Focus on the Family recently re-broadcast an interview they did with John MacArthur titled God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage Part 1. [If the broadcast does not work or you would like to read a transcript of the episode, click here. Editors.] So we called them out on our Facebook page (link).
Here is a quote from the broadcast. Trigger Warning. The President of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, is talking to John MacArthur:
Jim: Dr. MacArthur, when you look at divorce, it’s a very difficult thing in our culture because the culture has played so loosely with it. Even within the Christian church, we have struggled to be committed to our marriages and the testimony that, that actually is and what people see. People that don’t know the Lord and look at us, when they see a divorce rate of 35 percent or 40 percent within the church, it doesn’t feel right, does it?
John M.: Well, it isn’t right. I think the bottom line when we talk about this is to remember the first person comment from God Himself: “I hate divorce.” And that’s the bottom line. God hates it because it’s a violation of the one-flesh-for-life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another and also by which the relationship between Christ and His Church is demonstrated and symbolized in the world. And when that is shattered, there’s loss on all fronts, not only does that union break up, the question of passing righteousness to the next generation falls under terrible duress. And then you have lack of clarity about the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. It’s all tied together. And I think, in any case, divorce always has negative ramifications, even when it is justified.
MacArthur thereby demonstrated his ignorance of the Hebrew text of Malachi 2:16. He confidently asserted that it is a first person comment from God Himself: “I hate divorce.”
MacArthur is wrong. It is not “I hate…” (first person). It is “he hates…” (third person). The translators of the 2011 NIV, HCSB and ESV all recognized this. All those translations show that the person doing the hating is the guy who is divorcing his wife:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. (NIV, 2011)
“If he hates and divorces [his wife],” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. (HCSB, 1999)
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV, 2001)
MacArthur is a renowned Bible teacher. He ought to know better. He ought to have studied Malachi in the Hebrew and paid attention to the third person of that verb ‘hate’. He ought not to have blindly accepted and parroted the mistranslations of Malachi 2:16 which have abounded in the past. He ought to have been aware that the NIV, HCSB and ESV all say “he hates”… not “I hate”.
Now, this interview FOF did with MacArthur was originally aired on 16 May 2012. Note the dates of the three translations I have quote above: 2011, 1999 and 2001. Let’s cut MacArthur some grace eh? Perhaps he hadn’t been aware of the many Hebrew scholars who had already been pointing out (for decades) that the word ‘hate’ in that verse is third person. Maybe he was too busy being a celebrity pastor. But by 2012 when he did that interview with Focus on the Family, he’d had more than ten years to become aware of those more accurate translations of Malachi 2:16 in the NIV, HCSB and ESV.
So, I lobbied Focus on the Family
The justified outrage our FB readers expressed towards Focus on the Family prompted me to contact FOF directly. I emailed them via their website. This is what I said:
Once again you have failed to care for victims of abuse. You or some of your networked radio stations re-aired the interview with John MacArthur in which he asserts “God hates divorce”.
PLEASE stop recycling that wrong translation of Malachi 2:16. You do much harm to victims of marital mistreatment when you recycle it.
If you don’t believe it is a erroneous translation, check out the ESV, the HCSB and the 2011 NIV.
Details in this short post: God Hates Divorce? Not Always.
Here is the place where I emailed Focus on the Family: Question / Feedback [Internet Archive link]. If readers want to contact FOF, click on that link and you’ll find a web-email form where you can give them feedback.
On June 3rd, I received this reply:
Thank you for writing to Focus on the Family regarding our radio program with Dr. John MacArthur titled “God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage.” We appreciate your feedback, and we’re also pleased to have an opportunity to read your post in which you shared your thoughts about Malachi 2:16.
In response to your concerns about the broadcast, we want to let you know that it was not Dr. MacArthur’s intention to provide blanket advice that would apply to every difficult marital situation. He is aware of the complexities involved, and he recognizes that it’s important for individuals facing serious issues to seek help, if possible, from a pastor or competent Christian counselor. This can provide objectivity, and equip a hurting spouse to prayerfully make decisions based on God’s guidance and the dictates of her own conscience.
Be assured, too, that it’s not our intention to state or to imply that someone should stay in an abusive marriage. We believe that spousal abuse is never acceptable and should not be tolerated. Based on large number of letters, emails, and phone calls we’ve received on this topic through the years, we’re well aware that abuse of any kind is devastating to victims. We have nothing but compassion for any wife (or husband, as the case may be) who’s facing such a serious and potentially dangerous problem.
Because every situation is unique, we cannot claim to be in a position to make decisions or judgments for someone in the midst of a marital crisis. Only God can provide the wisdom and direction needed in such circumstances. Obviously, a great deal depends on whether or not the spouse is willing to repent and make a real commitment to change his or her behavior and seek ongoing help and healing. When the willingness to address and correct serious issues is missing, or when promises made are easily and quickly broken, reconciliation and restoration of the marriage may be out of the question.
In addition to divorces and marital separations caused by abuse, there are situations in which one mate intentionally and permanently abandons the other. Unfortunately, too, many Christians have no choice but to go through a divorce that their spouse filed for. Regardless of the specific circumstances, we believe that offering friendship and demonstrating an attitude of compassion for divorced individuals is in keeping with Christ’s commandment that we love one another as He has loved us. Rather than inflicting greater pain upon those who are already wounded, we are called to become messengers of God’s grace in their lives.
Thanks again for contacting us, Barbara. We hope this response has clarified our perspective. God bless you in the days ahead.
Focus on the Family
What do you think? Is it an adequate reply? How genuine are they in wanting to help victims of abuse? Are they double-tongued? Are they sitting on the fence? Are they having it both ways? Would you have been mollified by their reply? Are they emitting a dose of fog so we can’t see their hardness of heart? Do you suspect they have hidden the hidden the devil in the details?
Here is an exercise for our readers: What elements of the typical language of abuser’s allies and crummy counselors can you detect in their email?
And how would you like to reply to them?
Grace Community Church Rejected Elder’s Calls to ‘Do Justice’ in Abuse Case — Christianity Today, February 9, 2023.
Former Elder at John MacArthur’s Church Confronts ‘Awful Patterns’ of Endangering Abuse Victims — The Roys Report, February 9, 2023.
John MacArthur’s Instruction to Abuse Victims – Aaaaargh!!!
More on Abuse from John MacArthur – Double Aaaargh!
Where does Focus on the Family stand on abuse and divorce?
A “Gauntlet Down” Challenge to James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Other Christian Ministries of Fame
Not recommended for further reading unless you want to critique and admonish them:
Focus on the Family’s interview with John Macarthur: ‘God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage’
[If the broadcast does not work or you would like to read a transcript of the episode, click here. Editors.]
[If the broadcast does not work or you would like to read a transcript of the episode, click here. Editors.]
53 thoughts on “Focus on the Family & John MacArthur spout “God hates divorce.” And do they accept correction?”
I really appreciate the call to look at McArthur and FOF critically. This kind of double talk either points to outright evil or total ignorance of what constitutes abuse and the effects on the victim. It is the same thing I would have, at one time, dutifully parrotted before recognizing the abuse in my own marriage. With the staggering statistics of 1 in 3 (more likely 4) women facing abuse in their lifetime, talking about divorce separate from abuse is a luxury Christians of influence can no longer ignore when discussing the severity of the issue.
Where is the concern for damage done to women and children in all this?
Once upon a time, radio programs and articles put out by (C)hristians like these kept me in the abuse and added to my guilt and shame that it must be something wrong with me and if I tried harder or was more perfect and Christ-like, my husband wouldn’t be harsh any more. These people have since lost all my respect and I detest their theology and assertions- simply put, I’m justifiably angry at being led astray…. and the effects of living with an unrepentant abusive man on my children has been far reaching, creating deep wounds. You can’t feign innocence anymore FOF! When you influence that many people, you had better have your facts straight. Anything else is evil at work!
Rider’s letter is not a reply. It does not even begin to explain McArthur’s twisting of the Scriptures.
Hi dear sister, I changed the screen name given in you comment. Welcome to the blog. 🙂
and please read 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 email@example.com .
Hello SeeingThruTheLies I assumed you were a female victim / survivor of domestic abuse, so I was trying to guard your safety: that’s why I changed your screen name. Please bear in mind that we spend a lot of time at this blog being careful to keep our commenters safe. If you are a man, and are not a victim / survivor of abuse, we would appreciate you submitting a comment here to tell us that.
And we love to hear that men who are not victims of domestic abuse are supporting us, by the way!
That’s a good question. I haven’t listened to their radio program for years but during my early Christian walk all the way into my marriage, I did. And their program among many others did the damage. I don’t know if they apologized but I doubt it. They need to repent first before healing can take place just like the abuser needs to do. Repent then turn; otherwise it is a slap in the face and a pat apology.
What I see resonating, loud and clear, in the beginning of the letter is “he didn’t mean to” and “are you sure you understood?”
Yeah. And they are so SURE what John MacAarthur meant and didn’t mean.
Did they ask him? I bet they didn’t.
FOTF has been on the unscriptural side of so many issues over the years that I have learned to ignore them. If they wanted to help abuse victims they’d do a series that teaches what God says about how the church should deal with abuse and abusers using only the Word of God and NO teaching of men like John Macarthur who, apparently, lack the will or ability to rightly divide the Word of God. Until they do that they have no credibility or standing to address the issue of divorce.
I’d love to see them interview Barbara or Jeff but I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. If they were sincere in what they said in their reply to you they would have extended the invitation then. That they didn’t tells me that they have no interest in any other approach to divorce than the standard marriage as an idol to be protected at all costs model.
Many years ago, before my book was published, when I was still hoping to find a Christian publisher willing to publish it (before I gave up that hope as a lost cause…) FOF expressed interest in reading my chapter synopsis and a sample chapter or two. I sent them what they asked for. And waited. A long time later they replied saying they were not interested in publishing it. Of course, their ‘reason’ was a vanilla type statement — it told me nothing about their real reasons for declining the book, but that’s pretty much par for the course with publishers.
I concluded that my book was too much of a hot potato for them.
So much for them caring about families. I concluded that no matter what they say with their mouths, victims of domestic abuse and their children are non-families in their eyes.
I often get the impression from organizations like Focus on the Family that I don’t belong to a proper family and therefore I don’t count.
I want to believe that Focus on the Family genuinely wants to help spouses and children in abusive marriages but I would have to see it for myself in order to really believe them. So far, Focus on the Family has not brought up the subject of abuse in relationships at all, to my knowledge and I’ve been a supporter of their company my whole life.
Hi Joy, if you go to FOF’s site and use their search bar to search for ‘Domestic Abuse’ or “Domestic Violence you will find some articles they have written about it. But in our opinion, none of those articles go far enough. They equivocate.
I think FOF are fully aware that they have to equivocate on this topic, because that if they don’t equivocate they will lose numerous supporters.
In my book, that makes them cowards.
I agree with Barbara. By their silence on relationship abuse, Focus on the Family show that they are not really leaders. Their popularity and high profile is because they say the things that most people want to hear. They have enough of a conscience to say they care about victims, but they don’t want to deal with the issues themselves, that would be too controversial.
No it’s side stepping like a politician. They did not answer the question about Malachi. At all. They claim to care about all the different marital situations with vague paragraphs and nice language and they hope this answers the email. Nope. Until they get as brave as you and stop being religiously correct, they will continue to make victims feel guilty and stay in about dive marriages. And what about marriage being the picture of Christ and salvation to the world. Is it really that or is it one of our main relationships God gave us because man was lonely? I thought Christ’s life and death and love for us was the picture not marriage. What about those who don’t marry? Where’s their picture?
I can’t wait to hear the many replies to your call Barbara, as each person seems to draw out a different aspect of the post and to add to it. I learn so much.
Quite frankly this entire set up is so typical. Just as so many of us know, if something “flies” they keep on with it. That MacArthur straight up used the phrase, “…the first person comment from God Himself” makes me wonder if he wanted to see if others were gonna call him on it. And yes, I do wonder if he isn’t an abuser himself–I always start from this vantage point because it’s super important to test the spirits (as the bible warns us to do) and if they are found to not be of God (yet they are claiming to be) we are to have nothing to do with such people.
His statement on divorce and it’s negative consequences is again so typical. Pretending that it’s “divorce” that is the issue when God is actually lambasting THE PRIESTS for THEIR evil behavior and their wicked hearts. He’s NOT talking to the wives of evil men or to the wronged parties (abuse victims). He lists the reasons he is punishing them and how it will effect them as well as their decedents. Check out this little morsel from Malachi 2:3, ““Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal waste over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it.” Why was God so mad at them? Well let’s start with what the job of a priest / pastor was / is SUPPOSED to be: “(7) For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the LORD of Hosts.” Okay, now how were these evil priests actually behaving….”(8) “You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction….you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.” And look at one of the examples that is used to identify such horrific-hearted people, “(13) And this is another thing you do: you cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands.” Why? Because it was all for show–all the weeping and carrying on was just a bunch of drama and didn’t come from a broken heart or from a realizing that they had sinned greatly against God. Sound familiar?
But hey. Let’s take one line from this entire passage of scripture (God hates divorce) and paste it onto those who actually have a heart to please God so that they can do all the work and remain with the VERY type of people God was punishing and let’s add to their burden by telling them that since God hates divorce they need to do ANYTHING to avoid it. Yep. Sounds like a good plan. How’s it working? Well the divorce rate is way up and evil-hearted drama queens are still evil-hearted…So…not so well.
If FOF wanted to correct the damage they have done, they would STOP replaying this program. They would correct the translation of Malachi 2:16 and state the reality that abuse is happening. I don’t know where JMac got his education from, but I am sure he still is trying to reach the toy surprise at the bottom of the box.
What also got me is that the interviewer seemed to be leading JMac in the direction that he wanted him to go. I stopped listening to FOF a long time ago because of others that would respond to an obviously distraught woman by saying get off the phone and work on your marriage. That was more than enough for me.
So…FOTF has assured you of John MacArthur’s intent and awareness, as well as their own.
What they have not done is agreed to cease re-airing the recorded interview in which the false statements and incorrect translation are promoted.
In reading over the correspondence, I’m not 100% certain whether they fully grasp the extent of the potential damage or of the falseness of the John MacArthur statements.
To me, there is a three-fold error in what MacArthur stated:
1) MacArthur stated that it is a “…first person comment from God Himself: “I hate divorce.” This is incorrect as it is, in fact, a third-person comment. Barbara, you have done an excellent job of explaining this in the referenced article.
2) MacArthur stated that “God hates it because it’s a violation of the one-flesh-for-life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another…” First of all, he is working off of the false premise that ‘God hates divorce’, which as you pointed out is an incorrect translation. Second, nowhere in scripture are we told that righteousness is passed from one generation to another thru refusal to divorce. In fact, the Bible is quite clear that righteousness is NOT passed from one generation to another, and can only be attained thru individual personal faith in Jesus Christ.
3) MacArthur stated that “God hates it because it’s a violation of the one-flesh-for-life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another and also by which the relationship between Christ and His Church is demonstrated and symbolized in the world. And when that is shattered, there’s loss on all fronts, not only does that union break up, the question of passing righteousness to the next generation falls under terrible duress. And then you have lack of clarity about the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ.” While scripture does draw allegorical parallels between a marital relationship and the relationship between Christ and the church, it’s plain silly to think that clarity about the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ relies on the absence of divorce. Our foundation in Christ is much stronger than MacArthur seems to think, and is not reliant on human frailty.
Belief in the combination of these three false assertions will leave many abuse victims feeling they have no option but to remain in matrimonial relationship with their abuser. Re-airing this interview makes FOTF complicit in aiding abusers in keeping their victims enslaved.
I would agree with the FOTF statement that:
And it is for this reason that I would request they cease re-airing this interview representing an unscriptural perspective by which abuse victims are held in bondage.
In their defense, I must mention that Focus on the Family has had Leslie Vernick on several times to discuss abuse and toxic relationships, and while interviewing her, they have not shied away from the need for divorce in such circumstances.
That being said, when I heard the program recently with John MacArthur, my skin started crawling as soon as I heard Dr. MacArthur’s voice, because I knew what was coming. I’ve heard him pontificate on the subject before. He’s ignorant. It’s a shame that the host didn’t press him harder on the issue of abuse, to expose his heretical, anti-God, victim-blaming and abuser-enabling positions with perfect clarity.
The whole broadcast made me seethe.
I’m disappointed with their reply to you. I wish they would distance themselves from those who idolize marriage in this way. I also wish they would get clear on the Malachi passage, so that they could be more careful about whom they would interview on the subject. By airing this interview they are not only promoting Dr. MacArthur’s erroneous point of view, they are also encouraging people to buy his books and thus enrich him financially as he spreads misery to abuse victims.
I heard the broadcast. I heard what Dr. MacArthur said. When they say that he did not intend to “provide blanket advice that would apply to every difficult marital situation. He is aware of the complexities involved, and he recognizes that it’s important for individuals facing serious issues to seek help, if possible, from a pastor or competent Christian counselor.” They are not accurately representing his point of view, which he clearly and emphatically stated during the interview.
Maybe THEY didn’t hear what he said. I certainly did. He did not qualify the “God hates divorce” statement, nor express any awareness of mitigating circumstances. His remarks were without exception, across the board, in every situation, “God hates divorce,” and “reconciliation is ALWAYS the goal.” That’s what he said. And the host wholeheartedly agreed with him.
What frustrated me the most is that the host did not challenge him about abuse situations, serial adultery, or sexual abuse of children. Can reconciliation really be the goal for those situations? What about the passages of Scripture where God clearly warns us not to associate with people like that?
Like Sarah, I listened to FoF for many years during my early Christian walk and marriage, and Dr. Dobson’s teachings did immeasurable damage to me and my children. At some point I came to the conclusion that I must not be capable of following his advice well enough, and just quit listening.
Once I stopped confusing myself with that input, I began to come out of the fog. I came to realize that all of the best marriage advice in the world just plain doesn’t apply when one person in the “marriage” is a narcissistic psychopath.
Seriously, it seems to me that the church and para-church need to get their heads out of the sand when it comes to marriage advice. They need to get a grip on the fact that many people within their church walls are NOT true believers, but are wolves in sheep’s clothing and are evil.
They need to couch every message about Ephesians 5, and other marriage passages, with warnings to wives that “submission” does not require allowing abuse. They need to stop pretending that abuse doesn’t exist or it’s not happening to anybody in OUR church, but start addressing it head-on. They need to put abusers out and make the church a HOSTILE place for them, not a WELCOMING place for their evil deeds.
When churches take their young people on “purity retreats” to teach them about dating and abstinence, why don’t they teach the girls to recognize the red flags and avoid abusive relationships? Our church’s purity retreats always emphasize the girls’ responsibility to dress modestly in order to not tempt the boys or cause them to have impure thoughts. That’s it.
The guys’ retreats emphasize “pursuing God.” Nothing about their own thought life, avoiding porn, taking responsibility for their own lust, or protecting women.
Straight out of the Gothard playbook. Makes me ill to think about it. Train the girls to believe it’s always their fault when they’re assaulted or abused.
You’ve really hit the nail on the head in so many ways. Thank you for such a thoughtful response, it has helped me greatly.
I too have listened to Focus on the Family for many years. While I was in my abusive marriage it only served to confuse me and keep me longer in that toxic relationship. I finally had to stop listening and make the only decision I felt I could make. If I didn’t divorce, my son possibly could die. As it stands he is not dead physically but very emotionally and spiritually mutilated.
Out of frustration while listening to one of their broadcasts on marriage, I called their number and expressed my frustration, and how they never represent abuse in marriages. The lady I spoke to was very nice and she referred me to their resources on their website. I can’t say as it did much good, it certainly didn’t help me with reconciling my soul to the fact that I had made the decision to divorce.
I agree with you that they really need to look at this issue And stop their part in enabling the abusers. With that said I still very much feel that Focus on the Family does have good intentions.
[Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]
Dear Revived135, thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog! 🙂 🙂
I hope you keep commenting at this blog. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read our New Users’ Info page and then you might like to check out our FAQ page.
Again — welcome!
Whenever a Christian cops out by saying “only God can tell the person what to do, blah, blah, blah,” I think of James 2.
Having left my abuser, I have been faced with that attitude as an excuse not to get involved.
FoF would never apologize for having this show on. If they were truly sorry they’d issue an on air retraction and, like others here said, they’d have a series on abuse and come down firm against it.
I have only heard one episode on abuse ever on their radio broadcast. It was a happy-clappy episode where the couple reconciled. Dude had broken his wife’s leg and Dobson was happy they’d worked things out.
Always thankful for the work you guys do. Gives me hope that the whole church isn’t off their rocker.
PS I tried to do an Anon but WordPress won’t allow it, wants me to sign in
I fixed your screen name. If you have an account with WordPress it will detect your email address and ask you to sign in through WordPress. But then you have a couple of options:
1) You can manually change the default screen name that they put in the “public display field” before you hit submit, or
2) You can go into the profile settings of your WordPress account and change the “public display field” to Anon. Whatever is in the “public display field” is what will appear as your screen name when you comment through your WordPress account.
Hope that helps. Any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
They never actually address the misquote from Malachi. They don’t apoligize or support their interpretation.
They imply if that if the abuser is trying or says they want to change then the spouse must stay. Change rarely happens and when it does it takes years. The spouse is not obligated to stay in case the abuser changes.
They imply the pastors are properly trained to deal with abuse which we all here know is not the case.
They really don’t say much of anything. Barbara just generalized their statement to cases it might not apply to, but really didn’t clarify in any way what they did apply to. Might not apply to abuse if it is bad enough or abuser is unrepentant enough. If the abuser abandons them they will pray for them. But, don’t say what the are praying for. For victims to move on with their lives or for the abuser to come back so they are not labeled awful divorcee.
It seemed a little weird to me that she was answering for John MacArthur as to his intentions and beliefs. I wish HE would answer for himself. As for seeking help from a pastor or ‘competent’ Christian counselor when facing serious situations in my marriage, I have done that multiple (many) times in the last 2 decades and my children & me were not helped. Lundy Bancroft’s book was the help God sent me, that was truly helpful. And now ACFJ. 🙂
I do not feel it is an adequate reply because they didn’t address the incorrect scripture translation, nor did they express any regret for airing it and sorrow that it is HARMFUL to ‘families’ that they claim to care about. So yes, I do think it’s a dose of fog to cover their hard heartedness.
They mentioned the Malachi verse but NEVER addressed it.
That’s what manipulators do IMO.
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.
A reader wrote a comment on our Facebook page and Jeff Crippen then replied to her comment. What they said there is important, so I’m pasting it here:
Please note: FOTF has a ‘real’ counseling dept. – separate from their broadcast dept., with ‘real counsellors who are trained in abuse and know the signs and will tell you the absolute ugly truth about your situation in your abusive marriage. And therefore, not keep you in bondage to it. They often get called out for doing it – but they do it. I know, that’s who God lead me to call, and I was told everything I needed (wanted) to know and it set me free! Things I had longed to hear from ANY pastor or ‘christian’ counsellor that I never heard! I am forever grateful!
I am very glad that you had a good experience with the counselor there. However, something remains terribly, terribly wrong in FOF land. If the counseling department and the broadcast / teaching department are not on the same page, then something is really botched in that organization. As long as it is, there is no way that we here at ACFJ are going to recommend FOF as a resource for victims. And believe me, we have tried. We have contacted them more than once and we always get the same equivocating, walk-the-line answers that do not take a firm stand. Or we will hear one of their people SAY they are against abuse and support divorce for abuse, but when it comes right down to actively and loudly teaching that position in their broadcasts, in their literature, at their conferences – nope, they waffle. Why? Because they know to take such a stand is going to cost them supporters and that, as is so often the case, translates into a $$ cost. Still don’t trust them. Not either branch of their organization.
First of all, Thank you ACFJ for the FOF and John MacArthur update. Without such information many would be deceived.
Thank you for posting the FB comment and Jeff’s reply as it confirms that FOF is not operating properly. I can’t share all the details in order to protect my identity but I can attest to being linked with FOF many years ago. Like the FB commenter I too had been greatly helped by a very sincere pastor in their counseling dept. As I became more involved with FOF I had red flags as I noticed ‘changes’; one being the removal of the pastor from the counseling dept and then a very grounded woman in their volunteer organizing dept.
Further correspondence over about two years had me realizing that I could no longer support the organization as I now realized that is exactly what they were; an ‘organization’ not a Christ-fearing ministry. I know these are harsh words but I began to feel like Jeff has stated that $$ was their concern; not necessarily the souls of their listeners. Many of their readers supported FOF financially. 😦
As a thought, might that disconnect actually be a calculated choice, on FOTF’s part?
If their publicly and widely known stance is not incompatible with abusers’ mindset, then victims will be encouraged or at least not entirely dissuaded from reaching out to them for help. Even abusers will inform victims that FOTF exists if they expect FOTF to further enable them with their advice.
I do think they could handle it better even if that is their goal, but that just occurs to me as a potential reason for such a disconnect to exist.
Interesting idea, Misti.
Here’s another possiblity:
Perhaps FOF is aware of the disconnect between its counseling providers and its broadcast and published materials.
Perhaps FOF is intentionally keeping its broadcast materials walking that line, equivocating by not coming out and saying “Abuse IS defined like this….. and the victim of abuse is at liberty to divorce the abuser without incurring any guilt whatsoever.”
Probably FOF know that if don’t walk the equivocating line, their donations will severely plummet.
And perhaps FOF is also aware that many of its network of counselors DO condone divorce for abuse.
And perhaps FOF simply don’t care what their counselors say to clients and whether or not the counselors condone divorce for abuse.
The fact that they didn’t respect a woman’s specific request to ONLY ring her in a window of time when she would be alone (without her abuser present) suggests to me that they really don’t understand the dangerous and complex dynamics of domestic abuse. And that they don’t actually care enough about victims to want to learn how better to help.
Perhaps what they most care about is the donations rolling in and the sydication of their broadcasts across multiple radio stations in multiple countries…. because that is what keeps the donations rolling in.
Perhaps they see the actual counseling which their network of counselors provides as just ‘wallpaper’. Perhaps it is unimportant to them whether it’s good bad or indifferent, because the only ones who will suffer if it’s bad or indifferent are the victims of marital mistreatment and family mistreatment. And they are a de-voiced, under-funded, minority who are not making the big donations to FOF.
When I say “wallpaper” — I’m thinking of this. In the retail book trade, in bricks and mortar bookstores, the retailer makes most of his money from a small number of best selling books. He (or she) makes very little money from the majority of titles he has on his shelves. But if he didn’t have all those other titles on his shelves, the customers would not come in to his shop. He has to have those titles as ‘wallpaper’ to make it appear that his shop is comprehensive and interesting.
I agree, and those other suggestions are certainly possibilities, too. 🙂 Which puts us in the position to eye their fruits and to test the spirits to consider which possibility or possibilities is/are most consistent with their actions.
Whatever their target goals, some aspects of it are sloppily and unwisely done.
I’m glad for you! That’s wonderful! It sounds like you had someone who was educated about abuse and forthright with the truth.
Also I was connected to the counseling department at FOTF and received no such information. I was sent a Henry Cloud book and workbook for free. The counselor sounded appalled by my fixating on my husband during our talk. He insinuated that I needed to change. I was ashamed.
The response from FOF is a great example of “crazy making” and “gaslighting”. They didn’t answer your question and didn’t say a thing concrete.
For this group to act as experts in the area of family and marriage and ignore abuse the way they do is evil. They know. But, they seem to sit back as the devil’s puppets acting in a false ignorance or complete arrogance. Any ministry that takes a position of expertise in marriage especially should most definitely include the disclaimers and draw a clear picture as to what an abusive marriage looks like. The check list that I had to fill out at the county’s women’s abuse center is basic, but direct and to the point, and would bring clarity to many. Such a list should be considered as an addition to any book on marriage / relationships.
I called FOF’s prayer counselor line at some point on my journey out. It took courage on my part and I had such high hopes of getting the final clarity and answers for my situation. I got off the phone confused because, although the person on the line was a strong prayer warrior, the subject of abuse in the marriage seemed to be minimized, “Why are you in such a rush to make a decision?” (should I get out or not) I was disappointed and realized they didn’t get it. After learning from this site pretty much since you started it, I understood who FOF was and stopped paying attention to them. They are being negligent and they idolize marriage.
Those are my thoughts and I wasn’t being “nice”!!!
Narcissists / pathological liars are grounds for divorce, period.
THIS makes no sense. THIS is how FOTF, many preachers, professing believers, etc talk. This is what mainstream Christian music even sounds like today. Lots of “I love you’s” and NO help. How about we tell people THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD’S WORD and let that TRUTH judge them. Hold fast to the Truth not some philosophical garbage that sounds like a part of the truth and also makes you very popular.
People HATED Jesus because He IS the truth.
You [FOF] said: “Regardless of the specific circumstance…”
You mean regardless of the REALITY. You mean disregard the reality.
You said: “Friendship and attitude of compassion”
I say: I want the TRUTH and to be with people who live it! I don’t need compassion about divorce. I need people saying what God’s word ACTUALLY SAYS! He HATES those who up away their wives treacherously. THIS is what’s happening. And in MANY COVERT and also very obvious ways. You show compassion and grace to the EVIL ONES not the victims. I see it happening every single day!!! You people put yourself in place of God and BLOCK people from knowing the TRUTH by pretending like your friendship and compassion is as close to Christ as they’re going to get!!! You are NOT God. I believe by your refusal to admit the truth that you are not even His.
I have no desire to poke the hornets nest or sidetrack all that’s been said by my comment. I am in agreement that Focus on the Family, Jim Daly and John MacArthur were all terribly wrong concerning this topic both during the program and in this placating response. However, FotF and John MacArthur get a lot of things right in their teaching and I don’t believe it is in everyone’s best interest to throw it all away because they’ve held to a rigorist view (permanence view) of marriage. I’ve read many of Pastor Crippen’s sermons. I have a great affection for him and his diligence and compassion in bringing the Truths of God’s Word to the flock. I could also say the same about John MacArthur. In fact, it is probably not an exaggeration to say in many parts of Scripture they would preach similar messages and “divide” The Word in the same way.
On the subject of abuse and divorce, however, John MacArthur has it wrong! FotF has it placatingly wrong! Piper has it wrong! Many, if not most, have it wrong.
Without getting into too many specifics, I am one of those “Biblical Counselors”. Focus on the Family refers clients to me. They have a network of therapists throughout the country to whom they refer. A therapist is NOT obligated to be in agreement with FotF’s abuse / divorce stance in order to be a part of this network. In effect, all one needs to be is a professing Christian with a current license to practice, current professional insurance and a clean background check. That’s it! Not much qualification is necessary and, in the last 12 years since joining the network, I have had little to no contact with them except to update my license and insurance renewals. So, as you can see, there is, in effect, no oversight.
I do not hold to a permanence view of marriage. Instead, I am in agreement with Barbara and Jeff and many of you and, because of that, most of my clients (all of whom profess being Christian) are quite startled when they hear me explain Scripture’s true meaning on abuse, divorce and a myriad of other subjects. Why are they startled? Because I tell them to “get out”! Because I tell them they are “not under bondage” to stay. Because I tell them God has no desire for them to be abused. Because I sit with them in my office, in attorney’s offices, in pastor’s offices, in “safe houses”, in psychiatric wards after mental breakdowns and in courtrooms and help them stay in the light of Truth and not fall back into the darkness of demonic confusions coming from all sides from deception, manipulation, worldly and / or fleshly thinking and horrifically poor Biblical interpretation.
Sadly even the most learned among us, the Bible teachers, the pastors, the “Biblical Counselors”, etc. have continued to hold a deceived view of abuse. I do not desire nor will I ever desire, as a counselor, to be at one with an abuser in perpetrating more abuse on their victims by aligning myself with a false view of Scripture.
Mercy for the abused is one of God’s easiest concepts to understand. Yet, the mishandling of Scripture by those who should know better is astounding and they perpetuate the abuser’s agenda rather than, as in the story of the Good Samaritan, give aid, comfort and safety to the one who really needs it, the victim.
As someone once said, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” John MacArthur may get some things right in his preaching. But getting abuse and abusers wrong, although not as severe an error as, say, denying the virgin birth, is a very bad sign. It demonstrates a fundamental callousness and lack of love for the most vulnerable among us. Perhaps he intends well and that may be enough for some. But there is a famous road that is paved with good intentions and in this matter it leads to a veritable hell on earth for victims.
If MacArthur would look at what the Bible has to say about abuse, admit his error, apologize for the harm he has done / is doing and preach the truth about abuse I would consider attending his church, reading his books, or listening to his preaching. But getting only some things right isn’t enough when innocent followers of Jesus, the children of God, are being harmed by his unbiblical teaching. I am grateful to God for your ministry and for the love and compassion you’ve shown for victims. I pray that God will bless you richly for that. But I cannot agree that we should commend or excuse MacArthur or anyone else simply because they preach the truth about some things while getting others so terribly wrong.
This isn’t a mistake in the weekly bulletin about the date of the church picnic; it’s a far more important error in his interpretation of Scripture and it has the potential to shatter lives. As long as he maintains an idolatrous view of marriage he is, in my opinion, disqualified from holding the position of pastor, teacher, or any other position of leadership in the church.
Suzanne, I agree with you 100%.
As one coming from an abusive marriage of 30 plus years, I see the rotting fruit from staying in that marriage due to these types of teachings that they refuse to retract.
Four children that today would believe in God had they not been forced to grow up in an atmosphere of covert evil manipulation and outright hypocricy.
I prayed for your children, that God will call them to a saving relationship with Him. It may seem a remote possibility now, but we serve a God of miracles. And may God give you strength and encourage you as you wait for His answer.
Yes! I see two problems with trying to respect a preacher’s teaching in some areas while strongly disagreeing with his idolization of marriage to the extent that John MacArthur and John Piper have carried it.
First, it is such a major error with so much potential harm to listeners. It is clearly unbiblical idolatrous teaching that callously holds abuse victims in bondage with no hope of help.
Second, when marriage is idolized to the extent that the ‘permanence marriage’ folks carry it, they become incapable of providing good teaching on marriage in general. It’s not a matter of the teaching may be good for some people but not for those in an abusive marriage. No! It is false doctrine through and through, and even those in healthy marriages will cause their marriage to become a dysfunctional shell, while being led astray from the true gospel of Jesus Christ, if they follow these guys teachings.
I wanted to weigh in on FoF counselors as I had a very good personal experience with one.
Thank you S/G for your post. It explains a lot and runs true to what I experienced when I called FoF for help.
After the incident in my life two years ago that opened my eyes to the fact that what I was living with was not normal, I was confused, lost, afraid to call a secular counselor because I had been taught (brainwashed) over many years that a secular counselor would try to destroy my faith, at worst, and at best confuse me from doing things God’s way. Pastoral help was seen as best, but i was already aware the church we were associated with was toxic and spiritually dangerous so no way was I going to bring the idea to one of the pastors that my perfect husband (in their eyes, because he toed their party line in all things) was abusing me emotionally and verbally.
So, at my wits end, feeling crazy, feeling like i was on the verge of a breakdown, having little money to afford to pay a counselor, I called FoFs free counseling line, praying they could help me. Was it abuse or was I just an awful wife, mentally ill and seeking to blame perfect husband for her failings?
It took a few weeks to finally talk to one, a time frame that was difficult to handle … but it was the fault of whoever did the scheduling when you originally called in, not the counselor. More to that later …
The counselor pretty much told me what S/G outlined in the previous post. After listening to me tearfully try to explain what my life with my husband was like and the incident that was what made me feel I needed help, she very gently told me … I don’t want to frighten or shock you, but I need to have you understand that what you are telling me is very definitely on the spectrum of domestic violence. You are not crazy. You ARE being abused. It was the first outside validation I received on my situation and I think it may have helped me not end up in a mental hospital as I was that traumatized by what was going on in my life. I truly thought that i was going crazy until that point, that there was something seriously wrong with me. I thank God for that counselor still. She talked with me for an hour and a half or more and was wonderful.
The downside with contacting FoF was the clerical end of scheduling. I explained to the first contact person that I thought I might be being abused, that I was only free to talk on a specific day, during a short window of time … I was told they understood and was given a time someone would call, about 4 days later, in my safe window. And they didn’t. I sat in my hot car out in a parking lot during my safe time for two hours and the call never came. So I called FoF again. They had no record of my first call. So I tried again, again explaining my situation and safe time to talk privately. About a week later, I got a call from the counselor at a normally very UNSAFE time and place. FOF obviously hadn’t taken me seriously about when to call as the counselor had not been informed of my very carefully planned window of time. Thank goodness … or divine providence! that my husband had had to leave home that day, at a time he was usually home all day. The good Lord looking out for me! And the counselor did check to see if I was safe to talk, so she was mindful, even if FoF was not.
Thank-you Jeff and Barbara for rightly dividing the truth of God’s Word in dealing with the ‘God hates divorce’ issue. My understanding has greatly benefited from your research and practical application with regards to my faith in Christ. God Bless you both!
I too, was once a faithful follower and monetary giver to Focus on the Family until the red flags began to pop up here and there. I also used to study from the “John MacArthur Study Bible” with John’s commentary at the bottom of each page, until there once again, there were a few commentary notes here and there that just did not add up. As a result, I have distanced myself from Focus On the Family, no longer listening to their broadcasts nor supporting them with my bank account. The MacArthur Study Bible is no longer in my home, nor do I seek out his sermons via the internet any longer for preaching and teaching for some of what he promotes is false theology. My spirit feels no guilt nor shame for distancing myself from such organizations or preachers / teachers and the good news is that we can still be faithful followers of Jesus, the Christ, freely serving Him, without these groups / preachers in our lives.
I stand with you Stronger Now in your comment thread. Thank-you for sharing your story.
Shepherd Guardian and Anne, thank you for your comments. They are extending the scope of this discussion and adding interesting points.
I hope that FOF read all this thread. They need to hear what is being said here. I have tweeted them to let them know about it…But if any of our readers feel like tweeting or emailing or FB-ing them as well, the more the better.
When I tried to tell the FOF couple’s counselor, whom we had contracted with some months earlier, that I had just come to full realization my minister husband was verbally and emotionally abusive (tip of the iceberg), he gave me a blank stare. I spent a couple sessions trying to convince this renowned Dr of Psy that if he would confront this truth, we could move forward. He would not acknowledge that I was indeed in an abusive marriage. I, once again, was in over my head, and bowed out of counseling. The therapist sided with my ex that my emotional instability was the source of our marital issues. Of course, ministers always carry the trump card with FOF.
Or maybe I should make that Grrrrrrr!
I’m not as controlled with my tongue as Barbara is. I swore. Evil. Abusive. I pray Seeing Clearly is in a safe place and that she will trust that God will protect her and provide for her in such unusual ways that she will KNOW that God values her.
I’m not afraid to use my name. I’ve been out of the bastille and divorced ten years. I know where my x is. I don’t listen to FOTF but found all of the information I needed to understand abuse on their resource web site in 1989. It was what I needed for a reality check so I knew I wasn’t crazy after all.
I did four years of couple’s counselling with four different therapists recommended by my primary care doc, took medication, was hospitalized for depression without my permission (trumped up charge was an excuse for keeping me inpatient because I had run away from home with my children the week before. Barbara, you have my permission to swear here…).
I just wanted the pain of abuse to stop. I am older, poorer, more physically ill, more anxious and suffering some PTSD, but the nightmares have stopped and I am the happiest divorcee in the USA. I am searching for a new church again because the pastor began quoting Piper and other marriage permanence fellows, and both of my Elders quit the same Sunday so it was not a safe place for me to remain.
If spouses want to leave because they can’t take the abuse anymore, be prepared to be alone, hungry, cold, and not accepted in many conservative places.
Because I’m a church musician, my ministry and degrees are useless now too. But what I learned was that God, and His mighty hand has kept me faithfully for TEN years. There is a place for me to worship 30 miles away, I just am slow about making friends. Everyone, until proven safe, is dangerous. I’m sorry to have to live so carefully. Keep you friends close. Talk to Abba with every breath.
There is stuff is didn’t know……my x was sinning against me, disrespecting my personhood. I was the trophy wife. I was isolated. He stole from me and lied continually. He continues to steal from me because he cheated on taxes, so I’m getting pennies from Social Security. He kept me isolated and sleep deprived. It was one rage after another and it was always my fault.
And the judge refused to award me half of anything after 30 years. I won’t lie to people thinking of leaving. You must decide you don’t care if you are tired, poor, and sick. One hour of peace in the garden is worth all the quiet without the baiting, swearing, verbal barrage, and name calling.
Gee, I didn’t mean for this to go on so long. I was on a roll. I believe in telling the truth. I believe the truth will set you free. I believe that this journey is not for cowards. My life will be forever changed. It is blessed as I take the time I need to heal.
My bestie said…..you were in hell for thirty years, you probably can’t get out in just ten. I’m sorry she is correct. But I do believe that God will restore what the locusts have eaten.
MaryAnne, I do swear out loud sometimes when I’m reading stories of how churches and and abusers have treated victims. But the good thing about writing is that my typing fingers can show a bit more restraint than my tongue can!
I was married more than two decades to a man who it now seems, I am just finding out, had at least half a dozen more affairs than the two I discovered. The irony is that I have been a leader and guide to many marriages through those years. So, I have seen many scenarios that lead to divorce.
I am the daughter of a marriage counselor and theologian. It has rocked all our worlds to find we were so well duped. […]
We went to so many counsellors and NONE of them saw the evil (well hidden but immensely dark) in my husband. His best friend was our pastor and only now is seeing the depth of his evil. So I had no one who could help. God was gracious and I am a seeker of wisdom so I have found help. […]
I changed your screen name for your safety. And I also edited your comment a bit, removing some things you had said and airbrushing some details that could have been identifying. Welcome to the blog. 🙂
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 email@example.com
I am not convinced that JMac would support divorcing an abuser, unless perhaps it was abuse of the most severe, obvious and stereotypical kind, black eyes, broken bones, thrown down stairs, slammed against walls, martial rape, badly injured children. Even then I think he would only support separation, not actually tell a woman she had total freedom to divorce him and remarry without guilt. I have no belief whatsoever that he would support a woman divorcing a guy who consistently refuses to address issues, own his sin, feels entitled to control, blame-shifts and lies, gaslights, subtly bullies and undermines, twists words, tells intentionally slanted stories, even attempts to recruit her family in siding with him, etc. I am pretty sure JMac and Dr. Dobson would just see that as having to live with a “disagreeable: husband, not evidence that this person is unsaved, playing games, and just wants what they want.
The response given here is good IF it is true, but we only have her word for it, and I have never seen JMac make any bold statements that aren’t kind of reluctant sounding, such as …God probably doesn’t want His temple beaten up…. That’s about the strongest abuse statement I’ve ever seen from him. I will be more convinced if I hear him actually address the issue. However, as far as the responder STILL did not acknowledge the question of correct translation and sidestepped it.
Why do we rarely, if ever, see messages or articles entitled “God’s Word on Abuse” or “God Hates Abuse”?!
Why are sermons and messages always targeting Christians who want to do what’s right – the tender-hearted and generally obedient (or striving to please God) – making them feel guilty or ashamed when innocent, placing an unfair burden on them and not targeting true evildoers and oppressors among us?
Why do they over-emphasize marriage and submission and never address God’s denouncement and punishment of fools and oppressors (Proverbs, Nabal)?
Why do they always denounce divorce, even at the expense of the mental, spiritual, physical and financial well-being of the wife and children, yet never mention that the oft quoted passage in Malachi was God condemning Israelite men casting off their wives for prettier pagan wives? And they never mention:
I am beyond weary and outraged and discouraged by this imbalance in our churches and in the Christian community at large.
Even those who are sympathetic to abuse victims still seem to misunderstand key aspects of the dynamics of abuse or come across as authoritarian about what an abuse victim should do. It’s so discouraging, heartbreaking and alienating. I have been suffering spiritually for some time because of this. It doesn’t seem fair or right and is very heartbreaking that I can’t enjoy true fellowship. I must be guarded about what is happening because my brothers and sisters do not wish to acknowledge or hear about what is happening to us, or worse would blame me, or condemn me for speaking out or taking action, such as leaving the abuser.
I am grateful to you for pointing out these errors, it has been so helpful to me personally. Especially since I have read things by these people and been hurt, triggered or frustrated by things they have said. I do fear that those who need to hear what you are saying are not listening. And they are unlikely to unless it touches their life personally in some way.
Well said, Sue — the visible church is not being taught rightly on the issue of abuse, and even those who purport to teach about it are often missing essential aspects. The dynamics of abuse, especially domestic abuse / intimate partner abuse are mind boggling to those who have not experienced it personally. But that’s no excuse for them not to listen to and give credence to the victims when they disclose.
Yes, those who need to hear what we are saying are not listening. I’ve been doing this work for well over a decade and it’s clear that the vast majority of church leaders (and even many ‘C’hristians who advocate against domestic abuse) are not listening. They put a giant wall up.
You might like to check out my post The perspicuity of Scripture, and how some put a grille on the view. The take-home message in that post is:
When the Bible is taught in an unbalanced way, with some precepts over-emphasized and others downplayed, it’s like a grille is put over the the perspicuity of Scripture. The grille stops us seeing some of the things that would have been part of the view if the grille had not been there. We don’t see some precepts of Scripture when the way it has been traditionally taught puts bars on our view — bars in our minds which we are not even aware of.
And by the way, I’m not sure whether you are subscribed by email to this blog, but if not I encourage you to do so. It’s easy to do — click here to learn how.
Lastly, I think you would find this post very interesting — Logic and Authority in the Church. It explains why so many people are not listening to our message.