A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Liam Goligher is a PCA theologian who says abuse is grounds for divorce


[May 13, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

My position is that divorce is not just allowed but necessary where abuse has taken place.
— Dr Liam Goligher¹,  Senior Minister of 10th Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

Liam Goligher thinks Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones believed the same. He thinks perhaps he heard that from MLJ’s daughter.

If anyone can provide more info on MLJ’s beliefs on divorce for abuse, I would appreciate it.  I checked his book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, but he doesn’t mention there.

Now, will other ministers take a public stand and say the same as Dr Goligher?

If you are a church leader and believe the same thing, my challenge to you is this: Will you put your name out in public and say it?

The blog comments are open. And it’s far more effective to comment on the blog than on our Facebook page.

¹ Liam Goligher gave me permission to quote here what he wrote to me by email on Feb 13, 2019.

[May 13, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to May 13, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 13, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 13, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 13, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

***

Posts in this series

Part 1: Thomas Cranmer on divorce for abuse

Part 2: Puritans who said abuse was grounds for divorce

Part 3: David Clyde Jones – a contemporary PCA theologian who said that abuse is grounds for divorce

Part 4: Is this post.

About Liam Goligher

Dr Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of 10th Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia. Some time ago we featured his ten-part sermon series on Esther because it gives such encouragement to those who want to stand up to abusers. Go to Part One of the Esther series to start reading or listening to the whole thing.

You may remember the ESS debate in 2016. Many folks in CBMW teach / taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Trinity to defend their version of complementarianism.

When Liam Goligher asked Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination? the Christian blogosphere lit up. Mind you, Rachel Miller, Aimee Byrd and a few others had been publicly challenging ESS; they didn’t get much traction probably because they are women. But when Liam wrote about it at Aimee’s blog, a big fire started. While it’s sad that the women didn’t get traction, I think Liam is to be respected for taking a strong stance against ESS.

Go to our ESS Digest to see the posts about ESS at this blog.

14 Comments

  1. Finding Answers

    Though no longer directly affected by the discussion on whether or not abuse is grounds for divorce (I was divorced over a decade ago, did not initiate the divorce, and did not involve the “c”hurch), I am following the series with a great deal of interest.

    I have especially appreciated the recent discussion between Clockwork Angel, Kind of Anonymous, Barb, and the earlier tie-in by Ruth Magnusson Davis on Theodore Beza.

    Indirectly, some of my own thinking has been challenged, though not specifically about the issue of divorce. Snippets of the discussion have re-affirmed my dedication to the pursuit of rooting out twisted thinking – on the surface, a topic may not appear directly relevant, but digging deeper sometimes reveals previously unknown cultural differences.

  2. A Purposeful Life

    Now, will other ministers take a public stand and say the same as Dr Goligher?
    If you are a church leader and believe the same thing, my challenge to you is this: Will you put your name out in public and say it?

    Crickets

    Either church leaders don’t believe that abuse is grounds for divorce, or they won’t speak up!

    • Either church leaders don’t believe that abuse is grounds for divorce, or they won’t speak up!

      Or if they do believe that abuse is grounds for divorce, they don’t bother to follow let alone comment on this blog.

      If only they realised how much encouragement our readers would get if they commented here. And how sometimes I want to give up because of the lack of recognition I get from church leaders.

      • Amending my last sentence:

        ….the lack of PUBLIC recognition I get from church leaders.

        I don’t want them to pat me on the head privately by saying they are grateful for what I do. If they think my work is good, I want them to publicly endorse it. And I want them to comment on this blog so that our readers will be encouraged.

      • Ron

        Those who advocate divorce for abuse, or in this case the “necessity” of divorce for abuse are left with a dilemma, one in which the Roys Report finds itself, as well as the culture.

        If spousal abuse is sufficient to sue out divorce, then either (a) one may file for divorce for a single manipulative remark (i.e. the most minimal infraction of “abuse” imaginable) against a spouse over the entirety of a marriage, or else (b) “abuse” is so broad a term that it is rendered of little use for any Session to determine an appropriate sanction for abuse. Either all marriages may end in divorce immediately, or else “abuse” is too vague a word to determine whether divorce is permissible.

        My point is merely this. The word “abuse” is itself subject to abuse. Its vagueness lends itself to equivocation, which cannot but result in shepherding abuse if acted upon without further relevant details.

        At this point one might want to say that the sort of abuse that’s sufficient for divorce is habitual abuse that has gone too far or crossed some line. If that’s the case, then we are no longer speaking of “abuse” but a pattern of abuse. Now what has to be determined is what sort of pattern of “abuse” is occurring and what specific sins are involved in such unrepentant behavior. What ecclesiastical roadblocks and sanctions have been put in place to curb behavior etc.?

        One size doesn’t fit all. If abuse without qualification warrants divorce, then in the sphere of marriage, if we’re to be confessional, we must consider minimal abuse as perpetual transgressions that are tantamount to willful desertion that cannot be remedied by the church or state. Given the dilemma of treating a single act of abuse as such, the catch all term “abuse” has not typically been used in the courts of the church. It’s scope is too vast for it to be useful.

        So, please don’t be discouraged if church leaders haven’t subscribed to what you’re advocating. Hopefully they are being more careful than just acknowledging all infractions without distinction. For that we may be grateful.

      • Hello Ron,

        If you had read my definition of abuse, you would have realised that your argument does not apply to me or my work. You are attacking a straw man. Because you claim to be a philosopher, I’m sure you are aware of what “straw man” means, but for the sake of my other readers I will give a simple definition, taken from Wikipedia [Internet Archive link].

        Straw man….is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. A common form of setting up such a straw man is by use of the notorious formula “so what you’re saying is….?”, converting the argument to be challenged into an obviously absurd distortion. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.

        I have never said that a single manipulative remark (i.e. the most minimal infraction of “abuse” imaginable) against a spouse over the entirety of a marriage is grounds for divorce. I have always defined “abuse” as a pattern of disrespectful wicked conduct.

        You present yourself on your website as a Christian philosopher, but you have not bothered to read my work enough to understand how I define abuse. That is disappointing, to say the least. It could be characterised as slipshod scholarship on your behalf. It is certainly disrespectful towards me.

        I do not deny that some people misuse and even abuse the term “abuse”. But I am not one of those people.

        In your last paragraph you told me not to be discouraged if church leaders haven’t subscribed to what I’m advocating. Your comment is another reason for me to be discouraged, because you have not even bothered to understand my definition of abuse. I believe you owe me an apology.

      • Finding Answers

        Barb,

        You wrote (22ND MAY 2022 – 10:43 PM):

        If you had read my definition of abuse, you would have realised that your argument does not apply to me or my work.

        Reading Ron’s comment (18TH MAY 2022 – 7:38 AM), I highly doubt he even read your What is Abuse? definition of abuse on the sidebar of the ACFJ blog.

        You wrote:

        I have never said that a single manipulative remark (i.e. the most minimal infraction of “abuse” imaginable) against a spouse over the entirety of a marriage is grounds for divorce.

        That.

        You present yourself on your website as a Christian….but you have not bothered to read my work enough to understand how I define abuse. That is disappointing, to say the least. It could be characterised as slipshod scholarship on your behalf. It is certainly disrespectful towards me.

        That.

        Or perhaps Ron might be more accurately defined as a “Christian”. (Matthew 7:16)

        Matthew 7:16 (NMB New Matthew Bible)
        (16) You may know them by their fruits….

        You wrote:

        I do not deny that some people misuse and even abuse the term “abuse”. But I am not one of those people.

        That.

        You wrote:

        In your last paragraph you told me not to be discouraged if church leaders haven’t subscribed to what I’m advocating. Your comment is another reason for me to be discouraged, because you have not even bothered to understand my definition of abuse. I believe you owe me an apology.

        I highly doubt Ron will ever apologize. (Matthew 7:16)

        Matthew 7:16 (NMB New Matthew Bible)
        (16) You may know them by their fruits….

        And the way Ron writes is like so many “church” leaders.

        If Ron writes like so many “church” leaders, and if Ron is a pastor, how many cases of abuse are getting swept under the rug, remain hidden, are DARVOed (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender), etc.? (Matthew 7:16)

        Matthew 7:16 (NMB New Matthew Bible)
        (16) You may know them by their fruits….

        For anyone interested a slightly longer definition of DARVO, the following link is to Wikipedia’s definition of DARVO: DARVO [Internet Archive link].

        Reaching Out, would you mind taking the time to make my Wikipedia link more easily readable?

        I’m so sorry, Barb, if Ron has given you another reason to be discouraged. And no offence to you intended, Barb. I’m intentionally omitting writing any else, like quoting Scripture, writing what I (and some other people) call “Pious Platitudes, etc., as I don’t want to cause you any hurt and / or pain.

      • Reaching Out

        As you requested, Finding Answers, I’ve made your Wikipedia link more readable. It’s one of the things I enjoy doing in my “behind the scenes” role — playing with “behind-the-scenes” code. 🙂

      • Finding Answers

        Reaching Out,

        You wrote (24TH MAY 2022 – 2:37 PM):

        I’ve made your Wikipedia link more readable.

        Thank you. 🙂 🙂

  3. Eagerlabs

    I’ve listened to several of Liam’s sermons over the years….I like them! I didn’t know about this series….will definitely check it out thanks! 🙂

  4. Lance Lawton

    Yes, yes, yes! Liam Goligher is absolutely right. Scripture is on his side, as are several Reformed and Puritan luminaries. I affirm without reservation that a man who has abused his wife had long since abandoned the marriage covenant. The abused partner then deserves the support of God’s people in a divorce which will merely make formal the dissolution of a covenant which is already dissolved an actuality.

  5. Ben P

    Barbara, Liam and Lance seem to be on the right track to me. The Reformed emphasis on covenants should be a help in understanding the real nature of marriage. But I feel I need to be better-read on the whole topic.

    • Thanks Ben P, and welcome to the blog as this is your first comment. 🙂

      You can check out our FAQ page What About Divorce? for a quick overview of what I believe. And dig into the links there to find other material from wider sources (sources outside this blog).

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