Divorce for Abuse Argued from Colossians 2

I talk a lot about divorce these days.  To do so brands you in most Christian circles as a troublemaker at best and an enemy of Christ at worst.  I think that I am neither.  Well, I am a troublemaker to the extent that I trouble those who trouble victims of abuse by demanding that they have no right to divorce a spouse who is an abuser.  But then, like Elijah, I hope that I can say “I have not troubled Israel, but you have.”

I talk and write about divorce because this is the thing that must be acknowledged if we are going to deal justice to victims.  God redeemed Israel, bringing them out of cruel enslavement to Pharaoh.  He did the same for us in His Son at the cross.  Exodus.  Leaving.  Departure.  That is His way.  As long as someone insists that the victim of domestic abuse has no right before God to depart that already destroyed marriage covenant, then that person still enables the wicked.

As I have been preaching through Colossians, I have been impressed that this teaching that an abuse victim is bound to their abuser is entirely inconsistent with what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians.  No, with what he commanded the Colossians.  Here is a sample of it —

Colossians 2:4-8 ESV (4)  I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (5)  For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (6)  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, (7)  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (8)  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:15-23 ESV (15)  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (16)  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (17)  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (18)  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, (19)  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (20)  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–(21)  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”(22)  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? (23)  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

A Christian is not to be taken captive.  We are to be on guard for any teaching that is the invention of man and not the Word of God.  We are not to permit anyone to pass judgment upon us because we will not submit ourselves to their warped “gospel” of asceticism and severe treatment of our body.  And in particular, we are not to submit to systems of thought (deceptive philosophies which are not according to Christ) that seem wise and plausible at first, but which consist of “ideas hatched in the brain of man” [John Calvin’s phrase] and smack of the flavor of “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” in reference to things that all perish.  In other words, legalistic rules that are applied to things like food, dress, and…..marriage.  Yes, marriage.  It is a temporal thing, right?

And so today here we have all of these teachers and Christian leaders in the church, numbers of whom are quite popular, working hard to judge us and bring us into submission to their human precepts and teachings.  The command of Scripture is that we reject them.  And if we follow the Apostle Paul’s dealings with Peter in Galatians, we also name the person, name their error, and we do so in the presence of everyone.  [When is the last time you heard “those of reputation” publicly rebuke one of their own as Paul rebuked Peter?]

Listen to our friend Judith Herman, writing in the fourth chapter of her wonderful book, Trauma and Recovery [Affiliate link].  Her chapter is entitled simply, Captivity.

A single traumatic event can occur almost anywhere.  Prolonged, repeated trauma, by contrast, occurs only in circumstances of captivity.  When the victim is free to escape, she will not be abused a second time; repeated trauma occurs only when the victim is a prisoner, unable to flee, and under the control of the perpetrator.  Such conditions obviously exist in prisons, concentration camps, and slave labor camps.  These conditions may also exist in religious cults, in brothels and other institutions of organized sexual exploitation, and in families. [emphasis mine]

Political captivity is generally recognized, whereas the domestic captivity of women and children is often unseen.  A man’s home is his castle; rarely is it understood that the same home may be a prison for women and children.  In domestic captivity, physical barriers to escape are rare.  In most homes, even the most oppressive, there are no bars on the windows, no barbed wire fences.  Women and children are not ordinarily chained, though even this occurs more often than one might think.  The barriers to escape are generally invisible.  They are nonetheless extremely powerful.  Children are rendered captive by their condition of dependency.  Women are rendered captive by economic, social, psychological, and legal subordination, as well as by physical force.  [We would add, religious subordination as well].

Captivity, which brings the victim into prolonged contact with the perpetrator, creates a special type of relationship, one of coercive control.  This is equally true whether the victim is taken captive entirely by force, as in the case of prisoners and hostages, or by a combination of force, intimidation, and enticement, as in the case of religious cult members, battered women, and abused children.  The psychological impact of subordination to coercive control may have many common features, whether that subordination occurs within the public sphere of politics or within the private sphere of sexual and domestic relations.

In situations of captivity, the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator.  [Emphasis mine].

Now, unless Christians who oppose divorce for abuse are willing to pronounce Judith Herman and many other professionals who have studied and researched trauma, wrong, then all they are going to be left with is two alternatives.  1)  “But it is different with Christians. The Christian will never let the abuser’s actions and beliefs affect her.  It’s different for Christians.”  Or, 2) Being in a prison camp or concentration camp or being held captive in a basement by a criminal is different than living with and being bound to an abuser.

Neither of these options will hold water.  Study and talk to Christians who have been in prolonged relationship with abusers.  Ask them to tell their stories.  Have them tell you what those years of abuse did to them.  Talk with them and work with them to try and help them come out of the fog and to become a person once again.  No, abuse victims suffer the very same effects and in many ways they suffer even more severely that someone in a wartime prison camp.  Why?  Because in war, the enemy is plainly visible to all.  But when it comes to the abuser, well, listen to Judith Herman again:

Little is known about the mind of the perpetrator.  Since he is contemptuous of those who seek to understand him, he does not volunteer to be studied.  Since he does not perceive that anything is wrong with him, he does not seek help — unless he is in trouble with the law. His most consistent feature, in both the testimony of victims and the observations of psychologists, is his apparent normality. Ordinary concepts of psychopathology fail to define or comprehend him.

Did you hear that, pastors and Christian experts on marriage and the family?  Psychologists have trouble identifying and understanding these abusers!  Why should we pastors or Christians or theologians be so puffed up that we claim that we can?  “Well, because we have the Bible.”  Yes, we have the Bible.  But even in light of Scripture which does indeed tell us about the psychopathology of evil and sin, we don’t get it!  How do I know?  Because I know how miserably most church leaders deal with victims of abuse and how they are duped by the abuser.

I know that many people will disagree with me and insist that I am not handling Scripture accurately here.  So be it.  But the message I get from Colossians 2 is that a Christian does not need – no, a Christian must not – permit anyone to judge them nor force any man-made traditions upon them that would bind them in a captivity that destroys their person, fogs their mind, and thereby necessarily distances them from Christ and brings an evil person into prominence in their every waking moment.


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.

22 thoughts on “Divorce for Abuse Argued from Colossians 2”

  1. Thank you Pastor Ciippen for sharing your thoughts and words. God does not want us to be abused or in bondage. He wants us to be free. Christ died so that we may all be FREE.
    I am one who is in agreement with your words. Please continue to share the good news with the nations so that all may know that they are FREE in Christ.

  2. Pastor Jeff,

    Forgive me, but I had to take what you quoted and post it on facebook… “As long as someone insists that the victim of domestic abuse has no right before God to depart that already destroyed marriage covenant, then that person still enables the wicked.” There is something very liberating when statements like this come from a pastor. We have been given the keys to the Kingdom. ACFJ is truly unlocking what has been shut for too long in the church. Sincerely, THANK YOU. The church is responsible for proclaiming truth. The truth MUST be faced. You are speakin His truth. I hear God’s voice through what this article. Thank You. Truth really DOES set us free. The days of “NOT wanting to know” are long gone.

  3. How much I wish you and your blog had been around before 2009. I struggled for so long with this burden, and no one in the church had an answer that made sense.
    Truly our God loves us. You can’t reconcile a father who loves…with a father who beats you and tears you down.

  4. Thank you for sharing these truths. I need them. I need to know that God does not force me to stay and be abused or watch my children be abused either. I need to know that I am not hell bound, because I choose to be free from dark and deep oppression. I need to know that God loves me and loves my children, and does not orchestrate or ordain abuse, and that He likewise hates it and never condones it – that He frees His people to live lives of peace, abundant peace through Him.

    The one thing that is so confusing to me, is when it is put out there, that if you are really trusting God and relying on Him, like you should be as a Christian, you can still live in the midst of the abuse and be joyful and happy; and that you just are not a strong enough Christian, so you need to buck up a little bit, in order to be able to endure the abuse, and realize that God is building His Kingdom through it. You wouldn’t want to stop that now, would you? These things are killers to victims, I being one.

    1. Yes, this idea that for some, to suffer is “your lot in life”- and by submitting to it you are honoring God. That was the perspective of my church. They believed everything I said was true and that my marriage was destorying me, but they also believed it was God’s will for me- that my situation was no different than a missionary risking his or her life in a hostile enviornment. It is a very helpless feeling to be believed and told that it doesn’t matter. It destroyed my hope.

      In the end, I had to ask how my pain was glorifying to God. Was becoming a toy for another’s wants really honoring to God? Was that why he created me? I don’t think so- I believe God created me who I am for a reason, and not to be a shell of a person emptied out for the sake of my marriage.

      Some song lyrics I wrote reflecting on that (still a work in progress):

      Does anyone care who I am?
      They all told me it was OK
      That the way God created me to be
      Should all be wiped away

      Should I remove the part of me
      That only wants to live in peace
      To overcome my simple hope
      That one day I could be free

      Could I allow all that I am to be twisted and destroyed
      Sacrificed so I could be nothing more than someone’s toy?

      But a still small voice calls out to me
      And says I’m forever his
      That he loves me and he knows me
      And desires that I live
      He wants me to be loved
      He wants me to be whole
      He created me to be who I am
      And he is in control

      1. Copying, pasting, printing these words. Do you have any Scriptures that really helped you understand that God’s creating you was not just for the purpose of suffering so that someone else could be saved? I will look at your other post. I will be surprised if I missed it, but I have been known to miss some posts here and there! Thanks!

      2. No- I don’t have any specific scriptures- more like narratives.

        For instance, in Acts we see Paul flee persecution over and over again, but note that he did submit to persecution when it was for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. The issue is that when did suffering for a marriage equate to preaching the Gospel? I don’t see there is any scripture to back up that idea, and certainly no one on the outside looking in saw my pain an thought about the love of Jesus and was driven toward repentance.

        So the real question is, what purpose are victims of domestics abuse really suffering for? How is it the Gospel? Or are they just being abused for something that appears to be Godly because it’s about enduring pain, but really holds no value?

      3. Also, I guess I’ll say beyond looking at Paul and even Jesus fleeing threatening situations, there’s also the clear indication in scripture that God is interested in us as individuals.

        I think some have a misconception that true service to God means a total emptying ourselves of who we are- that to become perfectly Christ-like means we as individuals no longer exist. This isn’t explicitly stated by anyone, but it is the logical conclusion of how a lot of people preach these days. If you are hurt, empty yourself of the ability to feel pain. If you are angry, empty yourself of the ability to feel angry. Once you’ve tamed and put all of these human limitations into submission, THEN you will be truly Christ-like.

        I think this way of thinking has far more to do with eastern religions that talk about collective concious and divesting ourselves of our individuality. By contrast, the Bible is clearly a book written with individuals in mind. The way God speaks to us is through individuals with their own stamps of “self” imprinted on their words. Moses, Mak, Paul, Luke, and Peter all have their own styles and sense of self that comes through in their writing, and God does not seek to eliminate these differences, but rather uses them to show that he is not only Lord over all these different people, but that the way they were created as individuals is a good thing.

        I think God is VERY interested in our identities- the indentities in scripture and how God uses them to teach us illustrate this very well. And demanding that someone accept status as a “toy” for another individual to abuse is a direct assault at that identity. Is it consistent with a god who “is love” that he created me with all these attributes that basically are meaningless next to the demands of my ex? I don’t think it is.

  5. Thank you Jeff! This was a wonderful article. An empowering reminder that God does not want us enslaved to an abusive spouse allowing him/her to continue indulging in the flesh…entitlement, power, ABUSE.

  6. Thank you Jeff! You are truly like Jonathan was to David for us…and are “next to us.” “David in the Wilderness: But not Alone” would be a good book title. David experienced TRAUMA by Jonathan’s father king Saul, but at first, Jonathan did NOT know it.

    Jonathan loved David as his own soul and the 2 of them made a covenant together. David, now “employed” by Saul, “…behaved wisely in all his ways, and the Lord was with him…when Saul saw that he behaved very wisely, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David…” (! Sam 18:14-16). Saul’s jealousy ignites his plot of deception, lies and destruction of David and begins by offering David his daughter Michal “…so that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him” (1 Sam 18:21). Saul says “nicely” to David, “You shall be my son-in-law today” (1 Sam 21) and told his servants to secretly “sweet talk” David into accepting Saul’s offer and David does.

    David successes drove Saul crazy and Saul “…knew that the Lord was with David…and Saul was still more afraid of David” (1 Sam 18:29). And David, still not knowing Saul’s motives to all the “niceness,” “…behaved more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his [David’s] name became highly esteemed” (I Sam 18:30). Then Saul openly plots to kill David, but Jonathan redirects him and brings David back into Saul’s presence. David is “safe” for now. UNTIL, David has more war successes which re-ignites Saul’s jealousy (whose power and position are threatened by this dude David) and with the “special delivery” of a distressing spirit upon Saul by God Himself, “…Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear…so David FLED and ESCAPED that night” (1 Sam 19:10) NOTE: David did not ask permission from the elders to do this.

    David, in his “fog” of bewilderment, asked Jonathan: “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Sam 20:1). And read verse 2! Jonathan is deceived at first by his father and “reassures” David that his father won’t harm him. NOT! And David KNOWS the truth as seen in vs 3: “…there is but a step between me and death.” Anyone ever felt this way?!!!

    David and Jonathan plan some good half-lies to reveal Saul’s true intentions, to see if indeed Saul is up to evil, and if so, Jonathan will send David the report and send him away “…so that you may go in safety.” Jonathan, who loved David as his own soul (1 Sam 20:17) was not more concerned about “building Saul’s kingdom,” but rather more concerned for David’s well being and preservation of David’s life! Ever heard this lie? “Be content, submit to his [abusive] headship, and by doing so, you are building God’s kingdom.” gag

    LONG story coming to a close, Jonathan finds out that his father Saul WAS angry and intended only evil towards David and places false accusations and guilt on his own son Jonathan AND tossed his spear at him, but missed! ha Jonathan “arose from the table in fierce anger…for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully” (1 Sam 20:34). Jonathan know SEES CLEARLY that his father is out to get David, they kiss, weep, and Jonathan blesses David with “go in peace” as they go their separate ways, David to caves and the wilderness and Jonathan back to the city (1 Sam 20:42ff).

    Jonathan, being a TRUE friend to David, meets David in the woods (who is in HIDING) and “…strengthened his [David’s] hand in the Lord” and said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I SHALL BE NEXT TO YOU…” (1 Sam 23:16-17) And they made another covenant together.

    Thank you, Jeff, for being next to us, fighting for us, since you’ve experienced abuse firsthand and are more aware of what goes on behind closed doors in many homes because you took time to listen. You truly are strengthening our hand in the Lord!

  7. Jeff, my Sunday School Class is currently studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy. While preparing yesterday’s lesson I took note of this passage from 1 Timothy 4: 1-5.

    But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

    Don’t miss verse 3, “…men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods…”

    In this passage, Paul is specifically including meaningless rules about marriage in the same category with other meaningless false doctrines.

    And, in regard to these meaningless false doctrines, Paul said this in Chapter 1:6-7.

    For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

    What a perfect description of those who preach so authoritatively (yet so blindly) on the topic of marriage and divorce!

    1. Joe – excellent! Yes, these rules are in the same category of “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” And as Paul said, they actually only promote sin. This passage seems to indicate that such man-made enslaving traditions have, as their origin, the kingdom of darkness.

      1. Oh, absolutely! Paul specifically says that the origin of these false doctrines are “…deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” That’s pretty explicit!

  8. this is wonderful! did you know that abuse (witnessed or experienced) by children can change pathways in the brain, shrink essential parts, hard wire responses, which distort reality for decades unless they get professional help? adults too go through this.

    i agree with the Bible that reading and reading and reading and doing can literally renew the mind but it doesn’t work until you get rid of the voices of legalism, distortions, lies, and half truths… and that means get away from those who words keep coming into your ears.

    women hear men. i think biologically, phsically, and mentally, for some reason, women are so attuned to men that they are easily misled at times, held captive, and cannot leave. (my theory only)

    the abused brain of victims is as much a part of the physical self as the external body. Christ is the head of the church. take that literally (and I do) that to means the most important part of the human is the brain… without which one cannot believe.

    does any of this make sense? science has proven the destructiveness of abuse on the brain literally and on the mind from that.

    how can anyone refuse the science of this when scripture backs it up? thoughts to feelings to actions… its there!

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