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
When I was only 21 years old, I was hired as a deputy sheriff in a smaller sheriff’s department here in Oregon. I loved police work, was about to graduate from college, and went through the Oregon Police Academy. I only spent a little over one year at this department, subsequently moving on to a larger one in Portland. But I was there long enough to learn about power. How it corrupts, and how it is misused by those who possess it. The sheriff, who was touted as an up-and-coming young political figure, had his little band of loyalists whom he owed for helping get him elected. On at least two occasions, I came to work and found that one of these people had been promoted to sergeant, and on still another day suddenly here was this new “guy” whom I had never seen before whom the sheriff had hired as a lieutenant! No job openings for these promotions had ever been listed. Money also changed hands. At year end, remaining budget funds were paid out for “overtime” work, and it was that little circle who received the large bulk of those monies. In the end, this sheriff came crashing down after it became public news that he had taken trustee prisoners from the jail home to do work on his house and that he had made sexual advances toward them. He died of sexually-transmitted disease some years later.
The abuse of power. Evil seeks out high places. And therefore, we must not be surprised to find that wickedness seeks out high position in the Christian church. Church history is filled with such examples, is it not? Man, in his sin, craves to create positions of power, so unbiblical hierarchies and offices are created and then filled with men who have a lust for power and control and, well, that brings us back to abuse, doesn’t it? These wolves in sheep’s clothing have been responsible for horrid abuse of the people of Christ for centuries, and they do it all in the name of the Jesus whom they persecute.
Yesterday as my wife and I were cruising down the highways on a motorcycle trip, I found myself (as I increasingly am doing) looking at church buildings as we passed them. Many of them have the typical church billboards out front with pithy sayings (many are rather corny and pathetic, but some are good). And what do I think when I see these churches? I find myself wondering, “is a wolf ‘shepherding’ the flock there?” “How many victims of secret abuse might there be in that place?” “How many biblical doctrines are distorted in that building every week to serve the pleasure of abusive people?” “Is that place really a local church of Jesus Christ, or has He long since departed?” And, mind you, I am not speaking about the obviously liberal churches that deny the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. I know what they are. No, the ones that cause me to wonder and ask these questions are those churches like mine, who profess to believe the Word of God.
Lest anyone think that I am being too critical or exaggerating the case, let me remind our readers that it is not at all uncommon for me or for Barbara to be contacted by readers who are married to an abuser who is also a pastor. I haven’t kept track of the numbers, but given how very difficult it must be for a pastor’s wife who is being abused by a husband who is a pastor to admit it to anyone, I believe that the numbers of such pastors is higher than any of us might really want to know. Remember though, evil seeks out high places. “I will be like the Most High” is its craving. And really then, what better place to exercise that deception and abuse than in the role of pastor? A real shepherd of Christ’s flock may not realize this, but the pastoral office, in the hands of wicked men, can be crafted into an incredibly powerful device for exalting the one holding it and for subjecting, using, and abusing those he sets himself over. He speaks God’s Word! He tells people how they must live! He hears their confessions and represents them to God! This is how people, if they become gullible and fail to search out the Scriptures, will be brought under the control of a wolf.
And what of such a man’s wife? What of “the pastor’s wife”? As most any conservative pastor’s wife will tell you, being married to the pastor of her church is no picnic, even if he is a genuine, godly man! Incredible pressure can be put upon her, even though she doesn’t get a paycheck! In most churches, you’d better believe that she has a job description, though it is an unwritten one. Now, couple all of this with the scenario in which the pastor is an abusive husband, and can you imagine the terrible position his wife is in?
And this brings us back round to John the Baptist. Abuse must be exposed and confronted. I do not mean by this that the abuse victim herself needs to do this, though she will certainly be key in the exposure. We all know by now that there are complicated factors that prevent an abuse victim from just coming “out with it” or “just leaving the jerk!” Children, finances, whether she will be believed or not, physical danger to her and her children at the hands of her abuser, and so on can all limit her ability to confront and expose. But I speak more here to the rest of us. Certainly to all true pastors. John the Baptist saw corruption and the abuse of power in King Herod, and John did not shirk from his duty: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Off to prison he went and ultimately, off came his head.
Confronting abuse is costly, and one reason it is costly is because abuse concerns power and control. Abusers are often in positions of power. Like Satan, they represent evil in high places. Yet we are all called, as God’s people, to speak God’s truth no matter what the cost. To remain silent about the infection of abuse that exists throughout the church today is to refuse to confess Jesus Christ before men. And that has far more serious and eternal consequences than having your head lopped off.