“Redemptive Divorce” by Mark Gaither — another bad book for domestic abuse
Redemptive Divorce by Mark Gaither is marketed on Amazon with this blurb:
A graceful, biblical way to reclaim sanity for the home and dignity for the suffering spouse in a dysfunctional or dangerous marriage.
Thousands of conscientious believers wanting to honor the sacred vows they took before God suffer in dysfunctional, even dangerous marriages. Each and every day they must choose between the lesser of two evils: divorce without sound biblical support or a life of perpetual, unrelenting misery. Somewhere between the secular disregard for the commands of Christ and the sacred unwillingness to deal with real problems of people, there is a way.
The redemptive divorce process is designed to honor the sacredness of the union while offering practical relief for the suffering partner and tough love for the offending spouse. In some cases, it might even be the catalyst for the restoration and rebuilding of the marriage. Practical, provocative, and utterly unique, Redemptive Divorce includes a helpful guide with worksheets for implementation.
Mark Gaither happens to be Charles (Chuck) Swindoll’s son-in-law, and Swindoll wrote the foreword for the book. Writing here about his own divorce and remarriage, Mark said he implemented the ‘redemptive divorce’ method when his first wife left him for another man, but in the end he had to accept that the marriage was over.
When I read Redemptive Divorce soon after it came out in 2008, it worried me because I knew that in cases of abuse it wasn’t safe to apply the method which Gaither was teaching. So I emailed Mark Gaither to express my concerns. He replied graciously, saying that he agreed with my concerns and he wished he’d been more aware of that before publishing his book.
The first half of Redemptive Divorce explains the theory and biblical principles of disciplinary divorce. That section could be useful for anyone, including victims of domestic abuse. The second half of the book explains the methodology — how to apply the principles when a marriage is on the rocks by utilizing the American divorce system in a way which invites a sinning spouse to repentance and genuine reconciliation, while recognizing that if the sinner refuses to repent, the divorcing spouse will not be guilty for proceeding with the divorce.
I’ll give him credit that in the final chapter of the book he says, “Redemptive divorce is not a remedy for domestic violence.” But mentioning that in the final chapter isn’t good enough, particularly since many of his readers would be victims of abuse given Amazon’s blurb which says the book is for “the suffering spouse in a dysfunctional or dangerous marriage.”
Gaither should not have allowed the wording of that blurb. And he should have stated at the beginning of the book that “redemptive divorce is not a remedy for domestic violence and abuse.” Furthermore, he ought to have a very prominent warning on his website so that readers will know not to apply his methodology in cases of spousal abuse. He has no such warning, either on his homepage or on his page about Redemptive Divorce.
If the proactive spouse using redemptive divorce methodology were a victim of abuse, the method would further endanger her if she had not yet escaped from living with the abuser and managed to firmly barricade herself against post-separation abuse. And as we know, it is very hard to leave an abuser, let alone securely barricade oneself against all post-separation abuse, especially where there are children of the marriage. Any access the abuser has to the victim and any communications she makes to him are going to be re-shaped into bullets by him and fired back at her. Mark gave no guidance on how to adapt his method in abuse scenarios so as to optimize the victim’s safety. And when I wrote to him in 2008 with my feedback, he agreed with me.
Gaither told me that he recognizes that his methodology is okay for victims of adultery or simple desertion but is not suitable for abuse.
So I have to ask now, all these years later — Was Mark lying when he told me in 2008 that he agreed with my concerns? Or does he agree with me but simply not care enough about protecting the abused to put a warning on his site? I think he has shown rank neglect for the safety of abuse victims.
The redemptive divorce method focuses on giving clear notice to the offending spouse that their behavior is sundering the marriage. The method is designed to encourage the offending spouse to repent and it implicitly leaves open the door to reconciliation for quite some time. This leads me to another concern about the book, which one of our readers raised with me.
As we know, abusers typically make a superficial show of repentance. The tough proactive stance Gaither suggests could be used by an abuser to further harm a victim in the divorce process. An abuser could take the role of the proactive spouse using the Redemptive Divorce method and portray himself as the righteous Christian who is inviting his wife to repent and reconcile. Most churches would side with the abuser because they love the word ‘redemption’ and they’re too naive to detect the difference between fake repentance and genuine reformation. Abracadabra! —the abuser can use Gaither’s book as another weapon in his arsenal to manipulate bystanders into blaming the victim for not repenting and for not being willing to reconcile the marriage.
But I’ll say again, as we say so often on this blog: the abused spouse does not need to repent for ‘her part in the marriage breakdown’ because she did not cause the marriage breakdown. (As with anything we write on this blog, reverse the genders if you need to.)
Mark Gaither also makes the classic error of sin-levelling and mutualizing the blame for marriage breakdown.
In Redemptive Divorce, when discussing a case of marital separation due to the husband’s drug addiction and adultery and (by the wife’s report) where husband has “now broken his habit for good and given his life to Christ,” Mark recommends they remain separated for a while to give the wife time to heal in safety, and give time for the husband to address whatever personal issues led to his sin, and “the couple can allow trust to rebuild slowly and responsibly.” But Mark also says, “She must also discover and own her contribution to the breakdown of the marriage.” (p89) That, as we know, is unjustly mutualizing the blame for the marriage breakdown.
And in another place [link] he writes:
Obviously, every troubled marriage has two sides, even when the fault weighs heavier on one side than the other.
Perhaps he has projected his own experience onto every other divorcee. In this post written August 17 2010 for Covenant Eyes, he describes and reflects on the breakdown of his first marriage:
… in marriage, there is no such thing as an “innocent” victim. No one is perfect. We all sin. We all fail. We all do things—small and great—that do harm to our relationships. Sooner or later, if we are to recover from the devastation of marital betrayal, we must turn our eyes away from the sins of our partner and take a painful look at our own.
Essentially, I had to admit that, from the beginning, I chose a woman incapable of normal intimacy because I didn’t want genuine intimacy myself. That way I could tell myself I wanted intimacy without actually having to endure the risks that necessarily come with it.. …
Among my many faults and flaws, I discovered a man unwilling to be wrong. Consequently, I didn’t make it easy for anyone—including my spouse—to be honest about their grievances and disappointments in me. I made it easier for her to bury her pain rather than express it openly and honestly with me. Resentments, like poison, cannot remain inside or they’ll kill the soul. While her sinful choices were her responsibility, I didn’t provide a healthy outlet for her frustrations. My reluctance to hear and accept responsibility for my faults made obedience more difficult for my non-confrontational partner. I didn’t make her sin, but I did make sin an easier choice.
Mark Gaither used an abused woman’s story to elicit donations to his ‘ministry’
Mark wrote in August 9, 2009 that he and his second wife Charissa were setting up Redemptive Heart Ministries Inc., and were applying for tax exempt status. In that post they shared a letter which a woman, Charlene, had written to them in which she said:
I left my marriage of 20 years to a pastor/shepherd husband who verbally, emotionally, mentally, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abused me and our 5 children throughout our marriage. I reached my breaking point late last year and left. I homeschooled for 15 years so did not work outside home for past 20 years, and therefore have almost no means to support myself, much less pay for legal help.
…. Where does a wife in my situation go when the church, extended family, friends, etc. won’t believe her story and will not offer help because the pastor/shepherd is such a wolf in sheep’s clothing—charming, warm, outwardly loving, does all the right things outside the home, but inside the home, a monster. This is spiritual warfare at a level most people can’t even imagine.
On top of all we’ve been through, it is especially unfair to be relegated to the welfare system to support myself and my children. The majority of churches I’ve emailed for help say that I have to be a tithing member [in order to receive help]. I don’t have a car to get to job interviews, counseling appointments, etc. Where can I go for help? Is there such an organization or ministry that has tangible resources for families like mine?
I feel isolated and rejected, and I need help.
I have little doubt that Charlene’s story was true. And it seems to me that Mark used Charlene’s story to try to get donations for his fledgling Redemptive Heart Ministries Inc.
Then — whatdya know — two days later, on August 11, Mark published another post [link] reporting that
Once Charlene decided to break away from her abusive husband, she began a healing process under the guidance of her divorce recovery group.
This study at a local church became a catalyst for deeper healing, which helped me [Charlene] to humble myself and go to my husband and apologize for how I had participated in the destruction of our marriage. Something broke inside of both of us through this process. I had been rejected since birth. He had been abandoned by an absentee father at an early age. Amazing that we had these issues staring us in the face for so many years after conversion. We needed healing. I took a strong stand for myself—a cry for help—that became God’s intervention . . . for both of us. We are different people as a result of this journey of healing.”
Charlene and her husband are now in the process of reconciling and restoring their marriage. Not merely “getting back together,” but building again on a whole new foundation. They have long way to go and a lot of work to do. Rebuilding trust is a difficult, sometimes perilous journey, and they are not assured of success. Regardless, their separation gave them an opportunity to turn hopelessness into a bright, hopeful future.
And — you guessed it — at the end of that article Mark asked for $ donations again. Mark clearly didn’t have any idea about how men like Charlene’s husband do not change. How they are reprobate. How they can masquerade brokenness and emotional repentance like Oscar-winning actors while their hearts remain as hard as flint and as wily as foxes. Mark used Charlene’s story to leverage his ‘ministry’. He was so clueless about the dynamics of abuse that he took her belief in her husband’s repentance at face value. I feel for all the women like Charlene who have been buoyed up with false hopes by people like Mark Gaither.
According to Mark Gaither, doing ‘what is right’ means not divorcing the unrepentant porn-using spouse.
In Mark Gaither’s article Living with an Unrepentant, Porn-Abusing Husband: Advice to Weary Wives of Addicts (Feb 2010) he responds to the letter from a woman whose husband had promised to give up porn but had not followed through with his promise. The woman had asked Gaither whether she should stay in the marriage or leave. Gaither says:
It’s not an easy question to answer. I address the issue from a theological standpoint in the article, “Is Pornography Scriptural Grounds for Divorce?” [dead link]—concluding that divorce is not the biblically sound response. So, my short answer to her question is, “stay in the marriage.” However, if you are a woman stuck in this situation, I do not recommend remaining passive. While the Bible does not counsel divorce, the marriage is far from okay. Viewing pornography is not the same as adultery—at least not technically. Regardless, women suffer the same humiliation and endure the same feelings of betrayal. (See also, “Is Porn the Same as Adultery?”) Consequently, you cannot simply pretend the marriage is intact, despite what your husband claims or what well-meaning advisers tell you.
While it’s not your place to change your husband or try to rouse his dead conscience, you can continue to allow the consequences of your husband’s sin to fall upon him. However, this can be a delicate matter and it must be handled with wisdom. Otherwise, you can cause more harm than good. Your husband ultimately answers to God, so you cannot—and must not—become his Holy Spirit. Nor can you become a means of behavior modification. “Tough love” does not try to control or coerce another person; it merely rejects sin and declares how we will respond to future wrongdoing. Instead, you must shift your focus away from any hope of his changing and decide how you are going to coexist under the same roof while he persists in his sin.
Needless to say, we have put Redemptive Divorce on our Hall of Blind Guides.