Pastor Jason Meyer of Bethlehem Baptist Church Preaches on Domestic Abuse and Care for Abused Women, Marking a Change in Direction from John Piper’s Teachings
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from reader, Ben, about a sermon preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church last Sunday concerning domestic violence. This is significant coming from John Piper’s former church and how he handled domestic violence:
“If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.” ~John Piper (See: Video and Clarifying Statement)
To read the following summary, knowing where Bethlehem Baptist formerly stood on these issues, it’s encouraging to see a positive change. I don’t think we’re going to see a church go from A to Z overnight. But it’s clear that there has been thoughtful response to a growing problem that has been swept under the carpet for far too long.
I’m grateful to Ben who wrote this summary and shared his personal observations and commentary.
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On Sunday April 26, as part of an ongoing series on 2 Corinthians, Pastor Jason Meyer (John Piper’s successor) of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis preached a sermon and gave a call to action on rooting out domestic abuse in the church. Calling this a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment,” Meyer said the elders have recently been working through this issue and implementing structure that will identify abuse, discipline abusers, and care for victims.
The sermon manuscript is here (see especially “Application” and following): Fooled by False Leadership
Now granted: Bethlehem still unwaveringly teaches complementarianism. (Domestic abuse was labelled “hyper-headship” — a distortion of what the Bible teaches, just as they believe egalitarianism is.) And as far as I know, no one at Bethlehem has backed off their support for CJ Mahaney and other leaders at Spvereogm Grace Ministries (SGM) that did exactly the opposite of what they’re calling Bethlehem to do.
Nevertheless, there were several positive things in this sermon (and other events this weekend) that I think should be commended. If we want churches to stand firmly against abuse, I think they should be encouraged when they take positive steps, even when they haven’t yet gone as far as they should.
1. The elders at Bethlehem are emotionally invested in this issue.
“This was not a stand-up-and-shout sermon for me to prepare. It was a break-down-and-weep sermon.”
From Meyer’s tone and expression (see the video) and advance notice that this was going to be a sober weekend, I am convinced they are treating this seriously.
2. They are confessing that abuse at Bethlehem has not always been handled as it should have been.
“We have become aware some domestic abuse cases throughout Bethlehem, and we have learned that we have not always handled them well.”
3. They are also acknowledging that they had a lot they needed to learn, and sought outside help.
“We brought a biblical counselor, John Henderson, to train the elders in better detecting and dealing with domestic abuse.”
4. They called out Doug Phillips and Vision Forum by name.
“One example is Doug Philips’ ministry, called Vision Forum. A recent sex scandal that caused Doug Philips to step down has also raised even more questions about Vision Forum’s credibility. We do not want to leave people vulnerable to false teaching by failing to speak out against hyper-headship.”
5. They are taking a clear stand against victim-blaming.
“In these situations, the conflict is not treated as normal marriage issues in which each spouse can look at what he or she is contributing. This is a predator/prey or abuser/abused situation. The prey needs to be protected from the predator. The abuser needs to be held accountable, and the abused needs to be shepherded to safety. Working on communication and having the couple go on dates is not the way to address abusive sinfulness. Telling the woman to submit better—and making her feel like she is to blame in some way—is the worse [sic] thing someone could say in that situation. If there is continual destructive abuse, you should never to ask [sic] the abused what they did to bring the abuse on. One of our counselors shared an analogy that stuck with me. It would be a little bit like the police on a 911 call coming into a crime scene where the wife has been shot and asking her what she did to bring on the bullets. The goal is to care for her and make sure she is safe and the shooter is arrested.”
6. They are also calling for abuse victims to be believed.
“Abusers can be so charming around other people—that is part of the deception. Do you think they will really show their true colors in public? Don’t judge by appearances and discount what a woman says with flippant incredulity. Think about how much she is risking by saying anything at all. Take it seriously. Tell her that you believe her, that God hates abuse, and that you are committed to help her.”
7. Women were involved in creating the new structure and process to encourage abuse victims to come forward and make sure they’re cared for.
(The cringe-worthy language reveals their complementarian bent, but at least the men didn’t decide they knew everything they needed to handle this themselves.)
“Woe to us as a church if our women get the impression that we don’t value their input or contributions. We have sought to involve more input from the wives of pastors and elders, telling them that we not only want their input but that we need it because we have blind spots. An ethos that does not value women can lead to an environment where sick things slip under the radar.”
(It’s not in the manuscript, but would be on the video: Meyer specifically said women helped create the new structure and process. At the end of the sermon, several women “first responders” came to the front in readiness to talk to anyone who needed it.)
8. They are encouraging abuse victims to give the new process a chance.
Elders Statement: “If you are a woman experiencing domestic abuse and would like counsel from a female ‘first responder’ who is a member at Bethlehem, please contact …”
“Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.”
9. They are calling men in particular to speak up and take a stand: To do nothing is to support the abusers.
“At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take. Door 1: side with the abusers, Door 2: take no side, or Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers. If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide just takes you [sic] to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching.”
10. Finally, at an all-church meeting Sunday night, a member of the church was excommunicated after pleading guilty to sexual assault of minors.
Given that he confessed, and still claims to be a Christian, one person made the argument that he should remain a member of the church and be part of a discipline and restoration process, as in Matthew 18. But Meyer and the elders said (based on 1 Corinthians 5) that some sins bring such reproach on the name of “Christian” that they merit immediate expulsion, with the hope that someday later there may be evidence of repentance, and restoration of fellowship.
You can see the above is very focused on spousal abuse. I wish more had been said about the abuse of children, but it was mentioned (see manuscript), and Bethlehem already has a very careful process to deter abuse at the church (background checks, screening, and training of child care workers, two-person rules, etc.). I also wish more had been said about police involvement.
But again, there is a danger of making the perfect the enemy of the good. I was very encouraged by the direction; hopefully as time goes on, they will go farther. I do not believe these elders would hush up abuse, tell wives to return to their abusers, force children to meet with and forgive their adult abusers, etc. — the things that make SGM’s history so disgusting.
Julie Anne responding now.
There were a couple of notable paragraphs that I want to draw your attention to:
An ethos that does not value women can lead to an environment where sick things slip under the radar. I have heard this statement before—warning, if you want to see me get visibly upset, just say what I am about to say in my presence: “If wives would just submit better and become more meek and quiet, then husbands would not get so angry.” These thoughts must be taken captive, or else we can create a climate in which domestic abuse can take root and grow.
Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.
I’ve seen some complementarian marriages work beautifully. But there is a very fine line that can be crossed when a husband decides “my wife is not being submissive” and ventures into what they refer as “hyper-headship.”
I was looking specifically for the words spiritual abuse mentioned and there was only one paragraph. For those wives who have been living with a husband who uses God, the Bible, the husband’s assumed position of “hyper-headship” over the wife, living with such a person is horrific. Here is where spiritual abuse is mentioned:
We could add that spiritual abuse would be doing any of these things in the name of Jesus and using the Bible to defend them. Abusive leadership uses physical, psychological, and emotional (and spiritual) means to be lord over others. Servant leadership uses physical, psychological, and emotional (and spiritual) means to serve others.
I am greatly encouraged that this topic was discussed with great humility before the whole congregation, that the full transcript was posted, as well as the sermon on video. They clearly want to set the record straight that they plan on dealing with domestic violence and that it won’t be dismissed anymore.
What’s missing, however, are specifics, that hopefully will be addressed at some time. For example, how are abused wives (and their children) going to be assisted? Is there a plan in place? Are there safe houses? Will the church help these families financially? Will the husband/abuser be able to continue going to church? Will they allow a woman to divorce to her abusive husband or try to get the couple to reconcile?
It was mentioned that they “brought a biblical counselor, John Henderson, to train the elders in better detecting and dealing with domestic abuse.” I’m unclear what “dealing with domestic abuse means.” That raises some red flags for me after looking up John Henderson, who is part of Biblical Counseling Coalition. You can read Henderson’s bio here:
John Henderson received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M University and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of North Texas in Counseling Psychology. Since that time the Lord has dramatically shifted and transformed his view of many things, especially counseling.
Henderson has written a “biblical counseling curriculum for training in the local church.” Additionally, there are a couple of names I recognize as part of the Biblical Counseling Coalition group that leaves me concerned about their counseling. Will they try to keep the counseling in-house only for abuse cases? Hyper-headship is just a softer word for abuse. Someone who has a need to control and uses that control over others has serious mental health issues and the church is ill-equipped to handle such cases. The abuser should be put out of church so that the church is a haven of rest for the survivor and her family.
When the church encounters abuse, they must first report it to authorities, and then it is time to refer abuse victims over to those able to handle such cases, to outside trained mental health professionals, not in-house “trained” biblical counselors. The church’s responsibility should be on the abused woman and caring for her and her family. Abuse survivors can have a range of mental health issues caused by abuse and the church should not be handling PTSD, dissociative disorders, etc.
I agree with Ben, that when we see churches taking positive steps to help the abused, it’s important to acknowledge it. This is a positive step that I am publicly acknowledging . . . with caution . . as outlined above.