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.

13 thoughts on “Is Active Abuse Less Serious than Desertion?”

  1. Not long after I moved out, I had an interesting dream. In it, I was sitting on a dock with one of my children as a small baby alongside the estranged. We had arrived by boat to an island where we were now waiting for a boat to take us on to the kingdom of heaven. We sat, side by side as I held my baby in my arms.

    After waiting for some time, my husband began to look back– the way we came. He stared steadily at the boat we’d arrived on. After awhile, he got up without saying a word– not even goodbye– and walked away, got on the boat and went back, leaving us there alone. Not long after, the boat to the kingdom arrived and I walked onto this new boat, carrying my child and going the other direction.

    It’s a fact that ten years into the marriage, the estranged started drinking again, returned to porn, became distant, violent toward the children and who knows what else. He hid his activities pretty well and eventually I settled down and became willfully ignorant of what was going on under my own nose. I’d decided to stay and the only way you stay is to shut down emotionally.

    When I woke, I knew exactly what this meant. The age of this baby told me the year–about ten years into the marriage. My husband made a decision. He left and like a dog returns to his vomit, my husband went back to his old way of life. But in the natural, he never walked out the door. He just stayed on and did everything he could to ruin his family and drive us away.

    If that’s not desertion, I don’t know what is.

    1. Oh yes and yes again, Ida Mae! What a perfect dream, what an irrefutable picture of the reality of your ex’s choice. It chills me to the bone to think about this, but it must happen often: a man chooses to go back to the world, to his sordid ways which only lead to death. It makes me shiver with fear. Knowingly returning to his own vomit, knowing that the wages of sin are death.
      Just as the glories of heaven cannot be expressed in words, the horrors of spiritual death cannot be expressed in words.
      I sit beside you, Ida Mae, and hold your hand. And I know you hold mine.

  2. In a way, I was blessed, HE filed for divorce after I finally called 911 and later filed an Order of Protection against him so I could return home. But the fact is, he HAD deserted me in his heart many years ago when he began regularly verbally and physically abusing me while posing as a “good” Christian man.. He abandoned his vows before God for the sake of the bottle. I wanted to work it out, still loved him, honored my vows and would have gone back, but the Lord saw what I could not and protected me. He has now alienated his entire family and is physically on his last legs due to alcoholism. He has abandoned everyone, including God!!! Physical desertion and spiritual desertion are not that different, but the spiritual and emotional desertion are more devastating and damaging! I still pray for his deliverance from his demons!

    1. Thank you t.f. – what a story! You have seen desertion for what it is, and also how it destroys the marriage by violating the marriage covenant vows. Desertion does indeed occur in the heart before it is out the door.

  3. If what Bancroft says is true about the rewards an abuser gets from his abuse, I see why so many abusers stay and don’t leave. They are privileged. They get their way; their family is scared to cross them. They get housekeeping, home cooked food, sex etc. without lifting a finger or having to care about anyone but themselves. So they are living the good life. (They don’t understand that true happiness would come by following God’s laws and keeping the marriage vows by loving and cherishing their spouse) They have left off their vows. It’s all about them and their pleasures and privileges. Why physically leave? They stay in their home and continue in this murdering sin,yet put on a convincing good guy show outside the home. And then many churches have given them more reward by telling the tormented spouse that they must stay and continue to serve this god spouse.

    1. You nailed it! that is why if we only allow for actual physical desertion, i.e., leaving the house or divorcing the victim, victims are going to have a loooooonnnng wait because abusers don’t leave very often.

    2. Yep. Abusive men get domestic services from their wives. Pretty good reason for staying in the marriage. How many abusive men have you met who liked cooking, washing up, and folding the laundry? Let alone doing the dusting or cleaning the bath and the toilet!

      1. My husband actually told me over and over throughout the entire length of the marriage that if anything happened to me, he would find himself a housekeeper who could cook and marry her, preferably one who didn’t speak English. The implication was clear and pretty blatant.

  4. The divorce prohibition is of course part of my Biblical nemesis, the Sermon on the Mount. If it is interpreted literally we are all going to hell. The only way it makes sense to me is as a debunking of legalistic self-righteousness. But maybe the greater point is that things that are perfectly reasonable and justifiable from a human standpoint are still bad from God’s viewpoint. You could kill somebody who was trying to kill you or others, and be perfectly reasonable and justified, even heroic, and it would still be bad from God’s standpoint. I think this can be shown to be true because normal people with consciences seem to always feel bad after killing someone, even when it was justified and the right thing to do. By the same token maybe divorce is always bad on some level, because it represents the disruption of a sacred relationship, even when it is justified and necessary.

    People are going to do what they want anyway and justify it. The Catholic church has a “super-permanence” view, but gives out annulments pretty much for the asking.

    1. Jim – Good observations. The Sermon on the Mount does indeed expose our sin and unrighteousness, as Jesus intended. He also began the sermon however by pronouncing various categories of people as “blessed.” In Jesus Christ, we have the perfect righteousness that God requires. In Him, we do fulfill God’s Law and are justified. Not by our righteousness, but by that which comes from a source outside of ourselves – the righteounsness established by the perfect life and atoning death of Christ. This is why salvation is totally by faith alone in Christ alone and not by our works. Our good works proceed then from a new heart that loves the Lord and His Word, not in some way that is supposedly meritorious and earns merit With God. See Romans 3:21ff and also Philippians chapter 3.

      As to God seeing things differently than our reasoning — there is some truth to that. However, we are able to understand God’s Word and even think like God thinks because to a lesser degree in the unsaved person and to a greater degree in the Christian, we are created in the image and likeness of God. In other words, one aspect of this likeness is that there IS correspondence between our thoughts and God’s thoughts, even though His thoughts are not totally comprehensible to us. But we can communicate with Him and He with us. In other words, 2 +2 = 4 for God as well as for man.

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