Abuse and 1 Corinthians 7 Desertion

(1 Corinthians 7:15  ESV)  (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.

There is nothing new in this post that we have not mentioned before. In fact, I believe you will also find that Barbara Roberts made mention of it in her book, Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link]. So this is really just a reminder to all of us.

The Presbyterian Church in America (R.C. Sproul’s denomination) declared in an extensive position paper on divorce and remarriage (1992) that desertion as grounds for biblical divorce includes desertion effected by abuse even if the abuser is still physically living in the house. You can read it for yourself at:

Divorce and Remarriage

In the copy that I read online the applicable section was on page 227. It is in the section entitled Applying Paul’s Instruction About Desertion Today” (Section II, paragraph E, subsection 4).

This does not mean that we agree with all of the conclusions of this paper, but it is important for all of us to know that the PCA has already concluded that abuse is indeed biblical desertion. So when we take this position we are by no means acting as rebellious lone rangers who are resolved to do our own thing.

We should take this information and put it right in front of any Christian who is insisting that the only truly biblical position is that divorce is not permissible for abuse. No, the PCA is not infallible. But it is remarkable, nevertheless, that these men who were assigned to study the issue of marriage and divorce came to this conclusion.

And that is good news for all of us.

[July 15, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 15, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


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.

20 thoughts on “Abuse and 1 Corinthians 7 Desertion”

  1. For what it’s worth, I have attended two PCA churches recently and both affirmed this view (divorce allowed for abuse). I was also told by one of the ministers that when he was at Perimeter Church (the largest PCA church in Atlanta) there were instances they counseled women to file for divorce. Not saying the PCA is a safe denomination in all cases, but at least here in Atlanta my experience has been quite positive.

  2. This is VERY encouraging. My question is….a lot of people define abuse in very broad terms, others are sticklers. Some only consider a repeated intense, daily physical abuse to be abusive. Would these PCA churches recognize sexual, verbal, emotional abuse, as well?

    I am grateful for the discussion on this verse. I still cannot bring myself to read an epistle for the way verses like these were used repeatedly in my life to keep me hemmed in.

    1. I think there is a still strong tendency to only view abuse as physical- I haven’t re-read the document Jeff linked, but I seem to recall it read that way- but with better education this trend will change.

      My experience was different than the document- both PCA churches I went to recognized “emotional abandonment” as grounds for divorce. In the church I’m at now, the pastor sat down with me, listened to my story, and encouraged me that I did the right thing. I think that there is a lot of room for individual interpretation within PCA churches though, so my two good experiences are not necessarily indicative of the entire denomination.

      1. Jeff S — that must have been so affirming for you. I could not find anyone for SUCH a long time that would agree with my decision (even though my ex-husband WAS physically abusive in the last 2 years of our marriage). But, I was so entrenched in Southern Baptist / seminary world that I really didn’t even KNOW anyone outside of that world who wasn’t highly fundamental and “vision-forum-ish”. Although two of my sisters are PCA and they staunchly disagreed with my decision and still will not even talk to me!

      2. Jeff — in that same vein….I am wondering if there are any posts / information on what an abusive wife / woman looks like. Emotionally and verbally and more. I have often wondered because my sisters always treated me very very badly….which is why I think I married the man I did. I know the characteristics of an abusive man and I know that they must overlap quite a bit (please forgive me if I am being insensitive — I don’t mean to). I am just wondering if there is anything that would help me to identify whether or not this is true.

      3. Megan, there’s not very much information about women abusers. My situation was very tame compared to most of the stories I’ve read- for years it was neglect more than outright emotional abuse, though at the end it became more overt.

        However, the general traits of abusers still hold, I think. Borrowing from Jeff Crippen’s work, an abuser has a worldview dominated by power, control, entitlement, and justification. All of these traits manifested themselves in my ex, though some not in the same ways as abusive men. For example, it is probably far less likely for a woman to control her husband by physical means, simply because men tend to be stronger. In my case my ex used my desire to please and love sacrificially to control me, and when that stopped working it became suicide threats and actions.

        Regarding your sister, I guess the question is do they seem to have a hunger for power and control, do they feel entitled, and do they justify their bad behavior?

      4. Jeff — yes, yes and yes. It is all that you and Jeff C describe. They have no qualms when it comes to trying to control me AND my children. When I set up boundaries a year ago, the manipulation became out of control. At this point, I simply have no relationship with them and I feel very very free. Then they tried to manipulate my children (sending gifts and letters). It was that whole post on gifts from abusers. The same thing. My older sister has even gone so far as to declare that she, her husband and children are my children’s REAL family (not me — their mother). It is unreasonable. My sisters were the same way — the more I gave and loved (trying so hard to love like Christ), the more they controlled. There were also fits of rage where they threw things at me, came at me, threw me out of the house, etc. 😦 I am so glad to be done with that and I teach my children about their behavior so they see the dangers in having a relationship with them later. I leave the door cracked but do NOT fling it wide open.

        Thank you for your wisdom on this. I needed this. I am so sorry for what you went through. How purely awful. 😦

  3. Glad to see some have seen the light! It always irked me that people say if you divorce or separate your breaking the covenant between you, your spouse, and God. Uh, they broke it the first time they punched me in the face/called me a ______.

  4. Anonymous:

    I believe all circumstances are custom just as the people within the marriage. There is no mold they can reference to deal with each person, and in very circumstance. No matter how much they want to believe that.

    When churches have to draw a line on how much abuse, how long it has gone on, is it habitual enough for us to truly get involved – IMO they feel THEY are placing their own butts on the line (career, reputation, tithes, etc). They don’t have enough biblical knowledge of whom God is, and what he is and stands for – for lack of a better way of putting it. They can have all the biblical education in the world, but if they can’t figure out common sense things without referring to some ‘holy’ documentation prior to a decision? I don’t trust them personally. Their reputation is more important than anything. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have a hold of them yet. I don’t care how many certificates they have, and if is from 10 million of the top seminaries. That doesn’t mean squat to me.

    All it takes is logic and common sense to know if someone is being abused, and they refuse to use that gift that God gave them? If someone is afraid and hurting – you deal with it – no drag your feet. We are talking about evil, soul crushing, and sinful, broken behavior. How many more times do they need to read their bible to realize it is WRONG in God’s eyes, and you need to do more than just ‘pray about it’?

    Some churches are so quick to shout from the rooftops about silly reasons people get divorced, and they are more than willing to give you lists of examples. Heck they can rattle them off toot sweet! No documentation or referencing the holy book needed in most cases. When it comes to something like abuse? We shouldn’t be hearing crickets as they flip through the bible to double check things before acting on the information they just received.

    IMO abuse victims that flee the abuse have more faith than these church leaders do. They are the ones that tell stories of how scared they were, and how they felt the nudge from God..and they went for it! The houses of faith need to look to them for inspiration. Why? They are the inspiration for others, and show what true faith is. They stepped out in faith, and against all odds! They ran even though they could lose everything, and they trusted God when he told them to flee. If people of faith had the ‘faith’ that survivors have? No doubt abusers would get the help need, and their victims would also.

    Keep in mind there are churches and pastors that ‘get it’ and act on it. Its sad they are the few and far between. This should not be so…….

  5. Okay, well this is encouraging and discouraging to me all at the same time. It states that physical abuse which endangers the wife’s life is considered grounds. So does that mean an occasional slap or punch in the face is okay? Does it mean unless she ends up in the ICU it isn’t serious enough? Battered and bruised, but still able to walk, is okay?

    Also, when they address sexual abuse, they make it sound like it is okay for a husband to rape his wife, as long as it is his wife and not the neighbor he is doing it to. Also, it seems pornography is okay, as long as she still gets her conjugal rights from time to time. What about the abuser who satisfies his sinful lusts on his wife? Oh my! Where have we fallen to in identifying sexual immorality?!? Perhaps it is time to start talking about homosexual acts in the bedrooms of married couples and what God thinks about that! Would we allow our sons and daughters to marry people who performed these kinds of acts outside of marriage? Why do we think it is okay to allow them in marriage?

    What about a deviant Session? Everything is left to them, it seems. In some denominations, you can only get to the Presbytery, through the Session!

    So, to me personally, in my opinion, it is a good thing for women who are so severely physically abused, that their lives could end, but only then, are they allowed to take action. They even speak against separation! When we look at the Bible, we see separation for a period of time, to fight evil. If abuse isn’t evil, what is?

    I just find all of it good for some and bad for the rest of us. I think the Church is missing God so badly here, that it is a true deviation from His Word and His person. Perhaps Jeff S., you could share some more info regarding what the two Churches you speak of, allow for or consider abuse.

    God woke me up in the middle of the night last night and said to me, that for me to allow anyone to abuse me, was like allowing them to abuse Him, because He indwells me and I am owned by Him. He bought and paid for me. It is a personal affront to Him, for anyone to abuse His people. If I had purchased my children, the same way God purchased me, would I be offended when someone abused my children? You bet I would!

    1. Unfortunately, in neither case can I say how the churches would have responded or counseled to abuse going on (though one pastor did emphasize to me he had counseled women to divorce in the past- he did not tell me specifics).

      In the first church, I was there during my divorce, but after I’d made the decision on my own. I told them I was not willing to submit to their judgment on my divorce because I hadn’t known them very long and I simply couldn’t trust them with such an important detail of my life. They accepted that and just asked how they could minister to me. They did contact my former church to check the basic details of what I said and said that the church corroborated what I’d said (I think they wanted to make sure I was not abusive myself, which my previous church, despite disagreeing with my divorce, agreed that I was not).

      The pastor of my current church explicitly acknowledges that the behavior I described of my ex was emotionally abusive and thus, if my description to him was accurate, then my divorce was biblical. He also says that his belief is not universal, but that’s where he stands. I don’t want to completely go into examples, but one would be using threats of suicide to silence me from saying things she didn’t want to hear.

      Of course, the one factor I cannot change is that I am male. I do not know how any of this would have played out had I been a woman.

      Finally, neither situation has been perfect. At both churches there have been things that have been preached in a way that was not sensitive to abuse survivors. I believe these to be sensitivity issues rather than a misguided point of view. An example- my current pastor once said during a sermon, “In a marriage, when a person focuses on their own problems rather than their mates, the mate always ends up changing.” Then he paused and checked himself, “Well, usually there is change.” I appreciated the clarification and told him so after the sermon. When I told him “we cannot change our spouse” he agreed and acknowledged that there are situations where a party is simply unrepentant. Clearly, even this church I really like is a work in progress.

      1. Thanks for sharing Jeff S. All of us are a work in progress. I think perhaps part of the problem comes when the Church thinks they have it all wrapped up and there is no error on their part. I think that telling spouses in abusive marriages, that God forces them to stay there as part of His plan, is just not representing Christ as He is. However, I am against treacherous divorce and divorce for just any old reason. But, we are talking about abuse here and the lines are more than clear.

        I wonder if God would see an abuser taking their spouse away from Christ and the Church, as the most heinous form of abuse there could be? I am not minimizing any of the forms of abuse here, as I have endured them all, but for me, perhaps at least one of the worst, if not the worst, is his trying to take me out of the Church, so I can belong solely to him. I wonder how Churches would see this. I wonder if they would just wonder what happened to the Christian woman, or if they would rise up and take a stand when that happened. It seems there has been an awful lot of abused wives being excommunicated from the Church. But then again, you have to ask yourself if a church that does that, is really Christ’s Church!

    2. Anonymous,

      I wish I had more time to spend on this one. I just glanced at the blog tonight and felt refreshed when I read Jeff’s post.

      You raise some phenomenal issues here, especially with respect to the role of moral decline (porn etc.) on the marriage. To me, the Bible is clear that porn, for example, is adultery (Matt. 5:28). This alone would Biblically end 90% of abusive marriages. But many Pharisees legislate around that simple truth as well. I see that and much more in your post.

      While encouraging progress is being made we should always beware the blind Pharisee.

      Great insights. Thanks!

      1. Martin — I’m really glad you brought this topic up and I am [sure] my ex had a serious pornography problem. I always feel like the lone wolf here but I believe this contributed GREATLY to his abuse of my daughters and me. The porn wore down his views of women in a ghastly and despicable way over a span of [over two decades]. I talked to two pastors about it and they both told me that I needed to “help” him. I wish so much that pastors could see the serious effects of porn. Many young men today MARRY in order to “cure” their pornography problem. I have seen it several times in the past few years. A few months into the marriage, the man begins to abuse his wife out of anger that he still has the porn problem. She didn’t solve it for him and he takes it out on her. This is a gross misunderstanding of marriage and a terrible display of selfishness. Anyway, I know this is not what the post is about but, since you brought it up, I had to get on my soapbox a little bit. 🙂

        [For safety and protection, the number of years has been lightly airbrushed. Editors.]

    3. Anon, I love God’s message to you in the middle of the night. I’ve read that idea quite a few times, in various books (often liberal Christian books on DV). I can see it would be immensely helpful for some survivors, though for some reason it was never one of the lightbulb moments for me. But to hear it from God directly, as you did, must have been so powerful. I’m really glad for you.

      1. Barbara – I have, as have your, heard many stories from abuse survivors testifying that a time came, often at night, when they clearly “heard or felt or sensed” God telling them “leave now.” And they did. Many people in the theological camp that I come from who believe the Bible is God’s sole Word to us today have trouble with this kind of thing. But I don’t think it is necessary. While I do not believe God is still revealing His truth to us in the form of new revelation today (ie, still writing the Bible), it is plain from Scripture itself that God effects certain things in the believer via the Holy Spirit. Things like assurance of God’s love for us (see Romans 8); the ability to discern truth from error (see 1 John) and so on. Even the London Confession of Faith that really is just a revision of the Westminster Confession, says that ultimately it is the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the believer that gives us the confidence that the Bible is indeed God’s Word. If the Spirit does that, I certainly think that He could easily impress upon one of His people that they need to “leave now.”

      2. 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.


        Well said, Jeff. Yes, some Christians do have trouble with the idea that God sometimes speaks to individuals today. And it’s important to acknowledge this and talk about it, so that those of our readers who come from that stream of Christianity can see that we are aware of their position and sensitive to it. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the topic.

        It is recorded in the Bible that God spoke to individuals, and not only to the ones we now recognise as prophets and/or authors of books in the Bible. For example, he spoke to Joseph, telling him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt. That God can still be speaking to individuals to guide, encourage, direct, or warn, is quite reasonable.

        If someone thinks they have heard a word or feels a strong impression in their spirit from God, but the message does not line up with Biblical principles, they ought to doubt the word and assume it didn’t come from God. But if it lines up with biblical principles, then I generally believe it is fine.
        There are, of course, some exceptions, such as Acts 16 where the demonized slave girl was speaking truth about the apostles but her speech was motivated by Satan, who seems to have wanted to create a spectacular diversion to impede the apostles’ work. So we need to be alert, on guard and wise. But that doesn’t mean we have to deny the divine origin of all personal experiences of hearing from God. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in my view.

  6. 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.


    Jeff Crippen, thanks so much for writing this post. I’d been meaning to write a post like this myself, but being swamped with other things I hadn’t got there yet.
    This document by the Presbyterian Church of America, despite how it may fall short in some ways, was a grand step forward in the scheme of things, and to that extent the PCA men who created and voted for this document are to be commended.
    It was, however, voted in as a ‘non-binding’ ruling. That means it provides guidance for individual PCA churches but it does not bind churches to adhere to the guidance.

    I have often wondered how many PCA pastors and elders are actually aware of the guidance. Like many other things, it may have been lost in the morass of other issues and documents gathering dust on shelves and libraries. It came out in 1992 – quite a while ago. There would have been a whole generation of younger ministers who have been ordained since then, and I wonder how many of them are even aware that document exists. Did they get told about it in their seminary training?

    I am going to write a follow up post about this PCA document. I will be pointing out its strengths, and suggesting how it could be further strengthened to cover the full range of domestic abuse including emotional abuse and the other non-physical abuse tactics used by perpetrators.

  7. Barbara – thanks for the additional info on this. We will look forward to your article. By the way, as Jeff S pointed out to me, R.C. Sproul is ordained by the PCA but his church, St. Andrews in Sanford, Florida, is not in the PCA. Just wanted to make that clear. I have no idea if he is familiar with that PCA position (advisory only) paper or not. One wonders why, if that was written so long ago, it has taken 20 years for us to start hearing about any changes??

    1. Yes, good question. Why so long?

      I have no idea whether R C Sproul is aware of that PCA document, but I do know that Professor David Clyde Jones (who used to teach ethics at Covenant Seminary, a PCA seminary) was involved in the PCA document in that he submitted some suggestions to the committee that the PCA General Assembly had appointed to draw up a position paper on the topic of divorce for abuse.
      As far as I can remember, Jones helped draw attention to that material from the Puritan era which showed that some theologians from that period believed 1 Cor. 7:15 allowed divorce for abuse and serious neglect.
      David Clyde Jones kindly wrote a commendation for the back cover of my book.

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