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.
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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