Divorce, domestic violence, church teachings on Biblical divorce, David Instone-Brewer, abuse, Patriarchy, submission
For years and years, I was taught that the only reasons Christians could get divorced were for adultery, abandonment, and if an unbelieving spouse wanted a divorce. I believed this wholeheartedly. Sadly, I looked down on people who divorced outside of these rules. I even looked down on those who divorced when there was adultery after hearing stories of couples whose marriages survived after affairs. The Christian world around me was very judgmental on this topic and I shamefully adopted these attitudes.
About a dozen years ago, I had a friend who called me on the telephone and said she was going to make an appointment with her attorney to file for divorce. No!!! She couldn’t!! I knew about her husband’s long history with pornography. I knew of the affairs. I was convinced that with proper Biblical counseling, they could make their marriage work. I convinced her to call our pastor for one last attempt to save their marriage. She did. She set up an appointment and asked me to go with her. I agreed to go.
Our pastor met with my friend and her husband, along with me and a friend of her husband’s. Her husband’s friend would be his accountability partner, and I would support my friend. We had a plan. I was going to do my best to encourage and support her. The other friend was going to hold her husband accountable (whatever that means). And we would meet with the pastor again later.
To make a long story short, some 5 yrs later, they did finally divorce and both remain single to this day. Their adult children have adjusted and picked up the pieces of their shattered family. This was very messy. But it was the right decision. My friend is no longer tormented by lies, emotional abuse, betrayal. She was always so depressed in her demeanor, now she has new life. Her eyes show life. I regret my involvement in trying to keep her destructive marriage together. I prolonged the misery she had already suffered for 20 years.
Fast forward another few years AB (after blog), I started reading personal stories and talking with wives who have suffered greatly in abusive marriages. It compelled me to question what I had learned from pastors and teachers about divorce when abuse was involved:
- How could God abandon an innocent wife and force her to pay the consequences if she divorced because of abuse?
- Was it really God’s plan that abusive husbands should stay married, no matter what, with their wives?
- Was it really God’s plan for pastors to believe husbands who claimed their wives were being unsubmissive before wives who had been harmed by their husbands?
- Why were so many women not believed by church leaders?
- Was it really true that if abused wives divorced their husbands, the husbands were free to remarry, but the wives were not?
- Why did the church seem to default to defend the abusive husband, rather than support the oppressed wife and her children financially, emotionally, and physically?
- Why were wives being put in church discipline or excommunicated when they initiated divorce because of abuse in a marriage?
One thing I’ve noticed since blogging is that 100% of the women I have spoken with who have been abused by their husbands believe in a doctrine wherein husbands are in a hierarchical position over their wives. I believe this doctrinal teaching enables abuse because church leaders have been preaching verses that make men not trust women to further underscore this belief. Here’s a key one:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
Regardless of how the above verse is interpreted, surely it does not condone abuse to wives, yet we have an ongoing problem of domestic violence within the church. There are many Christian women who remain in abusive marriages because of the teaching, “God hates divorce.” Yes, He hates divorce, but He allowed divorce as a way out of a destructive marriage.
Those who abuse their spouses have already divorced their spouses in their hearts by their actions and words.
God divorced Israel because of Israel’s hardened heart. Doesn’t it make sense that an abusive spouse has a hardened heart? Those who abuse their spouses have already divorced their spouses in their hearts by their actions and words. The actual divorce is simply a piece of paper.
If God is a merciful and just God whose concern is for the defenseless and oppressed, it makes absolutely no sense that He would expect abused wives to remain with their abusive husbands. That would make God out to be an abuser who cares more about law/rules than His own people. That’s not the God I know.
Over at A Cry for Justice blog, Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts highly recommend the scholarly works of David Instone-Brewer on the topic of divorce. Mr. Instone-Brewer is a senior researcher at Tyndale House. He has a video series in which he describes divorce, the original Hebrew meanings of important words, culture of the time, etc. Or, if you you only have time for a condensed version, check out the short 6-minute video below. If you come from the same teaching as me, I think it will be an eye-opener for you.
If there is one thing I think the church can and must do better, it is to give hope to domestic violence victims. We need to let them know that they do not need to live in bondage of wrongly interpreted scripture that punishes them, instead of their abusive spouses.
Understanding the original meaning and context of key verses can set women (and their children) free if they decide to divorce. Let’s be clear. I don’t think God likes divorce and neither do I. We’re not talking about normal marriages in which there is normal conflict, but marriages in which a husband is abusing and has a hardened heart and refuses to seek help or change. We need to come alongside these women and support them because I believe the majority of evangelical Christianity is still holding on to teachings that punish women, not their abusive husbands. I’m sick and tired of hearing from women who have been abandoned by not only church leaders, but by congregants. We can do better, and we must.