Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt believe that abuse is grounds for divorce

We are pleased to inform our readers that we know of two Christian leaders who believe that domestic abuse is grounds for divorce. Carl Trueman is a Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and has been a Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals since 2004. Todd Pruitt has just been elected lead pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) Harrisonburg VA. Together they produce a regular podcast  at the Alliance’s webpage called The Mortification of Spin (neat name, eh?)

Listen to the Mortification of Spin podcast called What is the church to do? in which Carl and Todd discuss how they believe that domestic abuse is grounds for divorce.

I have transcribed what to me are the most important sound bites from the podcast.   I did not always use ellipses to indicate omitted words as I am only trying to convey a summary of their teaching.  Any transcription errors are mine, and if you notice any, shoot me an email.

I think their teaching needs to be applauded even if it is not quite as good on some details as we might like. From their platform in the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, these men have taken a public stand and said that the ‘no divorce for abuse’ camp has a bad hermeneutic. Those who are following the controversy on divorce doctrine will know that this is a bold thing to say, given the landscape of opposing interpretations held by some of the big shots in Christendom. It is great that some well known leaders are standing up against wrong doctrine on divorce, rather than sitting silent on the sidelines. As we often say on this blog, neutrality is not neutral: bystander passivity and silence serves the interests of the perpetrators. So I congratulate Trueman and Pruitt for taking a biblical and public stand about divorce for domestic abuse.

* * * * *

Trueman  Spousal abuse constitutes desertion. . . somebody who is unrepentantly committed to long term physical and/or mental abuse of their spouse I would say has deserted them, because desertion is a quantity that is reflected by dereliction of duty, rather than abandonment of space, if I could put it that way. The husband who is failing to fulfill a Christlike role in his marriage has abandoned his wife, he’s abandoned his post: he may still be living in the marital home but he’s not there as a husband any more. So if a lady came to me in my church and said “My husband is beating me black and blue, may I divorce him?” I would say “Yes.”

Pruitt  As we think about adultery, as we think about desertion, I would say they are grounds for divorce precisely because they are a profound violation of the covenant of marriage. . . .What bothers me is that there are prominent groups and prominent evangelicals who say that spousal abuse is NOT grounds for divorce and they do so on hermeneutical grounds saying that ‘the Bible doesn’t say that,’  but I think that’s a flawed hermeneutic. . . . it’s missing the larger principle of why divorce is granted in those cases, meaning a profound, breaking violation of the covenant of marriage.

Trueman I absolutely agree. When you understand marriage in Christological terms, I mean, this could never happen but if Christ was no longer Saviour of the church, now it’s a tautology, He would no longer be the bridegroom! — I think if the husband is abusing his wife and is no longer trying to fulfill that Christ-reflecting role for his wife, he’s no longer the bridegroom, she’s released from the bond, and if she remarries I don’t think she’s committing adultery.

Pruitt The people who say spousal abuse is not grounds for divorce because a verse does not say ‘If your husband beats you you may divorce him,” are using a bad hermeneutic.

Trueman It leads to abusive results as well. Women trapped in violent and dangerous marriages cannot get out, cannot get the help they need.

Pruitt And it’s a failure to pastor them well. If we send a battered woman back into that abusive marriage, pastorally it’s dereliction of duty.

Trueman Here’s a practical question: a woman comes to you and says, “My husband broke my arm.” Or, “My husband’s been beating me and I’ve been hospitalized two or three times by his behavior towards me.” Would you encourage her to call the police?

Pruitt  Absolutely. In that kind of case, the first thing you do is get her into a safe place physically and the second thing you do is help her do what is necessary legally to press charges against her abuser. . . . The church is to honor those civil laws. . . And every church needs to be very ready to know how to they are going to respond to that situation.

Trueman Here’s a tough question — what if it’s a he said / she said? “He’s beating me!” “No I’m not!” . . .

Pruitt I would not want to say we always side with the putative victim. Clearly we can’t know everybody exhaustively . . . and clearly we can be fooled. . . . It requires a lot of wisdom and it requires elders and pastors that are very active in the lives of those who are in their church. . . . we’ve got to know our congregants well enough so that we can at least make an educated guess in those situations. . . [and] the session has to be ready to sit down with each of partner and do an extensive interview to get an idea.

Trueman . . . most if not all of the people listening to our podcast are probably complementarian: they see a definite distinction between the genders . . . one thing I think that complementarians have to realize is that the feminists are right when they say that complementarianism can be used for abusive purposes. They’re wrong I think when they say that it’s always has to be used for abusive purposes, but certainly I’ve chatted to guys who clearly think that male headship means bottom line is they can treat their wives like chattels.

Pruitt And that “I’m not accountable to my wife!”

Trueman Yes; and this should be a warning shot to pastors . . . let’s not so react against feminism that we forget that what we teach still has to be taught in a nuanced way, a loving way, a way that isn’t going to empower abusive men to abuse their wives, because that does happen. We look at the child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church and we can tend to take a Pharisaical attitude to that, but we’ve got to realize that domestic abuse of all kinds is rife in Protestant circles as well.

Pruitt  Yes, and we have to be very careful as in our churches to think through specific policies to have in writing so that all of our officers will know: this is the way you respond husband or wife comes forward with allegations of abuse . . .

There is a bit of discussion about this podcast at the Alliance Of Confessing Evangelicals’ Facebook page. If  you appreciate the podcast, go here and ‘like’ their post: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

17 thoughts on “Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt believe that abuse is grounds for divorce”

  1. Thanks for posting this Barbara. I know I haven’t been online much with all that’s been going on in my life, but this article was refreshing to read in that they certainly got it right. Biblical adultery is essentially impurity, uncleanness. Abuse in marriage, be it physical, mental or emotional is an impure, unclean, adulterated defiling of the holy institution God has ordained.

  2. The Bible is the great basis for our lives. It gives us some very precise direction about right and wrong. I do not believe, however, that is lists every possible scenario. There are some things that are not in black and white. These are considered ‘gray’ areas where we need to search our souls and hearts and pray to determine what is right. Even though I stayed with my husband for over 37 years until he died, it was because I chose to. In all reality, I feel I would have been completely justified in leaving him because of the constant abuse. God never intended marriage to be anything except uplifting, loving, and caring. Sure, we are human and we take the good with the bad, forgiving mistakes. But when there is something like constant abuse and hurt, the marriage is no longer a true marriage. God’s plans are not being honored.

  3. Wow! That was refreshing. The first book I read on the subject of divorce was Dr. R. B. Ouellette. I can’t remember the title but have it at home. I was so happy to read someone who believed that domestic abuse was real and came in all kinds of ways. He considered a person who abused their spouse to be guilty of desertion even if they chose to leave. Why would they leave when they can do whatever they want, when they want, and you are helpless to do anything about it. I am learning that just isn’t true.

  4. I’m very thankful to have heard this podcast and the strong words against abuse and protection of victims in both areas of abuse: spousal abuse and sex abuse. This needs to get spread around in a bigger way. I’ll try to keep it going, too.

  5. I think this is great and I’m very glad they did this podcast! I just hope that church leaders will extend this thinking to all forms of abuse within the walls of the church – not just spousal abuse but child sexual abuse and everything else. We know this stuff is wrong but we need these men to stand up for justice and throwing out the wolves from the flock!! As you said Barbara, no more sitting on the sidelines while evil is being done ! No more apologizing for the wicked and not adequately protecting the most vulnerable in our congregations!
    Perhaps, finally, the CRY FOR JUSTICE is being heard. 🙂

  6. This is encouraging but still pretty lukewarm. If she says, “He is beating me.” doesn’t that require a call to the police. What difference does it make if he denies it? That is the job of the police, District Attorney and Judicial system, not their pastor? That is perfectly clear if someone tells the pastor she has been sexually assaulted.
    Perhaps Pastor Jeff could comment here?

  7. I am glad Trueman has come out on the side of divorce for abuse. He’s an important voice in this day and age and this should be helpful.

  8. Barbara,

    I have a question about your book. On page 103 RE: “verify the godliness of their divorce by submitting it to a church court” for a disciplinary divorce under the Implications heading. My church is going to say what they said when I went to the Pastor 3 years ago; go home, he just needs to get saved. He is claiming to have “found God”, has taken the required class for membership, has not been baptized, and has not been accepted for membership. The church really doesn’t have authority over him at this point. This is actually the first time I have heard of a church court. In the state that I live in we have “no fault” divorce, which really doesn’t set well with me. In my case someone was at fault. Many years of at fault. If you could untangle the web in my brain over this one, I’d appreciate it.


    1. Dear Brenda, your question is the one that I most often receive from my readers. I am preparing a post to answer it, so stay tuned. It will say that I have modified my thoughts that I wrote at page 103 since my book was published, and it will explain what my current view is on that tricky question. I will try to get it out soon! Bless you. And be assured that what I will be saying will put your mind more at ease.

  9. As much as one is grateful to see that more people who are ‘in the ministry’ are understanding that abuse IS a biblically-valid ‘grounds for divorce’ — I find it disturbing that so many still believe that this can ONLY take place IF the target is “beaten black and blue” or “hospitalized.

    It falsely-implies that if the target is “just getting slapped around a bit” and / or the target is “just being threatened with (more or even initial) acts of violence” — such behavior would not fall into the category of biblical grounds for divorce.

    Someone once let me hear a recording of a certain “christian-radio” dj who made the outrageous statement that “IF” a woman were “being beaten to within an inch of her life” … he could possibly ‘tolerate’ the idea of a “temporary separation” from her violent
    husband … “but she still can’t divorce him because he has not shown any acts of infidelity toward her” (as if she had made some sort of agreement to accept being ‘violated’ as part of her wedding vows).

    More people who are “in the ministry” need to understand that it is NOT “their” job to create some sort of “hierarchy of suffering” in which “they” are allowed to use their sliding-scale (which is usually based on a double-standard) of “which acts of violence” fall into their views of “biblical” responses and consequences.

    1. Someone once let me hear a recording of a certain “christian-radio” dj who made the outrageous statement that “IF” a woman were “being beaten to within an inch of her life” … he could possibly ‘tolerate’ the idea of a “temporary separation” from her violent
      husband … “but she still can’t divorce him because he has not shown any acts of infidelity toward her” (as if she had made some sort of agreement to accept being ‘violated’ as part of her wedding vows).

      Oh for crying out loud. 😡

      More people who are “in the ministry” need to understand that it is NOT “their” job to create some sort of “hierarchy of suffering” in which “they” are allowed to use their sliding-scale (which is usually based on a double-standard) of “which acts of violence” fall into their views of “biblical” responses and consequences.

      What an excellent point! Also, that “he could possibly tolerate…” Who does he think he is? She is supposed to stay in this misery for his sake now? This yahoo who doesn’t even know her and clearly doesn’t care about her At. All.? The unmitigated arrogance…

  10. 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.


    In the podcast, Pruitt and Trueman recommend that a pastor ought not automatically believe a person who says that “I’m being abused by my spouse.” I have some concerns about that line they’ve taken. Here is a post we published a while ago about believing the victim:

    Believing and Responding to Victims (advice for pastors, Part 2, by Ps Jeff Crippen)

  11. Thank you brothers for your insights. I am not a pastor or seminary graduate, so I do refer to God’s word on divorce so you have challenged me with your comments. Interestingly, your comments seem to be directed at men abusing women. As a victim of physical and mental abuse as a man from an ex-wife, I think you should base your comments on true “spousal” abuse, not just a man abusing a woman. I am sorry if my comments don’t make biblical sense, which is all that matters . . . God bless you

    [Eds note: some of this comment has been removed because we do not allow discussion of the statistics of the relative gender rates of abuse on this blog.]

    1. James I have approved your comment in an edited form.

      I don’t know why you say ‘thank you brothers’ as this blog is led and run by both a male (Ps Jeff Crippen) and a female (myself). Maybe you were referring to Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, but they did not write this post, and I doubt they have even read it. The author of this post was me, and I don’t like someone thanking ‘brothers’ for writing the post when they ought to be thanking me! I”m sure you can understand that.

      We do acknowledge that men can be victims of domestic abuse — see our side bar, under the definition of “What is Abuse?”

      We do not use the term ‘spousal abuse’ very often as it is very aloof and clinical. We will not be changing our policy on this. The male survivors of abuse who participate in this blog are not so put off by the way we use language that they eschew our blog. We encourage males who are genuine victims/survivors of abuse to reverse the genders of nouns and pronouns in their heads, if they need to.

      Some males pose as victims when they are in fact perpetrators. We find this happens pretty often, and we are not alone in this observation as many professional domestic abuse practitioners have observed this too.

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