Abuse has become epidemic in the church—and so has cover-up. But what causes abuse in the church? And how can we stop it?
In this special episode of The Roys Report, author, psychologist, and trauma expert, Dr. Diane Langberg, answers these questions with uncommon insight and clarity.
In the opening session of Restore 2022, Dr. Langberg explains how God gave people power so they could be living, breathing representations of Him. Yet too often, we misuse this power to exploit the vulnerable. Or, we excuse and cover up others’ abuse, believing we need to protect a church or leader for the sake of the kingdom.
It’s a horrific pattern that’s being repeated again and again in the church. And as Dr. Langberg explains, it all begins with deception.
We deceive ourselves, believing our sins aren’t consequential and our complicity with sinful systems is excusable. And then we become blinded to the wolves in our midst.
“You will not see wolves clearly,” Dr. Langberg states, “unless you tend to your own wolf-like character or tendencies. You will excuse them.”
Dr. Langberg’s message could not be more timely or more needed.
Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of "In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors" by Dr. Diane Langberg.
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Dr Diane Langberg
Diane Langberg, Ph.D. is globally recognized for her 50 years of clinical work with trauma victims. She has trained caregivers and church leaders on six continents on how to recognize and respond to trauma and the abuse of power in a healing way. Her most recent book is Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church.
JULIE ROYS, DR. DIANE LANGBERG
JULIE ROYS 00:04
Abuse has become epidemic in the church and so has cover up. But what causes abuse in the church? And how can we stop it? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And if ever there was a time that the church needed restoring, it’s now. There has been scandal after scandal after scandal in the church, multiple high profile Christian leaders have fallen. And now there’s the Southern Baptist Convention’s report revealing sexual abuse and cover up on a massive scale throughout the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. How can abuse, the preying on the most vulnerable, happen within the church, the place where the sheep should be the most protected? Well, that was the focus of Dr. Diane Langberg’s powerful opening talk at the recent Restore Conference at Judson University. As Dr. Langberg explains, God gave people power to be living breathing representations of Him. Yet too often, those who profess Christ misuse this power to exploit the vulnerable and witnesses, believing they need to protect a leader or a church, cover up the abuse. It’s a horrific pattern that’s being repeated again and again and again in the church. And as Dr. Langberg explains, it all begins with deception. On this special edition of The Roys Report, we’ll hear Dr. Langberg’s powerful and insightful message. But first I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information just go to Judsonu.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners they are Dan and Curt Marquardt, are men of character. To check them out, just go to buyacar123.com. Well, again, what you’re about to hear is the opening message of the Restore 2022 Conference by Dr. Langberg. I think of Dr. Langberg as the matriarch of the church survivor community, and as you’ll hear, she speaks with an uncommon authority and wisdom about abuse, power and godliness. Dr. Langberg is a globally recognized psychologist with 50 years of clinical experience working with trauma victims. She’s also the author of numerous books, including a devotional that we’re offering this month to anyone who gives a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report. This devotional was written specifically for counselors, but I found the insights are profound and they apply broadly to anyone who served in ministry, or any kind of helping role. So, I think you’re going to find it extremely helpful. If you’re interested in getting that book and supporting our work at The Roys Report, just go to JulieRoys.com/donate. Here’s Dr. Langberg.
DR. DIANE LANGBERG 03:21
I am a Christian psychologist, and I’ve worked within the Christian community actually for 50 years this year. I am a lover of Jesus and His word. And I believe he called me to the work that I do. I believe it’s his work. And it’s been a great privilege to do but it is also a grievous work. For I have seen many, many people who have been oppressed, raped, trampled underfoot, abused and battered in Christendom. So today I want to consider the issues of power, deception, abuse and the church’s response, because we sadly know that the abuse of power does indeed exist in Christian homes, congregations and churches, and has often been covered up. We did not and do not want to believe that such things exist in Christendom, and we are easily convinced that, of course, it never occurs in the homes represented in our pews and never never within our church. Sadly, it has taken the secular media and the courts to make it abundantly clear that abuse is in all such places and has been perpetrated and or covered up by some who we have held in high esteem. I am grieved that it is taken the media and the voice of God’s people, not the voice of God’s people who have dragged this to the light The word power means having the capacity to do something, to have an effect, to influence people or events, to have authority. It comes from the Latin word which simply means to be able. All people created in the image of God, who is the God of all power, gave us power. And so, people have power, even our little ones. Anybody who’s had a baby knows that a hungry infant screaming in the middle of the night when you want to sleep more than anything else can get two grownups out of bed. That’s called power. This God who is faithful and loving, and true, and a refuge made it so that we are made by him for the purpose of replicating his character on His earth. We are to illuminate who he is; we are to make his likeness manifest. So, our God given power was given for the purpose of unveiling the power of God by seeing it in each other. When you sit with others, you are in essence to be a living, breathing model of the character of Jesus Christ. That’s our call. Power presents in many forms. Verbal power means using words to define or manage or control situations, and often people. It can also include silence. Withholding words can often be very powerful, especially when someone really needs them to be said. The silent treatment can be crushing, and we feel shut out. Words in silence can both of course be used for good but also for ill. Verbal power, our words, are meant to bring a blessing. And I know there are many in this room who have been around people whose verbal power was used not to bless, but to crush. Our Lord is called The Word. He uses verbal power to bring light and truth and love to us; we are to do the same. Emotional power can be demonstrated in empathy or comfort or love. Obviously, it can also be seen in rage and fear and condemnation; can be used to control or silence another. I mean we will have the experience of taking someone else’s emotional temperature before we decide what to do. Shaming someone who’s afraid grieving can crush them. Perpetrators often use seemingly good emotions in order to ensnare another. The most obvious form of power, of course, is physical. The bigger and stronger have power over the smaller and the weaker. It can also be a physical movement without words. So, somebody can curl their fists and make you afraid, even if they don’t touch you. It’s a threatening physical movement with a message. And if you hit a spouse once, then just raising your fists has incredible power. It can also be a physical presence, which can fill a room. A strong personality that can control a room, a company and sometimes a nation. Knowledge is a kind of power as is position. You think about sitting in the doctor’s office at some point. And you went to find out what’s going on and what your symptoms are about. And the doctor runs some tests and he’s not only going to give you the results, and interpret them for you, he’s going to tell you what he thinks you ought to do about it. Depending on the outcome, given his knowledge and his position, you probably will listen, and his words could turn your life completely upside down. And because of the knowledge and position, you will follow that, even if it’s going to make you sick. Doctors, professors, pastors, teachers all have the combined power of knowledge and position, which can be used to bless or be used to abuse others. Sometimes it is used to appear to bless so that they can abuse. There’s financial power. If I threaten you with your salary or your job, if you speak the truth, you’ll probably shut up. I can refuse to give you access to our accounts that we extensively share. I can promise money if you will do something wrong and will withhold it from you if you do not. Financial abuse and threats exist in many marriages. Silence and absence are types of power. Silence about wrongdoing, a failure to speak truth, can do tremendous damage. The church has sadly been silent, and care and support and comfort has been absent for many, most actually victims. Power can bless or manipulate, it can control. The silence of human beings has done that in many, many arenas, not just individuals, but also to organizations and to nations. And spiritual power, using God’s words, his house, his name, to control, to manipulate, to intimidate leads to very confused minds, trampled hearts, and a fear of the God who is meant to bless. Obviously, power is a gift from God to humans, with the purpose of blessing other humans and blessing his world, demonstrating his character. But power has been used in highly destructive ways that destroy parts of the image of God in human beings, and that blaspheme God, often leaking down through the generations. We are all frail; we are all finite. We often see vulnerability as weakness. Vulnerability is the flip side of power. All of us came into this earth extremely vulnerable. And all of us still are in some ways. As much as we might try io hide it. Our capacity as humans to be wounded is constant. You have the possibility of being wounded until you die. There’s nothing you can do to make that never happen again. It’s terrifying. Sadly, we have often blamed the vulnerable for the wounding that people have done to them. You know, if only you’d done this or if you had not done that it never would have happened. The exploitation of the vulnerable tells us not about the vulnerable, but about the exploiter, not the wounded. God is very clear that what we do to others comes from within us. He has said that what comes out of a person comes from the heart of the person, not the one standing in front of them. Whether it’s evil thoughts, immorality, slander, pride, or whatever, those things, expose something about those who do them, not who they do it to. We are exposed as ungodly when these things show up, and we want to transfer it to the vulnerable one. If she then I would not. It makes us feel much more comfortable. But the vulnerability of other people simply tells us about them. And any vulnerable human being, someone designed by God, in their vulnerability, should be protected. Period. Jesus responds to our vulnerability is worth studying. When he encountered blindness in a man where the crowd you know, thought it was the man’s fault, and it wasn’t his fault. At least it was his parents’ fault; it was somebody’s fault. Jesus opened his eyes. And he said, no he’s not blind because of something he did. He’s not blind because of something his parents did. Actually, his vulnerability just became God’s stage for me to display God’s character to you, which is that when you encounter vulnerability, you respond in a healing way. Our Lord, the God of all power came to us vulnerable. I mean, that’s hard to put your head around. He was a newborn. Somebody had to get up in the middle of the night for him. He wore our vulnerability. It cannot be human and not be vulnerable. And our Lord, our vulnerable Lord was devoured by wolves, who viciously abused their power, to exploit him, to crush him. He endured, for my sake, and yours. If we are to be the body of Christ, then we are to be a body that follows her head, which means we are to be a refuge for the vulnerable, not a place of exploitation. But the secular and the religious news have globally exposed the fact that not only are there many wolves in the sheep fold today, but we in the name of God, have protected their place among God’s sheep, by our complicity, by our cover up, by our deceit. We have used vulnerable and individual and collective power to protect the institution of shepherding rather than the sheep. So, from what route does the abuse of power grow? The abuse of power begins internally, and it comes by way of deceit. That’s how it’s grown. You know, you go back to the beginning, the enemy desired all power. And he wanted to be like the most High. I mean actually, if you think about that, that’s pretty crazy. He was a created creature. He wanted to be like the uncreated God. He was created, not self-sustaining, but he deceived himself into believing that he could become the most high. And in pursuit of that status, he sought to obtain the subservience of humans. And he did so by what? twisting God’s word. Isn’t that what happens a lot? When the vulnerable are exploited, particularly within church circles, it is often helped along by deception, which involves twisting God’s word. And that’s how we silence people. I fear that we have, as a group, tended to select leaders, down through the decades in the Christian world, according to their gifting, not their character. Leadership in the body of Christ should not be by gifts alone, but by spiritual maturity likeness to Jesus Christ. It means demonstrating the character of Christ consistently over time, not just words. There have been some very immature leaders in Christendom, who have achieved power and status because of their gifts rather than because of their maturity in Christ. And we have watched large institutions, ones we believe successful and godly come apart when there is an exposure of ungodly but successful leadership. When someone is particularly gifted verbally and is charismatic in personality and adept with spiritual language, it’s very easy to assume maturity. However, spiritual maturity is measured by character by the fruit of the Spirit lived out in a life over and over again. You think about Jesus and the enemy. He said, (the enemy) if you throw yourself down, God will send His angels to protect you. He used the word of God to try to deceive the Son of God. Listen, the ability to articulate theological truths does not necessarily mean the speaker is an obedient servant of God. Unfortunately, the abilities and knowledge that bring ministry success, easily become ego food. If integrity of character is not the measure of a leader, then we will be seduced by the gifts. You see the work of the church is not the call to ministry, even though we think it is. Spiritual success is never measured by human outcomes. Our true work is that of manifesting likeness to Christ in all things, whether it is success or failure. Whether it is criticism or praise. If numbers and growth and praise and fame were God’s measure, then Jesus was a failure. Likeness to Christ is not to be measured by external things, but by the extent to which a person’s character bears fruit that resembles the fruit of the life of Jesus. It’s not by fame, but by humility and self-control. Jesus said, over and over again, I always obey the Father. That was his primary mission when he was here, and it is to be ours as well. We easily deceive ourselves and follow false ways, often in the name of Jesus. We follow a Christ made in our image, one who would agree with us. And he would never, of course, want our temples to be destroyed. He who cracked whips and turn tables over twice. Jesus did not walk with Rome. He did not walk with political power. He did not walk with temple leadership. And even when his disciples failed to do the will of his Father, he said again, I always do that which pleases the father. His likeness is to be seen in those of us who call ourselves his people. Consider briefly Ravi Zacharias. I suspect there’s no one here who’s not familiar with that name. Misnaming an honorary degree for the good of God’s work, seems miles away from the sexual abuse of an unknown number of victims from around the globe. It’s not, because deceit is a narcotic, and it deadens us to our own wrongdoing. We then continued to inject the poison at deeper and deeper levels without distress. It will eventually kill. Killed Adam and Eve. It brought many forms of deaths into the life and world of Ravi. His character was not one of truth. Even as he spoke of teaching truth to the world. Deceit is a powerful narcotic. And deception spreads. It’s actually contagious. If you’ve ever been in a church situation, you know that. Somebody says something that’s not true in order to preserve the organization, and then the other person says it and other people believe it, and that’s what’s the truth now, right? Or people say it to themselves when they do things that God says no to. Well, I’m very tired, you know, and I’m really working very hard for God, and I need to be fed a certain fruit in order to continue God’s work. It gets hard, however, to carry around increasing deceptions and keep them hidden. So often what happens when an individual leader does that, the system will step in and support the deceptions. Why? Because this is the work of God, and we can’t let it fall down. As the deceptions become more frequent, and the victims more vocal, they, the victims, have to be tossed out, discarded, maligned and criticized because after all, they’re destroying God’s work. We humans have been deceiving ourselves from the beginning. The disease infects us all I’m afraid. We have gotten better at it. God says that deception from the beginning is ruining his world and the people he created to be in His image. And we still continue to deceive ourselves. We want God’s work to increase and of course we do. But he is, however, the God of truth and light and there is no lie in him. His character and his work never included deception. We are never, underline the word, we are never doing God’s work when we pursue a seemingly godly goal, by way of ungodly means. What we are doing is no longer godly and neither are we. We as human beings have an apparent unlimited capacity to hide truths that are painful to ourselves. We have the uncanny ability to cover up knowing what in fact we know. We twist the truth a little. Of course, the most powerful lie is one that contains a likeness to the truth. And as a result, self-deception becomes the root of terrible evil. Tim Keller, a pastor in Manhattan, said something many years ago in a sermon on soul. Self-deception is not the worst thing that you can do. But it is the means by which we do the most terrible things. Obviously deceitfulness resides in the heart of all of us. Anybody who’s raised children knows that’s true. You don’t have to teach them how to lie. They figure it out all by themselves. For some it’s just the way to do things. I mean, some people have grown up in generations of people full of deceit. And the deceit protects us from having to face who we actually are. And deceit protects the things that we value more than we value Christ. The art of self-deception is also our ability to justify ourselves what we’ve done, you know, I speed because I’m late. Right? I know harsh words are wrong, but such and such happened today at work. It’s all deceptive stuff. You know, you hear this frequently when you work with spouses. I hit her because she, right? It’s deception. I am abusive because of the other person. That is a statement diametrically opposed to the Word of God. And over time, the deception goes another step, and the abuser uses deception to lure or to control victims. When you study the grooming of a sexual predator, you see the ways in which the abuser seduces a victim. And that deception is the foundation of what they are doing. And then of course, deception is urged on to the victim. Don’t tell anybody. Bad things will happen to you if you tell. You know, you’ll hurt God’s name and his work if you tell. The web of deception surrounding abuse and oppression is huge. It can occur in an individual. It can occur in an institution. And in a community’s life. It can occur in a nation. If you’ve ever studied Nazi Germany, you know what that looks like. Corporations hide research data. Churches protect clergy who abuse. The Rwandan genocide is a stunning example of deception. And when it’s laid out like this, it seems horrifying, but it can sneak into our lives in little bits. And it can sneak into our lives by other people trying to deceive us and giving us good, godly reasons for doing so. If the enemy of our souls can appear as an angel of light, then surely an evil human being who is in fact, mimicking him, can appear as a well clothed theologically articulate and beautiful human being. I fear we often select leaders according to gifting rather than character. Leadership in the body of Christ is not based on gifting; it is based on a spiritual maturity, the fruit of which is demonstrated consistently over time. There have been many immature leaders in the Christian world who have achieved power and status and fame because of their gifts and not their maturity. And we call it successful leadership and that God is blessing us. Jesus said beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. They look like the sheep category, and they behave like the wolf category. Jesus is not warning us against someone who does not teach the truth exactly the way we prefer. He is warning us against the teacher, the spokesperson who speaks orthodoxy but whose life is false. Somebody who talks like a sheep but is in fact a wolf. The words may be accurate or orthodox. That’s the sheep’s clothing. But the heart of that person is wolfish, looking to exploit the vulnerable by way of deception and feed the self. They attempt to look like sheep. But where you cannot see, there is a wolf. They attempt to look like sheep in order to appear to be doing something they actually are not. And they do it because they are hungry for sheep. True sheep do not eat each other. Wolves eat sheep. They are looking for isolated and needy sheep, they’re looking for somebody who’s not likely to tell, someone who’s easily overpowered. A vulnerable woman in a damaging marriage, somebody with a history of abuse, the child or teen on the fringe of the youth group. That’s who they’re looking for. People who are hurting, not known. They give them attention and drag them in their net. What a staggering contrast that is to our Lord Jesus Christ. So, what is the character that should be known in human form? From the very beginning, our God was building His kingdom, human beings created in His image, who were to bring his likeness to each other. As a result of our choice of self-rule, we of course, now live on a ruined planet. And by way of deceit, are creating greater ruin to ourselves and others. But our Lord came in the flesh to rescue us from both within our own lives, and in discerning the wolves in our midst. God is light, there is no darkness in him. And light searches and exposes and uncovers and brings health. Christ exposes us to ourselves. He shines light on the rot in our souls. He exposed the religious leaders who were operating under his name. Jesus was life, and the life was the light of mankind. You know, as Christians in bulk, we say all the time that marriage is sacred. But you know that our percentages for battering are equal to the world’s? We say sex is sacred, and yet we consume pornography to cover up sexual abuse. We see glimpses of darkness in high places and protect the position. Because we like the fame and the gifts, and the brilliance and we follow blind gods into a pit, all in the name of Jesus who is light. But light exposes. Jesus says to us to each other, as we think about relationships, Feed my sheep. Don’t eat them. You will feed them poison and poison yourself, unless you feed from roots that go deep into him. He said to Peter several times, do you love me? And at the end of that, he said, What? Feed my sheep. Exploitation is completely out of the question for anyone who says they follow Jesus Christ. There is no room for feeding on the sheep. It’s not about buildings and kingdoms and fame and honor. It’s about likeness to him. People often ask how to recognize wolves in their midst. Sort of an odd answer. But the best way to recognize wolves, in essence, is not to be one. It’s true. You ignore your impact on others, you start excusing yourself, you’re complicit in things that are not godly because it furthers the kingdom, deceiving yourself. You’re a wolf in the making. Some years ago, I was invited to meet with a group of elders in a church who were struggling over some domestic violence cases and couldn’t figure out what to do. And so, I was supposed to go in and talk about domestic abuse, which I did. And they brought several cases. But I had real difficulty with one particular case, because there were no visible bruises. So, we discussed a marriage of many years and the brutal constant, ugly verbal battering by the husband of his wife and children who lived in fear, who were shrunken, tormented, squashed by him. At one point in the conversation an elder said, I think this case is very difficult. And he was clearly somehow excusing the man who was the abuser. He had several ways of reframing and excusing him. I pushed back a little bit. And his response was, I don’t see how what he is doing is any different from what I’m doing. A little self-revelation there, he did not plan to make. He said, I scream at my kids every day. Now, on one level his screaming was of a different sort than what this man was doing. But it was on the continuum of un-Christlikeness. His excuses and self-deception regarding his own behavior is what led to his blindness, and dismissal of what was, in fact, quite horrific. So, I said to him, gently, that his excusing of his own behavior led him to excuse what was truly awful. And that the need for both of them was to repent, and truly change. Both men were grieving God, and the best gift that the elder could give God, his family and children, the church, and this man, was to fall down on his face, and lead the way of what a man looks like, who does not scream at his children. You will not see wolves clearly you see, unless you tend to your own wolf-like character or tendencies. You will excuse them. The other way to fail to recognize wolves is to measure a person in their gifting and their results not by their character. So, you know, powerful preacher, somebody who teaches excellent doctrine according to you, all that can be a wolf, can be immoral, bully, egocentric all those things. We expect these things like the elder excuses them. So, we excuse them also, because we see some of it in ourselves and we’re not too bad. That’s how you miss wolves. You have the flavor of wolf in your own life. A Shepherd does not do these things. A shepherd ever and always looks like Jesus Christ. My father was a colonel in the Air Force, six foot four and a half, redhead. And he dropped paratroopers over Normand; was in one of the lead planes. When he spent many years flying cargo ships and doing air refueling. He was a top-notch athlete and a very bright man. But he was retired when I was 13 years old. Because something was wrong with his body, and nobody could figure it out. And he couldn’t do air refueling anymore with a body that didn’t obey him. And so, he visited doctors for at least a year. And they eventually diagnosed him with Parkinson’s, but nobody was sure that’s what it really was because it was unusual. I was just finishing eighth grade. And so, we lost our way of life, he lost his occupation. And over time, his body deteriorated in awful ways. Some years later, I came home from college, so I was probably 19 or 20, for a break. And we were talking in a room, and he asked for a drink of water. And so, I got up and went into the kitchen and poured water for him. And as I was coming back into the room, I stopped at the door because I could see this still long body trying to stand up by himself. So, I waited because I did not want to rush in and ask to help if he wanted to try, it was his goal. And so, I sort of hid myself and watched him and he couldn’t do it. And he finally sat back in the chair. And I was going across the room with a glass of water to give to him. And this sentence went through my head. A body that does not follow its head is a very, very sick body. I did not know that at the age of 19 or 20, my God was using that broken body to teach me what would shape my work as a psychologist. Whenever we, the body of Christ, do not follow our head, individually or collectively, we are a very sick body. Jesus says, Follow me. I can tell you. It’s not an easy road.
JULIE ROYS 40:27
Well, that concludes Dr. Langberg’s talk at the Restore 2022 Conference. It’s just one of many powerful messages from Restore that we’ll be publishing in the next few weeks. So, you’ll want to be watching for that. Thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And again, I want to mention that we’re offering Dr. Langberg’s devotional book to anyone who gives a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report in the month of June. If you’d like to donate and get a copy of that book, just go to JulieRoys.com/donate. Also, just a reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it, if you’d help us spread the word about this podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.