Do clergy have immunity to abuse their people?

"Immunity to Abuse" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Immunity to Abuse” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Someone contacted me last week to alert me to what is going on recently with Sovereign Grace Ministries.

There are those who claim the abuse that has occurred in the ministry is some of the worst ever documented. But on top of that, the following coverup by its leadership is just as disturbing, if not more so. I say ‘if not more so’ because it suggests that the abuse is not taken seriously and that there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.

The person who contacted me about it, of course, is very upset. Even shocked. Understandably.

I’m no longer shocked by these stories.

Whenever we hear of abuse within the church, or any organization for that matter, we also hear of attempts to minimize it, marginalize it, silence it, or even deny it. But always always always… without fail?… we hear of the organization’s attempts to protect the abuser.

In my experience and observation, the abuser is protected by the organization or the abuser is so independent that they are accountable to no one.

The hypocrisy is what gets me. A pastor might go online and in a moment of pain, weakness, curiosity, or genuine interest, checks out certain questionable websites. No matter how gifted he is, he’s dismissed immediately. Another pastor might have a long history of abuse, but every effort is made to keep him… precisely because of his giftedness!

In the first case no one was hurt. In the second many are. Which tells me we care more about our ideas and our morality and our programs than we do the people.

I’ve been spiritually abused. But I know many people who have far worse stories than I do. They know the futility of reporting the abuse because they are fully aware that the system will rally behind the abuser. Everyone seems to understand that. Including the abuser.


–> I invite you to pull up a chair to The Lasting Supper. We will welcome you and help you feel at home.


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3 Responses

  1. Ducatihero says:

    Cry put things well, she wrote:

    “Bear each other’s over-burdens, and thus fulfill the Law of Christ.”

    It is the Law of Christ that counseled me…
    It is the Law of Christ that protected me…
    It is the Law of Christ that governs me…

    May I offer that it is easy to tear down. It is much more difficult, and much more vulnerable, to build up.”

    What is the “law of Christ” that protects? Well in the case of pastors with “abuse”, in context we are probably not talking about murder, rape, beatings (although that’s not to say that this has never happened). Thankfully the likelihood of most people in the west having to endure such is slim unlike what Christians, say, in Iraq have endured at the hands if ISIS.

    When I have encountered difficulty in a church at the hand of a leader, it hasn’t been any worse than at any time with a boss in the workplace, with the exception that in work, my livelihood has depended on it so it was not as easy to walk away.

    What I have found true in my life at such times is to apply the “law of Christ” in that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil4:7

  2. Caryn LeMur says:

    Ducati: in a sense, I agree with you. The pastor is no more than a boss in the work place. And sometimes, it is easiest to just shrug him/her off… and carry on with the job.

    In my mind, the pastor’s divine appointment is nor more, nor less, than the divine appointment of my boss (for ‘every power is established by God’).

    And I think you touched upon the difficulty: if the work boss holds the power of our ‘livelihood’, we dare not cross him. We will quickly become unemployed and without income… and few are wealthy enough to last long without income.

    So, why is it difficult for church people to leave their abusive pastor? I think it is not due to monetary income. Rather, I offer that it is most likely difficult due to a litany of emotional investments.

    How to ‘go to a church’ and not ‘invest’ emotionally … is a difficult challenge for me. I personally invest rather quickly when I have attended in the past. So, it was difficult for me to leave – even when they were unkind, rude, and held secret meetings to discuss my wife and I.

    There is a strange bonding that can happen between the spiritually abused and the abusing hierarchy….

    I am glad for you, if leaving a church (that was damaging to you) was an easy thing to do.

    You are blessed.

  3. Ducatihero says:


    Thank you for replying.

    I don’t recall saying that the pastor is no more than a boss but I hear that this is how you have interpreted the sharing of my experience.

    I hear that you acknowledge the difficulty of leaving a work boss due to consequences with livelihood and question then why it is difficult to leave the pastor.

    I think there is a lot of truth in what you say about the emotional investment. I suppose with being ex Air Force and being in emotionally difficult situations for me, there have been some skills that I have learned that taken forward into other areas of live, including church. Whatever I have been through in church it has never been s emotionally difficult as being involved in a war.

    I suppose the premise is that it is about love – God’s love, unlike the workplace for financial gain or military service for defense of the country. Therefor perhaps there is an expectation upon leaders (rightly or wrongly) that congregants have to be loving and to have a sense of security in this whether the leader lives up to that or not. I suppose likewise the leader may have the similar expectation of congregants and could suffer when that is not met.

    I hear what you say about investing emotionally quickly, it being difficult for you when you have left and it is a difficult challenge for you with church and investment of emotions.

    All I know is that I have learned better when to discern times when it is healthy to be open and enjoy connection and others when it is better to be guarded and have distance emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually.

    I”ts been tough road to travel at times but I never have been more free, content, grateful and peaceful.

    I hope you have or can find peace whether that include attendance at church with stronger boundaries or through making choice not to go to church.