I hear people talking about how we throw the word “abuse” around too much and by doing so we take it lightly, but I think there are plenty of ways to take abuse lightly besides calling something abuse when it is not.
We also take abuse lightly when we make assinine distinctions that downplay abuse. We can say things like: “there is a difference between being an a**hole and being abusive”. We can dismiss racist or sexist comments as them lacking tact or being a jerk rather than understanding what verbal abuse looks like. Not all abuse is physical.
We downplay abuse by limiting it to examples of rape or physical assault or molestation without recognizing emotional abuse which can include any forms of verbal abuse that take down a person’s sense of self worth.
People might focus on how “those things are much MUCH different than molestation and physical assault and rape.” (For example, in the same category of sexual abuse a person can down play assault by saying ‘but they didn’t succeed so it wasn’t rape! It’s less serious!’)
We do that by contrasting different types of abuse to downplay the severity…
Manipulation or controlling someone is emotionally abusive behavior and not merely an a**hole move!
I’ve been through emotional, physical and sexual abuse. And emotional was the worst for me. It even was the grooming and set up for accepting other forms of abuse. It is harder to recognize it and identify it as such, so it can fly under the radar while chipping away at your sense of self- to make the other forms of abuse appear normal.
We take abuse lightly by playing the neutrality card. This is a way to pretend to be fair while not recognizing one side was wronged, and the other side did the wronging.
Where there is abuse, violence, or assault there is no such thing as supporting *both* sides. “Supporting both” boils down to enabling one and dismissing the other.
“I don’t want to take sides” *is* taking a side. Because it enables an abuser:
(Image from G.R.A.C.E. -Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)
To say, “There are two sides to every story,” when abuse is at play is to say, “I support the abuser.” – Ruth Lucas
Unless your “support” is actually calling for justice where it should be a criminal matter, or getting psychological professional help for the perpetrator- your “support” is enablement.
Showering gifts and privileges, and your time and energy on abusers, sends a strong message to victims.
Neutrality in the face of evil is complicity.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel
We take abuse lightly by disassociating behavior from abuse.
Saying things like: “there could definitely be abusive behavior” but then not wanting to think of them as an abuser or “call them an abuser”. This becomes deflective.
People do this when they are a part of a an organization (it could be a social media platform, a church or community group) that gives them significance and the leader is abusive but calling out abuse puts them at risk to lose influence or position.
Sometimes it’s a favorite pastor, book author, celebrity or comedian who does or says something horrifying. It is hard to stand up where we are invested the most. But those closest to us is where we are most accountable to speak up. When it’s our own communities our voices matter the most.
Sin Leveling / Guilt Paralysis
Similar to dissociation but almost the opposite way, sometimes the enemy uses our own guilt against us to keep us fearful of addressing abuse.
You can notice this at play when people say: “we are all sinners” so that anyone who views pornography sees themselves on level with someone who rapes someone. When we fear labeling, we actually dissociate the severity of a crime and make a perpetrator seem like a victim of the wrong they “stumbled upon”.
An abuser is someone with abusive behavior.
The excuse that “we are all sinners” can be used to paralyze us through shame and fear, but it can also be used to say all sins are just as bad and that we are equally awful.
A Christian with a huge Twitter following just quoted his friend saying “Once we realize that we’re all equally awful and equally loved everything changes.”
That’s not what the Bible says.
The Bible does not say all people are equally awful. It says no one is righteous and everyone has sinned. (Romans 3:10 and 3:23.) This doesn’t mean all sins are equal. It does mean that any sin is a disqualification from righteousness.
As for love, the Bible says God is love. (1 John 4:8.) Since God is infinite, I’ll go along with limitless love. (Romans 8:38-39.) It also says God became human because “God so loved the world” and he gives eternal life to “whoever believes in him.” (John 3:16.)
So the concept of being equally loved is actually subsumed by the fact that God’s love is infinite. Great news.
But equally awful? That’s just not true. Equally undeserving, perhaps. That concept has biblical support. Equal awfulness does not. It’s unscriptural hogwash. – Tim Fall
Sin leveling, is a red flag, in churches that downplay abuse.
It’s a form of spiritual abuse by gaslighting. “Was what he did REALLY that bad? Aren’t you just as bad? Isn’t it just bitterness if you are saying this needs some form of concequence or justice? Why can’t you just let it go. Aren’t you being unforgiving? Aren’t you gossiping for just bringing it up? *insert misuse of grace quote here*”
We can take away the weight of abuse not only by disassociating abusive behavior from the word “abuser” but we can also dismiss abuse by making a person a victim while they are a perpetrator of abuse.
Saying things like “they were raised that way” or “they had such a damaging past! The current behaviors are coming from someone with their own damaged baggage”
This is a false dichotomy. People with their own damaged baggage don’t get an “abuser free” card for abusive behaviors or words – and yes words can be abusive. I’ve had a damaging past. This doesn’t make me an insta-abuser who is fated to behavior beyond my control.
Try and imagine the “Good Samaritan” story, but instead of those religious people walking by the wounded because they are “too busy”, they instead asked the beat up person where the attacker went? But not to apprehend them, no! Imagine them instead saying “Hurt people hurt people!” And then they ditch the wounded and run after the abuser as if they were the real victim.
If you think this new version is far fetched just ask Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian who is a prosecutor by background, specifically dealing with child sexual abuse cases.
When Tchividjian requested to take on all the district’s child sex-abuse cases, the other prosecutors happily obliged. In time, he established a sex-crimes unit that handled hundreds of cases over eight years.
All too often, he says, a pastor would come to court in a supportive role, almost always sitting on the perpetrator’s side of the aisle, not the victim’s.
“I was encountering survivors who were absolutely eviscerated as a result of disclosing abuse in the Protestant church,” Tchividjian says, “and the long-term damage is sometimes more from how the church responded, or failed to respond, than the abuse itself.” 
We can down play abusive behavior by guessing at the victims motives with statements like: “We don’t know her motives for telling us. What does She want us to do?! ”
Why do we need to question her ‘motives’ in an abuse situation? The number one thing a victim needs when they reach out for support is to be believed.
“We don’t have all the facts'”
I couldn’t think of a title here so let’s go with what I hear so often! We downplay abuse by waiting to know everything to take action.
You will *NEVER* have all the facts. So stop with the “we just do not know all of the facts here.”
Isn’t that most often the case? We can’t wait till we know every detail to act on abuse!
Not Reporting Crimes
When we encourage someone to deal with something ‘in house’ instead of reporting a crime we downplay abuse.
People often twist bible verses here to make it seem like you are soiling the gospel to report and follow the laws of the land.
“Never Go Against the Family”
We take abuse lightly by acting like calling out abuse is “attacking”. This happens frequently in church situations where protecting a churches reputation becomes more important to people than the protection of victims.
We start imagining “Jesus would only talk about this in-house” and we forget how He publicly rebuked the religious leaders of His day. He “put on blast” His own.
‘Vipers! Blind guides! White Washed Tombs!’ His comments about white washed tombs fits this scenario well, where a tomb is shinny on the outside and filled with dead bones inside.
The outside world is not surprised or shocked by abuse in the church. Secular culture is not only well aware but God often uses the secular news outlets to shine light on area’s churches are keeping wrong covered up.
If we want to gain credibility with the world it will begin with honesty and not hypocrisy. The world wants to know if we are going to fake perfection or pursue truth and justice when it concerns our own.
Forgive and Forget
This is another way people try to make the victims bear the weight of the perpetrator. If you have struggled with this, I highly suggest clicking here, as Rebecca Davis unpacks this better than I will.
We ignore that God’s grace involves facing the weight of our actions. This one sometimes feels counterintuitive for Christians who are taught Jesus bore our sin and punishment but never does God’s say it removes earthly discipline and punishment for crimes. God’s goodness includes discipline and all true repentance requires facing the concequences. Jesus paying for sin never obstructs the process of justice. If anything we should be quickest to face the music without making excuses or covering up wrongs.
What else would you add to this list? Drop it in the comments…