The Children of Divorce and Abuse in Marriage

Divorce:  Do children bear the sins of their parents’ divorce? Is it better to remain married even with abuse? What is the church teaching us about divorce and abuse by their silence on the subject?

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I took a break from writing this article to go outside and noticed these two roses. It dawned on me that this is like an abusive marriage: one is thriving, the other is dying.

 

Russell Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “In this role, he leads the organization in all its efforts to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the mission of the gospel in the world.”  He previously served at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as Dean of the School of Theology, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration, and as Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics.  

ERLC, like SBTS, believes in complementarian marriages and strong “biblical” manhood and womanhood roles. They are very strong on family and marriage, so it makes sense that Moore would host Lore Ferguson’s article at his site, Divorce and the good of the children.

The article is clearly geared to children of divorced parents, but as I read it, I thought about divorce because of abuse. What about the children of a victimized spouse who decides to divorce?

There are two issues that I had with the article:

  • The first issue is Ferguson believes that children will shoulder their parents’ sin and carry that burden.  I, as an adult whose parents divorced, have never even thought of such a thing, so I’d like to touch on that.
  • The second issue is about abuse in marriage. If you read through this article trying to use the eyes of an abused wife, I don’t think she would be feeling she has an option to get divorced even though there is a small disclaimer posted below the post. The guilt and condemnation she would feel when reading this is troubling, especially when abused wives may already be in a weak emotional state. Abused moms would likely “put their children first” after reading this article and I am concerned that some may not feel the freedom to make the right step and LEAVE a dangerous situation (even with children).

Divorce is messy. It is ugly. It is painful. It is painful for both parents and children alike. Ferguson’s article looks at divorce from the children’s perspective. It is a harsh reality of divorce Ms. Ferguson portrays it well here:

Family traditions—seared.

Holidays together—severed.

Family portraits—always lacking.

Weddings—one parent always missing.

Yes, those are the very difficult aspects of divorce.

But what we often see from the Christian leaders about marriage/divorce is the generalizations about divorce. I don’t like divorce. I think it harms families. But in some cases of abuse, I believe it is Biblical to get divorced, and even necessary.  

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The problem that I see is that the Church often idolizes the institution of marriage so much that it fails to mention those cases where it may be better for a couple to divorce than remain in an abusive marriage.

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Do I believe that there are too many divorces?  Yes

Do I believe that people divorce for trivial reasons?  Yes

Do I believe that some people do not hold the covenant of marriage as something sacred?  Yes

Do I believe a husband and wife should remain together when there is abuse?  Each case is different, but sometimes the answer should clearly be NO.

One of the problems I’ve been noting – especially since reading about domestic violence at my friend, Jeff Crippen’s blog, A Cry for Justice, is that churches/pastors don’t want to touch the divorce word. They hardly want to acknowledge its existence.

If you are divorced, you are likely marginalized just as singles are often marginalized. They don’t want to let you know that it’s okay to divorce for adultery. Some lead you to believe that the Bible allows NO GROUNDS whatsoever for divorce:  Voddie Baucham and John Piper are in this camp. I’m not sure how they justify removing scripture from the Bible to say this and can rightfully call themselves Shepherds.

Many don’t believe that divorce is okay for abuse, they’d just rather not bring up the subject at all and keep people guessing. Many who do believe that divorce is okay for abuse situations, still fail to bring it up because of the stigma attached with that D word.  They certainly don’t want another family affected by that D word in their church under their watch.

Divorce is a dirty word and I’ve read many stories of pastors who would rather keep a spouse married in abuse telling the victim to submit, to pray, to suffer for righteousness sake, than have one in their congregation go through a difficult divorce.

Now, I do think it is appropriate to prevent divorce if at all possible and to do everything within one’s power to help make the marriage work, but when it comes to abuse within a marriage, we’re talking something entirely different.

This part got of the article got my dander up:

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I have met few who would say their parents’ divorce was for the best—their mother was being abused or their father was a serial philanderer. Almost every person I have asked would say it wasn’t in the best interest of the child, and they know because they are that child.

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Ok, I can understand an adult child saying their parents could have tried harder if the divorce was for “irreconcilable differences.”  But in abuse?  Would a child really say that it wasn’t in the best interest of the child to divorce even in abuse?

So, I would like to ask you, my astute readers- – if you were the child whose parents were in an abusive marriage, would you want your parents to remain married – – – while abusing?

My parents divorced and I did not know the full reasons until just last year.  But I do know this.  The following was not true for me:

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Please think of that, parent, if you cannot see any way out of this difficulty but through divorce. Think of your child bearing the full weight of your spouse’s sin on their own shoulders—without you, by himself, by herself—because they will. For the rest of their lives they will bear the weight of what you decided you could not—and they cannot divorce themselves from it, hard as they try.

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I did not carry the weight of my parents’ sin on my shoulders.  Yes, there were inconveniences with divorce. We had to figure out how to do the holidays, but thankfully, my parents actually were able to join together at holiday events, even after they each remarried, and so we did have enjoyable times as a family.  But none of us carried the weight of our parents’ sins on our shoulders. That was their issue. What about you?  I’d like to hear from some of you and your experiences.

Here’s more from the article:

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For the good of the children, do not get divorced if you can help it. For the good of the children, bear on your body the mark of covenant, the suffering of your own flesh for your own flesh, the sacrificial example of a parent who stays. Bear the name you took or gave, bear it well. For the good of the children who will someday be mothers and fathers considering the weight of their own marriages.

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For parents who are getting divorced for trivial reasons, yes, I agree with the above. But what message does this send to an abused wife?  It says stick it out. Make the sacrifice, bear your burdens, etc. It is says that staying is better than leaving, even if she has to suffer.  That is NOT right.

Here’s the small disclaimer at the bottom of the post:

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This is very confusing. In the middle of the article she claims that even in abuse, that divorce was not in the best interest of the child, yet she includes this disclaimer. Which one is it?

This is far too confusing for an abuse victim to make sense of. I can’t even make sense of it. No wonder so many victims remain in their abusive homes. They want to be obedient to what is being taught at church. They want to make the right choices for their children.

I’m waiting for some bold pastors to step up to the plate and strongly deal with abusers and actively help mothers and children who are affected by abuse. There is one pastor who says this, preaches this, and shouts it from the rooftop. Pastor Jeff Crippen has sharp words to abusers and is a fierce defender of those who are abused.  Boy, doesn’t that sound like Jesus – someone who defends the defenseless and hates abuse?

I sent a link of the article to Jeff this morning and shared my concerns and here was his response (that he gave me permission to share). I hope this will give abuse victims hope and encouragement if they are facing a very difficult and abusive marriage:

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Exodus is good. It is a blessing from God.  God is the God of the exodus. Not only from Egypt, but from all evil. Jesus came to effect a new exodus of the new and true Israel, His church, from this world. In this sense, Jesus Christ is the Lord of divorce. He blesses it when it is an exodus from evil and bondage.  It is not some mere “sin” he forgives us of.  It is the same glorious event that He effected when Moses went to Pharaoh and said “Let My people go.”  ~Pastor Jeff Crippen, A Cry for Justice

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166 comments on “The Children of Divorce and Abuse in Marriage

  1. “God did create us male and female. We are different, not just physically, and that is good. Not inferior/superior, but different.”

    How are we different –besides physically? This seems to be mentioned by so many people in sermons, blog convos, books– for so many years it is considered conventional wisdom. It isn’t.

    How do we know the differences (emotional, intellectual, etc) are not cultural? Societal? Traditional?

    There was an interesting study years back about London Taxi drivers and their brain scans that really caused me to ask some hard questions before I took the above as conventional wisdom.

    Many of the “differences” have been chosen for us by society or our culture.

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  2. Matthew,

    I think of blogs like a person’s cyber-living room. Those of us who comment on them are like visitors who are invited into this cyberhome to have a discussion. On blogs like this, those people have had been through difficult experiences, and we get together to support one another as we find meaning in what we’ve endured. We also look to these trusted others to find solutions to the problems that we’ve encountered through the experiences we’ve shared.

    But when we are in someone else’s living room at a small gathering, we tend to be polite. We don’t say to our host, “You have a picture of a desert scene on the wall. Does that mean you have issues with lakes and oceans?” If a fellow guest wears a blue dress, we don’t ask them what it is that they hate about trousers, nor do we start an argument with them about the problems that they have with the color red and their alleged rejection of people who wear yellow.

    I don’t know if your angst here has to do with Calvary Chapel or not, but you have gone from thread to thread on this blog, just like you’ve been mingling at a gathering of people in someone else’s living room. As one of those guests, I think that you’ve heard from everyone at this point that your behavior has been rude and inappropriate. Here’s a friendly suggestion. It might be time for you to go home. We’ve all heard from you on subjects from soup to nuts, and this gathering doesn’t sound like it’s the right fit for you. People have been polite and direct with you, but you’re not being very polite with us. And that’s okay, but it’s getting old.

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  3. Cathryn,

    Thanks for letting me know. I’m going to check out CCA and ask Alex about this.
    My responsibility here is to make sure this is a safe place. We’ve already dealt with 2 issues:

    1) initiating the Paul debate here, and also bringing it over to other threads which disrupts the current article and conversation, making it awkward for people to jump back in with the real issues

    2) I did not care for the way he dealt with you and ladies in general here.

    These 2 issues have been addressed not only by me, but by others. He has said nothing about stalking here and I haven’t seen any sign of it. That seems to be an issue somewhere else.

    The SSB doghouse has had its spring cleaning and is ready and available to house the next offender. I’m watching.

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  4. I didn’t need to talk to Alex. I read comments. He claims he was stalked, yet he’s making wild accusations to long-time CCA readers there. No, we don’t need that kind of drama coming over here and there’s already been enough. Into the doghouse he goes:

    doghouse

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  5. Julie Anne, I hope I didn’t cause any trouble. I normally try to behave on people’s blogs, and if I disagree with them, I try to stay polite or civil about it.

    Ironically, I was not angry in my first reply to Matthew P. It was his suggestion in his reply to my post that I am too emotional on the topics under discussion that struck me the wrong way. I was dispassionate in my first post, it was his reply to my dispassionate post that antagonized me.

    I apologize if I was too rude to the guy, or created trouble for you and the blog.

    BTW, even if I did find this to be a “hot button topic” I don’t see the relevancy of that. It shouldn’t matter if someone does get worked up on an issue.

    It only rankles me because some men in our culture will automatically dismiss anything and everything a woman has to say, by claiming she’s not being rational and is being too emotional – a tactic used by some men, which I find condescending and sexist. Maybe Matt P was not doing that, but that was how I read his posts to myself and others.

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  6. Daisy, I typically like to keep blogs separate and have a clean slate with each person who comments, but I’m very familiar with CCA as I helped Alex out when things were heightened with his court case. I know some of the regulars there and saw the interactions with my own eyes. It was a similar to what we experienced here. And once again, it was directed to women. That’s not cool. It compromised the safe environment we try to keep here. Thanks!

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  7. A lot of different topics encompassed in this discussion: “Christian” vs. secular counseling, whether abuse justifies divorce, and whether children are better off in an abusive home.

    The issue that strikes me is the common mantra, “Do not get divorced for the sake of the children…” Remaining “for the sake of the covenant,” where abuse is present defends only the office of marriage while neglecting the sanctity of it. The covenant that has been habitually broken, a relationship that wholly contradicts God’s intent for marriage is treacherous and hypocritical and makes a mockery of marriage.

    Would those in authority defend child abuse? Sexual abuse? The contemporary church has an appalling record of diminishing the impact of emotional and verbal abuse. Is there such a thing as “lesser evil” when it comes to abuse? God forbid. Those who would say so have never lived it.

    So what about the children? Perhaps your readers will consider my blog piece on that very subject from the perspective of an abuse survivor: http://www.hurtbylove.com/?s=What+About+the+Children

    I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Cindy, your comment is excellent. There is such an unhealthy stigma to divorce. I get it that there are people who will divorce at the drop of the hat, but when we are talking about abuse, infidelity, there should be no stigma whatsoever. Why a pastor would rather have a couple remain married with abuse going on is beyond me. It’s like the stigma of having someone divorced in the church body is worse than abuse? Really? Pastors will have to answer to this.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I know it’s an old post, but here goes.

    I am the child of an abusive marriage. I am also soon to be the child of divorce. The author of the divorce and children article evidently doesn’t know what it’s like to have a gaslighting father. You know what my reaction was when Mom told us she was ending it?

    I’M FREE, I’M FREE, WE’RE SAFE, WE’RE FREE OF HIM!!!

    I wanted to scream it from the rooftops. I told my (Christian) friends as soon as it was “safe” (after she had told him about it), expecting them to be elated, delighted, supportive, to tell me, hey, we’re so glad you’re finally going to be human! I got something entirely different.

    Most of them went, oh. I’m so sorry for you, that you have to go through that. So I tried to explain. No really, I love it! I can’t wait! I’m already celebrating! This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life!!

    A few tried to understand, but most of them didn’t even try. They just went right on expressing their condescending pity. Even my “liberal” and “unusual” friends don’t understand how it could be such a relief to get AWAY from one’s “dad.”

    So much for “Laugh with those who laugh.”

    I do not love my “father.” I do not respect him or pity him. I will not spend time with him, ask for his help, or give him anything in return for all the years he “loved” me. I no longer believe he is saved, despite all the “biblical” nonsense he uses.

    I haven’t read the comments, but I will say: anyone who has had an abusive parent will get it. It is so incredibly empowering to say “I do not love you.” So I decided to comment, even though this is an old post. The author of the divorce and children article should have asked the children how they felt before telling everyone else.

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