Or consider Christianity Today’s article, “Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll” by Celeste Gracey. While I applaud Gracey’s courage to reveal her struggle with forgiveness, I am concerned that she parallels Driscoll’s issues with her own. She states, “Pastor Mark’s weaknesses are often similar to mine. We both at times lack gentleness, patience, and grace.” In other words, Gracey does not see any difference between her “weaknesses” and Driscoll’s pathological grooming and abuse.
So, what can we do about this? Abuse experts suggest that a complex network of distorted beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes strengthen the abusive behaviours that allow abusers to justify their abuse and deceive both themselves and others. Only knowledge of abuse dynamics will give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear these distortions.
Without this understanding we have no hope of recognizing abusive grooming, preventing abuse, responding appropriately to disclosures of abuse, and/or ministering to victims/survivors and their loved ones.
In addition, if we have leaders like Rogers heading up discussions of accountability, the abuser has no true hope of transformation.
Showing mercy and love to someone who doesn’t see the need for it
The greatest difficulty in ministering to abusers is this: they don’t believe there is anything really wrong with them. Their skills at self-deception, combined with their distortions of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, fortifies them against recognizing their soul sickness.
Driscoll has gone on record with numerous “apologies” and “confessions.” Gracey provides one positive example of this: “Several months ago Pastor Mark said that he once viewed himself like a big brother to the other elders, and that big brothers are tough, sometimes a little mean. He now sees that while he may have behaved that way, his staff always viewed him as a father. A strong word from a brother may sting, but the same word from a father can crush.”
Or, perhaps this example isn’t so positive after all.
Driscoll addresses the issue of his bullying behaviours and explains them away as tough, mean, brotherly behaviour. Yet, somehow the real problem wasn’t his behaviour, but his staff’s perspective of his behavior. Gracey implies they were “crushed” by their perspective, not by Driscoll’s abusiveness. Typical of an abuser, he does not believe he is the one with the problem.
Abusers experience a disconnection between reality and self-perception. They don’t believe they are abusive. Lundy Bancroft in Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men says, “The abuser’s problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his [victim] is justifiable.”
And their ability to charm, manipulate, and deceive others guarantees they will have a community of people who believe their apologies and repentance.
Yet, we must not mistake an abuser’s tears, apologies, confessions, or promises of a future of changed behaviour as indicative of their belief that they are abusive, or as evidence of their repentance. In fact, those specific behaviours are actually elements of many abusive cycles.
Gracey illustrates Mars Hill’s naivete when she mentions Driscoll’s apology, complete with “the occasional tear,” met not just with forgiveness, but with a standing ovation. This may look like mercy and love but in fact it is far from it. Instead it affirms the delusions the abuser suffers from.