One of the pastors at the church I attend, Junior Beachy, recently spoke on the roots of abusive behavior. His insights were helpful to me and, I thought, relevant to the church as a whole. With thanks to him, this article gives those insights a broader airing.
In recent years, we have heard more than ever before about many kinds of abuse — physical, sexual, emotional, economic, spiritual. We have seen abuse that was hidden within church walls uncovered. We are learning to respond to abused people in a way that heals while trying to deal redemptively with perpetrators.
Let’s not stop there. Let’s ask, “How can we live and think in a way that abuse does not happen among us?”
This article seeks to get to the heart of abuse by considering the motivations that underlie it.
First, let’s define abuse as the misuse of power and desire.
Consider the story of Absalom, King David’s insurgent son. We don’t typically think of Absalom as abusive, yet we can see that he misused his power to get what he wanted.
Absalom had power in his good looks and the fact that he was well-liked. “No man in all Israel was as handsome and highly praised as Absalom” (2 Samuel, 14:25, Christian Standard Bible). Absalom also had a desire: He wanted to be king, and he used his power to work toward that end. “He stole the hearts of the people of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6, CSB).
Even though Absalom was not at the top of the power structure, he was able to abuse someone with greater authority — his father, the king.
The indignation we reserve for a person in authority who abuses someone vulnerable is legitimate and backed by Scripture.
However, the story of Absalom helps us recognize that, at its root, the misuse of power to get what we want is always the same, no matter who holds a position of authority. Each of us holds some form of power. Each of us has the potential to misuse it.
Let’s consider some things that empower us. The following list is a start. I’ve clarified a few items with additional comments.
A position of authority.
Passion. A passionate personality garners a following.
Anger. A person who tends to get angry can use this tendency to control a conversation. Others will soften their words or back off when they know they’re liable to get shut down.
Moodiness. Like anger, moodiness can be used to control conversations. Others will tiptoe around the triggers.
Pity. Even a sweet and submissive person — maybe especially such a person — can use other people’s pity as a manipulative tool and a subtle means to gain control.
Tone of voice.
Knowledge of Scripture. Many have acted in ungodly ways in the name of the Scripture they know to such depth there is no arguing with them.
Secrecy. Behind this power, much abuse and sin has been hidden.
Spirituality. People can use their spirituality as a means to defy authority or to get what they want.
Power varies in different contexts and relationships. I might have power over one person — more money, say — that I do not have over another.
We must use our power to bless rather than control. God made all things good. Part of what makes abuse damaging is that what God designed for good is used for evil.
So, what is the right way to use power? Galatians. 5:13 (CSB) gives direction: “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.”
Freedom is power. We are told to use our freedom to serve. We see this simple pattern repeated often in Scripture: turn away from evil and do good.
Each of us has a duty to look into our own heart and deal with the roots of abuse that lie there.
Identify your power. Assess how you use it. Are you using it to control others, to gain undeserved advantage or to obtain what is not rightfully yours? Or are you using it to serve others?