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?
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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