MYTH 8: It’s your fault, because you’re not perfect, either.
TRUTH: We don’t have to be perfect before we call for a stop to abuse and cruelty.
This myth says both people have significant guilt in the divorce. Some people use the Bible verse Matthew 7:3 to silence the innocent spouse, asking—
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (NIV)
People who misuse this Bible verse say you are not allowed to call out the sins of your spouse because you sin, too. This is called “sin-leveling.”
Definition of Sin-Leveling
Sin-leveling is a way of silencing victims and keeping them from asking for fairness and justice. This view says all sin is an affront to God, and therefore your sin is equal in God’s eyes to your spouse’s sin. Sin-leveling says no human being deserves anything good from God because we are all worthless sinners in his sight. Therefore, you shouldn’t ask for justice, because real justice in God’s sight is to hand you over to death for your sins.
For example, in this false theology: The wife explodes at her husband for having an affair. She is told rage and anger are sins. So, no matter what he did, the wife has no right to show anger. She cannot claim to be a victim.
Here’s how one church appears to have used the sin-leveling tactic to keep alleged child sexual abuse victims silent. The mindset was described like this—
“One of the clearest signs of ‘rebellion’ is when a person sees himself as an injured party, because no injury that can be perpetrated against the person could ever surpass the horror that the person’s own sin is in the eyes of God.” 
This mindset suggested they were rebellious when they talked about their horrific experiences. This twisting of theology silences and minimizes victims’ stories and justifies the pastors’ decisions to do nothing. Thus, pastors encourage perpetrators and enable them to continue.
The result is victims who are discounted and abusers who are protected.
Sin-Leveling Phrases Often Quoted:
- “When you point your finger, there are three more pointing back at you.”
- “Judge not, lest you be judged. You must confess your own horrible sins first.”
- “All sin is the same in God’s eyes (and therefore your sin of anger is no different to God than your spouse’s sin of infidelity).”
- “You must claim to be the worst sinner you’ve ever known.” (Once an abuser or pedophile does this, they are viewed as the “more righteous person.”)
- “Standing up for yourself is spiritual pride. You are guilty of unforgiveness and bitterness, and so you are worse than the abuser.”
- “He who is guilty of one point is guilty of the entire Law.” (This is twisted to mean that taking a pen from work is the same as your spouse’s sin of beating you).
- “You have no rights. All your good deeds are like filthy rags. You have no righteousness and no right to demand good treatment.”
Although these phrases may sound pious, sin-leveling is dangerous to victims. We all know that molesting a child and abusing a spouse are bad. We know that murder is worse than cutting off someone on the highway. Staying silent when someone deliberately injures another or breaks the marriage vows is wrong.
It is important to speak up when someone is injuring or betraying another. If people do not care about victims—if they turn the tables and make the victim into the bad guy—how can anyone have confidence that they will do what is right? It undermines the delicate trust that makes rule-of-law societies run smoothly.
I often find women who feel terribly guilty that they yelled at their husband, or defended themselves physically, or left him an angry note. In their minds, this just as bad as a husband’s long-time pattern of putdowns, threats, slaps, and selfishness. So even the victim falls prey to the false teachings of bad theology like this.
Sin-leveling is also nonsense. It doesn’t work in real life.
Imagine a police officer who would not arrest a burglar caught red-handed because the officer, too, had sinned.
The police officer identifies criminal behavior in real life and arrests a suspect based on the officer’s judgment on whether that suspect was involved in a crime. That is the practical reality of sin.
And sin-leveling is not biblical. Jesus taught his disciples to identify con artists. These are people who appear to be on your side and gain your confidence, but they deceive instead.
Jesus wanted his disciples to look at the ungodly results of behavior and call it bad fruit. That is what Jesus calls his disciples to do today. If a person lies, call it a lie. If a person uses a pattern of anger and violence to get their way, call it abuse. If a person cheats, call it infidelity.
Look at the pattern of behavior—not the person’s image or popularity, not their fine-sounding words, but their actual actions. Is there a pattern of bad fruit?
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
—Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)
Jesus encourages us to identify bad behavior, not to ignore it because we are sinners, too.
Sins of Thought vs. Sins of Action
Jesus said if you lust, you are guilty of adultery. And he talked about hatred and murder in a similar way. That’s the Christian theology of sin. Both sins fall short of God’s righteousness.
But practically, in real life, we know the consequences are different for hatred and murder. Conscientious people are tough on themselves. They often make sin-leveling accusations to themselves in their own minds, telling themselves they cannot speak out or take a stand unless they are perfect. In fact, self-critical statements and self-doubt are often signs that you care deeply about right and wrong.
In contrast, abusers usually aren’t willing to express any misgivings about their own actions. They often want to make it seem that they are immune from any guilt, failings, or problems. As one forensic psychologist said, they wish to “present themselves as free of psychological difficulties.”
For more on this myth and others, read Chapter 3 in The Life-Saving Divorce.
Website host, Kris, “A Theory of Why Sovereign Grace Churches Seemed to Side With Perpetrators,” www.sgmsurvivors.com (3/22/18), accessed 8/18/19, http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/2018/03/22/a-theory-of-why-sovereign-grace-churches-seemed-to-side-with-perpetrators/.