I felt like I’d been lied to—that the pastors I’d trusted had betrayed me. It was a drowning feeling. A blend of panic and grief.
Since my early 20s, I’d been under the impression that my church leaders had obeyed Texas state law and reported my dad and other child abusers to law enforcement. However, as my publisher and I worked on editing my book about my experiences, we fact-checked everything I’d been told.
We interviewed pastors, family members, and friends, and found that my dad had never been reported by them, despite many being aware that he was sexually abusive, violent, and had access to children. In fact, some church leaders were aware that my mom had cited his sexual abuse of me as grounds for divorce. Instead of reporting it, they’d sat on evidence and allowed my younger siblings to live with a predator.
Upon learning this, I told my pastor how betrayed I felt. Because of these failures, abuse had been allowed to continue and more children had been harmed. Some of these children had become suicidal, and some had lost their faith in God. When still no action was taken, I began alerting other church leaders and speaking publicly about the truth, until finally someone listened.
Because of these failures, abuse had been allowed to continue and more children had been harmed.
In response, a PCA presbytery launched an investigation. It found that around 15 pastors had indeed violated Texas state law by neglecting to report my father. Decade-old emails describing sins and crimes had been swept under the rug. In a long-overdue answer to prayer, a pastor filed a police report against the man who had terrorized my family for over 30 years.
Then, I received a letter from my OPC session:
Dear Jennifer, In April 2020, your session warned you more than once to cease making public, unsubstantiated accusations against others . . . Whereas, you, Jennifer Greenburg, are convicted by sufficient proof of the sin of repeated violations of the 9th commandment . . . in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, do now declare you suspended indefinitely from the Sacraments of the Church . . . Jennifer, you are in great danger with the Lord.
No one asked for my side of the story. But they shouldn’t have needed to. Protecting children should not be controversial in the family of God.
Many survivors face opposition and censure when speaking the truth to the church. We can learn to do better than assume their reports are gossip or slander.
My conviction was deemed a malfeasance by other presbyters and rescinded, but then my session pressed more charges against me. After cataloging evidence verifying every detail of my accounts, including police reports, court records, and testimony from 10 other victims, all charges were dropped.
I was able to transfer to another OPC church, where I’m lovingly counseled and cared for. However, my former pastor disseminated a libelous email throughout our presbytery accusing me of being a liar and a fake abuse survivor.
Despite the Bible being full of righteous reports of evil, my experience is far from unique. Many survivors face opposition and censure when speaking the truth to the church. It’s my hope that by studying a few scriptural examples, we can learn to do better than assume their reports are gossip or slander. We can learn to take such reports seriously and address them responsibly.
Abigail: ‘My Husband Is a Wicked Fool’
In 1 Samuel 25, we read the story of how David met Abigail. Abigail was married to a “surly and mean” man named Nabal (v. 3, NIV). After Nabal mocked David, David planned to kill Nabal and every male in his household (v. 22).
There are three instances of reports in this chapter. First, David’s men “reported every word” Nabal spoke against David (v. 12, NIV). Next, Nabal’s servants reported the incident to Abigail (v. 14). Finally, Abigail reported to David, “Please pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him” (v. 25, NIV).
Was Abigail wrong to tell the truth about her husband? Was she gossiping, slandering, or being unsubmissive? Quite the contrary, Scripture (and thus, God himself) praises her as “discerning” (v. 3). David also blessed her for showing “good judgment” (v. 33, NIV) and ended up marrying her.
Paul: ‘Beware Alexander’
In 2 Timothy 4:14–15, Paul warned Timothy, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
It’s not clear exactly how Alexander harmed Paul. Perhaps he “strongly opposed” the gospel by spreading false teachings. Perhaps he even reported Paul to anti-Christian or anti-Semitic authorities. Regardless, Paul considered Alexander dangerous. Based on his experiences, and with wise discernment, he sought to protect Timothy.
John: ‘I Will Call Him Out’
In 3 John 1:9–10 (NIV), the apostle warned, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So, when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”
John reported that Diotrephes was dangerous specifically because he was “spreading malicious nonsense,” and weaponizing church discipline against believers. As if writing letters weren’t enough, John promised to “call attention to what he [was] doing” when he arrived in person. But again, he did not wait. He urgently warned others as quickly as he was able.
6 Signs of Righteous Reports
Abigail, Paul, and John all had strong words against abusive people. They didn’t keep abuse a secret or whisper about it behind closed doors. They publicly attested to abuses they’d witnessed and suffered.
Here are six key elements each of their reports has in common:
They were honest, even when the truth was embarrassing or distressing. They didn’t fret over how it might damage the church’s brand or make the abuser look bad.
2. Public Accountability
None of these reports was private. Whether spiritual, verbal, or physical in nature, God considers abuse to be a sin we should publicly call out. This is consistent with 1 Timothy 5:20, which says, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” Others take warning—not only to avoid falling into sin themselves—but so they can avoid trusting an untrustworthy person.
They didn’t wait for other people to get hurt. Rather, they drew upon their personal experience to demonstrate a dangerous person’s guilt. While it sounds like the apostle John may have had some kind of trial or church disciplinary action in mind, he didn’t wait until he arrived to testify to what he’d witnessed, let alone until a trial was complete, before warning others.
Just as Abigail protected her household from Nabal’s recklessness, Paul protected Timothy and the church from Alexander, and John protected Gaius and the church from Diotrephes. Likewise, when we encounter an abusive person or false teacher, we must protect others, especially children (cf. Matt. 18:10).
Abigail, Paul, and John didn’t do anything vengeful, manipulative, or deceitful. They rightly sought justice. After Nabal’s sudden death, David rejoiced, saying, “The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head” (1 Sam. 25:39). In the same spirit, Paul told Timothy, “The Lord will repay [Alexander] for what he has done” (2 Tim. 4:14, NIV). John promised to confront Diotrephes’s sin in person. For us today, this may mean church discipline and, in cases of crime or physical danger, alerting the authorities.
Abigail, Paul, and John spoke out of love; love for God and love for God’s people. In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” By contrast, John explained that those who commit and perpetuate abuse are not of God, saying, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11, NIV).
The sinner—not the person who reports the sin—is the one responsible for causing division and stirring up trouble. By reporting the truth, we promote peace and unity among believers.
The sinner—not the person who reports the sin—is the one responsible for causing division and stirring up trouble (Ezek. 18:20). By reporting the truth, we promote peace and unity among believers.
While abusers may claim to love God with their mouths, their actions tell a different story. Subsequently, we do not shelter or enable abusers in the name of Jesus. Rather, we reject their fruitless deeds of darkness and expose them to the light (Eph. 5:11).