Divorce, Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence and Churches, Sexual Abuse/Assault and Churches, Women and the Church

Pastor Neil Schori Urges Pastors and Church Leaders to Get it Right about Domestic Violence

My friend, Pastor Neil Schori, is an advocate for survivors of domestic violence, and yesterday, Neil preached an excellent sermon on domestic violence and the church. Kathi and I both listened to it. I believe it is the best sermon I’ve heard urging pastors to do it right, and not neglect their responsibility when it comes to domestic violence.

This is the kind of sermon that pastors and church leaders really need to hear. As Neil said in his sermon, he was not prepared for what he inadvertently got involved with as the pastor of Drew and Stacy Peterson – yes, that Drew and Stacy Peterson.

Imagine Neil’s shock when Stacy told him privately that she believed Drew killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, making it look like her death was an accident! Drew Peterson was a police sergeant. It took amazing strength for Stacy to share this kind of information with Neil. Sadly, not long after this, Stacy was reported missing, and is presumed dead. Her body has never been found.

You might remember the rest of the story. With Neil’s information, Kathleen Savio’s case was re-opened and eventually Drew Peterson was convicted of her murder.

Since that case, Neil has been involved in ministry work helping abuse survivors, both women and men.

It is with this background that I share with you his recent sermon on domestic violence. It’s an important sermon, as it challenges the common thought that there are only two acceptable reasons for divorce. If church leaders are counseling abused spouses to go back to their abusive partners because they don’t meet the church-approved “divorce criteria,” they are contributing to the abuse by placing survivors in harm’s way. With so many church leaders mishandling domestic violence survivors, Neil exhorts church leaders to take the time and learn how to handle these difficult cases.

Pastors and church leaders must get this right. People’s lives are at stake.



If you prefer to listen to it, you can download the sermon here.

34 thoughts on “Pastor Neil Schori Urges Pastors and Church Leaders to Get it Right about Domestic Violence”

  1. As Neil said in his sermon, he was not prepared for what he inadvertently got involved with as the pastor of Drew and Stacy Peterson – yes, that Drew and Stacy Peterson.

    Oooh, i had heard of this. I will have to watch later when I can.

    I noticed a while back we have cards in the womens restroom at church with information about domestic violence hotline/support and I’m really happy about that. We also support a local shelter and one of the pastors mentioned that it helps to have that relationships because it gives somewhere to refer people in crisis. I found these good practical steps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The topics that Neil addressed that I appreciated were:

    Lack of training for pastoral studies students. I fully agree with this.

    Specific verses that support spouses divorcing due to abuse. There’s no reason for people to hold on to the “God hates divorce” mentality when God hates abuse and does not condone people staying in abusive relationships.

    Men are victims of abuse too. I don’t ever want this to be over looked.

    My only critiques would be:

    More focus on power and control as this is the primary reason why perpetrators abuse.

    Piggy backing on the verses that support divorce would be churches recognizing that the most dangerous time in a victim’s life is when they decide to leave the relationship. If churches are going to support victims divorcing their abusers, then they need to make sure victims are aware of this and find assistance for safety planning if needed.

    Finally, I think it is fantastic that churches get on board with assisting victims, but they also need to partner with community organizations which assist victims and survivors of domestic violence. I love that he mentioned the shelter they partner with. There are times where church leaders think they can do it all, but that mentality can be detrimental. Humility in acknowledging that there are others already doing the work (and know how to do it) goes a long way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. @Kathi:

    Specific verses that support spouses divorcing due to abuse.

    Because in Christianese culture, you can’t even pee in the morning without SCRIPTURE! to back it up. Like a pulp-adventure Muslim answering “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!” to every question.

    Domestic violence.
    What used to be called wife-beating.
    CHRISTIANS NEED CHAPTER-AND-VERSE PROOF TEXTS BEFORE THEY CAN SEE THIS IS WRONG?

    “Show me SCRIPTURE(TM)!”
    — PastorRaulReesCalvaryChapelWestCovina, every time someone on the radio tried to reason with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @Kathy:

    My only critiques would be:

    More focus on power and control as this is the primary reason why perpetrators abuse.

    That might hit too close to home.
    Better to denounce Pelvic Issues of Those Heathen Sinners over there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. HUG: Domestic violence. What used to be called wife-beating. CHRISTIANS NEED CHAPTER-AND-VERSE PROOF TEXTS BEFORE THEY CAN SEE THIS IS WRONG?

    I find this baffling too. Unless every single person promoting this view is an abuser, it is bonkers. I feel very much ‘like I’m taking crazy pills’ ala zoolander when I hear this view promoted.

    Imagine thinking that the threat, explicit or implicit, of murder from a spouse is not worthy of divorce but cheating is. (leaving aside that some of these people don’t think even cheating is enough).

    I’m honestly of the opinion that if I really thought this was what Christianity was, I would cease to be a christian.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Absolutely wonderful! Thank you Pastor Neil Schori. This was such a helpful introduction to the scope and nuance of the problem of Intimate Partner Violence. You plainly opened those scriptures which pour out the love and compassion of Jesus for the oppressed as well as the verses which drive home our responsibility to offer help to others. For those who just listened and want to take action, but need direction on your next steps, here are some further resources:

    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    May provide up to 12 weeks of job protection every 12 months to eligible employees who experience domestic violence to address personal medical issues or medical issues for qualified family members. FMLA eligibility is based upon the size of the company and if an employee has worked at least one year and 1,250 hours in the past year for the employer.

    Hotlines
    • National Domestic Violence Hotline
    1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
    • Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline
    1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

    Web Sites
    • Futures Without Violence (previously known as
    Family Violence Prevention Fund)
    http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org
    • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    http://www.ncadv.org
    • National Network to End Domestic Violence
    http://www.nnedv.org
    • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
    http://www.nrcdv.org
    • Office on Violence Against Women
    (U.S. Department of Justice)
    http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw

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  7. I’ll probably write something more thoughtful, but my first impression here is that he doesn’t cast the net wide enough. The entire Evangelical view of the Christian lifestyle is twisted and distorted. The root is a theology of suffering. That is, that God’s purpose for the Christian is to “suffer for his name’s sake”. There are other broken theologies, but when a woman comes to the church and says, “my husband is beating me”, then the response is either, “what did you do to deserve it”, or “you are a martyr for Christ’s sake, you should be thankful!”

    I appreciate where this pastor is, but there are somewhere like 384,000 pastors in the US. How many wives have to be murdered for the pastors to wake up to the fact that their theology is broken? And… do they really wake up? I know of a murder like this in my former church, and the pastor hasn’t recanted his patriarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Haven’t had a chance to listen yet … but I don’t see the logical connection between believing God hates divorce (assuming this is a reasonable translation) and advising women to stay with an abuser.

    It is obvious what the role of father entails, and he is responsible for the care and protection of his own children, but no-one bats an eyelid when children are removed to safely from a father who gets drunk and beats them regularly.

    Why the objection to moving a wife to safety, advising her to leave? Just as with children, that is not being anti-fatherhood, and with wives physically separating that is not anti-marriage.

    I suppose pastors who wish to abide by Jesus’ teaching on marriage, and divorce (and re-marriage) are bound to be wary of sanctioning divorce itself, but they have to balance this with the fact if God hates divorce, he hates the sin that usually causes it, like mental cruelty or physical violence. Abusers will not inherit the kingdom of God, their behaviour if on-going marks them out as unbelievers, in which case a wife is not obliged to attempt to carry on the marriage.

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  9. I appreciate all the comments; positive, negative or in between. Thanks to you all for caring so much about this issue.

    This was far from an exhaustive message about DV. It was what I thought I could share reasonably well in about an hour. To be clear, I could talk about this for many, many more hours and not cover all I needed.

    I agree fully with Kathi- the root of abuse IS power and control. I use the Duluth Model in smaller group settings to drive home various behaviors that expose abusive behaviors. I also believe that pastors can’t do it all, and shouldn’t even try. I just hope that pastors will seek to know more and have a baseline level of information that will lend to the safety of victims in their communities.

    I focused a ton on divorce because I’m of the belief that wrong teachings on it are the single greatest tool used against good church-going victims. And…it makes me sick. No more bad theology that entraps victims!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. God did NOT say “I hate divorce.”
    Malachi 2:16 has been mistranslated in many bibles – by rendering it as “God hates divorce…”

    God doesn’t dislike all kinds of divorce; he only condemns the divorce which unjustly dismisses a spouse without valid grounds.

    most people do not realise that Malachi 2:16, the text which has given rise to this saying, has been mistranslated. The incorrect translation came about as follows. The word “hates” in Malachi 2:16 is he hates. The Hebrew denotes third person masculine singular = he. The King James version had For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away. Many subsequent translations switched the third person “he” to a first person “I” without any grammatical warrant. For example, the 1984 NIV was “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. Possibly translators thought the switch was okay because it retained the sense of the KJV — that God feels the hatred [for divorce]. They did not seem to worry that “I hate divorce” was grammatically inaccurate to the original Hebrew.

    I’ve written about this here: https://cryingoutforjustice.blog/2013/10/24/god-hates-divorce-not-always/

    Ps Sam Powell wrote this on FB a while ago (sorry I didn’t archive the link):—

    Sam was speaking about one of the verses in Exodus, where Moses is telling Pharaoah that God said “Let My people go!” –

    [Begin quote from Sam’s comment on FB]
    The word translated “let go!’ (Literally, let go my people) is shallach, which is a particular form of shallach which is not very common. It is the intensive, causative form of “send”. “Let go” is an excellent translation.

    Here’s the interesting bit, based on previous comments: it is the exact same word that is used in Malachi 2:16. Same form and everything, but unfortunately translated “divorce” which makes no sense whatsoever. It is a command. “I hate divorce” isn’t what the Hebrew says in Malachi 2:16. It says, “Because he hates, let (her) go,” says the Lord God of Israel.
    [End quote from Sam’s comment on FB]

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  11. Hi moderators, my last comment had two links in it… so it may have been sent to your Spam folder. Can you please check your Spam and see.
    Then you can delete this comment of mine. Thanks!

    Like

  12. My current thoughts on how to translate Malachi 2:16 are as follows. I have developed these thoughts due to private conversations I’ve had with Sam Powell. Sam is a Hebrew scholar and has taught Hebrew at seminary.

    I have not yet written a blog post about this so please take the following as my tentative ideas which may be revised when I write the blog post.

    I think Malachi 2:16 could be translated as either:
    “Because he hates, let (her) go,” says the LORD, the God of Israel…
    OR
    “Because he hates, let (her) go,” says the LORD, the God of Israel…
    OR
    “ If he hates, let (her) go,” says the LORD, the God of Israel…

    The word he ^ refers to the treacherous husband.
    The word (her) ^ refers to the wife of the treacherous husband whom Malachi is issuing God’s order to.

    Malachi 2:16 is a commandment, an order, a firm instruction that God is giving to treacherous husbands.

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  13. Barbara O.: Without getting too distracted into Malachi 2, I think it would be more accurate to say the translation is disputed and to avoid being too dogmatic about which translation is the more likely. Both are possible and have arguments for and against.

    Assuming for the sake of argument God hates divorce is correct, the problem it seems to me is that this is carried over as though if not hates, God has contempt for divorcees. This then spills over into an attitude amongst church members that is less than loving to those divorced who may be some of the most hurting people around. It can be adding insult to injury.

    Divorce is always the result of sin, of unfaithfulness on the part of one or both parties to the marriage, and I don’t see any problem with God ‘hating’ that.

    I can’t speak for America, but in the UK divorce is being made ever more easy by the state (under a supposedly Conservative govt!), and even in the churches an attitude that divorce isn’t really such a big deal is beginning to be manifested, following the increasingly anti-christian culture around.

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  14. Amen Barbara! Thank-you for presenting truthful scholarship pertaining to that verse “God Hates Divorce.”

    @KAS
    The topic of divorce is a double edged sword depending upon whom the victim or target is in a marriage. One deaconess in my former abusive Baptist c’hurch condemns divorce and quoted me personally, the “God hates divorce” verse from her NIV version when I confided some personal details concerning my physical/emotional/verbally abusive husband. She herself, also stated that divorce is a sin and cannot be justifies before our LORD.

    Currently, many years later, this c’hurch system is having a “women’s conference” to draw innocent women into their “fellowship” and hopefully gain “new members.” The featured speaker is a woman Baptist p’astor who has been divorced and is remarried.

    The problem for me here is this, “Will this deaconess tell this p’astor woman as she told me so many years ago, that, “God hates divorce” and she should not be a pastor nor should she be teaching other women in a “women’s conference” as a “leader.” My point is not to cause confusion because that seems to be the state of the Baptist religion; confusion and double standards.

    My guess is that this important woman deaconess will love, embrace, and promote this divorced woman pastor because it is “her c’hurch” and membership growth depends in “her important leadership methods.” It is perfectly okay with god for certain people to divorce, as in this woman baptist minister, but not okay with god for others, as in lower laity dogs such as meself, to divorce my abusive husband for that would be a major “sin” in the eyes of a lord, so to speak.

    I am not so sure that Jesus loves these double standards and will never, ever consider the Scriptural Jesus to be a baptist “complementarian.” He is so far from that…..Praise our LORD!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you, Neil. Did you say you were doing a series on the issue? If you are, you seem to be headed in the right direction. Yes, the passages you highlighted on divorce did make things clearer. I’ve always seen that the biggest post-divorce controversy is re-marriage. The disciples even reacted to Jesus’ teachings on divorce as “if that’s the case it’s better not to marry” and I don’t blame them. As a 40-something widow, divorced men are more of a dating possibility and I want to be sensitive to that, and many times I’m like, why bother; I had an as-long-as-we-both-shall-live marriage; why mess with that reputation? Obviously, Jesus taught against divorcing one’s spouse to marry another. And I know that those leaving abusive marriages need time to heal regardless of how quickly a divorce can go through. How quickly to start the divorce process after separating for one’s own safety is another question, and it likely is highly individual. In one case I knew personally, she waited a year and a half, to see if he would get the help he needed, and if he would continue to make her feel unsafe regarding finances, property, and access to their children(who then were almost grown).
    Otherwise, let’s keep learning about how to interpret a “theology of suffering” but not enable others’ sin.

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  16. @Lea:

    Unless every single person promoting this view is an abuser, it is bonkers. I feel very much ‘like I’m taking crazy pills’ ala zoolander when I hear this view promoted.

    When I phone up my writing partner (the burned-out country preacher on the East Coast), I usually ask the same question:
    “Did we go crazy or did everybody else?”
    And he always answers with the same quote from one of the Desert Fathers:
    “There will come a time when men will go Mad. And they will lay hands upon the sane among them, saying ‘You are not like Us! You Must Be Mad!”

    Imagine thinking that the threat, explicit or implicit, of murder from a spouse is not worthy of divorce but cheating is

    Murder is not a Pelvic Issue(TM).
    Cheating IS.

    Like

  17. @Headless Unicorn Guy,

    Does that aspect of my comment thread bother, irritate, or cause you angst/bitterness? I often wonder why you post the things you do at times as well, but choose not to make issue of its content. I have learned from many a wise woman to pick and choose my battles, and those women are mature believers who have made the conscious choice not to attend or be a member of the institutional c’hurch system. And yet they are an important part of the Body of Jesus Christ.

    Like

  18. I feel that since one intended target audience of this post is those in church leadership, it is imperative to recommend that there be an attempt to counsel a suspected abused person in the absence of their partner. It is not safe for an abused partner to disclose in the presence of their abuser and then depart with them. Not only will the disclosure be grossly minimized, but you can also expect a tremendous amount of expert deflection and gas-lighting from the abuser that will cause you to second guess your gut level instinct in the matter. They may even use ‘godly’ repentance with copious tears, confessing to lesser deeds and quoting scripture with religious fervor to derail a focus upon their actions.

    Deal with and sort through their claims later. Right now, your pastoral focus and protection should be on the abused. That is what shepherds do. They are sent to bind up broken hearts, proclaim liberty to the captive and release people from the darkness in which they have been living. There is redemption available to offenders too, but the very important matter of Justice stands between them and the other side of any reconciliation process. Without justice and accountability, they will just continue to beat up innocent people under the official church protection of being forgiven.

    I can never think about this matter without remembering the brave people who have come under my care who, for years, were walking through a private hell because they thought it was the will of God. It isn’t the irreligious, rebellious folks who stay in these situations for prolonged periods of time, covering up for the transgressions of their abusers. It is the strong, sincere and devoted individuals. They long for a loving relationship and cling to those rare moments in the cycle of abuse where their partner draws them back with kindness to keep control. They repeatedly give their abuser the benefit of the doubt until eventually the day comes when they know they must leave or they will die, their children will suffer harm, or they are contemplating suicide in their despair.

    We once hid a terrified woman in our basement for a week until we could find a shelter for her in another town. We were hiding her not only from her dangerous spouse, but from the very pastors of the church where she had been raised and to whom she had just disclosed her need. Why? Because, when she told them she feared for her well being and the well being of the children, they had responded that she was rebellious and must submit to her husband and return home. The pastors had refused to meet with her alone. So she had to make this brave appeal in the presence of her abuser and then was compelled to remain silent while her spouse minimized and “explained” her misunderstanding of his actions to the leadership and created doubts about her reliability.

    She could not inform the pastors that she had learned, after she had married, that her husband had already spent time in jail for beating a child in a previous relationship and causing that child permanent brain damage. The pastors would not give her that opportunity. She could not tell them that her husband had held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if she ever told or tried to leave. She couldn’t disclose those facts because she had to exit that counseling appointment with her abuser and return with him to the privacy of their own home where anything could happen. She was remarkably brave to have even said what she did say. But, in their ignorance, her shepherds were immediately ready to deliver her back into the torment from which she had desperately reached out for rescue. At that critical point, the church failed her and became an abuser as well. So it is remarkable to me that today she is still a beautiful woman full of grace and faith in Jesus.

    In summary, my appeal to pastors is this: Even if you have had no training or are new at contemplating the impacts of intimate partner violence and the role of the church, always immediately speak with the abused person alone and offer them a protected and secret place of refuge. AFTER that, you can always work on sorting out your own doctrine and the facts of the situation. You can more deeply search out the scriptures that Pastor Schori has offered in this video. But in that sacred moment of victim disclosure, simply be the hands, voice and compassion of Jesus to them. Reconciliation is always a possibility, but only when you are working with living, breathing people.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. @Katy:

    @Headless Unicorn Guy,
    Does that aspect of my comment thread bother, irritate, or cause you angst/bitterness?

    More like annoying.
    But you didn’t answer the question: Why do you use those spellings?

    Like

  20. I listened to the rest of the sermon. I don’t think this really resolves the underlying issue, it just moves the boundaries. It’s good to understand that abuse is also a destruction of marriage. The problem is that there is still going to come a point where Pastor Neil says the same thing the priest does. Maybe it is an unloving, but non-abusive spouse. Maybe it is a spouse with a traumatic brain injury. At some point, the Bible is going to come out and God, who has a “high view of marriage” is going to frown on a husband or wife who takes the easy way out, and we’re back to man being made for marriage, not the marriage for man.

    I’m not trying to bring in a low view of marriage, but I’m concerned when I hear some phrases. For example, why do you say the marriage is not broken when there is, if I recall correctly, one non-abusive act? If I call my wife “stupid”, haven’t I broken my marriage vow? If I repent and she forgives me and wants to reconcile, we can restore the relationship, but isn’t it broken? I’m thankful that my wife and I are gracious and forgiving towards each other, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t break the covenant when we sin against each other. Just as we, in the same sense, break the covenant with God when we sin against him. Again, God is forgiving and gracious and restores us, but that doesn’t make it a “requirement” for the marriage covenant.

    That leads to the same thing that you despised in the sermon. Telling the injured party to suffer for God. It may not be as horrid as what the priest did, but the concept is the same. This isn’t “grounds for divorce” you are still married, here is your “duty” as a married person. And… we’re back full circle to “man being made for marriage”. Does that make sense? So, if you’re honest with yourself, you haven’t really changed the Evangelical view of marriage, you’ve just moved the lines.

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  21. Mark, im sure Neil is referring to chronic abuse. And also we need to look at repentance. If they claim to be sorry, is there a notable change in behavior? If not, it means nothing.

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  22. Hi KAS,
    You talked about people assuming that God has contempt for divorcees, and how “this then spills over into an attitude amongst church members that is less than loving to those divorced who may be some of the most hurting people around. It can be adding insult to injury.”

    I agree:– that ^ attitude adds insult to injury.

    I have studied the translation of Malachi 2 for a long time. My book has a whole chapter and appendix on that topic. I believe the mistranslation of Malachi 2:16 is a large cause of the problematic attitude towards divorcees — the attitude which you describe so well.

    The simplistic notion that “God hates divorce” is keeping alive that problematic attitude. And, in my view, when advocates repeat and recycle the saying “God hates divorce”, that is not helping remedy the problem. I encourage everyone to discuss domestic abuse without using the saying “God hates divorce” as it if comes from Scripture.

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  23. Hi K,
    from your reply to Katy:

    “the irony is the 2011 edition of the NIV reads ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife … ‘, with ‘I hate divorce, says the Lord’ as the marginal reading.
    I hope the change in translation is based on genuine linguistic reasons, and not an attempt to make divorce a bit less serious for today’s culture and society, where marriage is under sustained attack.”

    Like

  24. [Oops, I hit submit too soon in my last comment.]

    Hi K,
    from your reply to Katy:

    “the irony is the 2011 edition of the NIV reads ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife … ‘, with ‘I hate divorce, says the Lord’ as the marginal reading.
    I hope the change in translation is based on genuine linguistic reasons, and not an attempt to make divorce a bit less serious for today’s culture and society, where marriage is under sustained attack.”

    In addition to the NIV 2011 translation which you cited K, here are the two other modern Bible translations of Malachi 2:16 that accurately convey that the verb ‘hates’ is third person, not first person:

    Holman Christian Standard Bible / Christian Standard Bible (HCSB / CSB)
    “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts.

    English Standard (ESV)
    “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces* her,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “covers his garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts.
    * Hebrew: who hates and divorces

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  25. Barbara – K and KAS are one and the same. You are not the only one to hit Post and realise your mistake when it is too late!

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  26. Katy – the irony is the 2011 edition of the NIV reads “The man who hates and divorces his wife … “, with ” I hate divorce, says the Lord” as the marginal reading.

    I hope the change in translation is based on genuine linguistic reasons, and not an attempt to make divorce a bit less serious for today’s culture and society, where marriage is under sustained attack.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. @Headless Unicorn Guy,
    Wow! You are sure good at insulting folks. Am I required per your proxy to give an answer to you?

    My answer is the word “No.”

    And I will choose not to insult you back for you are not “under my skin.”

    Like

  28. @HUG, I think the point is distinguishing between truth and fiction. I know pastors (p’astors) who are that because they want power and honor. They were not chosen to be pastors because they exhibited the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but because the existing leaders signalled very strongly to the people that these man were “approved” pastor material.

    In the same way, church and c’hurch are distinguished because one is devoted to expanding God’s kingdom in this world, and the other is devoted to expanding its own power and reach.

    The true and fictional varieties look deceivingly similar and use the same language, often, but the actions are very different. For example, why did the PCA not get involved with Coral Ridge when there were allegations of clergy abuse, but DID get involved when the pastor’s affairs were made known, and why, then, did they deal very narrowly with the pastor himself, and not with the organization he/they had created that maintained the power/control at all costs? Why was it acceptable for his elders who hid his affairs from the church to merely resign, and not for them to have their ordinations revoked? In this case, I would say, Coral Ridge is a c’hurch – existing to maintain a power structure and numerical growth rather than expanding God’s kingdom, and in the same way, TT is/was a p’astor – a man who is ministering in God’s name, not for God’s glory, but for his own selfish desires to manipulate and control.

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