Is Active Abuse Less Serious than Desertion?
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
1 Corinthians 7:13-15, “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. (14) For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (15) But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”
While “permanence view” people will not admit divorce for any reason, including the most severe abuse, thankfully such teachings are still a minority in the church. At least I hope that they are. Many more pastors and theologians allow for divorce in the cases of adultery or desertion, desertion being supported by 1 Cor 7:15. Most of the folks in this camp limit desertion to actual leaving — a refusal to physically live together. So the deserter packs it up and leaves the house, or orders their spouse to leave.
But this is where most people stop. They refuse to admit abuse as a biblical grounds for divorce, and this has put abuse victims in a terrible and even dangerous position. Let’s think about this.
What this thinking says is that divorce is permissible if one’s spouse deserts. If they pack up and leave or file for divorce themselves. An actual departure from the marriage. This, it is maintained, is grounds for divorce according to 1 Corinthians 7:15. But “no” is the answer from this camp as to divorce for abuse.
Have you ever thought about what this is necessarily saying? This struck me last week:
This position maintains then that leaving a marriage is grounds for divorce, but remaining in it and continuing to abuse one’s spouse in not. Desertion is more serious than beating your wife!
Would it not be plainly more logical to argue that if the “lesser” evil — in this case, desertion — is grounds for divorce, then the greater evil — beating or terrorizing your spouse — must surely be grounds for divorce as well? Scripture often expects us to make these “if the lesser…. then the greater” conclusions. Just because something is not overtly written in Scripture does not mean it is not there. The Law says:
Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.”
The Apostle Paul’s inspired application of this text is:
1 Corinthians 9:7-11, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (8) Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? (9) For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? (10) Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (11) If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Yes, but Paul says there is a principle here and we are practicing sound biblical interpretation when we draw out that principle and apply it to our own situation: Those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel. In fact, Paul would say that this “secondary” application of the muzzle-ox principle is really primary. That is, it is the main point that the Lord wants to make and which He expects us to make. I believe these “lesser” examples occur many times in Scripture and we get into much trouble when we fail to notice and apply them.
Therefore, we conclude from 1 Corinthians 7:15 that if divorce is permissible for the lesser evil of desertion, it is certainly permissible and right for continued abuse.