Church discipline and church permission for divorce – how my mind has changed
When I wrote Not Under Bondage, I emphasized the application of Matthew 18 for cases of domestic abuse.
Here in a nutshell is what I said about this in the first edition of Not Under Bondage.
If an abuser is a professing Christian, the victim of abuse should try to follow the steps of Matthew 18:15-17. Those steps entail asking the church to try to bring the abuser to repentance and if he does not repent, the church should treat him an unbeliever. If the abuser is deemed an unbeliever by that process, that would free the victim of abuse to divorce under 1 Corinthians 7:15.
I am revoking my previous teaching that a victim whose abuser is a professing believer must pursue Matthew 18 as far as it is within her power, and that a victim should always seek to have her decision to divorce verified by her church.
I now see that teaching as extra-biblical tradition. Like all man-made traditions, it is derived from biblical principles, but it turns the beautiful conception of biblical guidelines into a rigid cage that locks people into bondage, just like the religion of the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. It denies victims of abuse the freedom to discern the godliness and wisdom (or lack thereof) of the church hierarchy from whom they are receiving counsel. And since it binds the conscience of the victim to the ruling of the church hierarchy, it deprives the victim of freedom of conscience. And it dissuades the victim from heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
I would like to explain why I put such emphasis on the “take it to the church” principle of Matthew 18. Then I’d like to apologize and explain how my mind has changed.
Why I put such emphasis on Matthew 18 in the first edition of Not Under Bondage
Having spent years in the Presbyterian Church of Australia which is similar to the Presbyterian Church of America, I was familiar with the Westminster Confession and knew it to be highly esteemed in conservative evangelical circles. Regarding divorce, the Confession says that
a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.
The Confession’s claim that the divorcing parties should “not be left to their own wills and discretion” seems on the surface to align with Matthew 18:16-17. But curiously, the Confession doesn’t cite Matthew 18 in support of that paragraph; it only cites Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the passage where Moses mentions the husband issuing a divorce certificate to the wife. Deuteronomy 24 supports the idea of a public and orderly course proceeding in divorce, but doesn’t mention, let alone prescribe, taking the matter to the congregation (or the leaders) in order to obtain permission to divorce.
In the text of my book I chose not to mention the Westminster Confession when discussing Matthew 18 because I didn’t want to seem to be wielding a cudgel of tradition over victims’ heads. Many Christian victims of abuse are not familiar with the Westminster Confession; had I cited it in support for my treatment of Matthew 18, victims who don’t know the Confession might have perceived me as a someone who was untrustworthy because I inexplicably relied on the traditions of a bunch of faceless men, rather than Scripture. (No offense to the men who wrote the Confession, but they are unknown to some modern Christians.)
However, I was also mindful that pastors and theologians might be scrutinizing my book to see whether I diverged from the specifics of Matthew 18, and more particularly, to see whether I followed the principles of the Westminster Confession.
We don’t know why the writers of the Westminster Confession incorporated that paragraph about divorce. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think it’s possible that they were wisely wanting to set a hedge against divorces that might be taken out for ostensibly biblical reasons but in actuality are undertaken for reasons as trivial as “we have grown apart” or “my spouse is getting old and has lost her sex appeal.” Christian leaders would have been accustomed to being sought out for counsel on questions of divorce — it was a much debated topic in the countries where Protestantism held sway. It’s possible that some of the writers of the Confession believed that leaders should have the power to decide all cases of divorce. But it’s also possible that many were simply concerned to guard the sheep from error and mishap in divorce decision-making.
Be that as it may, the wording that “the persons concerned [be] not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case” can easily be morphed from a guideline or suggestion into a law that oppress victims of abuse.
It is my guess that, like many Christian leaders today, the writers of the Westminster Confession had insufficient empathy with the spiritual dilemmas of victims of domestic abuse and the way abuse flourishes in the dark long before victims disclose and seek help, let alone the effects of this ongoing trauma on the victims. In other words, they were not sufficiently mindful of the way their precept would be used by Christian leaders who are blind to domestic abuse. Their precept has been turned into a binding rule that persons considering divorce must not be allowed to make up their own mind at their own discretion.
I deliberately stayed implicitly in line with the Confession’s teaching because I imagined that some influential Christians would have used any disregard of the Westminster precept as a convenient reason to reject my work. I didn’t want to give them that ready excuse. I knew it would be an uphill battle to get my work noticed, let alone accepted, and I did not want to lessen the chance of victims being freed from bondage. So I chose to err on the side of cautious conservatism in how I applied Matthew 18 to cases where the abuser is a professing Christian.
At that stage I was not aware of the London Confession of 1689 (the confession of reformed baptists) let alone the intriguing fact that although the London Confession replicated a great deal of the Westminster Confession, it omitted the paragraph about divorce.* Had I been aware of the London Confession and its significant silence on divorce, I might have not emphasized Matthew 18 as much in my advice to victims of abuse.
The part of my book where I discuss Matthew 18 — taking your matter to the church with a view to them disciplining your abuser — has been a sticking point with some of my readers. I’ve had comments from readers saying:
I can’t take my case to the elders and ask them to excommunicate my spouse! The very thought of it terrifies me because they are saying that the problem is mutual and they’re judging me for not being submissive or loving enough, not praying enough, not wanting to reconcile. They are siding with my abuser because he’s wrapped them round his little finger. If I try to pursue Matthew 18 it will only make things worse, and I’m already near breaking point. Do I really have to do a full Matthew 18?
I am sorry to say that my discussion about the victim appealing to the church to assess her abuser’s standing as a believer was unhelpful to victims whose churches are siding with the abuser or mutualizing the problem.
In my effort not to get leaders offside, I had pussy footed around. My advice put too much onus on the victim, and not nearly enough on the church.
As this survivor pointed out at Cindy Burrell’s blog (used with permission):
Confrontation is usually not safe to do in an abusive marriage. Sometimes it happens inappropriately in moments of anger and verbal self-defense, but most of the time, an abused woman knows it is not safe to confront her abuser about his behavior. . . . In a reasonable, regular relationship, where there is general goodwill one can safely go to another, and/or then bring a second person and confront, in love, for the purposes of reconciliation. But the scripture also says ‘…as far as it depends on me’ I am to live at peace with others. There is an endpoint to how far one is expected to go – the other party bears responsibility too.
The story of Abigail and Nabal brings this point home well. Abigail was informed by the servants of the household – they did not go to Nabal and confront him about his inhospitable behavior to David – they knew based on their experience with him that this would not be a wise or safe move. Abigail, in return, made her plans, in order to save the household (protective mother) from the consequences of his actions, and left the estate without telling him.
Almost always, by the time someone in an abusive relationship is prepared to leave, the confrontation stage is long past. A woman … will have confronted the abuser many times very early on – to no avail – and often with costly consequences. It is only when she finally is ready to end the relationship and leave the marriage that this concept [of pushing through with the formal part of Matthew 18] will rear its head and create a sense of false guilt.
In addition, I was too optimistic about the likelihood that churches would be able to handle the abuser correctly. For instance I said (p.43) that the abuser should be prepared to make himself accountable to the pastor and other married men in the fellowship, which I now know to be a naïve and potentially dangerous suggestion. As we know from countless accounts at this blog, many married men in churches are easily taken in by an abuser’s pretense of reformation. Or they may be abusers themselves, whose hidden sins have not yet been brought to light. And what if the abuser IS the pastor? My words were useless for those women.
For victims who have felt left out in the cold by my words, I ask your forgiveness.
I am particularly sorry for what I wrote on page 49 —
If your abuser is a professing Christian, the biblical precept is that you should not decide the matter for yourself without reference to a church court. Knowing your own heart is not enough: we are all capable of deceiving ourselves and justifying things to suit ourselves (Jer. 17:9).
And on page 103 —
“[People living in a state which only offers ‘no-fault’ divorce] should verify the godliness of their divorce by submitting it to a church court.”
Did you notice? I ‘should-ed’ on the victim. Terrible.
And I didn’t help victims by referring to church courts, a formal term that was intimidating and bewildering to some readers. For those who wonder what I meant, I was thinking of the Presbyterian concept of a church court which is a body of church officials who have authority over members and can conduct a formal hearing into religious or spiritual matters.
Here is what one reader (Brenda) wrote to me:
If I ask my church, they are just going to say what my pastor said when I went to him three years ago: “Go home; your husband just needs to get saved. ” I went home and suffered more years of abuse. Now I’ve finally left, my husband 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. . . . If you could untangle the web in my brain over this one, I’d appreciate it.
This pastor failed the victim. In my opinion, a good pastor would have told the victim that she was free to make her own decision regarding divorce. A good pastor would have assured the victim that he did not consider her husband a believer. A good pastor would have followed through on his words by making it crystal clear to the abuser – and the congregation – that this man was not to be treated as a believer (even if he claimed to have ‘found God’) because he was not showing fruits of repentance. A good pastor would have reassured the wife that when it comes to domestic abuse there is a high bar for the fruits of repentance and those fruits need to be demonstrated and tested over time: it’s not just a few simple hoops that her abuser might be able to figure out and jump through.
Brenda’s words illustrate how victims of abuse who take the trouble to read my book have ultra-sensitive consciences. I surmise that victims who are going to divorce without teasing out the scriptures will probably not read my book. But a conscientious victim who reads my book is most likely suffering from lacerating self doubt and second guessing already; the last thing she needs is yet another person casting doubt on her judgements.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
In my book I used that ^ verse to encourage victims to scrutinize their own motives, because we are all capable of deceiving ourselves. It is still good advice…but when it comes to abuse it’s even more vital to realise this:
- As victims or church leaders interacting with abusers, we are all capable of being deceived by the abuser’s manipulative impression-management tactics.
- In situations of interpersonal abuse, the chief cause of deception is the abuser and his nefarious tactics. (I’m using the pronoun ‘he’ generically)
How my mind has changed — what I now believe
I have now come to believe that rather than Matthew 18, the instructions in 1 Corinthians 5 are more appropriate for dealing with domestic abusers who profess faith in Christ. I don’t want to be over-prescriptive about this, but there is clearly a difference in the two passages, and that difference should surely guide us as to their application.
For transgressions at the less severe end of the spectrum where there is a reasonable likelihood that the offender will repent, the process of Matthew 18 seems appropriate because it gradually intensifies the confrontation and progressively includes more people to assess the matter, until a final outcome or decision is reached.
However, for heinous sins, 1 Corinthians 5 is specifically applicable:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:11-13)
1 Corinthians 5 tells us there are six sins for which professing believers should be promptly and resolutely disciplined:
- fornication — sexual sin
- covetousness — greed
- idolatry —elevating something other than God to the place that only God can occupy
- reviling — assailing with abusive and scornful language, verbal abuse, slander
- drunkenness, and
- extortion — snatching, taking by force, predation, rape, plundering, subsisting on live prey.
We know the church discipline must be total dis-fellowshipping of the hypocrite, because Paul taught this explicitly:
When you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. … put away from yourselves that wicked person (1 Cor. 5:4–5, 13b).
Most importantly, we know this to be a commandment to the church, not just to the individual who has been the victim of the heinous sinner’s conduct.
And we know that in the case which precipitated the commandment (the man who slept with his father’s wife) Paul had been appraised of the facts (presumably by Chloe’s people 1:11; 5:1). Paul was prepared to credit that report without ascertaining the facts for himself.
Paul listened to a report from a third party. So let’s ask ourselves – did Paul listen to gossip? Gossip about a man? From the household of a woman? No; it wasn’t gossip. It’s certainly not gossip if you’re a part of the problem or a part of the solution to the problem, and Paul knew that his informants wanted the problem solved – they wanted the sin to be rightly addressed.
The six sins named in 1 Corinthians 5:11 are heinous – they do grievous harm to the victim and will do much damage in the church if they are allowed to continue, leavening the whole lump with the narcotic of deception and the pride of self-righteousness and apathy. I believe it is for this reason that 1 Corinthians 5 prescribes a much quicker excommunication than the one which might take place under Matthew 18. The decisive act which Paul prescribed was to be carried out in his physical absence, without hesitation: Purge the evil person from among you! In contrast, Matthew 18 describes a gradual escalation of discussion and confrontation and inclusion of more witnesses until a final decision is reached.
Paul in his own mind had already handed the man over to satan. I imagine Paul making this kind of prayer: “Dear God, let satan deal with this man so that his spirit may perhaps be saved in the day of the Lord. He is no longer the church’s responsibility. Oh, and dear Father, please let the Corinthian church obey my instructions swiftly, so that their arrogance and apathy will be brought to a halt.”
Another passage about dealing promptly with certain kinds of sinners is Titus 3:10-11:
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
A divisive person can have various agendas, but in domestic abuse the most common goal of the abuser is to recruit allies to his side, thus preventing them from being potential supporters for the victim.
Not infrequently, the victim is dreadfully perplexed about how to treat her abusive spouse, especially if he professes the Christian faith. “Can I treat my spouse as an unbeliever? Should I be patient with him as a fellow believer who just slips up occasionally? Should I trust and hope that he will see the error of his ways because he is a Christian and has the Holy Spirit?” And all too often, the victim is trying to make that decision while being given the run around by a church which is abysmally ignorant about abuse. The abuser, sensing he’s losing control of his victim, is escalating his abuse. And then the church (and book authors!) start insisting that she participate in a Matthew 18 process! With all the cards stacked against her and her self-doubt spinnaker catching every blast from the enemy’s lungs, it’s a fierce storm for the victim. Often victims are so exhausted they can barely stand. In that valley of decision there are many bones.
Now, five years after publishing Not Under Bondage, I’m less intimidated by influential conservative Christians. I no longer feel like a stranger crying to the wind in the wilderness, afraid of the wild animals who might attack me. I am more confident in calling the church to be accountable.
It is not fair to put the victims through the wringer by telling them they ought to follow Matthew 18 when churches are dominated by people who don’t get it about domestic abuse — and often don’t want to get it…because they think they already do.
Rather than urging a victim to risk throwing herself under the bus by trying to get her church to do a Matthew 18 process, I am now urging churches to discipline abusers promptly and firmly in the style of 1 Corinthians 5.
All too often church leaders have ended up excommunicating the victim being because the abuser and his many allies have snowed the church leaders. Snowed by manipulation. And the prevalence of false doctrine about divorce.
Take the blowtorch off the victim and direct it at the abuser. When you put the abuser out of the church you vindicate the victim and endorse the victim’s liberty to divorce under 1 Corinthians 7:15:
But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
(click here to see why this verse allows divorce for abuse)
Now that my mind has changed, here are my suggestions for a victim whose abuser professes to be a Christian. Each victim knows his or her own situation best, and should use her own sanctified common sense, with s.a.f.e.t.y. being the first priority at all times. So, is it ever a good idea for a victim to ask the church to use a disciplinary process against her abuser — whether it be modeled on Matthew 18 or 1 Cor. 5 or Titus 2, or some combination thereof? I believe the answer is yes, so long as the church
- understands the dynamics of domestic abuse for both victim and perpetrator
- is astute to the impression-management and responsibility-resistance tactics of abusers, and
- knows how to apply scriptural principles to domestic abuse.
That’s a very tall order, given that the majority of churches seem to be ignorant of the mentality and tactics of abusive people, and unwilling to exercise full biblical discipline.
It’s vital that the church stop making wrong judgements in these cases. Reform is essential so that churches can
- rightly discern the sin of domestic abuse
- resist the abuser’s attempts to recruit them as allies
- label the abuser as the sole cause of the marriage breakdown
- not mutualize the problem or blame the victim
- put out the abuser and hand him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:5)
But does the church need to be involved in a victim’s decision to divorce?
Christians don’t agree what the biblical basis for divorce is. There are multiple views, but here are the main ones:
- Permanence – no divorce ever.
- Divorce for adultery.
- Divorce for adultery or desertion.
- Divorce for adultery, desertion or abuse with the abuser construed as a deserter (this is the thesis of my book).
- Divorce for hard hearted violation or severe neglect of the marriage vows which includes but is not limited to adultery and desertion, and is very similar to the preceding view (this is Instone-Brewer’s approach).
On top of that, there are various views on remarriage:
- Separation from bed and board only, because divorce is never allowed.
- Divorce, but no liberty to remarry – only liberty to not fight the divorce that the other party instigates. Along with this goes the obligation to remain unmarried and live like a eunuch while praying for the errant partner to repent.
- Remarriage is permitted if divorce was on biblical grounds (which depends on the view you have on divorce).
- Remarriage is a sin and must be undone by divorce and the original couple remarried.
- Remarriage is a sin but once done should not be undone.
- Remarriage is sin and it’s forgivable; however, you can’t be in leadership if you’re remarried after divorce, or if your spouse is a divorcee.
All this disagreement on divorce and remarriage has bubbled away like a sulphuric mud pool for centuries – actually for millennia, because the Jews were arguing about it in Jesus day.
And despite all this disagreement, we have churches and denominations saying, “This is our position and we are going to force it on you upon threat of ex-communication.” Or, “We insist that you comply with a Matthew 18 process to address the conflict between you and your spouse.”
(Hint: when domestic abuse is defined as a ‘conflict’ it suggests that the definers don’t understand domestic abuse, because ‘conflict’ implies that the problem is mutual.)
When a church or its leaders do this, it is spiritual abuse: the misuse of power and authority and control, the exercise of something that the church does not truly possess.
In light of the fact that Christians don’t agree what the biblical basis of divorce is, decisions about divorce should be left to individual conscience.
People who are struggling with whether or not to divorce often come to the church for help — as they should be able to do. But then the personal beliefs of that leadership team come into play and the victims either get the help they need, or they get put through the wringer, or they get cast aside like yesterday’s garbage. And to top it off, the leadership may think it their duty to pontificate upon it from the pulpit, setting the whole tone and tenor (terror?) for the entire church.
I believe victims of abuse may judiciously ignore the Pharisaic directives of church leaders who are less than competent on domestic abuse and who use language that even hints at victim-blaming.
If church leaders refuse to discipline a ‘c’hristian abuser, or only give him a slap on the wrist while putting expectations on the victim to reconcile, then we don’t have to respect their rulings, because they have shown themselves to be like the false prophets who called evil good, and good evil.
If church leaders demand that the victim present herself for a Matthew 18 process and it’s clear (from how they have already been mis-handing the situation) that this process is just going to oppress the victim more and give extra power to the abuser, I believe a victim is not only permitted to disregard the counsel of the blind-guide leaders, but would be wise to disregard it for her own health and safety.
If a Christian victim is unsure about her own judgement, she may consult with those who understand the dynamics of domestic and spiritual abuse well. But it’s patently obvious that few Christians understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, and even fewer can recognize and resist abusers’ invitations to collude with them.
I often encourage survivors of domestic abuse to give more weight to their gut feelings, intuition, and common sense. I do this not because I promote reliance on the flesh, but because I know that there has been so much mis-teaching on marriage, divorce and domestic abuse that very often a survivor’s common sense and intuition (a.k.a. guidance from the Holy Spirit) give more biblical direction than the bad counsel which she has absorbed from ‘c’hristian tradition.
Let there be no blame on victims who make the decision to divorce solely between themselves and God, without being able to locate wise Christians who have sufficient understanding of the dynamics of abuse to give them an outside opinion.
If victims are having difficulty finding Christians who properly understand abuse, then the onus clearly falls on the church to take off it’s blinders, learn a whole lot more about abuse, cast off erroneous ideas about how to deal with it, and be brave enough to act on the Bible’s teaching wholeheartedly so as to discipline abusers and vindicate victims.
In accordance with the priesthood of all believers and the liberty of the individual Christian’s conscience, we may make our own Bible- and Holy Spirit-influenced choices about who is (and who is not) a wise counselor with whom we might want to consult when making a big decision like divorce. By seeking guidance from Christians (and non-Christians) who understand the entitlement, manipulation and deceitfulness of abusers, and the risks of staying versus the risks of leaving an abusive relationship, the victim of abuse can make godly choices while not doing so in a vacuum.
The victim may be unable to influence the fact that her abuser might still be passing himself off as an eminent Christian. She may have to divorce him even though his church has not declared that he should be treated as an unbeliever.
In summary – the take home message
I revoke my previous teaching that a victim whose abuser is a professing believer must pursue Matthew 18 as far as it is within her power, and that a victim should always seek to have her decision to divorce verified by her church.
I now see that teaching as extra-biblical tradition. Like all man-made traditions, it is derived from biblical principles, but it turns the beautiful conception of biblical guidelines into a rigid cage that locks people into bondage, just like the religion of the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. It denies victims of abuse the freedom to discern the godliness of the church hierarchy from whom they are receiving counsel. And because it binds their consciences to the ruling of the church hierarchy, it deprives them of freedom of conscience and dissuades them from heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
*The London Baptist Confession of 1689 did not include the paragraph about divorce which the Westminster Confession had contained. For more info on this listen to The Puritan Confessions on Divorce & Remarriage by Ps David Dykstra. NOTE: David Dykstra may be correct in his discussion of the Puritan Confessions on Divorce and Remarriage, but he is not correct on many other things. He has staunchly defended Tom Chantry who is a convicted child molester and child beater.
For Further Reading
The Abuse and Limits of Pastoral Authority
Divorce for Domestic Abuse — Guest post by Barbara Roberts, at restoredrelationships.org [restoredrelationships.org is now restored-uk.org, and the link has been updated to use the restored-uk.org website. Editors.]
The Bible does Allow Divorce for Domestic Abuse
Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell
Does God hate Divorce? — Youtube interview with Barbara Roberts
Remarriage after Divorcing an Abuser in a nutshell
Ps Sam Powell sermon: The Purification of the Church — 1 Corinthians 5
Ps Sam Powell sermon: Things that God Hates — 1 Corinthians 5
Yes Barb, I can see why this has been keeping you up at night. Considering the fact that many of the less merciful “teachers” like Nancy DeMoss and the Estills and Piper applied Matthew 18 to domestic violence. However, in their cases, they also denied that a woman could divorce for abuse. So – while they misapplied Matthew 18 they ALSO kept women in bondage to violence for the sake of their twisted Gospel.
This can be remedied. I think you should put some revisions in your book, and if you need help to get that done (whether financial or otherwise) I’m sure that we (as the Body!) can help.
I’ve already had a great deal of respect for you. With this post that respect has risen exponentially. Thank you for both your willingness to continue adjusting your perspective as you gain understanding and your willingness to publicly explain your positional change.
I have read and enjoyed your book. However, I have not recommended it to anyone, for exactly the reason you’ve discussed in this post. I loved your scriptural exegesis as well as the inclusion of historical and cultural context. However, the overall view presented still came across, to me, as a bit legalistic and overly dependent on church authority.
Based on my own experiences, as well as some who I am close to, I have come to view divorce as a deeply personal decision. As with any important life decision, it makes sense to seek wise counsel, whether a pastor or some other trusted resource. However, ultimately, the decision is up to the individual. If that person is a Christian, hopefully the decision will be made prayerfully, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It’s difficult enough trying to expose the truth in an appeal for justice within the necessary legal court system. There is absolutely no need to further muddy issues with an additional emotionally charged church counsel hearing.
Thank you, Joe. 🙂
As one author to another, you know how hard it is to write a book, and the awful fear of not getting it quite right. I think that most authors (apart from the inspired authors of the Bible) have probably changed their minds a little after publishing their books. I’m in pretty good company there; William Heth changed his mind years after co-authoring “Jesus and Divorce” with Gordon Wenham. He moved from believing that divorce was not permitted for adultery or desertion, to believing that divorce was permitted for adultery and desertion, and then when he read my manuscript it opened his eyes to see that abuse is grounds for divorce too.
In his case, the original book Jesus and Divorce is still is on sale — with no caveat or notice anywhere in the book or on the retailers’ sites that Heth has changed his mind, which I find quite unethical on Zondervan’s part. Heth’s shift to the “evangelical consensus” (adultery and desertion) was published in an article he wrote in the Southern Baptist Theological Journal which you can find online. And his change of mind where he added abuse to the list of grounds is only published on the commendation he wrote for the back cover of my book, and here on my NUB website in a slightly longer version here [Internet Archive link], and a PDF here [Internet Archive link].
[The links to William Heth’s review and his Jesus on Divorce: How My Mind Has Changed article have been corrected to reflect their new URLs. Editors.]
One might wish Heth would publish another book explaining all his mind changes, and that God would skyrocket that book up the charts and cause Jesus and Divorce to plummet. And that all those ethically aware theologians that we pray for God to raise up would put pressure on Zondervan to take Jesus and Divorce off the market. But I don’t think Zondervan is bothered too much by such ethical questions; they seem to put money above ethics in things like this.
Barbara – Oh, yes! I absolutely undertsand the difficulty of writing a book…trying to define the intended target audience…trying to approach the topic in a way that is meaningful to that audience…trying to be very clear on intent without coming across as defensive or verbose…
One of my biggest hurdles was trying to find a way to present the potential reader with a completely new perspective on the topic, without losing them in the process. I was concerned that too large a paradigm shift too quickly would result in the reader simply putting the book down and assuming I was a quack of some sort. I didn’t so much care if people thoguht me a quack…but I did care that they read and understand the message.
Mostly, though, in reading this post, I felt overwhelmed with admiration for you.
Ran The Gauntlet expressed it much better than I, but I stand in agreement with her.
If we look at the men and ministries whose positions this blog has stood in opposition to, they all have two characteristics in common.
The first is a stance against divorce for abuse and/or remarriage after divorce. Although this is a serious and potentially disastrous deficiency in understanding, it is not, in itself, a fatal character flaw. After all, most of us in this blog community once had similar understandings ourselves.
The second (and more fatal) characteristic is an unwillingness (or inability) to even consider the possibility that they might have been wrong in this position. They are either so sure of their rightness that in their arrogance they refuse to consider the possibility they might be wrong, OR they are so frightened by the potential ramifications of finding out they are wrong that they refuse to allow this possibility to even creep into their conscious thoughts.
I agree with RTG that you have set a tremondous example by your willingness to continue to grow and change in your knowledge and understanding of God’s heart in this area.
None of us yet has a complete understanding. It is SO important to remain open to a new perspective…even as we speak with confidence of the understanding we have now.
And on the author topic…some of the authors I like best and admire most are those whose positions and understanding can be seen to evolve and grow over time between their early works and later works.
Blessings to you!
This seems important enough that you should revise your book, or somehow provide an update to your book besides this blog.
FWIIW, my view on divorce is simple and derived from DIB. A marriage covenant is instituted using marriage vows and these should be Scriptural. Breaking of a vow is a grounds for declaring the covenant terminated but declaring it terminated is never required. A believer is to seek reconciliation but is not enslaved.
This puts a lot of decision making responsibility on the person seeking the divorce, but not too much or too little as I see it. Only they know what their marriage is like to them.
To Don and others who have said this, I will compose an answer to you soon. I’m too emotional at the moment to do it properly, I think.
Not sure if this is pertinent, but there’s also info on the New England Puritans’ divorce standards in The Puritan Family by Edmund Morgan (reproduced below). That may help clear up some of the questions about how the divorce section of the WCF was applied, at least on my side of the pond. Perhaps most interestingly, divorce appears to have been a civil matter in New England, as opposed to the elders or minister getting to decide if the divorce was valid.
“QUESTION – In what Cases is a Divorce of the Married justly to be Pursued and Obtained?
I. To judge, determine and accomplish a divorce of any married persons, the civil magistrate is to be addressed or concerned.
II. In case any married persons be found under natural incapacities, and insufficiencies, which utterly disappoint the confessed ends of the marriage [i.e., impotency], the marriage is to be declared a nullity.
III. In case any married person be found already bound in a marriage to another yet living, a divorce is to be granted unto the aggrieved party.
IV. In case any married person be convicted of such criminal uncleanness as render them one flesh with another object than that to which their marriage has united them [i.e., adultery], the injured party may sue and have their divorce from the offending; which is the plain sense of the sentence, passed by our Lord, Matth. XIX, 9.
V. In case there be found incest in a marriage, a divorce is to command the separation of the married.
VI. In case, it be found that a person married had, by fornication before marriage, been made one with a person related unto the person with whom they are now married, within the degrees made incestuous by the law of God, it is a just plea for divorce.
VII. In case of a malicious desertion by a married person, who is obliged and invited to return, a divorce may be granted by lawful authority unto the forsaken. For the word of God is plain, ‘that a Christian is not bound in such cases’ by the marriage unto one which has thus wilfully violated the covenant; and tho’ our Saviour forbids ‘a man’s putting away his wife, except it be for fornication,’ yet he forbids not rulers to rescue an innocent person from the enthralling disadvantages of another that shall sinfully go away.
VIII. As for married persons long absent from each other, and not heard of by each other, the government may state what length of time in this case, may give such a presumption of death in the person abroad, as may reckon a second marriage free from scandal.
IX. A divorce being legally pursued and obtained, the innocent person that is released may proceed unto a ‘second marriage in the Lord:’ otherwise the state of believers under the New Testament would in some of these cases be worse than what the God of heaven directed for his people under the Old.”
Though abuse isn’t listed here, it says elsewhere in the book that Massachusetts Bay Colony did grant some divorces for “cruelty.”
Hester The colony of Mass. did not practice separation of church and state. So, indeed the church had a great deal to say about anything that came before the “civil” courts. I found this out when I was doing some genealogy work on one of my ancestors who was whipped for being a baptist and vehemiately insisting that the church-state could not tell him how to worship. He was previously beaten by a local pastor in the presence of the court after the constable tried force him and his friends to attend the local church. If you want to find out more google my ancestor, Obadiah Holmes, an early proponent of separation of church and state. He is also a direct ancestor of Abraham Lincoln.
I think the Puritans did technically distinguish church and state in some way, at least on paper. If they hadn’t, then “civil magistrate” would have been a redundant office, and church officials would have been running the show completely. They would have been minister, judge, jury, etc., all in one.
That being said, the distinction on the ground may have often been meaningless because of what your ancestor ran into: no freedom of religion, and the Puritans’ inability to conceive of a “neutral” state that didn’t endorse a particular church. As you probably know they weren’t the only ones with this problem; VA banned Puritan ministers in 1643 because they didn’t conform to the established Church of England (which is hilariously ironic because the traditional COE was effectively banned in England at that point because of Cromwell’s Commonwealth). In other words, the Puritans wouldn’t have liked the Constitution very much.
Per the divorce thing, all I meant was that the final answer on granting a divorce seems to have rested with the court. This is different from how a lot of churches would apparently like to do it today, where the pastor and elders get to decide if the couple can even approach a judge in the first place. The excerpt I quoted was actually written by a group of ministers, so that means the ministers themselves told people to go to court to see if they could get divorced. And the court was definitely free to reject divorce petitions.
I’ll also add that the Puritans come off looking pretty generous in those divorce standards compared to, say, John Piper (as documented on this blog). I daresay I know a lot of Christians today who would be appalled at a Christian woman getting divorced because her husband was impotent or had been missing for X number of years. The fact that those ministers left divorce for abuse off the list is of course horrible – though as I stated before, records show that it was sometimes granted for that reason on the ground – but one has to ask how John Piper can admire the Puritans so much and yet completely ignore their (much more liberal) stance on divorce.
Two thumbs up for your ancestor, BTW. I’m descended from Leonard Drowne, a founder of the first Baptist church in ME in 1682.
Hester and WisdomChaser, thanks for the interesting details and discussion 🙂
Whoops, small correction: the Commonwealth started in 1649, so the traditional COE was banned in England a few years after the VA ban on Puritan ministers. The irony stands, however, because the two bans did exist concurrently, though not right away.
Wonderful post. I especially appreciate your point that Paul was instituting his action to turn the man over to satan based on third party reports. I was accused of of gossip and of slandering my ex by saying what he did to me! Fortunately another believer pointed out that slander is lies and I was speaking truth. But I was never able to explain Biblically why talking about a real problem is not gossip. Now I can point to that passage- thank you.
I was in a home fellowship for years and that group supported me through the divorce (with the exception of some above mentioned issues.) And we did apply 1 Cor 5 and turn my ex over to satan. We were a lone island that maintained clarity because my fellowship cut off communication with him and did not fall prey to his lies and manipulations and image management. He joined several chuches and “got saved” (for the 4th time in our 20 year marriage) but since his new churches had no history with him they bought it all. Everywhere he went he spun his web and I was the bad guy. Such crazy-making- I am so glad it’s over although the damage of people turned against me remains.
Talking about a real problem is not gossip; and it’s not unforgiveness, nor bitterness either.
Fiftyandfree – You got it! This business of abusers pulling the “gossip card” to shut everyone up about their evil is extremely common in our churches. Boy, I am just waiting for the next one to try that on me!
Barbara – This is an excellent and vital recognition that all Christians need to get hold of. Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that there is only one passage in Scripture that deals with church discipline, and that it is all-encompassing for every kind of sin in the church. But clearly this is not so. As you mention, you have the 1 Cor 5 scenario. No “one, two, three” strikes and your out here. Paul’s instruction is “that guy is done! Put him out.” Then you have passages such as Romans 16:17ff and Titus 3:10ff that instruct us how to deal with a certain kind of hardened person who is actively leading the flock astray. So we need to learn to compile all these texts on the discipline of the church and apply them properly to the kind of sin/sinner we are dealing with. Good job!
Thank you Barbara for examining this so closely and for your thorough explanation of why you’ve changed your mind. When I read your book I remember dismissing the whole discussion on Matthew 18; telling myself, “Well, that will only work when the church understands abuse and is willing to treat the abuser and the victim biblically.” I saw it more as an ideal. If the church was doing it’s job, you wouldn’t have to revise your opinion because the pastors/elders/counselors, etc would quickly identify the abuser deal with him or her appropriately. But unfortunately, right now, the victims of abuse are on their own, so works like yours, Jeff’s and Instone-Brewers are our lifelines.
I agree with you that a victim’s own common sense and intuition should be trusted in making the decision to divorce. I know that the Lord showed me through my own common sense and intuition very early on that I should run, and run fast, from my abuser, but I allowed the church’s ungodly stand on divorce to override what I knew was right.
So, now when I talk to victims of abuse, I always tell them to trust their intuition and their gut feelings. I believe those are God-given gifts provided to protect us from danger.
Fifty and Free, your read my intentions in my book quite rightly, there. If the church was doing it’s job, it would have been disciplining abusers fully and the victims would not have been pilloried.
I was hoping by writing the way I did in NUB that good church leaders would read my book and take my instructions about discipline as a major corrective for their own own practise… pull themselves up short and start getting it right. That hope was misplaced. For one thing, I get the impression that not many leaders have read my book. Why would they read a book by a woman, and a woman without letters to her name, who wasn’t even employed by or a regular speaker at church or para-church groups, who comes from way over in Oz (which most Americans know very little about except its beaches and wildlife — what good can come out of Nazareth, that little backwoods place?) AND she is a survivor of abuse herself so she MUST have an axe to grind . . .
I know for sure that the vast majority of my readers are victims / survivors. And we all know how much say they have in churches!
Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link] was consciously aimed at two audiences: (1) leaders and Christian bystanders to divorce; and (2) abuse victims and other innocent parties in divorce. I know it’s not a good idea to write for two audiences, but I chose to do it because it seemed to me that the alternative of writing two different books was even less palatable and would probably be less effective. But by writing for two audiences as I did, some of my message was mixed. My hint to the leaders that they needed to get their act together big time was too timid, too tentative, to veiled. And my message to the victims came across as too legalistic.
Ah, we live and learn.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
Barbara, when I think of Oz I think of all the poisonous creatures!!!! But I guess they don’t compare to the abusers, wolves, and sociopaths among us, do they?
Anyway, I gave your book to my Christian counselor who was adamantly adherent to the divorce for adultery only stance, and squarely in the permanence of marriage camp, and he DID change his mind. So your book, as written, is changing some hearts and minds. Be encouraged about that, but thank you for continuing to study and be open about the subject of biblical divorce and thank you for your honesty and integrity. I admire you and love you from afar!!!
Thank you, Fiftyandfree, to know I’ve changed a Christian counselor’s mind is a big encouragement.
Barbara So glad you wrote this. I too hope that you will consider revising your book.
Barbara: I have great respect for your honesty and non-defensive discussion of your change in perspective. Receive this as a significant show of respect, speaking as one who doesn’t believe much of anything that has to do with interpretation and “enforcement” (for lack of better word at the moment) of scripture, since I have paid such a high price for doing so. I did at one time consider approaching the church to deal with me and my husband according to Matthew 18 – very glad I didn’t in retrospect, for the very reasons you stated. I very much honor also your stance on encouraging victims to trust their intuition or gut as guidance from the Holy Spirit. I think that is KEY to much of MY recovery (at least at this stage, and speaking for no one but myself) – specifically, being able to shut out the many, many voices of authoritative counsel, church doctrine, admonition and interpretation that were so LOUD, COMPELLING, and CONFUSING that I not only stayed in abuse and greater fear, but also was possibly unable to hear what the Holy Spirit might have been saying (just one explanation for my experience of God’s silence) – and thus concluding that God was angry, demanding, cruel, silent, harsh, and cold. I so desperately tried to reconcile the (for me) indiscernable ultimate truth and dictates of scripture, to near madness. As I think and write about DV, I come from the perspective of creating identification, compassion, and commitment to change one individual at a time – but I am very afraid of entering into intense theological/doctrinal studies and debates, because it is personally triggering and I am not up to the task. Again, I respect that you (if I am understanding correctly) are addressing change from the view of church doctrine and organizational influence – huge – which requires much of you as a survivor, domestic violence expert, and theological scholar. Now, what you have just done in this post is to take it to another level: you could have ignored, self-defended, re-validated your stance for appearance, minimized, diverted to other influences….whatever…but you didn’t. You just displayed by example, for the churches and individuals you seek to influence, compassion paired with relentless personal responsibility and changing your perspective with grace….and perhaps made it a little easier for others to do the same. That is surely one of the greatest insights you can pass to the Church! Diane
Thank you so much for this, Ran the Gauntlet. Your affirmation speaks deeply to me. I hadn’t even thought about how my transparency and confessional self-correction could be an example to others. Bless you.
Now, what you have just done in this post is to take it to another level: you could have ignored, self-defended, re-validated your stance for appearance, minimized, diverted to other influences….whatever…but you didn’t. You just displayed by example, for the churches and individuals you seek to influence, compassion paired with relentless personal responsibility and changing your perspective with grace….and perhaps made it a little easier for others to do the same. That is surely one of the greatest insights you can pass to the Church!
Yes indeed! What a lesson for all of us, but truly for those in leadership, who are not open to Christ changing their minds on abuse and how to deal with it.
Yes, indeed Barbara. We lived through abuse, we learned that we should not be treated that way and that wasn’t a real marriage. We educated ourselves more thoroughly and found that the Lord agreed. Praise God for your work!
I couldn’t do Matthew 18 for many reasons, but still recommended your book highly on this blog. Your book was one of the first I read shortly after separating, and I reread many chapters later on. Whether or not you do revise your book (and I respect the views of others), I just want you to know that you have helped me more than you might realize.
Barbara, thanks for taking the time to explain all that. I must admit that when I first read your book, I was the typical conscientious victim looking carefully at the “right” thing to do. That part about Matthew 18 concerned me a bit, but I never thought that you could have missed the mark there, I just blamed myself for not being able to do it.
Since you thought Matthew 18 was possible, and I was pretty certain that it would backfire in my case, I thought that maybe my case was different from others. This is despite the fact that my pastors were very supportive of me because they could see through him. Being supportive, though, does not compensate for a lack of comprehension of abuse because the abuser can use all sorts of ways to maneuver and manipulate the eldership into carrying out his agenda. More concerning to me was the effect such a process would have on my wellbeing. Intuitively, I knew that it would effectively continue his abuse, this time with the help of spiritual authority.
I remember reading an enlightening article on 1 Corinthians 5 and how the church often sacrifices the life of the church body for the sake of bringing one perverted soul to reconciliation. I will try to locate that article and see if it is relevant to the discussion here.
Not Under Bondage was an ideal book for me to recommend to pastors and leaders because there were (are?) very few books that addressed the topic of divorce for abuse. I was confident in doing so because the book is well-researched, well-reviewed and comprehensive. Too timid or not, there are no holes to poke at….unless the reader is an abuser, in which case, even a perfect book will be torn apart.
I haven’t read the whole blog, Barbara, but you are a gem. May God continue to greatly bless you with abounding wisdom as you search His Word.
Thank you so much, anon. Many blessings and hugs to you. 🙂
I have wrestled with this very issue for so long. I did follow Matthew 18. I confronted my husband countless times. I finally took it to my Pastor, and eventually two other deacons. They all addressed my husband, but his behavior only worsened. Even though I made it clear that I didn’t understand why church discipline was not implemented, nothing was ever done. My Pastor told me that I just seemed like a vindictive, angry woman.
Because I did go to my church leadership, I stayed in my abusive marriage much longer than I should have. My husband and I would meet with my pastor for counseling every two weeks for several years. Sometimes I would meet with him alone, although he told me that I could only seek counsel from him if I had my husband’s permission. Sometimes my husband allowed it and sometimes he did not. My Pastor also told me that I could not discuss anything in counseling without my husband’s permission.
I did everything that my Pastor asked of me, even if I didn’t like it or didn’t agree. My husband never did a single thing he was asked to do, or if he did it was only for a short time.
I remember telling my Pastor one time that I felt like we would go in there, and he would let me have it right between the eyeballs, because he thought I could take it. But he would “softball” it to my husband, because he thought if he came on too strongly that my husband would quit coming. He agreed that there was some truth in that.
It always felt like I had to do the right thing no matter what, and it would be nice if my husband would.
I was always reminded that I needed to be quiet, and always be respectful and submissive. It always would come down to me obeying and being resectful. No matter what my husband did, as long as he said he was sorry, then the burden was on me to forgive, and never mention it again, nor have any feelings about it. Otherwise, I was acting on my emotions, and I was bitter. The fact that the same offenses were repeated over and over again was not supposed to matter.
Pastor would often remind me that I was to submit to my husband and I was accountable to him, but that it was really much worse for my husband because he had to submit to God and be accountable to Him. That fact that that meant nothing to my husband, by his own admission, also never mattered.
I was told many times that if some offense had occurred, I should not say anything about it to my husband, but rather, just be quiet and let the Holy Spirit do His work on my husband’s heart. I never understood how that was going to happen if my husband wasn’t saved. My husband was adamant that he was, despite my pastor, myself, other deacons, and our marriage counselor did not believe that he was. Needless to say, my being quiet and waiting for the Holy Spirit, never resulted in any change on my husband’s part, and it only ended up being a green light for the offenses with no accountability at all.
My pastor never once referred to my husband’s actions as abuse. I don’t know if he didn’t recognize it as such, if he did and it was just an unspoken assumption, or if he just didn’t consider it abusive. I have wrote him several letters regarding this and he has never responded.
After several years of counseling in vain, our pastor finally threw in the towel. He asked my husband if he would be willing to listen to someone else. My husband agreed, and we were bounced to the Assistant Pastor for counseling. While my husband had agreed to my pastor to go to him for counseling, he would not ever go.
When I was several months pregnant, my husband hurt me during a sexual encounter and I had had enough. I refused to share a bedroom with him any longer in order to protect myself and my baby. My husband told me that I was sexually abusing him by denying him, and then he started telling me that I wasn’t in line with Scripture if I didn’t start initiating sex. We had this fight daily. I finally became so frazzled that I sought out the Assistant Pastor on my own (without my husband’s permission). My Assistant Pastor forced a meeting with my husband and I and we entered into a new and disastrous round of counseling. It finally ended after several weeks, with him telling me in front of my husband that he felt sorry for my husband. He also told me “He lies. You know he lies. Learn to suck it up.” After that, whenever I would confront my husband about his lies, he would remind me that I was told by church leadership to “suck it up”.
After that, we started seeing a professional marriage counselor. He was the first one to address my husband’s behavior as abusive. My husband did not agree, but after many years of counseling in the church, I finally heard the words that set me free and let me know that I wasn’t crazy…”You have suffered egregious abuse your entire married life. Finally.
I eventually left my husband. My husband continued to attend the same church as myself and my children. His behavior and conduct, people taking his side and being sucked into his lies, finally forced my children and I to flee. The same Assistant Pastor actually physically grabbed ahold of my 18 year old son when he tried to walk away from a confrontation with him, he grabbed my 6 year old daughter when she tried to get away from him, and he grabbed my arm and tried to pull me from my seat during an altar call, when I refused to go with him and his wife so they could have a talk with me. We just could not stay anymore. I lost my church, my entire support system, and my children lost their school. Somehow my church became a haven for my husband, but was no longer safe for me or for my children.
I seem to have written a short book, 🙂 but it does feel good to get all that off my chest. 🙂
10 are free. I know that felt good to get that all out because I have done it, too. It is one of those ahhhhh moments. No stress left in the body for just a little while.
You may have left your church, but it doesn’t sound like you had much of a support system there. You had a husband and clergy that would force you to be harmed and possibly that of your child in order to satisfy your husbands carnal desires. No one had any concern for you whatsoever. Not one of them had any right to lay a hand on your children or you. Even if they thought your kids were acting up their first response should have been to alert you and not take it upon themselves to intervene. These men had no business counseling anyone.
I would like to know where the law is written that a woman is free until she marries and then she gives up all rights to speak without her husbands permission. This is insanity. There is a huge difference between submission and enslaved. Submission should come willingly and not under duress. Love, submission and respect are all inner twined. Without one the others just don’t fall into place. When they were telling you that you needed to be quiet and submissive, they were leaving out the part where he was suppose to Love you. They walked on eggshells with your husband as I am sure you learned to do yourself. They called you an angry wife. Well let me tell you, I am getting angry for you.
I am soooo glad you found a good counselor that didn’t tell you to “suck it up” and that you and your children are out of there. I would rather live in a cardboard box than to ever live with another abusive man. Praise God he gave me a small apartment instead. Praise God he set you free from your abusers. Your church leadership was abusing you as well.
Brenda R…I appreciate your response. Sometimes it takes the viewpoint of others to show me how my “normal” isn’t normal to anyone else.
I do want to clarify one thing. When I talked about my Asst Pastor laying hands on my children, they were not in any way “acting up”.
My son is an 18 year old young man. He bought a car from his older sister. Eventually, he returned the car back to her, as he could not pay for it. We worked out the situation between myself and my two children. The Asst Pastor did not like the way we handled this private family matter. My son was playing in a basketball game with our church, and I was watching in the stands. AP pulled my son out of the game during half-time, and me out of the stands, and proceeded to spend the entire third quarter yelling at us for how we had handled this car situation. When my son tried to walk away, from this man literally yelling at us…we are both adults….he was grabbed by the arm, pulled back, and told to “Quit being a whiny baby, and stay here and deal with this like a man.”
I had told the AP that he was to have no contact whatsoever with my family and they were off-limits to him. That made him angry. He assumed that I had told my children to stay away from him….which I had not. As my 6 year old daughter passed him on the stairs after church one night, he said “hello” to her. Since she did not know that he wasn’t supposed to be talking to her, she also responded with “hello”, but kept walking…she was trying to get downstairs to play with her friends. He grabbed ahold of her and yanked her back to him and told her that she wasn’t going to walk away from him. This incident was witnessed by a visiting evangelist and reported to me later.
When he grabbed ahold of me I was sitting in my seat praying during an altar call. He wanted to take me into a private room with his wife where he could have a talk with me. For my own protection, I told him that I would go with them after services were over, but not alone…I wanted someone with me. That made him angry and that is when he grabbed me by the arm and attempted to pull me from my seat. I pulled back away and told him “no”. This occurred during an altar call, again witnessed by the same evangelist.
I hope this doesn’t seem defensive, but in none of these situations were any of us doing anything wrong. When I tried to bring this to the atteniton of my pastor and another deacon, it was ignored and swept under the rug. They acted as if I was overreacting, and maybe even lying. I told them to ask the evangelist witness, but they refused to do so. AP is also the principal of our school, so it was easier to ignore me than deal with him.
As a matter of fact, I have worked in our school on a voluntary basis for the last 10 years. During school hours, I would repeatedly be brought into the office and literally yelled at by the principal/AP about how I was conducting my separation from my husband, my conduct, accused of incredible things, and pressured to allow him to return home. I was even told, “You tried separating, it didn’t work, now you need to bring him home.” Eventually, I was removed from the school and I was told it was because I needed to get my priorities in order and decide what was really important to me.
It’s no wonder my husband felt free to abuse me…this is the leadership I was seeking help from. 😦
10, that little account (And I know it’s little because I bet you would have truck loads of accounts like that) is typical of what we victims want to share. We want to tell others these details to prove we were not at fault, and so the bystander will judge the abusers rightly, but so often the bystanders’ eyes glaze over when we start on the second paragraph . . .
There’s always a long story.
And that’s the way the abusers like it, because they know full well that if they can make the story long and convoluted enough, hardly anyone will listen to the victim telling it.
You don’t seem defensive at all. I understood that your chldren weren’t doing anything wrong. Leadership on the other hand is another story. This is clearly a church that feels their’s is the right way to do everything. Bullying and imtimidation are the way they keep their congregation in line. I am so glad you are away from that environment. Your family will be much better off without the Gestopo.
10 Are Free – With friends like that, who needs enemies?
The AP / Principal was clearly intrusive and controlling, and his behavior was completely inappropriate.
So glad you are free of both the abusive husband and the church/school that supported him in his abuse!
All I can say to 10 Are Free about her account of physical abuse by an AP is this. If pastors who think they are above the law, break the law, they should still be held accountable under the civil law. It is the most loving thing we can do for the true Church – to expose the deeds of darkness. Assault is assault. It is actually more outrageous coming from a “man of the cloth”, because he is truly supposed to be an example to the sheep.
Also, you do not need to apologize, defend or explain yourself here at ACFJ. I have felt that need in my life, because I lost my sense of what was truth, what was good and what was truly evil – hence I felt the need to always explain or defend myself. Once I grew to understand the horrific abuse I was living in, the darkness began to dissipate and the light shone through. I am still tempted at times to defend myself, mostly out of fear, but I am slowly regaining what I had lost – that Christ is my defender, refuge and strength; my High Tower that I run into and am safe. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
10arefree…Glad you got it out! Praying for healing! Getting rid of dead tissue is always a good thing in wound healing.
10 are Free — no need to apologize, I’m really glad to hear your story! It’s outrageous how those pastors handled it.
You story has made me think of another reason why Matthew 18 is not likely to be the right way to deal with domestic abuse. Matthew 18 is a joint process where the two parties are engaging with each other verbally: the offended party approaches the offender to talk about the offence, then she asks witnesses to come with her to talk to he offender, the she asks the church. … and that, as your story perfectly illustrates, can easily sidetrack the whole process into (yikes!) couple counseling: the very thing that is so dangerous for victims of domestic abuse. And mysteriously, as soon as you’ve called it ‘couple counseling’ the Matthew 18 step by step process goes out the window and everyone just focuses on the agenda of couple counseling relentlessly, and how long is that piece of string, eh?
Wendell cracked a joke to the back of blog team yesterday, when we were talking about how churches are often soft on a man’s adultery (especially if he is going into leadership.) He said it’s like playing Monopoly and you turn over a community chest card and it is the ‘Get out of adultery free’ card. Well in your case, 10areFree, it was like you turned over a community chest card and it said “Matthew 18: Go to couple counseling. Go directly to couple counseling. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”
And in that Monopoly game there is no ‘Get out of couple counseling free’ card. It don’t exist, baby! This is your life. Suck it up!
Well in your case, 10areFree, it was like you turned over a community chest card and it said “Matthew 18: Go to couple counseling. Go directly to couple counseling. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”
And in that Monopoly game there is no ‘Get out of couple counseling free’ card. It don’t exist, baby! This is your life. Suck it up!
That’s a great analogy, Barbara.
10 Are Free,
It’s amazing how many of us use the word “free” in our screen names. It’s because we were once bound, but we are no longer Under Bondage!!! Praise God!! We appreciate our freedom in a way that only a person once bound can understand. I am happy that you finally escaped. The way you were treated by those Pastors is probably as egregious as the way you were treated by your anti-husband. I just don’t have words to express my disgust.
10arefree, this is three years after this discussion that I am reading your post, but I think your assistant pastor has some weirdo qualities going on. At the very least, he reminds me of the character of the over zealous disciplinarian principal Mr. Strickland, in the Back to the Future movies. If a public school principal behaved like that today, grabbing kids by their shirtfront, calling them names, etc, he would be reprimanded, and quite possibly suspended if not outright fired.
The idea that he is trying to dominate a woman and her children by forceful, aggressive grabbing, interrupting said woman during prayer, (which shows a shocking lack of respect for God and your relationship with Him) pulling that woman and her son out of a game to bully them, is beyond creepy and inappropriate. It sounds like your church leadership doesn’t want to deal with it, because they would have to remove him from his role as principal as well, which would entail admitting publicly that they hired an abusive person who steps outside the bounds of basic gentlemanly behaviour, as well as scripture. Their behaviour is ‘make it go away so we don`t have to deal with it’. These people are honoring God with their lips but where are their hearts? That man was grossly out of line and it is sad that none of the men in the church have any kahunas or backbone by which they would have stepped in and told the man not to do that again to any woman or child in the church.
Barb, I finally had time to read through your article. It was excellent. Thank you for making your change of mind known in a well presented manner. It was long but well worth the read!
You have done much to help so many of us to see. Thank you. Big hug!!!!
It seems clear that the vast majority of marriages where there is abuse going on involve an unequal yoke.
…..and deception of who they are before they marry.
Yes, and that deception is often what leads to the unequal yoke. I’ve learned to call it “relationship fraud” because that’s what it is. I would not have ended up bound in an unequally yoked marriage if the anti-husband had told me the truth about himself during the courtship.
Agreed, Fifty. There was no sign saying, “Run, do not walk to the nearest exit” until after the marriage.
And now he’s ready to do it again. The children are meeting her for the first time today. I feel grief stricken, for her, for myself, for her children, for my children. God help this woman see the truth before it’s too late.
Could you think of a creative way of letting this woman know she’s in danger? If you could stick yellow sticky notes all over her car, with this blog address on them, maybe that would give her a hint?
Good thinking, Barbara.
I will add her to my prayers. I don’t know that there is anything you can do, except pray. She is most likely going to believe him and he will make you out to be the angry, bitter woman.
a. Thank you for what you wrote in this article and the comments. It was very helpful to read what Barbara said as clarified confusion for me. And the other comments helped a lot too.
b. Question: can we, do we, warn or say anything when x moves somewhere else???
c. What you are saying I can relate to, I thought I had checked out his theology before hand (two years of asking questions) and his family presented as solid and together unlike mine. But immediately after ‘i do’s’ everything suddenly jekyll and hyde. I had no idea. All I knew to do was to try harder. I didn’t even know much about men, hadn’t dated much, believed his odd statement shortly before the ‘I do’s’ about previous girl friends hitting him, didn’t know I could say ‘no’ and the first ‘no’ was an accident and I didn’t even realize the ramifications of it all until a year ago with Bancroft’s books. His family ( who have NEVER even checked on me since all this ‘end of it all’ started) moved back to separate rooms and began their verbal abuse of each other and Me immediately after ‘i do’.
I was out of my depth. Had been trying to set boundaries with my abusive mother and sibs, no backup from x who I thought was to be my friend. No family to turn to at all. No support at any church either.
Biggest part of the problem I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into, the depths of deception, can’t get my head to sort it out still. I still think I could have dealt better had I had a lawyer that wasn’t trying to abuse me as well while the legal advocates just keep shaking their heads in powerlessness. From all the reading on narcissism and sociopaths by George Simon, literally all the lawyers I’ve called or met (about 17 now) are abusers and bullies without ethics yet no one wants to face his/x’s lawyer (I found out today that he was one of the corrupt county attorneys, ‘no one wants to be hung out to dry by that lawyer’ — so said one to me this week). So trying to get free is a nightmare when dependent on another abuser for what has ended up as enormous legal fraud with legal advocates saying the judges did not follow the law but they are judges and make the law.
d. If possible, just a thought, could I suggest a third group besides people and pastors and their wives being ignorant of what is going on versus people and pastors that are abusers. I think a majority of the ones that ignore and push the victim away or make them a victim again know exactly what they are doing and are trying to pretend not to know to keep hiding their own culpability; pastors and men who know exactly what is being asked of them but their secret lives would be found out or jeopardized, so they refuse to confront.
The pastor and his wife who knew us prior to marriage (the good ones but too far away), immediately backed me up and called down to the church here when I called them. I was always uncomfortable around this pastor here, he stood too close, said my name too much in public with too many different kinds of compliments and attention, used too many odd, ‘sensual’ words in sermons such as ‘massaging the text’ and everything revolved around ‘feeling’, made snide motions like rolling his eyes about church members from the pulpit, e.g. when one would offer a prayer request, works from home on his computer without oversight, and if he wants things done his way they get done his way, works in a setting with youth,…
When we went to confront my x (the crisis line said take a witness) I ended up politely telling that pastor “No, we will not overlook what x did and move on to lovey dovey land as you just said,” which meant I was then attacked the next six weeks by mrs. pastor. The one elder and his wife that we confronted (we being the witness with me) said pastor ‘doesn’t do confrontation well’ so the elders do the confronting. In horror, I said back “Who does? Do you think I am enjoying this?” That was the second time I heard that phrase about the pastor. In the end no one confronted x, just told him to get into bible-study, said they were neutral (x grinned at that) and no other ‘christians’ down here would confront him either and I asked quite a few to do so, but they all had an excuse.
Interestingly, when I first talked to the pastor and wife from up north, they thought things were odd because they too have been abused along the lines of what Mr. Crippen describes in his book. After reading Wendell’s article on SA and another book, I now think, a year later, that the pastor has SA problems and me being quiet made me a sitting duck again, yet speaking up finally, then made me target number one for his wife. And since that pastor said “he would reaaaallly like to seeeee the pictures of the bruising and battering” knowing full well the pictures didn’t have a lot of clothing, the way he said it freaked me out (and why do the pastors have to see the pictures for proof, why wouldn’t their wives suffice). I think his wife knows what he is and why he has this behind the scenes accountability group, not just his temper. But she is verbally abusive and has admitted that she has ‘designed her family to be the way that it is’.
What I am trying to say is that pastor ‘may not be abusing’ anyone in the church, but something funny is going on that his wife doesn’t want found out and I don’t think that he is just uninformed. At that point all I had been given were Bancroft’s books, so I handed out info to the head elder and pastor, not a word, except to be screamed at for six weeks by Mrs. Pastor ‘how dare you leave the church without consulting the elders’. The other odd thing is that the pastor’s wife always seems to be upset with him but saying she needs to change her response and to me that is the same walking on eggshells that I was going through. But if she were to agree with me perhaps she would have to acknowledge what is really going on in her family so maybe that is why she attacks me instead. I don’t know. I still don’t understand why x wants to hurt, why that is what he lives for, it is beyond understanding.
(Interestingly the pastor down here was away the first couple months we visited so x decided to attend before we knew who the real pastor was.)
Sorry this is so long. I’ll go back to being quiet and listening to all of you.
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.
I think I know what Jeff Crippen would say to this question: Most times you try to warn the pastor in the church that the abuser is heading to join, the pastor will blow you off or accuse you of being unChristian. It may be worth doing sometimes, and it should be worth doing ALL the time, but given the state of the church on this issue of abuse, we can’t hold out much hope that it will have any effect, and it might blow up in our face. If you knew an abuser was heading to a new church, you could perhaps check out the church by doing internet research, and if you think it looks like the kind of place where doctrine, justice and mercy were all highly valued, you could try alerting the pastor to the kind of wolf who’s slinking in (or swaggering in) to his pews.
But have your armour up, and don’t be surprised if you get blown off.
Regarding warning the abuser’s new girlfriend or b/f, go by your gut feeling would be my recommendation. And gauge all the safety implications for yourself and your kids. Yes, your conscience will be clear if you’ve done your best to warn the new victim. But we are not to foolishly sacrifice our own safety.
Summer, Why would you keep quiet. It is by reading each others stories and the comments of the experts like Barb and Ps Crippen that we learn, grow, gain strength and stay away from any future traps. I’m finding that several who comment on this blog have written books or articles on the subject of abuse.
If you don’t mind my adding my 2 cents. I hope I will always be found trying to warn the next potential victim even if they don’t want my input. At least then, I have done my part. There is a young girl who is the daughter of a work colleague who plans to get married next year to someone who is 15 years older and from what I know of the potential groom he will abuse her verbally, emotionally, financially and possibly physically. Because, her father doesn’t want her to know that he has spoken to anyone about her situation, I thought I would send her a book on abuse anonymously. Her father has already given his opinion even before they announced their engagement and it was not taken with open arms. As for the X, he spends time trying to convince me of his change, which is not working. The only other woman I am aware of him spending time with is his X. She said he was abusive in their marriage, too. If she buys into his story, then I am afraid she is on her own.
Fiftyandfree talked about a couple of books that sound interesting to me “Red Flags of Love Fraud,” by Donna Anderson, or “How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved,” by Sandra L. Brown. I haven’t read either of them, but they are on my books to read list. I am not sure if there is any absolute way of knowing if someone is going to be abusive by looking at his family. I know for a fact that there are people out there who were raised in abusive situation that do not grow up to be abusers. We are all capable of growing up and making conscious decisions to make our lives different. I have 2 siblings and were raised in abuse of various kinds. My sister and I made the decision to stop the insanity. Even though we both married abusers, we ourselves were not. I suppose we didn’t completely stop the insanity, but made effort. My brother did not fare so well. I could write a book on him alone.
There are abusers in all walks of life, every profession, every income bracket. Your pastor’s wife–needing the permission of Elders to leave the church. That is a red flag waving tall and proud. My mind is saying, Run, do not walk to the nearest exit and keep on a goin’. There is a better church home awaiting.
Some of my friends have suggested sending her a book anonymously. The problem with this is that he will undoubtedly suspect that it was me. I’d really like to send her “Red Flags of Love Fraud,” by Donna Anderson, or “How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved,” by Sandra L. Brown. Anyone familiar with these books or have other suggestions?
Sometimes I even contemplate calling her or writing her a letter to warn her, but seriously, is she going to believe me?
The sticky notes with this blog address would be a great idea if I wasn’t still terrified of the anti-husband. I don’t want him to ever know where I post or what I post.
Anyone reading this, will you please pray that the Lord shows me if I am to do anything at all, or if I should just leave it in His hands and pray for her; and nothing more. Thanks.
Holy Spirit, do Your work of Divine Orchestration, 🙂 just as You led me to this blog today… Your timing is perfect and profound… Thank You Lord!!
Thanks Bev. I’m still praying for this unsuspecting woman.
Update: November, 2021 Some of the information contained in this comment is out of date. For the reader’s convenience, links to order Not Under Bondage are here [*Affiliate link] and here. Editors.]
Re: the idea of my revising my book:
My book is published in hard copy; it’s not an ebook. To revise a hard copy book is a complicated and expensive and time consuming process. I don’t have the time or energy to do it at this stage. Maybe one day, but not now. For those who are purchasing my book from internet retailers or from my own website, I will put info on the retailers’ pages (as far as I am able to) with a link to this post so they can see how my mind has slightly changed. I simply cannot do more at this stage.
A little more background on why I can’t face issuing a revised edition. Maschil Press, the publishing business that published Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link], is me. I set it up; I taught myself how to be a publisher; I found and paid the book designer to do the cover and layout, and the indexer to do the index, and the proofreader to get out most of the typos (no proofreader catches all the typos). The only free assistance I had was from people who helped edit it. This took me years. And that was after I had tried for nearly two years to get an existing publisher to accept it. I had prayed “Please God don’t make me have to publish it myself!” . . . but I had to do it myself in the end. I’m glad I did, now, but the very thought of going back into some of that process and re-doing it is so traumatizing that I just can’t face it.
Plus, I have boxes of the printed book here in Oz that are not yet sold. That was a silly mistake on my part: I was too optimistic about what my sales would be here in Oz. Most of my sales are in the US and it’s prohibitive to ship books from here to there, so my overseas customers almost always get a US printed version (I use a Print on Demand firm that has factories in the USA and the UK.) If I had an army of volunteer assistants here in Oz to take care of all the admin that I hate doing, which publishing requires. . . but I don’t.
If anyone happens to be flying from Oz to the USA and can take a carton my books on the flight, let me know. I would pay the cost of an extra bag in your luggage if need be, and the cost of you shipping them to Oregon from wherever you may live in the USA, once you get home. I have a friend in Oregon who keeps a stash for me and mails them out at my request, as review copies, or gifts, or if someone purchased it thru my website.
Lastly, some people have asked me if I can make it available as an e-book. Yes I can. The question is can I force myself to overcome my severe aversion to new and frightening techno tasks, and do the steps required in getting that done. So far, no I haven’t been able to. Do I intend to? Yes, someday. 😦 Pray for me. Or pray that God would raise up a Christian survivor who is a techno whiz living in Victoria Australia who would just delight in taking on some of these tasks for me.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
You had quite a journey, Barb. Thank you for taking it. The road may have been long and hard, but the help it has given me and many others is priceless. A crown awaits you.
I agree. Thanks for taking this difficult journey for suffering souls like me. I can’t believe that you did all of that by yourself. I pray that the Lord blesses you and rewards you greatly, and that if it’s His will, one day you will have the help you need to make revisions or make it available as an E-book.
You’ve done a tremendous job of writing, publishing and marketing!
The book, as it stands right now, is an excellent resource. Adding a note on your author page, linked to this clarifying post would, I think, be an excellent idea.
E-publishing is not as difficult as it first sounds. I was pleasantly suprised at how easy the process was for my book. Really the hardest part was proper linking of footnotes and table of contents, but I found some good instructions on the internet (Amazon and B&N websites)for that part.
My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to not worry too much about making corrections to this book, but maybe start planning a second book on a related topic. If you do a second publication at some time in the future, or do an e-publish version, you could easily add a preface explaining your change in perspective with a reference to this blog post.
Blessings to you!
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Jeff C and I are already planning our next book together. We have had an offer of help from someone who might help edit it. Some of the new book will incorporate condensed material from posts on this blog (and some comments too, if we get permission from the commenters). It will certainly reference my post above, and may even republish it in full in a chapter of the book. It will also include material we have not published on the blog.
Thanks for the encouragement about e-publishing. I probably have to take a different route to you as I will be going thru my POD printer (Lightning Source) who currently print the hard copy for non-Australian customers. It’s probably a pretty easy process. . . and my poor mind will gird its new-techno-phobic loins some day soon and make it happen.
Looking forward to the new book.
Barbara – Wonderful! I think a book co-authored by you and Jeff C is an excellent idea!
Looking forward to reading it
This Scripture alone should tell us that God hates abuse. Reviler is a verbal abuser and a sexual abuser is committing sexual immorality. If a verbal abuser is to be thrown out of the church, then what about a physical, sexual, emotional, etc abuser? In fact, God calls the people who practice these things “evil”. If we are true Christians, God would not refer to us as evil.
Your post is such a relief to me. I have spent the past year wondering how that could have been done correctly in my situation and just cannot see how it would have been any different. When the abuser lies and cons, you just have a mess to deal with in the end and it is always the victims that suffer. The above passage to me, indicates that these people would NOT be seen as the “brothers” in Matthew 18, for as I said, here God calls them “evil” and in Matthew 18, they are called “brothers”. Big difference.
Forgot this….AND if the church is to put them out (abusers), then WE as spouses and parents, are most certainly allowed to put them out of our homes (maybe even commanded to in this passage?), because WE are the church, the body of believers. The church is not a building, it is the people that fill the building.
Amen, Iam. Why do others in the church not see that? I don’t get it.
Exactly, but instead we are admonished to sleep with the enemy by staying married and continuing to be a “biblical wife” to our abusers.
That’s going on our GEMS page, Fifty!
Thanks Barbara! You’re a GEM. I can’t wait to read your new book!
Excellent contrast, IAMB. You give me even more arguments to nail this truth home.
Thank you for your thoughtful writing regarding your change of heart/position concerning Matthew 18. I have your book, not for myself, but to help a sister through a difficult time. Even though her husband is not a believer (she has been married 11 years, a believer for 3) he is still trying to manipulate her through the use of the little he knows about Christianity. In all honesty he seems to be a narcissistic alcoholic.
What I find sad is that the Church seems to, unknowingly at times, teach in such a way that women believe they need to be a light to an unbelieving husband no matter what. My sister has not spoken much about what her church professes regarding divorce; however, from the growth she has had since becoming a believer, she was already skewed toward putting up with however her husband wanted to live, treat her, and treat their three young children. One child is mildly autistic. The husband refuses to acknowledge the disorder of the child as well, which makes things even worse. There is no cooperation in helping this child.
I am thankful that this sister asked the husband to leave the home, but he continually claims that all his ills and drinking are my sister’s fault, not taking into account that he drank long before he met my sister. She is often very low and discouraged as she knows she will need to be (she doesn’t realize she already has been) the strong one. The husband does not want to be the one to ask for a divorce, though he refuses to stop drinking or do anything to restore the relationship. This sister believes he doesn’t ask, because he wants “her” to be the one to bring it up and pursue it. He can then tell their children that it was what Mom wanted, not him.
If anyone thinks of her, please pray. You can pray for me as well, as I continue to help her.
Bridget, I will be praying for your sister, you and the children. The husband can say whatever he likes, kids aren’t stupid and they will see the truth in their father’s behavior, abuse and alcoholism.
Bridget, God bless you for all you are doing to help your sister. My anti-husband also refused to ask for a divorce, but would not repent from any of his abusive behaviors either, and he continued to insist that I was to stay with him or I’d be sinning against God, and I was to forgive him for his every wrong despite no apologies and no change. The church was no help telling me the same as what your sister is probably hearing; I was to stay and pray no matter what he did (unless he committed adultery) because I might one day lead him to the Lord. He also wanted me to be the one to file for divorce so he could tell everyone that I was the guilty party and he was the poor, innocent guy who wanted to save his marriage.
I agree with Brenda; your children will figure this out for themselves. Children are very, very perceptive. My own daughter just told me this weekend that her dad is so phony with his new girlfriend. She sees the truth without anyone having to tell her.
Brenda R & FiftyandFree –
Thanks for the encouragement and prayer! I, too, believe the childen will see the truth.
Wow. bless your heart for your humble admission… I haven’t read your book, but God is using this post and the comments as a huge blessing and confirmation today. I want to share this scripture with you, from Zeph 3:12… I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the Name of the Lord…. and then in verse 18-19… I (the LORD) will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly (church leadership), who are among you, to whom its (appointed assembly / leadership) reproach is a burden… and gather those driven out; I will appoint them for praise and fame in every land where they were put to shame….
I believe as a shaking of spiritual leadership is going to increase in the Church, He will raise up the humble to take their place…. Sister, you have demonstrated your humble heart with your willingness to testify on how the Spirit has changed your heart on this.
Know that the Spirit is using you, even through this one blog post and comments… prophetic and profound 🙂 … as several mentioned, it is the Holy Spirit we need to be sensitive too, and I am so thankful to see the Counselor being affirmed in His role in this…
thank you Bev!
Your comments about the use of Matthew 18 in regards to abuse in marriage hit very close to home for my family. My daughter was in an abusive marriage for 14 years. To tell her whole story would take a book, so I’ll just focus on the Matthew 18 angle. She and her husband were both members of a solid Bible believing church (the pastor trained under John McArthur), so when she became desperate (around the 5 year mark of their marriage) she tried to use the Matthew 18 approach. She went to the church pastors and elders; they confronted him on a spiritual level, and he responded poorly, and then… nothing. Instead of taking any definitive action, the church decided they needed marriage counseling. So began a 9 year cycle of marriage counseling – some outward improvement in behavior on the part of the husband – return to the abusive behavior – more desperation on her part – another round of marriage counseling, etc.
During these years the church leaders and counselors emphasized the following points:
1) You have as many problem as he does, so work on your own problems
2) If you would submit more and be a better wife then he’d find it easier to be a good husband
3) We don’t want you to dump your truck load of complaints (however, we will listen to HIS complaints)
4) You should submit joyfully to sexual abuse
5) Depression is caused by sin and you need to overcome it
6) You are exaggerating the abuse because you’re looking for an excuse to leave the marriage
7) You shouldn’t speak badly of your husband, i.e. love thinks no evil
8) You need to promise us you’ll never leave the marriage no matter what he does to you (just say the words even if you don’t mean them)
9) Show us your bruises if you want us to believe he abuses you
10) If your life is in danger we would allow you to leave for a time (I think a month was the limit they put on that), while we would give you both more marriage counseling so you could get back together
11) You can’t judge him because you don’t know his heart (although we can judge you)
12) the only biblical grounds for divorce is adultery BUT if he’s “repentant” you should forgive him and stay in the marriage.
The day came when she finally had evidence of the adultery instead of just suspicions. She felt in her own conscience that she now had biblical grounds, so she left the marriage and moved in with us along with her 3 children (we had moved to the area to support her). By this time we had all realized that our confidence in the church had been misplaced and that they would still do nothing. Well, they did worse than nothing. They called a meeting in which they asked her if she would do whatever the church leaders told her to do and she said “no” (they had already made it clear in the meeting that they would ask her to return to the marriage). Then they asked her husband if he would do whatever they told him to do and he said “yes”. So the tables were turned and he became the good person and she became the rebellious bad person. They gave her a few weeks to reconsider and then make a public announcement in the Sunday morning service that she was being disciplined and was no longer allowed to enter the church building or attend any church functions and no one should speak to her (unless they exhorted her). Meanwhile, her husband continues in good standing in the church and takes the children with him every Sunday (they go to his apartment most weekends). As parents, we resigned from the church at that time as well, because they were pressuring us to support their decision (along with some other issues).
When all the dust settled, it seemed apparent that 14 years of abusive, angry, aggressive, demeaning, deceitful, narcissistic behavior, along with immorality and porn, etc, are all very minor sins that don’t even register on their radar compared to the BIG unforgiveable sin of leaving a marriage. Why did she hang in there for 14 years instead of leaving sooner? Along with the brain washing, there was also the very real fear of losing her support group… her friends and social life revolved around the church and its activities. As parents we have lost that along with her (with a few exceptions), but we have peace of heart and understand that God is not like the church leaders. He is a God of compassion who is firmly against the oppressors and fights for the oppressed. So THAT is how Matthew 18 played out (in our case) in a Bible believing Church.
I feel like I could say a lot of things about this but what I’m going to say is what they did is truly awful.
Mom, wow! I mean WOW!!! You can’t make this stuff up. This exactly the experience we read about over and over again on this blog. It is truly sickening. I remember being told so many of the ungodly things your daughter was told. I was depressed due to my own sin, not abuse. I should not judge him because I am a sinner too. There are NO GROUNDS for divorce except adultery. Stop complaining about the so-called abuse, we don’t want to hear it and when you tell us about it you are gossiping and disrespecting your husband. You must be more submissive and respect your husband, and THEN he will treat you better. He’s not hitting you so it’s not abuse. Verbal “meanness” is not abuse. It’s sin, yes, but not abuse, and by the way, you are a sinner too. Oh, and the marriage is far more important than YOU, so you better get counseling and STAY MARRIED at all costs.
I’m sorry your daughter suffered 14 years with that creep. I suffered 12 years and then endured a one and a half year long divorce battle which robbed me of another year of my life, so I can relate to what your poor daughter endured. I’m happy she is free and that she has such a wonderful mom to support her!
Mom . . . I hear these stories over and over but I just never EVER seem to get over the shock. Who do they think they are?! They are NOT GOD. And they don’t get to PLAY Him. That is awful . . . just awful. I do want to say, though, that I absolutely applaud you and your husband standing by your daughter, even when everyone else was against her. I know that it must have brought her a great deal of comfort.
I am so sorry for what you all have gone through. Big hugs.
Mom, thank you soooo much for your comment. It represents multitudes of other with similar stories. We are so glad you have come to the blog. 🙂 Please stay around and keep sharing and advocating for victims and their protective families who are secretly supporting them through the minefields and razor strewn gauntlets of church abuse smack up on top of domestic abuse.
And Mom, could you please email me? I’d like to ask if it is okay to republish your comment as a stand-alone post. Thanks. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mom – What a horrible experience for your daughter to endure, as well as you and your husband! Although the scenario is all too common, that does not at all diminish the horror of each individual person scarred by abuse…the abuse of the church on top of the abuse by her husband.
I am coming more and more to see this as part of God’s process of deliverance. Not only does He redeem us from covenants of abusive bondage, but He also delivers us from flawed theology, merciless churches, and false friends.
Our Redeemer lives!
AMEN, I agree Joe
Mom, That is just terrible. It sounds a lot like what I went through in a PCA church. It is impossible to articulate just how overwelming the confusion and mental anguish is undergoing spiritual abuse such as this. As if dealing with the abuser wasn’t stressful enough, the church heaps on more misery instead of help.
I think that anything goes in an abusive church and that the only real sin is not giving leadership complete submission over every area of one’s life. They resent any pullback from their decrees (no matter how ridiculous) and will punish for insubordination. I have since learned that if a person is publicly disciplined they may have grounds for a lawsuit. Since these churches seem to have no conscience for the evil that they do, it may be the only way that change will ever happen.
You handled everything in a godly way and God will bless you for that. That church was a disgrace-so glad you got out of there. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you. It has been 2 years since the church episode but we still sometimes comment on the freedom we all feel now. We have no interest in a lawsuit, but I have sometimes thought of posting a line on their sign that says “Abusers Welcome! You will feel at home with us!”
Just reading this makes me hyperventilate. I tried an informal Matthew 18 approach with my husband’s problem drinking, and got exactly nowhere in the end, despite two separate pastors being informed about husband’s driving drunk with the kids. Oh, they made the right noises, but nothing ever happened.
It wasn’t until we were in our current church, which is a fairly young, urban congregation, that I got the support I’d hoped for. And they haven’t even suggested Matthew 18. Nightmares like what your daughter experienced with her “church” were part of what kept me brainwashed and fearful of even considering leaving for the 18 years I’ve been a Christian.
Honestly, I’ve loathed John MacArthur’s arrogance and grace-less teachings for years. My dearest friend and her husband admire some of his stuff, and it’s hard for me not to want to chuck his books from her bookcase.
Marah, we haven’t tackled John McArthur’s teaching in depth yet but it is on our ‘to do’ list.
Meanwhile, know that I join you in your view of him.
“Grace To You” should be named Grace To You if you Stick to our Party Line on divorce but if you are a woman who has been abused by her husband we have No Grace for You. However, if you are a man who has divorced and is aspiring to be a pastor, we will consider giving grace to you, but we won’t publish our policy on how we decide these things as it’s all done behind closed doors at The Masters Seminary.
Bringing it to the church–means the congregation in Congregational type churches. In Presbyterianism it means the elders. Having seen many, many Presbyterians who are clueless on abuse, patriarchy and so on, I would like you hesitate to go to them, however, once you are a member you pretty much have to. That is why I think anybody under 18 should not become communicant members. How do they know all the ramifications of church membership? How do they know 15 years down the road who will actually BE an elder/pastor then and whether they are trustworthy? Or how does anyone? I am a PCA member currently in a church I trust (in America). They have a woman as the head of the Care Ministry. This is a big plus. All I can say is Beware of the church you join, and if you see trouble in it or do not have a trust in the leadership transfer elsewhere.
Thanks for your comment, Lacie. Here in Oz the Congregational denomination united in the 1970s with most of the Methodists and the liberal arm of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, so I don’t have any experience of the Congregationalists as such. So I’ve never seen in practice a church that understood “take it to the church” as meaning “take it to the whole congregation.”
Actually in the U.S. Reformed Baptists are congregational and people go before the congregation in order to become members or to be excommunicated. The problem with having “the church” mean the elders means the priesthood of believers is minimized. The church is looked to for all the answers, as in the Roman Catholic church. The work of the Holy Spirit is also minimized.
good point about the work of the Holy Spirit being minimised, Lacie. 🙂
Was alerted to this post via updated comments. Thank you Barbara and to the many commenters. Still not finished reading. There is so much valuable insight. I am grateful to hear how the Lord is leading others and also for the warnings of what to beware of when dealing with church leadership and popular ministries.
I told my (now ex) husband’s Pastor about the abuse. I told him hoping that he would make my ex husband go get counseling so he would I hope stop scaring the children with the constant temper tantrums. I told my (now ex) husband’s Pastor how he had thrown our 8 year old son against the wall and hit him, hit me, broke a door down when I had locked myself in the bathroom as he threatened to kill me.
I told the Pastor how my husband had a raging 10 minute temper tantrum at our then 6 year old daughter while she sat on the potty with her pants down, tears streaming down her face in fear and how she could not sleep that night.
I told the Pastor how he had a 20 year pattern of bullying my elderly mother for money which had started even before marriage with sweet talk and excuses and escalated into bullying and threats that she would not be allowed to see the grandchildren. I told the Pastor how he had threatened to take my children away from me if I tell anyone that he hit me or hit our son.
I told the Pastor how my (now ex) husband had us walking on eggshells for years constantly fearing his temper as I begged the Pastor to make the man get some help.
The Pastor a week later after hearing my ex husband’s side told me that I can divorce but I will “Burn in the Lake of Fire if I ever remarry” and that I must “never be alone with a man and never date” and I will hear his words echoing in my head forever in Hell if I do. The church made if very very clear that if I am to separate and divorce my violent ex husband for his own sins that I would pay the price of never being allowed any happiness in life by trying to find love and marriage with a believing new spouse, but that I would get the punishment of hell if I seek to find love with a new Christian man and remarry.
Knowing that is what they believe I knew I must try to protect my children and I had no choice but to divorce and hope to give my children at least some normal home for the half of the time they would be with me. I knew my ex would fight me for the rest of my life as he made that very clear by posting threats in my home that he would never give up. He continued to stalk me after separation and refused to leave my home until he was thrown out more than a year after I asked him to leave as he bullied me the entire time and told the children I was evil for making Daddy move.
He continues in this pattern, but I am divorced and he continues to blame me rather than blame his own behavior of hitting me and hitting our son and threatening to kill me and NOT getting any psychotherapy or help or demonstrating some kind of heartfelt change while continuing to make up lies to the court to falsely accuse me of violence in order to control custody and assets.
I believe my ex husband was hoping if he could control my access to the children by his lying in court and trying to make me look like the perpetrator he could force me back to him by my desire to comfort and see our children. He threatened to take the children away from me and he did, by lying to the court. I had no idea he was capable of lying to the court and lying to the children while claiming to be a Christian and no idea how low he would stoop in order to try and maintain control over me.
I am deeply afraid of him and he seems to get some kind of bizarre enjoyment out of my fear of him. I only wanted him to get help and to protect our children. He is unrepentant and continues to prop up his long list of lies to this day.
Thank you for sharing this, K. I believe you.
You have articulated it really well, clearly describing what your husband did, what your good motives were in telling that pastor, and what that ‘c’hurch did. It is clearly a non-church, the kind that Jesus spits out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16) with disgusted abhorrence. People who do this wickedness under the name of Christianity are the worst kind of sinners, worse than those who do it under other belief systems. God will not be mocked and He will not let His name be taken in vain.
Thank you so much for sharing here. I’m sure what you’ve shared will help other survivors.
MUCH love to u, Barbara. And MUCH thanks, for who u are, and for all u do…
Thanks lauraleam, and welcome to the blog. 🙂 [I know you’ve commented once before but I never welcomed you then.]
God must have sent me here! Wow! I am amazed at what all these women have gone through! Here goes, and thanks for letting me write. I need to unload. Never done this.
I found myself here, searching, googling for Anything, something that could validate what I have been going through all these 30, long years with my husband. Nearly fearful to say the word, abusive, yet I know in my heart he is with the way he speaks speaks with me daily, blames me for every frustration he has, and every other thing in our marriage that has gone wrong.
It was my body’s way of saying I must leave him or die, when two days before my 52nd b’day, when after I made a simple suggestion for his sleep problem, he rolls over in bed, and with a scowl on his face and say’s “***** You!” Bam, bam, slapped up a side the head again, so it felt. Within 24 hours I landed in the ER with my heart racing out of control. Dr.’s said it was from my jacuzzi, yet I know the emotions of my heart were in turmoil, adding greatly to the problem.
Before going, I called, expressing my sentiment to the nurse on nurseline; she advised I call 911, if my husband would not promtly take me. He did take me, yet not presenting himself with much care or true concern for me. I didn’t feel the love!
Worsening over the past few months, my husbands sleep disorder, relating abilities (with abuse), has taken it’s toll on me. I feel exhausted, am so stressed, since most every day now, he creates some sort of upset with me, for himself. It is so hard, so heartbreaking for me, since I too am a Christian, (born again), and love the Lord so much, yet am so confused what the Bible tells me to do about my problem. Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sin? My parents, married 62 years are clueless, and my father has outright told me, “you better never divorce your husband, since you have all these benefits”! What do you do with that!? Ugg.
We tried marriage counseling for 2 years solid; it did Not work. As soon as we would get into the car, or otherwise be together, the drama would return, blame, his story line, negativity, and poor attitude towards me, etc. The cycle of blame, shame, hurt, detatch, retreat, recover, wound-lick, rest, recooperate, returns. Gotta be ready for the next time, and there always is.
The family member I am closest in age has for years, “taken sides” with my abusive husband to the point where we haven’t spoken to each other since last Feb.! She tends to “preach” to me, not listen to what I am going through, or will say, “you need to take the New Eve study”, or something along those lines, gives truckloads of advice. She presents what “I” should do is the answer.
This has hurt me so bad, mentally, spiritually, I do not know how to reconnect with her, fearful if I do, her same theme of invalidating, and / or not expressing love and concern for what I am going through will return.
I have been in therapy getting support for myself.
My therapist is aware of my tumultuous marriage. She told me last year, “she was concerned I may be in an abusive marriage, when after he plopped himself in my chair (after arriving to pick you up after your session), looked at my saying, now do you see what I have to put up with?”
I am disabled, will need a back surgery, and am completely reliant financially on my husband. I do not know what to do. I feel so stuck, yet I do know I no longer want to be with my abusive husband. Times changes nothing. Some days, I feel like running away.
The pastor I did counsel with moved. I hope I have not over stepped the limit on space here. Please forgive me, and thank you for reading.
God Bless You!
Turtledove – You are very welcome here and thank you for sharing your story. I would recommend that you immediately go pay a visit to your local women’s resource center and tell them the whole story. They will believe you and are more prepared than most all churches to help people in your situation. And you aren’t the only one in it! I hope you keep coming here and interacting with all of us.
Welcome Turtledove! I am glad you found us here! There is much validation, comfort and wisdom at ACFJ and I hope that you continue reading as much information as you can. Knowledge is power! God will speak to your heart through the truth and guide you in your decisions. You are in my prayers!
welcome to the blog 🙂 You did not overstep at all in the lenght of your comment, don’t worry! I disidentified a couple of details in it, just for your safety in case anyone who knows you reads it (to make it less easy for them to recognise you).
Thanks for your comment and I hope you hang around. You are most welcome here. I suggest you read our New Users Info tab in the top menu. I also suggest you might find this post helpful: Love Covers A Multitude of Sins, But Not All
I hear your dilemma and how difficult it seems for you to leave him, what with your health issues and the financial dependence you feel. I don’t have any easy answers to that. But I encourage you to contact your local Womens Support Service to find out what things they may have to suggest, as they would know the local welfare and social service system in your area.
And keep reading and learning about abuse. Check out our Resources pages for recommended books, and mine our Tags (top menu) for the topics that interest you. As you read and learn, I think you will find yourself encouraged and built up, and that may lead to your seeing ways to work toward a life of greater safety and freedom from abuse. We know it is not easy. But we are here for you always. Blessings to you.
Thanks so much for the support, validation, concern, and ideas to help myself.
Ultimately, no matter what I decide of my marrital fate, I must empower myself
with good information spiritually, practically, with God guiding the way. I thank God
for people on this site that understand abuse, who cares about it passionately to help others.
Joy n Peace to you!
This comment was sent to me privately and I’m submitting it here on behalf of anewanon. Thank you, anewanon.
I am very grateful for this website and the help that it gives to me. I’ve also read regarding “Paul and the Roman centurion” story that Paul spoke up when he was within his legal birth-right to do so. Much of scripture quoted and used to abuse wives today, like the epistles written by Peter, were brilliantly and prophetically penned to oppressed Roman Christians who had no rights and were about to die in a huge city-wide fire (Nero) in a year’s time.
Thankfully I do live in a country were I am at least free enough to live out my faith by saying NO to abuse through divorce. God divorced Israel with and for a holy purpose. And I was made in his image. So I too can use my legal right to live out my faith and obedience to God. No more treachery to my heart nor our family. I am the “strong man” here, only because the male-counterpart chose not to be. God provides the armor, but we have to put it on, on bended knee works best. He takes care of His Children once we take care to made HIM Lord (not marriage, and not wayward, idolater husbands).
Off my stump now. I hope this helps someone. You all have helped me so much more.
I was recently referred to your site and have been hungrily receiving daily posts.
Your “revision” is the most helpful, relevant and eye-opening confirmation I have ever read on the topic, Barbara. Like most who have spent their lives wrestling the theological aspects of separation, divorce, loyalty and remaining a God-honoring missionary wife and mother, I have read and searched through the Word, Christian authors, counselors, and church authorities in several countries for wise guidance. Seven years after a dreaded divorce following two decades of marriage, I needed to stumble onto your words today. My morning has been filled with tears over my grown children, who continue to live out the effects of my choices – to stay ‘so long’, to ‘leave’, to finally end a marriage which was over long before I realized it… Or maybe, they are just growing up. Smile. (Do we ever, ever get to the point where it is not relentlessly, undoubtedly, absolutely obvious this was “All My Fault”?!)
Two hours of sitting here, with my coat on (I was on my way to go hang clothes on the line) and reading through the article you wrote, as well as some of the comments… I feel like I have finally found a place to land, after escaping my cage and wondering where to fly for Scriptural understanding of a very complicated subject.
Confession: If one were allowed to have a hero, in one’s walk of faith, John Piper would be mine. He has helped me in my spiritual growth more than anyone else I can name. I have kept his “Eleven reasons…” on remarriage after divorce, in my bedside table to keep me steady in my resolve to remain unmarried. Although I believe that may remain God’s choice for me for life, there are multiple other reasons for that decision at present, including my future work with domestic violence in the church and in a nearby shelter. I have some thinking to do…
Hello Deb, thanks for the encouragement and I’m glad you’re finding the blog helpful. 🙂
I don’t know how much you have read on the blog but we have a LOT of concerns with John Piper’s views on marriage, divorce and remarriage. You can read all our posts about him under the tag John Piper.
Regarding remarriage after a Biblical divorce (i.e. after having divorced an abusive, adulterous or deserting spouse), we believe that one is at liberty to remarry; the only caveat is that one marries a believer — and one needs to be careful because as we know from so many stories at this site, many abusers masquerade very successfully as Christians.
You may find this post helpful, as it summarises my views on remarriage. You’ve probably read it already, as it was only recently published on this site. Remarriage after divorcing an abuser — in a nutshell.
First, thank you so much Ms. Roberts! Your book was a beacon of light in a cloud of darkness for me. In light of your acknowledgement, I would like to share my thoughts about the torment of this decision for spirit-filled Christians everywhere.
No matter where I turned for help after realizing after 30 years of abuse, I was told things that made me feel as if divorce was THE unforgivable sin. No matter who it was, they all admonished me on the graveness of “mistaken” divorce. Is divorce worse than rape, murder or other sins that are forgiven by our Lord every day?
I kept feeling more and more trapped and paralyzed with fear of angering God. In my heart though, my belief in a grace-filled and merciful Abba Father could not reconcile that He would forbid me freedom from constant, debilitating abuse and the heartbreak and despair it caused me for 3 decades-especially when I believe it was God who woke me up to it because of His wonderful plan for me (as in Jer. 29:11)!
This seems to me to be cruelty and serious oppression on the part of the church at large toward women.
Thank you again for this powerful work, and the time you and those like you who advocate for victims of domestic abuse.
Thanks for your encouragement, Debbie. And welcome to the blog! 🙂
Matthew 18:15–17 has a clear pattern: you go to someone once in private; if they don’t repent, then once with a witness; if they don’t repent, then once to the church / assembly; if they don’t repent, then treat them as a pagan and tax collector. I’ve realized—after being “gracious” and repeating vs. 15 many times, then 16 more than once—that Scripture has good reason for that order. Scripture’s specific order for things was designed to protect victims, and in thinking I would show even more grace and love than necessary, I was only hurting myself and demonstrating pride (thinking I knew better than Scripture).
Per Romans 12:18, we are only responsible to live at peace with others insofar as we can effect that peace. (Note the verb “effect” ≠ “affect”. 🙂 )
If someone’s willing to repent, then they’ll do so when approached. Repeating any part of the cycle is, in fact, enabling the abuser to continue.
(Also worth noting: the word “the church” in Matthew 18:17 is ekklésia, which means the church body, not merely the church government. (See that link for its meaning in some lexicons and for other verses where the word appears.)
I personally have experienced “reconciliation” being treated as a be-all, end-all, without the prerequisites [like forgiveness] even being asked about, turning reconciliation into a nebulously defined idol. Not that they see or admit that, of course.
Also pertinent: per Luke 17:3, forgiveness is only required of us if the rebuked party repents. And we’re only commanded to love our enemies, not to forgive them (ref. Matthew 5:44).
I was in an a verbal and emotionally abusive marriage for 18 years. I lived on eggshells the entire time. I considered leaving after 2 years of marriage, but was convinced not to because I had no biblical grounds. I finally chalked it up to the fact that those were the cards I was dealt, so I lived with it. We moved on, bought a house and had 2 children. No one knew my ‘real life’ because I portrayed everything was fine. Unfortunately, my children witnessed way too much.
Finally, shortly after our 18th wedding anniversary, when he said “Happy Anniversary, B@$&h!”, I had a physical and mental shutdown. I cannot explain it, but I was emotionally dead. He started yelling at me and told me I needed to start acting like a real wife and if I didnt, we needed to divorce. I finally called his bluff and left. He blamed me for not trying to work on things and breaking up the family. He told the kids that “Mommy didn’t love him anymore and was breaking the family apart, because she is so selfish.” Anyway, to make a long story short, we divorced. I had felt so lonely for so many years. I never had companionship, a confidant, or even a friend. I had always felt alone.
I ended up finding a wonderful, Christian man and was remarried a year and a half later. I am so happy my children get to witness a healthy marriage and a relationship between husband and wife that centers around Christ and scripture. I cannot help but feel that God has awarded me this happiness after all the years of turmoil I endured. However, I keep hearing according to the Bible, I am committing adultery. My ex spouse, was a believer, he just will not get help for his out of control temper. Can God redeem remarriages even though it may not be in His plan? I am so confused. Thank you for your clarification.
Remarried – you are not committing adultery. God is blessing you. Your marriage was destroyed by a wicked husband who never intended to keep the vows he took at your wedding in the presence of God and witnesses. Scripture does indeed permit divorce for abuse. I recommend you read Barbara Roberts book Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link] (see our Resources page) to help you think this through. I am convinced that abusers, like your ex, are in fact not Christians. Just take a look at the little book of 1 John in the New Testament. Read it like you are reading it for the first time, forgetting all the tradition you have been taught. What does the Apostle John say about a person who says they love God (ie, that they are a Christian) and yet who hates his brother (or wife)? John says that man is a liar. Any man who abuses his wife as your ex did all those years, is not a Christian. And in fact he NEVER really agreed to live with you, as 1 Cor 7 speaks of. He in fact deserted you very early on in your marriage, even though he physically lived in the same house.
You are free. Many blessings in Christ to you.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
Thank you Jeff. I would definitely like to read this book, and I will read 1 John. I appreciate your encouraging words.
Hi Remarried, blessings to you and welcome to the blog 🙂
I second what Jeff said about your ex-husband not being a believer.
Also, here are some more posts that you might find helpful:
Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell
Isn’t adultery the only ground for divorce?
Remarriage after divorcing an abuser — in a nutshell
God hates divorce? Not always.
A person who intentionally practices a pattern of coercive control and power over their spouse cannot be a Christian. Think about it. To do this, they must violate and sear the demands of their own conscience, stiffen their necks against God’s convicting Spirit, and high handedly disregard all the Biblical precepts that call them to repentance.
And those who do all this while professing to be a follower of Christ are more wicked than those who do it without any pretense of being Christians, for they are hypocritically taking the Lord’s name in vain and being wolves in sheep’s clothing, blighting the body of Christ with their leaven and lies.
Thank you Barbara. I appreciate you taking the time to read and to reply to my post.
Finally! Someone sees the truth. Some victims end up in JAIL because they’re backed into a corner!
Spiritual Abusers are EXACTLY the same way!
The victims who seek help because of a problem is declared that he or she is the problem! THANK YOU JESUS!
Welcome! and thank you for your comment. You will notice that I changed your screen name to protect your identity. If you want a different screen name you can email me at email@example.com
And may I direct you to our New Users’ page. It gives tips for staying safe when you comment on the blog.
Re Matthew 18: DEFINITELY AGREE with Barbara in this restatement, and this was our exact experience in a church where the leadership was under the spell of the abuser. Matthew 18 would only have been used to further the deception and not convince anyone of anything, when the abused had already confronted and brought two or three witnesses, etc.
These following passages, however, must also be considered, and outline proper necessary separation for victims and their circles:
1 Timothy 3:1, 2, 5
2 Thess. 3:6, 14
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (mentioned in article above)
1 Tim 6:3-5
Yes L; in my book Not Under Bondage I discuss those passages as well. 🙂
Thank you for this article. In contemplating divorce from my abusive husband I experienced the confusion, and guilt you addressed. My church leaders said the only two reasons for divorce are adultery and abandonment by a non-believing spouse. Therefore, since my husband professes to be a Christian I hesitated to divorce, feeling as if I am wrong. I had read your article on biblical divorce for abuse but the very statement you recalled brought my guilt back. Well, I finally did as you state here and ended up having to ignore my own pastors advice to separate for a time, but have the goal of reconciliation in mind, with a sad heart. You see, I didn’t want to ignore my own pastor but I couldn’t go back into that life with my husband. I was indeed enslaved. This article affirms for me that I made the right choice to divorce and removes the quilt that it was I who did wrong that victims feel.
It’s been a long road to reach the decision that I’m ok to divorce him. I think it should’ve been an easy choice. So, I thank you also for the work you’re doing to educate people on abuse so that others don’t have to learn the hard way as I did. Always knowing it was wrong, but could never figure out things through the games and tactics. God bless you and your work.
Hi dear sister, I changed the screen name you gave in this comment. Just letting you know. 🙂
The people of the church, including leaders who believe they are qualified to offer professional counseling, have no business offering counsel to couples except to advise each to seek personal counseling through a shelter, from specialists in domestic abuse. [recommendation of a resource removed by Eds] Men often become MORE dangerous when in couples’ counseling. What’s more, it’s dangerous for pastors and puts them in a dual role, setting up a conflict of interests, laced with double-binds.
[Screen name modified by Eds]
Hello D Miller
We do not endorse the ministry you recommended. The leader of that ministry is a professing practising lesbian, and since we do not consider such a person can be a Christian, we do not endorse her ministry.
On our New Users’ Info page, we state our Policy in respect of links in comments. Here it is, for your convenience:
Reading Not Under Bondage right now. Page 31 brought me here.
I did the confronting with his church. They eat with him, fellowship with him, gave him a place to live and have sympathy for him as he justifies the fact that he stopped any money coming to us. We have no money for food or bills. NONE. Yet they are so happy for him. I know the truth- I know his hate and contempt and I know it will never end. I know his twists on scripture and his perverse views about God. I know his lust for power and control. The church heard it all and minimize and say everyone has this “problem of the flesh”. A church leader said “we are all abusers. Yes I abuse my wife.” What?!?!?! I know that church is his breeding ground. I hear and see his calculated moves. He bewitches people. They love it! I think this is evil. They love him and support him while whole heartedly. They love how they feel around him. They’re selfish and act like they’re doing some godly thing but they’re doing what they want because it feels good to them as they’re his friends. No accountability. None. The only difference is they had me telling them the truth and they REFUSED to stand for it. They feel sorry for him. It’s disgusting, painful, enraging, lonely, etc etc. I HATE the hypocrisy. HATE. All I can do is run and never look back. I get jerked back here and there (when I hear of his lies and manipulations going on out there) but I keep running. It’s over. Never again.
I’ve been the happiest and healthiest since being educated about this and turning away from him for good. My children are so happy and respectful and healthy. There is a lot of joy now.
I see people more clearly now. The miserable, sarcastic people who even raise their kids that way- run! Run run run! Don’t try, just run. It doesn’t make any sense to stay where you’re hated even if they pretend a little bit. Some people actually hate the good that people do. The hate it. The issue is when I’m hurt, angry or lonely. That’s when I take what I can get in company of others and that’s dangerous. You make a comment about anything and they chew you up and spit you out. If looks could kill. A sarcastic and rude neighbor that’s miserable and refuse to engage with you is not company at all. Run! Run for your life.
Even a person who clearly articulated abusive issues in their own lives and helped greatly while I knew her had instantly stopped talking to me. She was caught lying to me about a favor I asked of her. I commented that she’s could have just said yes or no instead of coming up with lie after lie. I returned an illegal gift (I had told her clearly that I did not want) that she gave me. I left the door open for her to communicate with me next as not to pester her. Never heard back. Crazy right? For her to be so helpful then break everything down instantly like that. So many entitled people thinking they’re above the law and above right thinking. And they silently suggest you don’t say anything about their “flaws” or entitlements and even more that you enjoy them too. That’s makes them feel better out it, you know.
Well guess what? I’ve seen those with no boundaries and it means they have no boundaries with others too. This is not healthy at all. This means no right and wrong either. No respect and no consequences. Cover my lies and I cover yours… Maybe.
The trick I’ve found is no contact or at the most minimal contact possible and RUN! Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see you. They want you under them. Don’t let them know you. Speak general terms if you must say anything at all. Turn the other way. Do what you came there to do and Leave as fast as you can. You can always test the waters with people. See if they have integrity and know right from wrong, if they are born again, if they are rude or sarcastic, if they stand for the truth, if they’re respectful, if they’re drunks or idolaters. Don’t get sucked in to big emotional shows with people. If they act like your best friend immediately — red flag. If they have no boundaries – red flag. If they bash other people or even you – red flag. Run. Don’t stick with abusive and rude people. Keep running! Never stop! Run and don’t look back!
As for my XH- None of this was real love as I was a pawn in his game all along and I quit. Triumphantly, I quit. Victory. Pure victory. The massive lies he’s spread about me. MASSIVE. How cruel he’s made me out to be. It’s ridiculous. I’m the one who lived with the secret abuse daily. I’m the one he hated and abused and yet he cries wolf all along. What lies. Too many to count. The world can believe him — they can have him – they can get sucked in – they can trash me and judge me. I DON’T CARE ANYMORE. I will NEVER accept lies / abuse / Christianese distortions / things of the like.
Lost — you rock!
Lost, I could have WRITTEN your post. I too fled an abusive marriage, and my manipulative ex still managed to sway the pastors to his side. It’s unreal….I documented pages and pages of ongoing abuse and testimony from the kids AFTER I left; as well as an 8-page recap of the 20 years of abuse I endured. It didn’t matter. They tried to force me to ‘reconcile’, even though he never repented OR admitted he was a controlling abuser……and when I refused, I was bullied out of the church.
I have had 2 books published for the biblical counseling market (a movement I no longer feel comfortable identifying with), and my (now former) pastor contacted the Biblical Counseling Coalition to slander me. I’m planning to write a third book – about the practice of conservative evangelical churches in shaming women who leave their abusive husbands (and how they misguidedly push ‘reconciliation’). This has happened many times at my former church.
[…] I’m so glad I found this site!
Hi Marie, I’m glad you’ve found our blog! Welcome. 🙂
Excellent article. I did my doctoral dissertation at Reformed Theological Seminary on this issue. It has since been turned into a book where I come to similar conclusions. And I am a minister in a very conservative Presbyterian denomination.
Thank you Todd. And welcome to the blog! 🙂
We find it extra encouraging when pastors comment approvingly on our work. Would that there were more like you!
I hope you spread the word about our blog. And I hope you keep reading and commenting here. 🙂
As one of the moderators on the this blog, I saw your comment. Thank you for your encouragement!
As you found this article interesting, may I suggest some additional articles from our blog:
What is the woman’s desire? How Susan Foh’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 fed steroids to abusers (Pt1 of 2)
The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life. (Pt2 of 2)
Since the Fall, men have been sinfully disposed to oppress women — but this doesn’t mean women must remain in abusive marriages.
Defining domestic abuse by a list of behaviors is never going to capture it
Is it always sinful to tell an untruth? (Pt 1)
When is it okay to not tell the truth? — (Is it always sinful to tell an untruth, Pt2)
Contriving a test to probe whether a hardened heart has repented (Is it always sinful to tell an untruth? — Pt3)
Abuse and divorce are confusing and mind boggling subjects to think about, let alone experience. And how sad it is when leaders in the church confuse we frightened victims even more, and put undue burden on us by presenting us with unbearable “solutions”.
I am preparing to speak with the session of elders regarding my circumstances, and would point you to Paul’s commandments in 2 Timothy 3.
Please note that the Greek word Paul uses in his command to “avoid” is ἀποτρέπω. The root, ἀπό is defined very clearly:
1) of separation of a part from the whole where of a whole some part is taken
2) of any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed
Here I believe we have a clear command from Paul to divorce such a brutal, treacherous, abusive person – not a permission, but a command. It is noteworthy that the Greek word for divorce (ἀπολύω) comes from the very same root. Surely this is not a mistake!
May the LORD heal your wounds, sister.
Hi E, welcome to the blog. 🙂
I have a small query. Where you wrote. “I am preparing to speak with the session of elders regarding my circumstances, and would point you to Paul’s commandments in 2 Timothy 3.” — Did you mean you would be pointing the elders to Paul’s commandments in 2 Timothy 3? Or did you mean you were pointing me to that passage?
I agree with you that the commandment in 2 Timothy 3 to ‘avoid’ such people strongly support the idea that a victim of domestic abuse can leave her abusive spouse. In my book Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link], I mention that.
I hope things go well in that meeting with the elders, but I suggest you steel yourself in case they don’t. We have many many stories from survivors on this blog, of how their church leaders treated them unjustly.
And btw, we always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
Blessings to your Outreach and heart for victims and [of] domestic violence. I am a survivor in [who??] recently left my husband with my [number redacted] children and moved to another state to regain the peace in my life [that] we deserve. So your blog was the first thing that came up as I sought out some counsel for whether I should divorce or not. It’s quite obvious that you have put much passion and research into this matter due to the fact that the mentality of an abuser is highly manipulative and embedded in their personality.
I strongly believe it is a spiritual battle and that the abuser must engage in the warfare for themself and until they are totally committed to doing this it is not a safe environment let alone a possible [possible for a] reconciliation with their spouse. I totally agree with your corrections and encourage you make them in the text to avoid further misleading to other victims in the situation, mainly pointing back to your point that it could be an actual trigger for the victim to be attacked in some kind of way be it mentally, verbally or physically as a result of exposing this behavior.
May God continue to give you wisdom knowledge and understanding and like Paul said pray for discernment so that women in this situation would also be able to hear that still small voice and be delivered from the spirit of fear which brings paralyzation in [to??] the [individual’s] spirit.
Hi Elizabeth, welcome to the blog. 🙂
In your comment, I removed how many children you had– just to protect you from perhaps being identified.
We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.
If you want us to change your screen name to something else, just email The woman behind the curtain: firstname.lastname@example.org — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂
Thanks for your encouragement and yes I will be issuing a new edition of Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link], with that change incorporated.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
Barbara, I too struggled with not going through the Matthew 18 process and I realized that I was obeying the tee of the law not the purpose of God’s heart – the higher good which I truly believe is the preservation of life. Funny, I commented on the divorce post and felt a bit awkward about mentioning that we did not go through the Matthew 18 process 🙂 thinking that I may be judged. I then found this posting and felt reassured because it is something I do struggle with.
Our abuser wanted us to take it to the Church because we have a responsibility to confront a believer in sin. We didn’t for a couple of reasons, we didn’t consider him a brother in Christ, he was addicted to drama and it would have given him a stage to act out his evil in front of an audience, his new Church is extremely conservative and believed in marriage at any cost and most importantly, our daughter needed her strength and energy to heal spiritually, physically and emotionally in order to save herself and her child. She had a greater battle ahead of her and using her precious energy in fulfilling this process was throwing pearls before a swine. We did do one meeting but it became obvious that the people involved had already made judgement.
Physiological abusers just use the system to abuse more and they become energized by it all, while the victim is bengn raped even more of her very being to survive. I have been leaning towards this understanding for a while now but not comfortable with it. Probably, because I haven’t heard it been taught in the light of a person with a personality disorder.
Thank you for your humility in been teachable by the Holy Spirit and others. We no longer will be useful when we think we have nothing more to learn.
I really believe that God bought me to this posting because I was doubting the fact that we did not go through the Matthew 18 process as it sparked my conscience again after commenting on your other post. I asked God to deliver me from my doubts and teach me His ways. This post put my thoughts into a more orderly order. God indeed is good!
Hopefully you are still answering questions on this post.
I am a pastor that is thinking these matters through based on a marriage situation in our church. The question I wanted [to] ask was based on this part of your article.
We have a circumstance where a woman has suffered emotional abuse in her marriage, and wants a divorce.
The husband has admitted his sin against his wife. Is taking responsibility for the problem. He has repented of the way he has treated her, and is getting counseling from our elders and a independent counselor.
My question is – Are we really supposed to exercise church discipline on this man and treat him as an unbeliever, and endorse the wife’s liberty to divorce?
I would appreciate your perspective as we seek to bring loving and biblical counsel.
Hello Considering Pastor,
Thank you for your comment. I have been in touch with Barbara, who is away from the blog this week, and she wanted you to know that she will personally reply to your comment next week when she returns.
‘Til then here are two of our FAQ pages that you may find helpful in the situation you have mentioned:
What if the abuser is repentant?
As a pastor what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?
I’m not Barbara, but I’m curious what the wife thinks of this repentance? Does she consider it genuine? Have you asked her?
Hi Considering Pastor,
First, let me thank you for your comment and your questions. It’s rare that we get comments submitted by pastors.
I hope you have made the time to read the links given to you by our team-member TWBTC.
I’m glad to hear you are recognising emotional abuse. Many pastors don’t even concede that emotional abuse is really abuse! Jay Adams taught that there is no such thing as emotional abuse because according to him “emotions can’t be abused”. That idea has affected / infected the church deeply … and it’s just plain wrong. The Bible speaks repeatedly about emotional and verbal abuse – it calls verbal abuse ‘reviling,’ and the Psalms use many poetic images to describe emotional abuse, e.g. Ps 55.
As you can see if you read What if the abuser is repentant? most abusers feign repentance. They feign repentance in order to try to convince their victim — and the church — that they are reforming. It’s a tactic to pressure the victim to stay with them or come back to them. Often the church buys into this tactic and believes the abuser is changing. Churches are way too naive about the mentality and tactics of abusers!
So if an abusive spouse appears to be repenting, we suggest you look at our Checklist for Repentance and see if the abuser is meeting all the criteria. All, not some of the criteria.
I urge you not to think the abuser is sufficiently repentant if he is only showing some those signs. All abusers can fake repentance and put on better conduct for a while. That’s how they connive (do a snow job on) the pastor and the elders. And it’s how they so frequently coerce the victim to take them back. And if their victim refuses to take them back, that’s how they charm their next victim — by showing sincerity in good behavior … for a while.
I also advise you NOT to show the Checklist for Repentance to the abuser. He will only use it as a guide for how he can ‘tick the boxes’ so you are more inclined to go along with him and his likely agenda which is to regain power and control over his victim and continue to pass himself off as a ‘good Christian man’.
The Checklist is primarily a tool for the victims to use. So I encourage you to show it to the wife and ask her to share with you her view of whether the husband is repentant according to this checklist. The wife is best placed to make this assessment. She is MUCH better placed to assess this than you or your elders are.
Did you know that the professionals who work in Men’s Behaviour Change (a.k.a Batterer’s Programs, Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs –all the programs that are offered to help abusive men stop being abusive to their intimate partners) agree that BEST PRACTICE is that program facilitators always consult regularly with the woman who is the partner or ex-partner of the abusive man. They call it ‘partner contact’. They ask her to give her perspective on how safe she feels, whether she senses or perceives that her abuser is changing, reducing his abusive behaviours, giving up his abusive mentality, respecting her wishes, treating her with respect, honouring her dignity, etc. Often the abuser will give up the more overt tactics of abuse (e.g. physical violence, yelling, angry rages) but will simply switch over to more subtle methods that are harder to detect. That is why the Checklist can be helpful.
I therefore encourage you to consult with the wife regularly (not in the hearing of her husband) for her views and opinions on the quality and character of her husband’s ‘repentance’. And please believe her. She knows this abusive man FAR better than you do.
As for the husband getting counseling from your elders and from an independent counselor, my question is:
Have those elders any training in how to deal with perpetrators of domestic abuse? Have they been trained and gained experience in how to recognise and resist the attempts the abuser will make to recruit them as his allies? Have they any idea how deceptive and slick abusers are in their manipulative skills and their ability to fabricate a false impression out of snippets of truth and distortions of facts and careful omission of the whole truth? Have they any idea how evil domestic abusers can be?
If they are still inclined to see (or by default assume) that the abuser is a Christian, they are NOT going to be astute enough to see through the abuser’s manipulation.
And in regards to the independent counselor, what guarantees do you have that this counselor has that astuteness about domestic abusers? Did you know that the basic training of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists does NOT touch on domestic abuse? Did you know that even the Christian organisations and seminaries which purport to offer training in domestic abuse don’t really get it? (E.g. CCEF, Dallas Theological Seminary)
I believe that if you follow all I’ve suggested above, the great likelihood is that you will end up exercising church discipline on this man and treating him as an unbeliever.
After all, ask yourself this: How could a true believer have been emotionally abusing his wife for years and years, without being convicted unto repentance by the Holy Spirit? He MUST have been an unbeliever all that time, to have treated his wife so callously all that time. The fact that he has ‘repented’ now he’s been exposed means nothing. It only means he is doing a double step to try to regain his power and keep his false halo shining. A true believer would have repented YEARS ago, without having to be exposed — exposed by his very brave and long-suffering wife — to the pastor and elders. Is that not so?
Therefore, I put these questions to you: Why are you and your elders so keen to keep considering that this man is a Christian? And why are you reluctant to treat him as an unbeliever?
If you treat him as an unbeliever, God can still deal with him. In fact, God is much more able to deal with him once he is “handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” than if you and your elders keep him in the sheepfold and treat him as a believer when in fact he has been a rank hypocrite. By keeping him in the fold, you are likely to only be enabling him to keep his hypocrisy going.
And in regards to you “endorsing the wife’s liberty to divorce” I have two things to say.
1) It would indeed help the wife (by validating and vindicating her) if you endorsed her liberty to divorce in this situation.
2) But at the same time, I do not believe that elders or pastors or churches have the right to permit or forbid divorce. I believe the church can advise and teach good doctrine on divorce, but each believer has the liberty to choose whether or not to divorce in their own situation. And the believer should not feel that church officials have the power to veto a particular divorce or permit a particular divorce.
The Roman church claimed that power (without warrant) for centuries. The Reformation called that claim into question. The writers of the Westminster Confession took a ‘half-way’ line by saying that “the persons concerned in divorce not be left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case” … which in practice has resulted in Presbyterian Elders and Pastors still taking the view that they have power to veto or permit a divorce. But the Reformed Baptist Confession of 1689 omitted this statement (and their omission must have been deliberate because they duplicated word for word a lot of the Westminster Confession).
So I suggest you and your elders would do well to re-think ‘from the ground up’ your power over divorce. See this post to help you think it through: Abuse and Divorce: A Disagreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Let me wind up by again thanking you for your comment and questions. And I sincerely hope that the time I’ve put into replying to you may bear fruit in the Kingdom of God.
Barbara – What an excellent reply to Considering Pastor. I found myself whispering “yes” so many times.
Definitely don’t let the abuser read The List. It will help him work around it and fool others. What mine did was to read certain articles after he saw me on the ACFJ website. He then turned around and said with an innocent tone, “Well, I’m confused. After reading some of the articles it would appear that I’ve been abused by you. Some of anger you have had towards me is abusive.” I wasn’t surprised by this … he had for years shown that he was able to turn events around to make him look like he was just too naïve to understand that he was doing anything wrong?
So much more to say about this excellent reply … it is so right on.
Considering Pastor — Take heed and share with others.
Thanks, HealinginHim. 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to write a detailed response.
I will take the time to consider your points.
I appreciate your perspective.
Thank you, Considering Pastor. 🙂
Dear Barbara, I thank God for the insight and the understanding that God has given you. I’ve read your blog regarding your “not under bondage” book and I can say that it is the best article that I have ever read on this subject. I wish every pastor would read it, especially when you explain that it is not acceptable to remain neutral when there is a perpetrator and a victim.
My husband felt very empowered when the pastor was trying to make it 50 / 50. I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it. I am a counsellor and I have been victim of coercive control for 4 years. 😦 Even my job didn’t protect me of [from] that…. it shows that it can happen to anyone. We separated 3 months ago and I still find it difficult to go back to a normal life.
I’m thinking about divorcing for I know that for my safety and my child’s safety that is the only solution although that I feel guilty about it. At least what reassures me is that in the mist of my confusion, God has witnessed everything.
God bless you Barbara.. and thank your blog. 🙂
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Thanks chris. 🙂
Yes, being a counselor is no guarantee against being abused by one’s spouse. Ditto for police officers.
I’ve read an account from a female police officer (who regularly attended ‘domestics’ in the course of her police duties) who was being abused by her police-officer husband at home. She said that when she attended a certain ‘domestic’ and told the victim, at the end of the visit, “You don’t have to put up with this!” those words she said to that other woman were her own wake-up call. She realised that they applied not just to that woman, but to her own self!
wow, that is a simple, reassuring and amazing truth. “At least what reassures me is that in the mist of my confusion, God has witnessed everything.”
You know Barb, I just revisited this article while searching for a scripture reference and re-read over your concerns about your book. I do not think that what you said is the problem. It’s solidly scriptural advice that we should be able to appeal to a church court. The problem is the state of the church today and the lack of deeply mature, godly men and women with discernment and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Too much blind pharseeism and not enough actual walking with God. That’s what’s wrong, not your words per se.
Thanks KOA. In a way, I agree with you — we should be able to appeal to a church court if our denomination has a church court system. (It’s usually only Presbyterian denominations that have a church court system, but in other denominations there is generally some other way to appeal for help and justice in the church.) The churches are so lacking in godly discernment and wisdom that these courts are usually kangaroo courts… they show partiality to the abusers and oppress the abused.
However, I also think I was right to change my mind from what I said in my book, because in my book I strongly implied that a victim of abuse needed to obtain a ruling from her church as to whether the abuser was to be ‘treated as an unbeliever’ thus allowing the victim liberty to divorce under 1 Cor 7:15. And since writing the book I’ve come to understand that a victim of abuse is at liberty to divorce without having to obtain ‘permission’ from the church because it is not a sin to divorce an abuser, it is simply a decision that individual victim can make according to her own conscience and circumstances. The church leadership does not have the authority to authorize or forbid the victim divorcing the abuser. The church leadership should be honoring and defending the victim’s liberty!
Of course, if churches were wise and discerning, church leaders would be supporting a victim’s liberty to divorce an abuser — and that would vindicate the victim in the eyes of the congregation.
Thank you so much for your candor. I so appreciate that. Your explanation of the two scriptures was great! Not only for my own information (divorced person here) but for use as a biblically sound piece of information I can go to and reference as I counsel my clients.
Thanks LSE. 🙂 🙂
I have only just seen your book but am certainly glad you have been courageous enough to make this changes, and see these shortcomings. I professionally would not be able to recommend your book given your previous suggestions of suggesting victims go back to their church pastors for a determination. Thank you for your honesty and glad you now see that process can often only leave women more vulnerable to abuse, given the strong denial of the abuse.
Thank you Robyn. 🙂
I just wanted to thank you for your openness and willingness to want to correct a belief you had that wasn’t rooted in God’s words but instead man’s words.
I am an expecting wife who has endured verbal and physical abuse from my Christian husband […] which started directly after getting married. Recently […] there were two instances where I feared that my husband was going to hurt me and possibly kill the life growing inside of me. Currently he is getting counseling but I am not seeing any changes in him and I am worried that I will never feel safe to be around him again or safe to have our child around him. I woke up early this morning unable to sleep from the heaviness of my situation. I want him to change and I believe that it was God’s will for us to get married, but I am afraid that my husband’s will and lack of genuine remorse will keep God’s will from being able to come to fruition.
I was looking up articles and came across [the name of] your book in one, looked it up on Amazon and then saw the link to this article. Even though I have not read your book this article has given me such peace to read. I have struggled with the thought of divorce and concern that God would be disappointed in me if I decided to go through with it, if my husband continues to show that he is a danger to my child and I. The truth spoken in this article has given my heart a healthy dose of courage and strength to do what is necessary if my husband chooses to stay bonded in this area of his own heart. I appreciate your humility to write this article for the sake of believers like me who are in a tough spot and wanting to do God’s will but not wanting to live in fear of their lives or their child’s life.
I just wanted to say thank you for being an advocate for people like me and the children we desire to protect.
[Editors’ note: Some identifying details were removed to protect the commenter’s identity.]
Welcome to the Blog! You will notice that I changed your screen name to protect your identify. We like to remind commenters that this is a public blog so at any time an abuser and / or his allies could see the comments if they found the blog.
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Hi Growing in Courage,
Thank you. And I urge you to look at the links TWBTC gave you. There is almost zero chance your abuser will stop being an abuser. There is a very high chance he will become even more abusive as time goes on. I encourage you to seriously consider leaving him a.s.a.p. It gets harder and harder to leave once one has young children to look after. You have a window of opportunity now.
I strongly suggest you ring a DV hotline and consider making plans to get yourself and your child safe — which means, get away from him and have as little contact with him as you possibly can. Going No Contact with the abuser is often the best (safest), but it’s not always possible given the way the family court system doesn’t truly understand the dynamics of domestic abuse.
Here is our Resources page. Look on that page and you will see a link to Hotlines.
Barbara, I want to emphatically echo GrowingInCourage’s sentiments in her final paragraph above. This article has given me much peace and release from endlessly questioning my decision to end my marriage.
I was subject to emotional / psychological abuse and physical violence from a woman who was and continues to be a churchgoing, “let’s pray more about this”, professing Christian. My conscience was telling me “you have given her many many chances to quit her destructive behavior, but it is clear she is not going to change any time soon”. On the other hand, the pastor of my church, I now see, was not taking my experience of abuse seriously enough. He pressured me to stay, saying he didn’t see a justification for divorce. I think he either has little experience with domestic abuse or is being manipulated.
It has been one month since I made the decision. I am pleased to have come across your writings and those of Jeff Crippen. As a man this is an especially isolating thing to go through. I have found books on abuse of men by women which helped clear the fog and illuminate many methods of control and manipulation I was subject to that I had been making excuses for my partner about.
Hi Grey Squirrel and welcome to the blog. 🙂 I’m glad you are finding it helpful.
I encourage you to check out our FAQ page. There you will find our page titled “Do you have resources for male victims?”
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Thanks. I made sure to read both of those pages and more, before posting. 🙂
My husband bought your book and used it to convince himself he could divorce me after 3 years. I talked to many, many people who said I was not verbally abusive to him like he claimed (b/c he convinced me I was and it’s taken over a year for people to tell me that wasn’t verbal / emotional abuse – that it was standing up for myself)… He made me believe I was an awful wife and when he left, he told people he had been reading this book and that he had Biblical grounds to divorce me because I was abusive to him. I went to counseling and wanted to reconcile but he was very cold, stonewalled and determined to leave but to blame it on me… To this day he is convinced that he left me because I wasn’t safe.
I am the second wife he has divorced and he’s dating again. We were in a PCA church and the pastor and Elders were extremely biased with him (not willing to hear from me) and have given him no accountability. I wish I could talk to you to understand on what my husband read to make him so convinced that I was abusive and that he had Biblical grounds? So confused… Have you heard of any situations similar to this before?
It’s clear to me that you are not an abuser but your ex IS an abuser.
Men who abuse their wives almost always claim to be victims of their wives. They make out that the wife is harsh, unjust, crazy, etc. But the wife is just trying to call on her husband to stop being mean to her.
I might have heard once or twice before of a male abuser using my book to justify divorcing his wife. It is rare. But anything is possible with abusers! They are so skilled at flipping the script.
We have heard countless accounts from women telling us that the PCA church they were in sided with the abusive husband. Not all PCA churches do this…and it happens in many other denominations too…. But many PCA churches in America seem to do it.
It is male privilege on steroids.
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Thank you Barbara. That means a lot that you responded and you confirmed what everyone has been trying to tell me. I am believing it more and more. I appreciate the work you are doing and know there’s so many people to help.
And by the way, I changed your screen name to V, to protect your identity. If you want us to change it to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain). Her address is email@example.com
Thank you. My pastor told me to submit. The woman’s group taught that you stay with your husband even if he is abusive. I am shocked. I married a “Christian” man, licensed minister, youth pastor for many years. He was married for over two decades and well-known in our community. He divorced his wife for adultery and lesbian acts. That was his story to the church. Now I know he was not truthful because he is claiming the same about me.
He took over my life, isolated me from friends and family and then started to verbally degrade me every time I thought for myself. I was in shock and reached out to my church for help and support and received none. The word “submit” was what I heard. Submit to abuse? I had no idea my church believed that and still does.
I left the church because I was being told to keep my eyes on Christ. He [husband] and I lost our focus. What does that mean? He continually used the word of God as a condemning weapon of choice. Never admitting to it. Calling it exhortation because I needed guidance. [He claimed] I was ungodly and he was sent by God to help me. How is that losing focus?
He is still sitting in my church.
I was told I had no grounds to divorce but God gave me 1 Cor 7:15. I cried when I read your posts. It is truly a he-said-she said situation and because my pastor believes the man is the head of the woman he did not have compassion on the situation. I was being strong willed, unsubmissive. Thank you for confirming what I have heard in prayer. I know it sounds silly, but after all of what has happened, I doubt my choices.
He seemed like a man of God. Preacher, teacher, and to me abuser. And I agree that taking him before the church council would only be more pain. He had already conducted a smear campaign way before I left him. He wants all the blame to be on me. And he is a true manipulator. Liar. And good at performing both in front of an audience. I would only be condemned because when he starts, I don’t even know what to say. The shock overwhelms me.
Thank you. Thank you for speaking up with biblical doctrine for the victim of abuse. God help the church for they truly have no idea what they do. God help the victims to stand and take their lives back. God bless.
Dear sister, I changed your screen name to SetFreeByTruth for your protection. It’s not wise to use your real name on this blog unless you are confident that you are well and truly safe and are no longer at risk from your abuser and the abuser’s allies.
Welcome to the blog. I’m glad you are finding it helpful. 🙂 And bless you for sharing!
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In reading through the original post and all the comments generated, it would appear,
From the original post:
(Strikethrough / addition of the word “C”hristians done by me.)
For clarification, “C”hristians is NOT referring to the commenters. 🙂