Allowing For Divorce Is Not Enough
One of the big issues we are taking on here at ACFJ is those churches who disallow divorce in the case of abuse. Jeff C brings this up often and it remains his sticking point (rightly so) with many pastors and teachers. The notion of asking an abuse victim to remain bound to an abuser is such an abhorrent thought once you realize what abuse is and does to people; it’s impossible to reconcile the thought of forcing continued marriage to an abuser with any notion of a loving God. For those who are interested in the Biblical arguments, check out either Barbara Robert’s book “Not Under Bondage” or one of David Instone-Brewer’s books “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible” or “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church”. I think this is definitely a huge mistake the church is making in handling domestic abuse; however, I also think that correcting this doctrine is not going far enough.
Many pastors when confronted with abuse do everything they can to convince victims that the abuse a) does not exist, b) is not that bad, or c) is tolerable with the strength of the Lord. This is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen– rather than trying to convince a victim who has finally come out of “the fog” to go back in, pastors and the Christian community should be actively watching for and identifying those who are stuck in the fog of abuse, and waking them up. How different would that be if a pastor’s wife went up to a woman and said, “I noticed that you’ve seemed distant, especially when your husband is around. Have things always been like that?” How different if a victim was encouraged to come meet with the pastor and honestly evaluate the health of her marriage?
I do realize that we don’t want to go around trying to convince every married person that any painful thing going on in his or her marriage is abuse and entitles divorce; my guess is that many people are afraid of this. But I contend that they are afraid of it because they don’t think they can know what abuse looks like. They aren’t trained. But if we were trained; if we kept an eye out and said “Not on my watch!”, how much would that change things? I think the impact would be huge.
Abuse victims are master deceivers because they think they have to be in order to be healthy and accepted. And the people they deceive the most: themselves. They will lie to you straight to your face and tell you everything is fine, because it MUST be. They can hardly handle the idea that they are victims and their most intimate relationship is a source of pain. That creates the “fog” they live in that can take years to come out of, if they come out of it at all. By the time ANY victim is strong enough and awake enough to show up at your door asking for a divorce, Pastor, she’s already done the heavy lifting. She is not a problem to be solved. In fact, it’s LONG past time for you to be involved. She’s already done the work that you should have been doing beside her. Get on board and help her see it through– you can do that much.
So yes, I think allowing for divorce is a major issue, but that’s not far enough. Does it seem ghastly that a pastor would be the one to point out to an abused women that she’s a victim? It shouldn’t. I fear for some that thought is in fact unnatural, but if a pastor is someone who watches the sheep and cares for even one little lost lamb, then there is nothing more natural than identifying and helping a lamb in the fog of abuse.
- Posted in: Unjust church responses
- Tagged: church response to abuse, Jeff S, leadership, pastors, premarriage counseling, prevention, protecting victims
Just one thought I meant to put in this post but did not: while the resources are small about understanding abuse in the context of the church, they are out there. Both Jeff C’s book “A Cry For Justice” and his sermons series on abuse can start the church down the road of being better educated.
A lot of pastors need to STOP thinking like an abuser “”She is just looking for a way to get out of her marriage”” i suppose they would not think that if they truly understood what’s happening. But my fear is the “”thinking”” is handed down, and so deeply imbedded that without a true open heart, and MIND that has NOT already been programmed what to think, little is going to pass through….I suppose that is where God will come in. Youth pastors, and incoming pastors early into their studying and teaching have to be fed the education of abuse. If this were just a heart issue, I would have more hope. But to change a persons mind……??? I assume most pastors have the ability to empathize, but the “”thinking” seems to rule.
You know, I do wonder why the pervasive thought is “he or she just wants to get out of the marriage”. It seems the assumption is that everyone person who’s been married wants a divorce. And in fact, that’s pretty much what I was told: “Jeff, everyone wants out at one point or another- we all go through it”.
Really? Every married person wants a divorce, at least at some point? I sure hope that assumption isn’t true. Divorce is a pretty big deal- I don’t think I could ever have counted myself as WANTING to get divorce. I just wanted the pain to stop and that was the only way to do it.
JeffS – My wife and I have been married for 41 years. I have never once had even a hint of a thought of wanting a divorce, and believe it or not, neither has my wife (she would have more grounds than me!). I mean, we met in high school, dated through college, married at age 21, went through thick and thin, had our son and daughter. Who would ever want to abandon them?
Let me propose a theory that I have had rattling around in my head for a few weeks. Here it is: Marriage counseling is very easy if both the husband and wife are true, regenerate, genuine Christians. It is easy because they have hearts that are directed by love for Christ and love for one another. I counseled a couple a few years back who I know are Christians. ONE MEETING!!! ONE! That was it. They made necessary changes and took off growing in every way. Marriage counseling in fact is not even necessary in many of those cases. In contrast, I have counseled other people for….well, forever! Waaaay too long. Guess what? Bad outcome. No change. Why? One or both aren’t saved. Now, add in that one of them is an abuser and you can forget it.
So why do we have so many divorces in our churches? 1) Pastors and churches tell abusers they can do whatever they want and their victim can’t divorce them! Sweet deal for a demon. 2) Many of our professing Christians aren’t Christians at all. Both of these points promote divorce. What we should be doing is radically changing how we teach about marriage, divorce, and re-marriage and how we go about pre-marriage counseling, and you just might find that suddenly we are performing a lot fewer weddings because abuser types will run! And guess what? That drops the divorce rate too.
All of that said, let me reaffirm to anyone reading this that abuse victims have a right before God to divorce their abuser. The abuser is the one guilty of destroying the marriage, not the victim who merely does the paperwork.
Rambling must be contagious.
20+ years here. No desire for divorce ever from either party.
Besides the doctrinal road block, I would dare to say that most pastors are not trained to recognize abuse, nor deal with it. Especially in independent, non-denominational churches, a larger percentage of the pastors have little to no formal training at either the undergrad or graduate level. Not that I think that having a formal degree is an absolute necessity to be a pastor, but there are some advantages. Even the formal training programs don’t really prepare you for the role.
Most of the Bible colleges and seminaries are going to follow and teach the doctrinal dictates of their denomination, which perpetuates the cycle. The pastors come out of these institutions go into their churches, teaching the same things that have been taught for years, with little to no critical thought behind why they believe what they believe. It just is. I believe what I have been told, and I either can’t rock the boat with the denomination (or church), or I don’t have the time to engage in the hermeneutic process. In many cases, it may be simply because their own biases do not allow them to accept any other viewpoint, causing instant rejection without due consideration.
I also wonder how much the desire to not invade privacy plays into this? Hey, I don’t want to be a busy body, so I don’t ask.
How much are we simply putting on rose colored glasses, and trying to not even think about the actual hurting that is going on? If we ignore it, then we don’t have to deal with controversy or conflict, right? Besides, if they need help, they can always go to a professional counselor, right? As long as they keep their troubles outside of these walls, we are safe, right? Let’s maintain the facade, while deep underneath there is a flesh eating bacteria that is destroying real lives. After all, we don’t want to offend the seekers do we?
I always felt they had a “stock” manuscript for all circumstances. Like if you say “that” they will say “this”….kind of like when I would use flash cards on my kids, takes little emotion to throw out an answer based on what you see on a little paper card…. Sometimes my kids would throw in an exagerated sigh of boredom mixed with a little eye rolling. At two years of age that is what happens when you expect them to listen for too long.
hhhm? My MIW abusiveness was very taxing on them, they spent a lot of valuable time with him, I could see where that would be emotionally exhausting.
But to people who are looking for relief from an abusive situation, the pastors answers are just big walls put in place. As if they were attempting to get in the ring and “box” you into submission by blocking every thing you said with a biblical left hook. Felt like an empty vacant mess, if that is even possible? To create an empty vacant mess?
Like the lights were dimmed before they left home.
You know like when you go on a vacation and you do not want anybody to break in, but you also do not want to expend too much energy.
Memphis Rayne, if you haven’t already seen it, you might like this post I did a little while back about how we make decisions:
Are Our Leaders Replaceable By Computers?
Memphis…. You said:
At my first seminary, in one of my nouthetic counseling classes, one of our books was something like “The Handy Book to Counseling” (I can’t remember the exact name — it was years ago and I have since thrown it out). But, the idea was that we have this little spiral book handy when we need a quick reference guide to counseling. The headings were common “sin problems” (“addiction”; “divorce”; “pornography”). Under each heading were Scripture verses and almost script-like quips to say to someone who is suffering with one of these issues.
There could not be less compassion in answers like that. We want PAT answers. Why? Why do we want to do this? Is it to keep us from delving deeper, as Jeff S mentions? Does it keep us at a superior distance? It takes effort to be intentional in developing relationships with others that are deep and satisfying. But, that is exactly what we are called to do!
They would not have to “ask” if they CHOSE to pay attention. They would see the bacteria everywhere. What part of mutilated corpses does not set off their senses?
I was a seeker, and very offended.
I agree on all accounts with Wendell
I also do not see them thinking “I need to respect privacy” or thinking “If I ASK I could be considered a busy body”
The privacy aspect is more along the lines of, “I don’t want others to think OUR church has this issue, so NOBODY talk about it.” Otherwise it WOULD BE a discussion for the pulpit like ALL the other marital issues, but its NEVER brought up.
They KNOW its there! They CHOOSE to talk about the less “ugly” matters that have a quick solution for, like Pornography, and how it’s an addiction because men are vulnerable to it, or finances and how you can buy a Godly book an that, OR the big one parenting issues and you can attend a weekly seminar for a low price to fix that one.
On that point you may be too generous. They are not worried about offending the people of interest, or worried about your privacy, or being nosey. Bottom line is THEY are offended YOU brought the issue up, and YOU could infect others with the bacterial disease.
I have come to realize, I use to be one of the people who thought that they just needed to be reached through education. Maybe they were not aware of all the books and materials readily available to them? I mean even with it being shoved down their throats they could of ingested it like food instead of actual reading material, right? Clearly they “want” to address abuse??? But now, I get that the main issue is THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT, PERIOD. Even though it’s an infectious wide spread disease among the church, they DO NOT want to address it. Even when they are forced to “address” abuse, they only do it to SAY they have done their duty, to save face, to give abuse some sort of lame acknowledgement and then just move on without caring to take a stand against it. So they in effect all are supporters of abuse.
There’s a woman who writes a semi-ridiculing blog about evangelical Christians, and one of her conclusions is that evangelical Christianity is focused on “doing things to avoid relationships”. I think this is kind of the thrust of what you are saying, Memphis. They don’t want to know or understand, and it’s not about respecting relationships, it’s more about avoiding uncomfortable situations.
The problem is that “avoiding the messy” is not an option according to God. He calls us to get involved and do “justice”. We are supposed to love one another and be connected. Christianity will mess up your world if you are doing it right, and these messes may be tough, but they are good.
…It takes ACTIVE ongoing effort to not THINK about abuse. That is what the church does, and that is exactly what abusers do.
Memphis, I think I understand why you would say ignoring abuse is an active effort. We do make choices, and a choice not to see is an active choice we make. However, I think there’s a sense in which the church recognizes that engaging abuse requires a lot more effort than ignoring it. When it comes to deciding who to support, consider the demands of the victim and the abuser. The victim demands that the church
-get involved and take action
-engage in battle and navigate disharmony
-sacrifice comfort, time, reputation, maybe even money
-remember (rather than forget) that bad things have happened
the demands of the abuser?
It’s not difficult to see why a normal, average human would side with an abuser. In fact, they can even tell themselves that “do nothing” is a moderate position that seeks to pacify both sides.
But we are not supposed to be normal, average humans, are we?
Memphis- Increasingly I think suppressing the truth is not done by the true church but by the outward, visible church that is so often led by and consisting of counterfeits who do not know Christ at all.
A few months ago I had opportunity to suggest to a lecturer at a conservative theological college here in Australia, that it would be a good idea to teach the undergraduates in his college something about domestic abuse, because they sure are going to encounter it once they are ordained and working in a church. His reply greatly disappointed me. He said he didn’t think his students had sufficient life experience to grasp the topic of domestic abuse.
What? They have no experience of Hebrew but they are expected to study it in some depth. They may have very little experience of pastoral care, marriage, the activity of the Holy Spirit, church history, and the fine distinctions between various views of soteriology and eschatology, but they are expected to study all those things. Besides, some of the students may have witnessed abuse in their families of origin so won’t be as naive as this lecturer imagined.
If not at seminary, when? Surely seminary is the appropriate place to give at least an introduction to the subject of domestic abuse. And not just by mentioning it in passing when discussing other types of abuse – like childhood sexual abuse. Nor by offering it as an elective in the pastoral care stream. It ought to be a compulsory subject, since virtually all ministers are going to encounter it in the course of their career. If an introductory course on domestic abuse is given in seminary, then pastors are going to feel more comfortable seeking further education on the topic later, should they need to do so.
Barbara – I would go a step further. If those students don’t have sufficient life experience then they aren’t qualified to be shepherds of Christ’s flock at all. “Able to teach” is a qualification for an elder (1 Tim 3). That doesn’t mean just the ability to explain the doctrine of justification in Romans. It means having the wisdom and ability to take the Word of God and bring it to bear upon the sticky, messy circumstances of real life.
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.
Good point, Jeff C.
I was quite surprised the lecturer brought up ‘insufficient life experience’ as an excuse. I know some of his students might be young, but I’ve known of many middle aged men who enter colleges to prepare for ministry. They’ve had a successful career and been married with kids for a couple of decades, and then they decide to go into ministry. So they sure don’t lack life experience. And they can bring that experience to the younger student in the class.
If those students don’t have sufficient life experience then they aren’t qualified to be shepherds of Christ’s flock at all.
There is a reason they are called elders.
Yes! Exactly. A life lived, messing up and getting it right finally – THEN ministry in leadership of others.
Memphis, I think you are right in most cases. Most of the time, it isn’t the pastors that are worried about being busy-bodies, but others. Though I have seen a few pastors at least state they did not want to intervene in a situation because it was not any of their business. These weren’t abuse cases, but I was just wondering out loud if there was crossover.
I agree that most commonly, it is probably that they just don’t want to touch it, for whatever reason. I was thinking about my response and I started reminiscing about my days in Bible college. It seemed that a lot of pastoral students didn’t bother to be Bereans, testing what they were being taught in school. I chalk a lot of that up to the intimidation of the professor-student relationship, but I also attribute some of it to the fact that good interpretation takes a lot of work, which many either are not inclined or are too busy to do. After all, if my upbringing says it is an orange, who am I to argue? I can ALWAYS trust my pastor/teacher/professors can’t I? (smirk)
Another thought, and this kind of plays into some of what Memphis and Jeff S have been saying. Could the fact that the church is no longer the close knit body of the first century contribute to the lack of involvement? Memphis, I know that you feel that to not get involved in an active decision, and perhaps to some degree it is; however. one of the things I have seen more and more in churches, especially in the larger groups, is the entertainer/spectator style of church operation does not lend itself to intimacy and real ministry.
It is easy for me to go to a church, attend a Sunday morning service with x number of people, slip out the back door and never really have to interact with everyone. While the larger the church, the easier it is, I have seen it in most of my experience in smaller churches too.
I don’t know what the answer is there, but as long as we are an anonymous crowd, attending an event that is most church services, with no intimacy and no accountability, even more people will suffer in the shadows and even more pastors/leaders will be able to conveniently ignore the issue. Frankly, I think many like it that way as they don’t have to do any heavy lifting.
Ya sometimes its difficult to remember that the visible church is mans church, not Gods.
God would not honor, support, or perpetrate abuse. I feel compassion but not towards them, perhaps I should?
Sometimes Christians say the word compassion, like where was mine towards my MIW, due to his battle with sins? Like I can feel compassion, but not towards the devil?. I do however feel compassion towards the seekers, that get snared, shoved into the shiny steel tombs that bring so much excitement, then total blackness. Much less produce any derivitives of compassion.
Quite frankly, as if I have not been frank to this point, lol whenever I heard the word compassion i envisioned a street sweeper on a large garbage ridden highway,(there was alot of misty type fog with a little drizzle, maybe a NE wind?) and this big hunk of steel cleaned up every piece of garbage, even gum wrappers!!! Unfortunately a machine does not notice the difference between garbage and human flesh, doesnt notice if there is anyone down there gasping for breathe? Just keeps moving, and sweeping, and clearing, and cleaning the straight path, doesnt mind the fog bank obstructing its view, or the toxic drizzle, not bothered at all over where the garbage is going to end up or what effect it will have on the future….just do not mess with the scenery!!!!…I do not understand a darn thing about mans church? Compassion? What does that mean, if its used to tell victoms they are lacking? Where is your heart? Your compassion? Where was the MIWs? No wonder I had head trauma? I was trying to rationalize why my average walnut shaped brain did not wrap around their humongeous hypocrytical steel tomb. Duh????? God was not even in the vicinity!!!
Too judgemental? If that isnt such hypocrisy!!? Maybe I do not understand what that is either!!!!? Taking a STAND against injustice makes a person un-compassionate? Aaah? No wonder? No wonder, when that memo went out I must of been busy pulling the MIW off my children, or my thoughts may have been consumed with his seething threats? I forgot to be compassionate. Im going to put that on my “to do list” right now.
What ONE thing is a christian called to do? Its to love what is GOOD, If you truly love what is good you naturally HATE what is evil. Compassion is exactly what you stated, standing with and for the oppressed, not exhalting the guilty ones that ARE the oppressors. What mind tweakers!!!! No wonder there is a FOG over victoms!!! The people who should be standing with them have their heads up their…
Its like the classic blameshifting, twisting mind screwing, word-playing tactics of an abuser.
Go on ahead and ask an abuser if “”He loves his wife like Christ loves the church””……
watch what compassion will be bestowed upon him.
I guess I am un-compassionate, and can I just say ONE more thing?
Memphis – Here is the irony of the deal. Compassion? I have been accused over the years of not having compassion. Of being too gruff. Too judgmental. But you know why? Because when I see wickedness in Christ’s church, I can’t stand to stand by and let it go on. It is to be dealt with. So I am un-compassionate. BUT – get this! These people who are all the time yelling for compassion and talking about how kind and caring and empathetic they are, are the VERY people who tell abuse victims to go back to the abuse. Doesn’t that mess with your mind? And you know why they do it? Because they want to be compaaaaaaasssssssionate to the abuser, to the guilty (sorry for the Michael Savage imitation there). So what does this tell me? It tells me that all of this fog about compassion is nothing more than an excuse not to jump in, stand with the oppressed, deal justice to the wicked person, and be hated for it. So it isn’t compassion. It is cowardice.
“Many pastors when confronted with abuse do everything they can to convince victims that the abuse a) does not exist, b) is not that bad, or c) is tolerable with the strength of the Lord. This is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen– rather than trying to convince a victim who has finally come out of “the fog” to go back in, pastors and the Christian community should be actively watching for and identifying those who are stuck in the fog of abuse, and waking them up”
I would add that many pastors think that abuse victims can change the abuser if only they prayed more or were more submissive. Point “c” above speaks to the fact that we are often counseled to be “Redeemers” and “redemptively suffer.” In addition, we are told that because we are so traumatized by abuse, we can’t see the baby steps and changes the abuser is making. The fact is, most abusers don’t change. By the time a victim musters the courage to leave…it’s over. I left a 20-year marriage recently after going to marital therapy for over 7 years, working with a spiritual director and individal therapy for over 2 years. I was doing a ton of “work” and in March of 2011 I felt God say to me “Cease your striving.” I left in August 2012. Things have been very difficult and people from church constantly tell me, “You know, Karen….God hates divorce..” I tell them “HE also hates abuse. Which do you think he hates more?” Crickets…..
Even if my husband were to miraculously change, my attitude is that too much has happened. Lundy Bancroft says in his book, abuse victims who leave often think, “Why would I go back to that?” That is how I think and feel. Why on earth would I return?
In my own experience it seems that most pastors don’t want to get their hands dirty in dealing with domestic violence issues because those issues don’t involve “Peope like us.” Also it’s easier to tell an abuse victim-who in most cases will be a woman- essentially to “suck it up.” I don’t believe that any of the people who atempt counsel me with “God hates divorce” have said to my husband or to any abusive husband “The Scripture says, ‘Husbands love your wife.’
Hello?! Let the church say “Amen.”
That’s RIGHT, Karen! All very well-said! I remember thinking, “Even if he DID change….or miraculously repent….all the unraveling and therapy he would have to have over the next 10 years would break us further. By then, the children and I would be ruined.”
And I, too, remember that release from God. When He says, “You are free — go”.
Great words, friend!
Karen – you are one person with her head put on straight! This is great stuff. You got it – “the fact is, most abusers don’t change.” Absolutely correct. And you even go further with truth — “even if my husband were to miraculously change…too much has happened.” That is totally correct. We can forgive such a spouse, but we do not have to be married to them or even have any kind of relationship with them. AMEN! You are hearing AMENS here!
AMEN! AMEN! and AMEN! 🙂 I was told my husband needed me to respect him more, he needed more sex (even though it was clear he was sexually abusive), he needed me to be more submissive…and naively I went home, tried to do these things “better”, waiting/hoping/praying for the results. Guess what? HE GOT MEANER, and more demanding, and more confusing, and more demeaning…which totally makes sense now that I’ve done so much reading.
One more point… I would love to know how others got the word from God that it was OK to let go…Your word regarding “cease striving” is very interesting to me. The first thing God spoke to me was to “stand firm” (as in making boundaries). Then there was a point when He spoke from Nahum 1:13…”For now I will break off his yoke from you, and burst your bonds apart”. That is when I knew I had been released to go. I felt God gave me the choice to follow Him or continue in the destructive patterns of our marriage. I do not regret my choice, even though at the time it was terrifying…He has been SO faithful…
And about redemptive suffering…that got cleared up for me with Jeff Cs sermon…or blog entry? (can’t remember which one) that said Christ is the only One Who was called to suffer for the redemption of others. We are NOT CHRIST! Why did I not see that? Oh yes, the fog…
Anon – the fog AND the common bad teaching you were probably exposed to, like all of us. I have heard this very same story over and over from victims. How God gave them the OK to leave their abuser. The theological camp I come from rejects that kind of extra-biblical revelation claim. God only speaks to us in His written Word. Now personally, I do not believe there are any prophets today in the sense of the delivery of new revelation from God. In other words, the Bible is complete. However, Romans 8 says that somehow, mysteriously, the Holy Spirit confirms to every Christian that the Bible is indeed God’s Word. The Spirit assures us that we are sons of God and objects of His love. Of course we test everything with the Scripture, but I have to conclude that these reports of God saying “be free” are the working of Christ through the Holy Spirit in us, and probably more in conjunction with the Scriptures than we might realize at the moment that permission comes. That is to say, the more we read and immerse ourselves in Scripture, the more we facilitate the leading of the Spirit in us.
I do not doubt genuine abuse victims who tell me “at that moment, the Lord told me to go!”
KarenR, I’ll give you an AMEN on that!
I like how you stated this:
“Even if my husband were to miraculously change, my attitude is that too much has happened. Lundy Bancroft says in his book, abuse victims who leave often think, “Why would I go back to that?” That is how I think and feel. Why on earth would I return?”
I completely agree. I remember someone once asking me, after the divorce, whether I would take her back if she wanted me to. I responded that God has put several billion people on the planet, and of all those people there is only one that I know absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I cannot have a covenant relationship with. So, why would I go back to an abusive covenant from which God has redeemed me?
Here is the irony of the deal. Compassion? I have been accused over the years of not having compassion. Of being too gruff. Too judgmental. But you know why? Because when I see wickedness in Christ’s church, I can’t stand to stand by and let it go on. It is to be dealt with. So I am un-compassionate. BUT – get this! These people who are all the time yelling for compassion and talking about how kind and caring and empathetic they are, are the VERY people who tell abuse victims to go back to the abuse. Doesn’t that mess with your mind? And you know why they do it? Because they want to be compaaaaaaasssssssionate to the abuser, to the guilty (sorry for the Michael Savage imitation there). So what does this tell me? It tells me that all of this fog about compassion is nothing more than an excuse not to jump in, stand with the oppressed, deal justice to the wicked person, and be hated for it. So it isn’t compassion. It is cowardice.”
I have found more compassion and understanding for abusers, porn addicts and spiritual abusers in the church than for any victims. I think it also has to do with the whole focus on cheap grace: See what God has done with our great love for this person!
I have an old college friend who is now a judge. He is also an unbeliever. He told me several years back he does not understand Christians at all and thinks they are hypocritical. He said they would pack out the court room during a zoning hearing on a strip club to get it shut down but then pack out a court room on a hearing for a pedophile in their church and plead for a lighter sentence because he was “repentent”. And they would rally around the pedophile while ignoring the victim and family.
We have it all backwards in many churches.
That’s for sure Lydia. Oh the poor, poor guy. I think that somehow church members and pastors think that the lower someone is, the greater of a catch it will be if they can “save” the person. The victim? Well, we won’t get any real credit there for rescuing her, so that’s low priority.
Ahh judgmentalism. How many of us have heard, “Judge not lest ye be judged” when we try to confront sin? Complete misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying there and a very convenient way to throw someone off stride! Gee, I wonder what Paul would have done if one of the members of the Corinthian church had quoted that to him when he told them to expel the immoral brother? Nevermind, I think I know….
I’m a little late getting in on this one (LOTS of Christmas cheer in my house with no abuser around for the first time 🙂 ) and I don’t know if this has been said because I only skimmed the other comments but this part struck me and I wanted to comment on it.
“By the time ANY victim is strong enough and awake enough to show up at your door asking for a divorce, Pastor, she’s already done the heavy lifting. She is not a problem to be solved. In fact, it’s LONG past time for you to be involved. She’s already done the work that you should have been doing beside her. Get on board and help her see it through– you can do that much.”
This is SO VERY true!!! I didn’t need the Presbytery to investigate whether or not my husband was repentant. If they had only asked me (and believed my story) they would have discovered that I had given him more then a few chances to repent over the years. By the time I came to the pastor it was not a matter of waiting and seeing if it was “bad enough” to warrant divorce. It was WAY past that point!! Yes they allowed divorce in the case of abuse but THEY wanted to take the time to determine if it was abuse instead of jumping on board and helping see me through it!
Bethany – The only reason for church leaders to become involved in making any determination in an abuse case is to deal with the abuser at some point in church discipline. If it is a criminal case, the investigation must be done by the civil authorities. But this business of investigating in order to see if permission is to be “granted” to the victim to divorce the abuser is nonsense. It smacks of Rome. You don’t need to seek your church’s permission in order to divorce. Now, if someone divorces sinfully (as abusers do, they just don’t do the paperwork!) then sure, that is sin. We don’t just say “well, I’ve decided I like this person so I’m going to dump you and marry them.” That is sin. But that is in no way what is going on in these abuse cases when a victim files for divorce.
I agree Jeff 🙂 the “friendly” advice that the pastor gave me was an article on “dealing with an angry husband” it was all about submitting and pacifying him! It made me so angry I deleted the email and blocked the pastor. That was 3 months ago and I haven’t talked to him or anyone else at that church since! I don’t think I am going too far when I say even a sinful divorce shouldn’t be dictated by the Church. The disciple (If needed) can be dealt with but the divorce is always a personal matter and not up for counsels debate.
This is a real problem in many churches and it is why there are so many websites popping up on the subject of spiritual abuse. Sexual abuse, domestic abuse — all forms of abuse are perpetuated in the church because of the church’s negative involvement in these areas. People are told to cover it up. To not go to the police. To go back and try harder, etc. And underneath it all is this whole issue of just how far church leaders are to intrude into our private lives and matters of conscience. It is one thing to teach what Scripture says, and surely we do hold professing Christians in our churches accountable when it comes to matters of out and out, plain sin (like the guy in 1 Cor 5). But to dictate to people in regard to what Bible they choose, what specific things they can and cannot do on Sunday, whether a woman can work outside the home or not, and… if a person can decide to divorce an abuser…these are matters that we all have a right to make an individual choice on. What happens so often, as you know, is that the areas in which the church SHOULD jump in, i.e., nailing a wicked person for abusing others, is where the church does not.
A very good post, Jeff S, and I completely agree with your position that much more needs to be done, and that we, the Christian church, need to proactively combat abuse.
However, I do still see this whole issue of idolatry of the institution of marriage as one of the fundamental roadblocks keeping us from attaining that goal. So long as pastors, elders and laypeople keep marriage on a pedestal as being of greater value than the well being of the people in the relationship, they will never be able to see past that to actively seeking out and combatting abuse.
However…we, as individual followers of Christ can begin to do exactly that…within our own little realms of influence. We can shine the light of God’s glory in the circles of influence that God has given us to minster in.
Joe, I think your finger is definitely on the core issue. Marriage is a second God to many Christians, so anything that threatens it takes on heretical levels of error in their minds.
I agree with all comments.
I’d like to go back to Jeff S’s conclusion in this post:
It is natural to do that, if you are an empathetic, compassionate person – and all Christians ought to be growing in empathy and compassion because we are supposed to be becoming more like Christ, who has perfect empathy and compassion. The impulse to express concern and help the fog-bound victim is natural. It might require a bit of training to develop the skills to inquire and intervene successfully, without making the victim shy away and cut you off. But I still believe that if people have empathy and compassion, they can figure most of those skills out for themselves. After all, is it really that hard to think of gentle respectful questions that invite the victim to talk about her experiences and the way she is making sense of her world? I mean, most of us know the elements of good manners. Things like “May I talk to you…?”
“Would you care to….?”
“I hope you’ll excuse me saying this, but I’ve been feeling a little concerned about …”
“Would it be alright if…?”
The hand-me-down out-of-balance doctrines on turning the other cheek, forgiveness, cheap grace, marriage on a pedestal, divorce as the second unforgivable sin, etc., are the big road blocks. They put knee-jerk phrases and response-loops into our heads, and keep us from being ourselves. Getting in touch with our own thoughts and feelings, and expressing them with good manners is the key. But first we much jettison those malformed doctrines and beliefs from our heads.
Just Me made a comment at the recent John Piper post that I’m copying here, because it is also relevant to the idea of pastors and leaders helping victims who are still in the fog.
In reply to Just Me, Meg shared:
The key point I think JM and Meg have made is that the pastor needs to press. Not in front of the perpetrator, of course, and not so hard that the victim shies away never to willingly listen or open up to him again. It’s a matter of the pastor calmly but concernedly stating to the victim his perspective and his observations of her relationship, and also asking her gentle, non-judgmental but pressing questions, and asking them consistently, shall we even say relentlessly – probably rephrasing and repeating them over many occasions – to help the victim to wake up.
This may or may not be relevant to this conversation-but I just wanted to give an example of how uncomfortable Christians are with the subject of divorce. In my circle of homeschooling and church friends- only 3 people (and 2 of those are a married couple) even talk to me at all, much less about my divorce. I have never heard a single word from any of the rest of them. One of them emailed me a while back asking how I was doing- and when I told her I was planning on filing for divorce- I never heard from her again. She didn’t even respond to that email.
It’s all black and white to them I guess. Divorce can only mean that you don’t care about anyone but yourself, that you are going to hurt your kids, and that you probably aren’t a Christian at all. It’s either or. And I suppose there could be another reason for the silence. “My marriage is miserable, but I am suffering for Christ in it and if I have to then you should too.”
When somebody else is suffering in silence, sometimes their only hope is to make themselves feel superior to somebody elses plight…..”I would never let that happen to me!!” Their superior because they suffer? You chose not to. I wonder if it is the SIN of divorce, or just the divorce itself…..I get so confused, if they think divorce is the ultimate sin, one that you should be blamed, shunned, NOT forgiven for, then if the SIN part is the problem they would have to put in exile the majority of their members. Everybody that has sinned would be out on the street!! I guess that is what hypocrasy is, they have their own rules, they apply them as they see what reflects better on them. Last I heard, we all have sinned. Maybe its more of the stigma you are assigned now, or somebody leaked the “Ä” word….then of course the normal casual response is you are the cause of the divorce, wicked woman you! Now they are forced to protect their familys from your……singleness?
Isn’t that similar to what the pharisees did? At least on the feeling superior part?
You are so right Memphis about divorce being such a grave sin in the church! I recently ran into a man I used to go to church with. As we stood outside the library I work at, I explained to him the plight of my daughter. He floored me when all he could say was, “You know a divorced person can never serve in the church, don’t you?” All I could do is walk away, shaking my head.
To expand what you are saying about sin, can you imagine if we had to kick out every man who ever looked at a woman lustfully for adultery? Probably only those men who have been blind since birth would still be there!
Like the pharisees, we see sin only as the action, when it resides in the heart, which is what I think Jesus was trying to show here. They look so much at the action of the divorce, they forget the motive and intent of the heart. I have wondered, where is the sin in the heart if one is simply trying to protect themselves or their children from future harm?
Hey Wendell, next time someone says something like that, instead of walking away you might like to reply ““No; a divorced person can never serve in a Pharisaical church, but they can serve in a true church if they were not the guilty party in the divorce.”
Barbara, I thought of arguing with him, but knowing him, it would have done no good.
On a slightly different note, I use Logos software and they are offering a free book of articles by Charles Ryrie. I was curious when it included an article about divorce and remarriage. It really saddened me when he not only would not allow divorce for even adultery, but stated that remarriage is never possible, unless the former spouse dies! That is stricter than I have ever encountered.
Almost makes me want to shred my copy of his systematic theology text I have!
The other thing that riles me about comments like that man gave Wendell at the library, is that the commenter thinks you are just plain stupid and ignorant.
Wendell has been an assistant pastor. He’s not green behind the ears; he knows the landscape of Christian thinking pretty well. He certainly has known for years that many Christians believe divorcees cannot take leadership roles in the church. But this ‘friend’ of his suddenly treats Wendell like he is back in Christian kindergarten and needs to be instructed in basic doctrine!
Hmmm, way to focus on the big picture there, pal (to be clear, I’m talking about the man at the library). When you are being abused, the last thought in your mind is whether you will get to serve in church. Actually, since she’s a woman she’s already disqualified from serving in most of the same churches that would ban her for being divorced.
I knew when I went through the divorce that would likely mean I could never be an elder (only later to find out that my current church does not deny being an elder to divorced folks). Really, though, I’m not sure I’d want to be an elder anyway. It’s kind of a hefty responsibility,
“When you are being abused, the last though in your mind is whether you will get to serve in church.” I agree.
But perhaps it’s not always the last thought in the minds of those who are getting divorced for reasons other than abuse.
For instance, if a man is a Pharisee and covets the power that can come with eldership, then he may want to avoid divorce if he has ambitions to be an elder. In fact, his leadership ambitions could drive him to obstinately remain in a very toxic marriage, just so as he can win that leadership position.
Or else he tries to find a church that will accept divorced elders so long as they didn’t sin by taking the initiative in filing for divorce, so long as they can masquerade as the innocent party in the divorce.
I know this is attributing motives to others, and it’s only speculation. But really, I have to ask myself why this question of “Can you be a leader?” is the foremost question in some people’s minds as soon as the divorce topic comes up. Why is leadership so important to them? Are they secretly coveting leadership themselves, for all the wrong reasons?
“I was curious when it included an article about divorce and remarriage. It really saddened me when he not only would not allow divorce for even adultery, but stated that remarriage is never possible, unless the former spouse dies! That is stricter than I have ever encountered.”
Wendell, are you aware that this is also John Piper’s position? It’s also the position of my former church. The pastor even said to me “Jeff, if God wants you to remarry he can take her at any time.”
That should be a red flag about the end result of this theology right there.
Yeah, I figured Piper and Ryrie were of the same ilk. I am still learning who teaches what.
Jeff, I don’t know if this was intended to be part of the sarcasm, but it’s exactly what they’d say. I mean, it’s pretty close to what I was told, at any rate.
I’m curious about what the “no divorce for any reason” camp advises a person to do if their adulterous spouse contracts an STD. Have any of them ever addressed this? What if a husband contracts HIV and his wife is pregnant. Should she continue to have sex with him and risk transmitting it to the baby? Do they then advise no sex? Or condoms only? Or is the spouse just supposed to trust God that she won’t catch anything? Surely they must have a perfectly worded, flowery, black and white answer.
The innocent party would then have the opportunity to patiently suffer for Christ, showing the world how God treats covenant-breakers. They could pray and pray and pray and one day a miraculous cure might take place. OR the victim would be advised to submit to sex anyway and die of HIV as a martyr. Ok, for some in that camp this is sarcasm, but the scary thing is that I bet there are some who would actually agree with this nonsense.
JM, I’m certain they’d agree to a no sex marriage. They would say no one is “entitled” to sex, just like no one is entitled to a happy or safe marriage.
And for what it’s worth, my church actually did say divorce “happens” (whatever that means) but we are just to remain single (because you aren’t truly divorced).
The idea that you can’t remarry because you are not truly divorced comes straight out of Roman Catholicism.
The Catholics have a whole other route to get around this: they ‘annul’ the marriage by saying “It was never a true marriage in the first place.” After an annulment, you can remarry,… actually, they consider it marrying for the first time because the other marriage wasn’t a real marriage… stumble, stumble, mumbo jumbo, if you ask me.
I believe that is a big part of the problem. These women’s marriages and homelives are a mess too, and there may be some resentment that I am escaping that and they don’t have the courage.
Yup. The D word quiets a room full of people.
So does the A word, especially if it is Domestic A….
But if you put it to those Christians that they practice shunning, they will look at you in disbelief and denial. “What? Shunning? That’s what cults do! We don’t do that!”
right….also, I think these women might be threatened by having a single woman around their husbands. Weird, but I’ve heard that more than once from women who have been in my same position.
THANK YOU, Wendell. Goodness!!! Good words.
On the same subject as Jodi I was told by a married man that I shouldn’t talk (and we were just talking mind you) to the single man that I was talking to because I was married and thinking about divorce and could cause him to be “tempted” WHAT!!! Now I am an evil temptress???
Well if it is woman’s responsibility to ensure men avoid temptation, they would have to lock themselves up in a closet! I know some men who are tempted by the word ‘woman’. I laugh when I think of the few occasions in my life where a woman actually did try to tempt me. It went right over my head! I didn’t figure it out until I described the conversations to my wife and she told me.
Of course, I remember a recent study that said that over 80% of men confuse a woman being nice with sexual flirtation. In any case, whatever happened to personal responsibility on the part of the man? Are we Muslim or what?
I know, it’s sickening isn’t it?
I know a woman who was separated from her abuser, had thrown her wedding ring into the dog food can in the trash bin, and was deliberately dressing down to avoid male attention, because she was so scared of men. One time at church during the coffee time, a man and her were conversing – no big deal, all in public, etc. The pastor’s wife came up to her afterwards and said, (and I quote)
“Well, are you going to go back to your husband, or are you going to go on being a floozie?”
By simply existing, we are deemed to be seductresses…
I know, Bethany, it’s sickening isn’t it?
I know a woman who was separated from her abuser, had thrown her wedding ring into the dog food can in the trash bin, and was deliberately dressing down to avoid male attention, because she was so scared of men. One time at church during the coffee time, a man and her were conversing – no big deal, all in public, etc. The pastor’s wife came up to her afterwards and confronted her by saying (and I quote),
“Well, are you going to go back to your husband, or are you going to go on being a floozie?”
By simply existing, we are deemed to be seductresses… But if over 80 % of men confuse a woman being nice with sexual flirtation, then I guess that explains a lot.
Hmm… we are expected to be nice (friendly, courteous, kind, sympathetic, warm, never frown, always be interested in other people… all those ‘feminine’ qualities) but when we are that way to men, we are seen as flirting. Is that a double bind or what?
Actually, this is a really big thing that swims under the surface of gender relations, and I believe it’s one of the reasons why men have more privilege than women do, and one reason why men don’t realize they have more privilege than women. Men can be nice without it being interpreted as anything other than niceness. Women, on the other hand, always have to walk on eggshells wondering whether their niceness is being interpreted as flirtation. We are not free.
Jeff S, that is what Ryrie was saying. Even if you are divorced, the bond remains until death.
Yes. That was the whole deal at my old church- so pretty much my entire support system. I am very familiar with their arguments and how they “get there” from scripture.
However, at least a few them actually supported the idea of divorce as long as the goal was to bring my wife to repentance so we could get remarried (because in their eyes, that’s what God did with Israel- it’s actually interesting how this ties into a dispensational view of history).
I have heard that Ryrie is divorced (that his wife left him), though I can find no firm source. But I do note in interviews when asked about his family he only answers to talk about his children.
It is interesting that they would hold out the possibility of remarrying a former spouse since the Old Testament prohibits it. A view to which Ryrie completely agrees.
I think they would say that what is prohibited is remarrying after you’ve married another, so that’s how they’d get around that.
And besides, you’re not REALLY divorced, just like God never was to Israel (in their view).
Wendell, you might be interested in the take by Dan Smedra, a Dispensationalist who runs withchrist.org. He is in complete alignment with Instone-Brewer and defends it from a Dispensational perspective.
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: A Trans-Dispensational Viewpoint [Internet Archive link]
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage [Internet Archive link]
Thanks. I will take a look. I was just telling Jeff C in email that I am like the late Walter Martin in that I am probably a modified dispensationalist.
Have you read Instone-Brewer’s article, Three Weddings and a Divorce? I thought it was very well argued and didn’t really see that it was necessarily or essentially incompatible with a Dispensational approach, though I don’t believe IB is Dispensational.
Three Weddings and A Divorce: God’s Covenant with Israel, Judah and the Church [Internet Archive link]
What’s a modified Dispensationalist?
I tried to post on this before but the comment seems to have gone off into cyberspace. Maybe because I tried to put 2 links in so I’ll just put 1 here.
Regarding the differences between Piper and Ryrie, and/or a Dispensational connection to the permanence, view, I don’t think that’s what’s going on since Piper and Ryrie are on different ends of the spectrum on Dispensationalism. Apparently, you can get to the permanence view via several different roads. Rome certainly holds the permanence view and they are by no means Dispensational.
In fact, I do know of a Dispensationalist by the name of Dan Smedra who is in staunch agreement with Instone-Brewer and makes the argument from a Dispensational perspective, if you are interested in reading it.
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: A Trans-Dispensational Viewpoint [Internet Archive link]
Maybe somebody can offer me correction in my thinking? Nothing gets me riled like the oppression or stripping of what should be a womans right to her own womanhood…..I thought Man was made in the image of God? And you are to be come ONE in marriage, I assume that means two halfs coming together….one being a part of Gods attributes, the other being the other attributes of gods personality and traits. Women have all these equal but different attributes, with them continually being oppressed by mans church, seems like the Church will continue being off balance. Like Jodi told me how it seem to her women are taught to be reserved and quiet, to hold back their god given attributes, only to be applied in public when “told”. Like this woman counseler sher mention who told her “”Now remember girls your quiet demeaners” because she was just a girl she had her joy snuffed out. Imagine how oppressed this woman must have been, she did not behave godly by telling two girls “”Remember to behave as I tell you!?”” …..not as God already made you. Its true also, these marriages within the church will NEVER be Godly with such an imbalance, and dismissing the purpose of a complete gender?
Barbara, what that lady said to her, was such common thinking stemming from many brainwashed women who do not trust their own spouses, so they bully innocent women….If a man “looks”” its the evil womans fault for existing, luring him with her feminine woes. I have never heard the church ONCE hold a man accountable for adultry. I have heard them say in fact, “”Ladies your men have needs, and if they are not met at home, he will stray””…..its not proper for a woman to stand next to her spouse, rather she is to remain silent, two steps behind, and smile about it! Even other women are put up to bullying victoms!!! What that lady said, accussing this poor women of being a floozie, was abuse!!! Why then would not a man come and repremand the man that was talking to her? Why? Because women are not following the Holy Spirit of God in them BUT listening to the retorhic of Men in the church who have know Idea how to honour their wives as equal heirs to the kingdom of God!!!
I am personally a huge fan of the Yankees!!! I love NY anything, and the last game I went to brought me so much joy, that the people sitting next to me offered me up some valium!!! They did it in a spirit of happinness, not wanting to take my joy but letting me know, “WOW? She REALLY loves the Yankees”” Get me into a Nicks game and just pray you are not sitting in front of me!!!!
Jodi that women was just a JOY stealer, and why bother going if you cannot engage in being there? Like at church, show up, go through the props, say what is proper, smile purty, dont get too excited during worship, tell people ALWAYS what they want to hear, put your money in the cup, dont look around you, ask for prayer if your spouse is in need, let them blow smoke up your skirt and like it or else! WHEW!! I am not sure what got me going more, a church counselor telling two teenage girls to be quiet at a Yankees game, or this lunatic who accused some poor woman of being a Floozie!!!! Seriously where is GRACE or LOVE in either?
I think Patrick Swayze got it more right when he said “Nobody puts Baby in a Corner!” He knew he could not dance without his partner!
Sorry the Yankee story came from “”Just Me”” sorry about that.
Memphis- Genesis says that both man and woman are made in the image of God. I’m not sure if the idea of men having some of God’s attributes and women having another set is taught in Scripture. I think the idea is to emphasize that man (meaning – humans) are of a character distinct from animals. Only human beings are made in the image of God. But a single person can be and really is, a whole person. I don’t think that marriage takes two halves and makes a whole. They complete one another in the sense of solving the issue of aloneness. I wonder if the Trinity doesn’t help us here? God the Son is a person. Fully and completely. So is God the Father and God the Spirit. They are 3 persons in one godhead. Yet each is a person.
That’s a great way of putting it, Jeff.
Aaah! Yes I understand. We are whole as one. That makes even more sense how scripture gets turned around to make a complete mess of what was Gods intention for it. I have heard MEN teach “Men are in the image of God” Not woman, she was like an after thought. They omitt the mankind, as in all humans.
Thanks, no wonder I am all messed up!
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Gen 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Note the dominion was given to THEM.
I was very good at giving “pat” answers, at wearing a mask. I don’t know if anyone saw through the act, I was never asked.
In reading the original post and the comments generated, I think I would have been blind to the intent of any questions. I had no experience of anything other than abusive relationships.
The desire to have deeper relationships is part of who I am – I get so tired of the the endless talk about weather, the latest “talk show facts”, or “reality show” tactics.
The thought just crossed my mind….
I am used to giving “pat” answers to my abusers.
I am used to giving “pat” answers to the rest of the world.
Perhaps this is affecting my relationship with God.