A Cry For Justice

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

The tangled mess of mistaken notions about what the Bible teaches on divorce

The tangled mess of mistaken notions about the doctrine of divorce is truly a gigantic knot. It takes a lot of untying to get it correct. And most professing Christians, in my observation, are still carrying around at least one but probably several false notions about divorce doctrine.

The false notions prop each other up like a house of cards.

Did you ever build a house of playing cards when you were young? If so, you will remember how devastating it was when one card fell sideways and the whole house toppled. Few people like to sit with the discomfort of disentangling all the false notions about divorce. To disentangle the false notions you have about what the Bible says about divorce, you have to be willing to tolerate and sit with that feeling of devastation.

Then you have to be willing to rebuild the house so it won’t fall over: so that every card, every cord, every passage on divorce in the Bible, fits together and stands up and harmonises. So that no passage is over-emphasised at the expense of other passages. If you build a house like that, it can’t be toppled.  It has good foundations. And every connection between the parts of the house is sturdy.

But sitting with the feeling of devastation that you’ve held mistaken ideas is not the only difficulty. You know how electric cords persist in bending and twisting the way you don’t want them to bend and twist? With all the mistaken notions about divorce, you can disentangle one cord of the knot and start working on another cord, but the first cord you disentangled bends back and inserts itself into the knot again! Aarrgh!

What makes an interpretation worthy?
What are the criteria for figuring out a sound doctrine of divorce?

If an interpretation is worthy, it must harmonise all the Scriptural precepts and passages about divorce. It must also harmonise with the characteristics of God: his wrath for sinners, especially willful intentional sinners; his compassion for those sinned against; his desire to protect his church/bride from wolves in sheep’s clothing; and his command that the People of God must pay especial attention to not oppressing women who are bereft of husbands and children who are fatherless.

Children who grow up in a home where one parent is abusing the other parent are inevitably hurt and harmed by that, because the abuser is modelling evildoing and selfishness to the children. Often the children are frightened and terrified. When it comes to kids being damaged, far more damage is caused by the abuser than by a divorce which may ensue from the abuse.
(Helpful page from our FAQs: For my children’s sake, it is better to leave?)

In the rest of this series, some of my arguments will seem fairly intricate. I apologise in advance, but I ask you to bear with the intricacies and take your time evaluating and absorbing them. My arguments only have to be intricate because the multiple misunderstandings of the scriptures relating to divorce have been so convoluted, so inter-woven, so multi-layered…not to mention the fact that many of them had been traditionally accepted and passed down for centuries millennia.

These misunderstandings are like one of those complicated wooden puzzles that test your IQ. Disassembling all the misunderstandings of the scriptural passages on divorce, and then working out where the pieces must correctly go to fit the whole counsel of God, requires brainwork!



Posts in this series

Part 1:  Is this post.

Part 2: The Bible uses different words for divorce but they all mean legal divorce. Those who tell you otherwise are mistaken.

Part 3: Jesus did NOT say “Hardness of heart is grounds for divorce”. Deuteronomy 24 has been greatly misunderstood.

Part 4: The Jewish divorce certificate gave women the right to remarry, but some men use it to rule over women

Part 5: Does Scripture differentiate between ‘putting away’ and ‘divorce’?

Part 6: Divorce in Deuteronomy 21 gives dignity and rights to the woman

Further Reading

What does the Bible say about divorce? (one of our FAQs)

How can I help my children heal from abuse? (another of our FAQs)

My book Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion

It’s Time for Us to Listen to Jesus and Stop Believing the Traditions We Have Been Taught in Church

Traditions of Men Have Largely Consumed the Evangelical Church and are Causing Widespread Suffering

Creating and Perpetuating Traditions of Men as the Word of God Promotes Abuse

Abuse and Decision-Making: Are Our Traditional Methods of Discovering God’s Will Really Biblical?


  1. Suzanne

    Children who grow up in a home where one parent is abusing the other parent are inevitably hurt and harmed by that, because the abuser is modelling evildoing and selfishness to the children. Often the children are frightened and terrified. When it comes to kids being damaged, far more damage is caused by the abuser than by a divorce which may ensue from the abuse.

    This is, perhaps, the best reason for divorcing an abuser. My “home”, growing up, was a war zone where my parents battled every day. Every day there was screaming, yelling, false accusations, insults, drunken rages, stony silence, and a complete absence of the peace and security that all children need. There was no love, no warmth, no caring or support for their children or each other. It had very serious negative consequences for my siblings and I that persist to this day, and I don’t believe for a moment that God wanted that marriage to continue because He valued the marriage more than He valued us. But they were Roman Catholics whose church taught them that divorce under any circumstance was a sin and unthinkable, so we all had to suffer to serve that false doctrine.

    • Dear Suzanne, thanks for sharing this.

      There is an added irony about the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine which forbids divorce. The RC’s teach that marriage imparts ‘grace’. They have what I call a “hydraulic” doctrine of grace — hydraulic meaning to do with liquids and how to move liquids from one place to another place. Hydraulic brakes work by having a certain type of oil in pipes and when the driver puts his foot on the brake that compresses the oil in those pipes which causes the brake pads to press against the tyres. The RC hydraulic doctrine of grace says that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for sin and thus purchased grace for human beings, that is not enough and human beings also need to obtain more grace by their works if they want to get out of purgatory and into heaven. (Purgatory is an invention of the RC’s, it is not in the Bible.)

      The RC’s say that marriage imparts this kind of grace to the husband and wife. Other things they say impart grace are baptism, first communion and then going to Mass for the rest of your life, doing good works, and the last rites. That list is not exhaustive, btw.

      So there were your parents fighting with at least one of them drinking heavily, causing you kids all manner of fear and trauma, and the RC doctrine would have said that this marriage — simply because it was a marriage — was imparting grace to your parents so they would more quickly get out of Purgatory after they died and get into heaven. Aargh. This doctrine often sends people crazy.

      While the RCs do allow annulment, that is not the same as divorce. An annulment formally declares that the marriage was never a real marriage. This is another twist of the pretzel that can send people crazy. And annulments are not really described in the Bible. The Bible only talks about marriage & divorce. It does not talk about marriage & annulment & divorce.

      Annulments were frowned upon in RC circles for a long long time; it is only in recent years, since second wave feminism, that RCs have been less stigmatized by getting annulments. In your parents’ day, one of the reasons they did not get an annulment was probably the social stigma that went with it. It was stigmatized pretty much like divorce was stigmatized by the general society.

      • Helovesme

        My head spun a bit (already!) in reading about Roman Catholic ideas and views on marriage, divorce, annulment.

        When we mix in our own ideas, views and self-made doctrine and very “loosely” try to work in Scripture to make it seem legitimate—-your analogy on tangled wires comes life!

        I’m in my 40s, and I did not grow up in a Christian home. However, divorce was rare and rarely talked about in my home. I would certainly say I was raised in a very conservative, tradition-based home, so in various ways I can identify with those that did grow up in a church environment.

        But divorce was rarely talked about even after I became a believer. Like some or many, I thought the only grounds for divorce was adultery, because sexual sin is distinct from other sins, and so the consequences are far weightier.

        I don’t want to mischaracterize anything, because if divorce was rarely talked about, it seems unfair to put words into people’s mouths. The most I’m comfortable with is to describe what I strongly picked up on, even though it wasn’t said out loud:

        And I want to apologize to anyone who might get triggered from what I picked up on. I personally do not espouse to any of these beliefs.

        Divorce is an extremely personal thing, as is marriage. They could both be taboo topics, because of the very sensitive nature involved. So, I noticed that a lack of information might stem from the fact that both topics are difficult to discuss, and even harder to unpack. There are so many ups and downs, ins and outs, personal thoughts and experiences—-trying to “work” the Bible into that takes real skill and extreme patience.

        As I picked up on—-divorce was a form of dysfunction. The breaking up of a marriage, a family and a home was just that—–a brokenness. In general, I got the feeling that divorce only occurred in very extreme circumstances. It was to be avoided as much as possible, at nearly any cost. There was a limit, but where those lines were drawn seemed more subjective than Scriptural.

        Who wants to be known for coming from a “broken home,” or being labeled as a “broken family?” And if there are kids involved—-who wants to be known for coming from a “broken home?” Also, what about the repercussions of single parenthood (if that applies)? Is THAT another form of dysfunction? A two parent household is the gold standard (children need a mom AND a dad), so there again—the standard is lowered (aka single parenthood) due to divorce.

        In your parents’ day, one of the reasons they did not get an annulment was probably the social stigma that went with it. It was stigmatized pretty much like divorce was stigmatized by the general society.

        If a person says they are divorced within Christian circles, curiosity might be the first reaction, and a lot of questions that more than likely won’t get asked (but possibly brought up AWAY from the divorcee): I wonder what happened? Did he or she cheat? Who left who? What led to such a decision? Did one or both simply give up, and stop taking the marriage seriously? Or were they never serious at all? Is this a person I should be associating with?

        So I agree wholeheartedly with Barb, but I think the stigma is still alive and kicking. We might be more open in communication about these things—-in our parents’ time, I think they were more tight lipped. But stigmas don’t die easily, and they often put up quite the fight when we try to dismantle them.

        It now personally disgusts me that divorce or single parenthood is seen as some sort of “comedown” in the church. So, there is some level of shame attached, which I find to be despicable. I would never say that divorce is a picnic, but there is no reason that you cannot build (or rebuild) a loving, Christ-centered home after divorce.

        And your kids are not necessarily “doomed” in how they will turn out, if the parents are divorced. They can absolutely grow into wonderful, well-adjusted adults—-because it is Christ and His love that makes a house a real home, not the “structure” of that home.

        Not only that, but I noticed that a single parent might feel pressured to remarry to achieve that “best scenario” sort of home: a two parent household.

        Without a doubt, an extra pair of hands to raise kids would be a big blessing. But again, I see no reason to put that sort of burden on a single parent. And I see nothing in the Word that claims that your family and household is “dysfunction free” when and if it becomes a two parent household. Now it is “whole” and that brokenness is “fixed.”

        Or, we might naturally assume that a divorced person (without kids) wants to get married again. And is actively looking for a spouse. But he or she might just be looking for fellowship and friendship, not for another romantic interest. He or she wants to “fix” the emptiness in their lives by finding another spouse. That is again unfair thinking.

        I’m going to do my best to read and unpack what Barb shares. I think we’ll all need to be patient as we try to work out and work through undoing those knots and rebuilding that house of cards.

      • Suzanne

        Unfortunately, my parents marriage didn’t impart a shred of grace; quite the opposite. As to stigmas, everyone in the neighborhood and the extended family knew that our home and family were a toxic disgrace. Some friends parents wouldn’t allow them to be in our house for play or sleepovers. I hardly think a divorce would have been much worse. In fact, some in our circle (even Catholics) would have welcomed it.

    • Helovesme

      Suzanne your story touched me deeply. Your last comment almost made me cry — the reactions and real impact from and on the community around you.

      Perhaps we don’t give enough weight to how abuse within the home affects those outside the home. Your comments got that ball rolling in my mind.

      Patrick Stewart, the actor, bravely shared about his abusive father. He said one of their neighbors, a woman, once bravely stood up to his father, and that meant so much to young Patrick then, and now.

      I’m not faulting any of those parents you mentioned; bear with me! I’m relating to them as well as you. They seemed just as conflicted as one might imagine. There seemed to be strong sympathy for what you all were going through, but they didn’t want to expose their own kids to what you had to live with.

      I was personally very embarrassed by my family but there was nothing I could do about it. I also don’t think anyone wanted to hear about what I went through, possibly their parents as well. Abuse or toxicity can be a dirty business and most persons don’t want to get their hands into such a thing.

      • Thanks for bringing up Patrick Stewart. Here is the YouTube of him talking about domestic violence and his father having PTSD from war.

        Patrick Stewart Gives Passionate Response to Question At Comicpalooza 2013

      • Here is Patrick Stewart giving a talk about domestic violence in which he describes his childhood and how abusive his father was.

        It is interesting that he said “abuse is a choice,” but he also said that his Dad “lost control”. Hmm. I would challenge the idea that his Dad “lost control”.

        But I’m not wanting to put Patrick down….I think it’s just an interesting example of how even survivors who have become advocates and are staunchly standing up for victims of domestic abuse, can use language that misrepresents the nature of abuse.

        He gave this talk at Amnesty UK.

      • Helovesme

        Oh thank you for that clip, Barb! I hesitated to bring him up (Patrick Stewart). I can’t wait to watch that YouTube.

      • Finding Answers

        Thank you for mentioning Patrick Stewart, Helovesme, and to Barb for providing the link to the YouTube video.

      • Suzanne

        Recently a woman who had no personal experience with parental abuse asked for advice. She had befriended a young girl whose mother was abusing her verbally and emotionally every day. The woman learned of her suffering, and believed she had an obligation to report the abuse. She knew that this child depended on her friendship for the emotional support and care that she wasn’t getting anywhere else. But she feared that an unsuccessful attempt to help would result in even more abuse and in the girl being forbidden to speak to her again. Eventually she learned that, short of obvious physical or sexual abuse, the courts would do nothing to help the girl so she simply chose to continue to do what she could for her. I almost broke down in tears when I read this. I’d have given just about anything to have had even one person give me the support this kind lady was giving to this girl. So many knew that something was terribly wrong in my life, knew of the wretched conditions I lived in, but not one adult offered the hand of friendship or emotional support I so desperately needed. Yes, abuse is messy and off-putting. I understand that. But getting involved to help someone who has no capacity or means to help themselves could mean so much and make such a difference. I often wonder how different I’d be today if I’d had someone like that lady in my life.

      • Finding Answers

        I finished watching the Amnesty International YouTube video of Patrick Stewart just before you posted the link, Barb. I noticed he DID mention sometimes men are the victims of domestic violence, something many speakers / advocates tend to omit.

      • Helovesme

        I almost cried while listening to Patrick speak. He is famous for his amazing, somewhat booming voice (it’s why he got considered for the role of Captain Picard in Star Trek!).

        But when he got impassioned about how violence is never justified, that voice of his had so much heart in it.

        I have a very strong, very PLATONIC “crush” on Patrick Stewart, so I am a bit jealous of that sweet woman who got to hug him at the end. 🙂 I also love to talk about how much I admire him, because I am fairly disgusted that baldness is treated so shamefully—as if baldness cannot possibly be attractive. I’d like to think there is more to a person than the amount of hair they have (or don’t have!)

        Patrick is known for doing Shakespeare and Star Trek, which are on different ends of the acting spectrum—and he did both so very well. In the interviews I’ve seen him in, he projects quite a lot of sincerity, even in talking about his own shortcomings as a husband and father.

        Can’t wait to watch the other one you posted!

    • Helovesme

      Oh Suzanne, that story about that young girl and adult touched me deeply. I am so touched that this lady tried as hard as she did, and was so careful as she considered the pros and cons of whatever actions she may or may not take.

      That is a big deal. She rightly realized that she might make things worse for that abused girl, or it might cut off the relationship between them. She was so aware that being impulsive, even with the best of intentions, might backfire.

      Note: this is not to excuse anyone who does not take action about abuse. I am just agreeing with her in that a messy situation like abuse can be a messy deal when trying to help.

      I’d have given just about anything to have had even one person give me the support this kind lady was giving to this girl.

      Oh goodness I am right with you there. I tried to reach out to a teacher that seemed kind, now and then, just for some level of empathy and emotional support. I would try to bask in the glow of the mothers of people I knew, who seemed so warm and loving. Sometimes, however, I also had teachers that were not so sympathetic—-they sent a lot of mixed messages at me. Top that with being brutally bullied through most of my school life, so that only made home AND school life worse.

      However, I was often afraid of adults in general as well. They had the “power” in every sense of the word. They were in charge, they made the rules, they could likely break the rules and get away with it, and we were fairly at their mercy in many of the same ways as with our parents.

      So I was often afraid to really talk to or trust them. I had no idea what they might do (or not do) with any information I gave them.

      So there is the conflict right there: I wanted them to DO something, but then I would be afraid that they WOULD do something!

      So many knew that something was terribly wrong in my life, knew of the wretched conditions I lived in, but not one adult offered the hand of friendship or emotional support I so desperately needed.

      The best thing I think the adults could have done for me, is help me cope with what I had no control over. A few of them may have loosened a nail or two here or there, but it never went any further than that.

      I am absolutely with you in that abuse is messy, and so often no one wants to deal with it, or they are afraid to. It’s risky to reach out, because abuse is risky business.

      However, sooner or later—-abuse will likely strike close to home for nearly everyone on the planet. It’s so rampant that it is highly likely that it has happened, or is currently happening—-to someone we know.

      So when you hear abuse or the abused being mocked or ridiculed or minimized or dismissed or demeaned or whatever—-watch yourself in how you react. Are you laughing with the crowd, because it’s not personal? Well, think again.

      Are you dismissing or demonizing a victim’s testimony if there are holes in his or her story, never daring to realize that this is often the case with traumatic events? Well, if someone you know dares to confide in YOU about their abuse, I would warn them that you’re not the right person to trust with such delicate information.

      Is your conscience so seared that you have no problem in smearing those that dare to stand up to their abuser, or to abuse in general? Well, if someone you knows claims they’ve been abused, and dares to claim that in essence—-you are smearing THEM with that attitude—-I would suggest that you are not much of a friend, let alone have any moral compass working in you.

  2. Finding Answers

    I LOVE the analogies of the house of cards, the tangle of electrical cords, and the wooden puzzle. I am reminded of my own progress towards putting together the pieces of the puzzle that form God’s picture of my life.

    Words are SO important. Sometimes I struggle for hours to express EXACTLY what I am trying to convey, and sometimes all I have is a picture in my mind, but no words to match the picture.

    I am looking forward to this series of posts, filling in the gaps in my understanding of how words were used in the Bible.

  3. Seeing Clearly

    In some instances, people who have never heard any teachings on ‘the rules of marriage / divorce’ act on instinct. If they are in an abusive marriage, they divorce for self-protection and protection for their children. They simply make a correct choice. I often wish I had been one of the ‘uneducated ones’.

    Hopefully, many of us who were so incorrectly taught and brainwashed will continue to relearn the truth about divorce. There is another gnarly mess that I continue to try to make sense of. I have many religious friends that appear to accept me AND my divorce. Yet, their use of the word “divorce” regarding so many other people always has negative connotation.

    I want to ask them if they really accept my divorce, but that question feels like a taboo subject. It feels like the elephant in the room.

    And then there are the ministers in my family. I know they do not approve of my divorce, tho they don’t come out and say it. I know because my divorce goes against their teachings to their own congregations. Some close religious family members have outright severed ties with me. They still keep their ties with my ex. My ex gets a pass because he never had an extramarital affair. [In their view] I had no true grounds to divorce him.

    • I sympathise, Seeing Clearly.

      None of my family are professing Christians, so I don’t cop what you’ve copped from your extended family. But when I tell professing Christians about what I do – the book I’ve written, and the work I do at this blog – I frequently have the sense that they don’t really agree with my views on the biblical grounds for divorce. And if they don’t agree with my views on the biblical grounds for divorce, that implies that despite their “politically correct” acceptance of me personally, they would not really deep down agree that my two divorces (I’ve been married to two abusive men) were 100% justified according to the Bible.

      You said:

      I want to ask them if they really accept my divorce, but that question feels like a taboo subject. It feels like the elephant in the room.

      I so understand that feeling you have.

      Let’s tease this out. I think your gut feeling is right that for them this would be a taboo subject….because it would put them on the spot: it would call them to face and admit to their muddled thinking and their hypocrisy of ‘accepting you’ while actually not really accepting that your divorce was 100% biblical.

      There are so many strands below the surface here. When one has been deeply wounded, as all victims of intimate partner abuse have been, and the wounds have salt added to them by the spiritual abuse that church folk deliver, when that has happened it is very hard to risk trying to have a challenging conversation with a professing Christian. The challenging conversation, if you did engage in it, might unveil which strands are below the surface in that person’s mindset — what misbeliefs and misunderstandings and assumptions they have which are causing them to not be wholly and fully on your page. And it takes courage to open up that conversation by asking the person questions, because the person might easily say something that re-wounds you, that adds salt to your wounds. And if you — the survivor of abuse, the traumatised one — do not have sufficient safety in your life, sufficient friends, sufficient true supporters, if you are still having to struggle just to pay the rent or the mortgage or put food on the table or parent your kids who are seeing the abuser….it’s probably not a risk you want to take.

      But if you (I’m not speaking just to you, Seeing Clearly, here — I’m speaking generically to victims), if you do feel you want to risk having that kind of conversation with a professing Christian, maybe I can make some suggestions about how to open up that conversation by asking that person questions.

      The question you hypothetically proposed, Seeing Clearly, was this: “Do you really accept my divorce?” I think that is a difficult question to put to the person because it is SO confronting. And the person is unlikely to answer honestly.

      There are probably less confronting / less personal questions you could put to such a person. I’m happy to brainstorm them with you if you want. 🙂

    • Helovesme

      Your comment got me thinking for sure, Seeing Clearly. Those were incredibly astute observations.

      Yes, the secular world might see things far more clearly (a small “nod” to your screen name!) than the church might.

      I can’t recall where I heard this—-“once is enough” when speaking of abusive interactions. It answers the question of: how much abuse is considered “too much”, or how far is going too far? I am pretty positive I did not hear this sort of narrative in the church.

      Yet, their use of the word “divorce” regarding so many other people always has negative connotation.

      Divorce is not a pretty word. But I am on board with you—-why are all these negative connotations immediately attached to it and (here’s the catch) BEFORE you even hear their story? If you even bother to ask, or bother to listen. Or bother to stay around long enough to realize there may have been way more than you could imagine.

      I am not divorced, but I hope it’s okay if I try to run my story a bit parallel to yours. My life has not turned out as expected, or that was expected by those around me—-even and especially by professing Christians. Many times I am looked down upon, but they don’t know my full story.

      To be honest, I wouldn’t share it with anyone who has already made up their minds about me. If you’re that quick to judge, you’re not very open minded, and that shuts things down right away. People like that are not worth my time, or my pearls. And never, ever give your pearls to anyone that you do not think will treat them with respect.

      When God says He works in “mysterious ways,” did anyone really not think He MIGHT apply those words to your life? That He MIGHT work in your life in unexpected ways? That He might have plans for you that don’t conform, that don’t fit a mold, that is not cookie cutter?

      Some close religious family members have outright severed ties with me. They still keep their ties with my ex. My ex gets a pass because he never had an extramarital affair. [In their view] I had no true grounds to divorce him.

      These sorts of mentalities constantly shock me. That sort of narrow-minded thinking is beyond comprehension. Does anyone really think that affairs are the only way that a marriage can be destroyed?

      Here is another example. A couple that does not have children might be seen as having plenty of disposable income to spread around—you know, because they don’t have the same expenses as those with bigger households.

      So let me get this straight: “children are the only thing that might drain or strain or challenge your income.” “Medical expenses or other legitimate needs make no difference.” Or, “diligent saving or proper planning mean nothing.” Or, “hard work and living within our means.” Or, “the Lord may be directing your income into certain areas that need loving and faithful assistance or attention.”

      Barb’s response was great. I would not necessarily mind trying to converse with people about my own life, but I’m so tired of potshots and limited thinking when it comes to things that do not fall into neat columns. I’ve tried to answer questions when I’m asked, but I can tell they’re not treated with respect.

      Again, I am not divorced. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put up with or deal with potshots and not taking our marriage and family seriously.

      But I apply this thinking to those that are divorced. What gives them the right to not take my family’s divorce seriously? Or take potshots at it without even hearing what we were going through?

      I know because my divorce goes against their teachings to their own congregations. Some close religious family members have outright severed ties with me.

      Fair enough. If they strongly believe in certain things that they say are Scriptural, it’s very difficult to work within that frame of mind. And if they believe severing ties with you is Scriptural, I again would not know how to convince them otherwise. I again make the guess that their minds are too closed up and tightly locked to accept what you would tell them. I also would hesitate in trusting them with such personal, private details about something as painful (and precious) as divorce.

      Let me explain that last part. Details about a marriage are precious, but I apply this thinking to divorce as well. Details are always precious, and they make all the difference in a person’s story. I’m to the point where I’m tired of taking time and trouble to bring up or bring back details about certain parts of my life—–unless I truly believe they’ll be treated right.

      I fear I am contradicting Barb’s response to you, and I do not mean to! I loved her response and I am on board with her trying to brainstorm how to have such conversations with people. She is being far more proactive and practical about it. I am trying to be as well, but I’ve had much more defeat and disappointment, that confess I’m a bit more jaded now than in the past!

      • Suzanne

        In reading your comment I was reminded that, of all the people who know of my total separation from my abusive family members, those who have offered me the most compassion and support were not followers of Jesus. The believers who know have attempted to persuade me to reconcile without any indications of repentance or remorse from those who hurt me. Some do this out of ignorance of just how deeply the abuse has harmed me, assuming that the split was the result of something trivial, but others hold the mistaken belief that a Christian sins by protecting themselves from harm by evil people.

        It shouldn’t be this way. In His Word God never told us to continue to enable sin against us, even by family and spouses. You don’t get a pass because you’re married to your victim or are their parent, sibling, etc. There is so much unscriptural teaching in the church, and it’s adding harm to what is already a terribly painful situation.

      • I don’t think you contradicted any of my response, Helovesme. 🙂

  4. Kind of Anonymous

    I too am looking forward to this series on divorce. It’s taking me along time to sort out true from false as far as church history and teaching goes and having heard over and over that a divorce for a Christian is a serious spiritual and moral failure regardless.

    Most Christians I know would accept a divorce if there were repeated affairs that could be proven, or black eyes, broken bones or horrendous child abuse, again if proven, but that often reluctantly. They would be more reluctant to accept a remarriage. Once it gets to things like emotional abuse, or things like manipulation, control, dishonesty, anything that constitutes a refusal to deal with things truthfully and honestly, it gets harder and harder from there.

    That’s for someone divorced once; for those of us divorced twice, it’s highly unlikely one would receive support or understanding as folks seem to think that maybe the first time it wasn’t your fault but the second time, well the common denominator is me so what’s going on. Which only adds to the torment, shame and self-recrimination that goes with being a twice divorced woman who is asking herself “How could I have walked into this twice?” “What part did I play in this?” “Why did I do / ignore / go along with / rationalize / justify xyz even though I knew better?”

    My experience with the church is that it lacks sufficient depth to do much more than judge, label and hold in a place of shame. Jesus goes looking for lost sheep but it feels like the church just sits back and discusses the sins of the sheep that led to it deserving to be eaten. Rather than “save some, snatching them from the fire”, it’s more like “They shouldn’t have gotten that close to it in the first place so it’s their own fault”.

    I have yet, in my circumstance, to have a single Christian ask me directly “What led to you two divorcing?” Or, “are you okay?” Even if there is sin on my part (and there are issues, for instance I have such a need to be loved and valued by a man, probably due to fatherlessness, that it gets me into trouble even when I’ve steeled myself and made serious commitments to God that I truly meant – so there is a battle over who to trust to meet my deepest needs for love, security and value). Suffice to say, there are things that require some spiritual depth to get right and sorted, but I have yet to experience either the depth or the interest in today’s shallow social club church. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could find a church that actually has some depth to it with strong in-depth Bible teaching but so far, I haven’t.

    • Finding Answers

      Kind Of Anonymous,

      There are SO many points in your comment with which I concur, I am tempted to write ^That for your entire comment. Yet to provide any information to back up my reply would compromise my safety.

      I’ve been pondering how to reply without sounding like I am mouthing empty words, without sounding like anything but me.

      You wrote:

      My experience with the church world is that it lacks sufficient depth to do much more than judge, label and hold in a place of shame….

      (Strikethrough / addition of the word “world” done by me.)


    • Helovesme

      Kind Of Anonymous wrote:

      My experience with the church is that it lacks sufficient depth to do much more than judge, label and hold in a place of shame. Jesus goes looking for lost sheep but it feels like the church just sits back and discusses the sins of the sheep that led to it deserving to be eaten. Rather than “save some, snatching them from the fire”, it’s more like “They shouldn’t have gotten that close to it in the first place so it’s their own fault”.

      I couldn’t agree with you more. And I never thought about the potential attitude towards multiple divorces as you brought up.

      I am truly blown away by how well you articulated the drama and dysfunctional thinking within the church, but you nailed it. Also, the ridiculous attitude that a Christian who is divorced equals a spiritual and moral failing. AND, the attitude that well, if he or she was a “serial” cheater, I guess it’s okay that a divorce occurred.

      By the way, a person does not have to commit multiple murders before we say “this is getting serious.” ONE murder is enough to be considered serious. So I’m confused by the “it has to get worse before we think it’s okay….”

      Is it not understood, that by waiting to see if it gets “worse” before you will consider keeping that person’s life safe, that there may not BE a life to keep safe—abuse is murder. The more he or she stays in the abuse, the more his or her life may be in danger, but also his or her soul is in jeopardy.

      Once it gets to things like emotional abuse, or things like manipulation, control, dishonesty, anything that constitutes a refusal to deal with things truthfully and honestly, it gets harder and harder from there.

      Oh yes. For some reason, Christians might claim that they have to SEE the abuse (aka it has to be visible) before they’ll believe you, or take it seriously. IMO, that is hogwash. One black eye is usually not “enough” to warrant serious action. One bruise is usually not “enough” to impart real consequences for the abuser. One broken bone is usually not “enough” for the abused to claim they are in real danger.

      The bar may be set at that level, at first (we have to have proof that abuse occurred!) but it will get raised higher and higher. Now we need to see multiple bruises. Now we have to see bruises that cannot be hidden by clothing. Now we to have examine the situation to see how things “escalated.” Now we have to talk to the abuser and hear their side of things.

      The fact is—-pain is treated quite lightly in the church. Our faith is supposed to give us supernatural powers, it seems, when the real goal of faith is to fully RELY on a supernatural power, which is the Lord Himself.

      We never become impervious to pain as His children. In fact, I recall the clumsy armor I tried to build for myself falling away when I met Him. The pain I have stuffed for so many years became quite real and alive, now that I was free to admit that it had been there all along.

      Suffice to say, there are things that require some spiritual depth to get right and sorted, but I have yet to experience either the depth or the interest in today’s shallow social club church.

      I used to use the phrase “damaged goods” to describe myself, but I am now DONE with that. My intent was to try to explain how most guys didn’t find me attractive or have any interest in me, partially or probably due to a lot of “daddy issues” or because I was (and am) quite damaged because of the abuse and a rough life in general.

      These are struggles indeed, as you very aptly put. To be in denial of them would be far worse. Being open and honest about those struggles is far more beneficial than trying to pretend that it’s “all over and in the past.”

      For victims of abuse, it’s really never “all over and in the past,” because it very much affects our present. This does NOT mean that we cannot be healed and set free and made whole in Him—-I just mean that it is often a lifelong process in sorting and dealing with whatever was inflicted on us—and it also might depend on the duration and severity of the abuse.

      I would ask that we stop using that phrase: damaged goods for one reason only. That is not how the Lord sees us, or labels us. If that is not how He treats us, then we have no reason to treat ourselves like that, or allow others to do the same.

      And if the church insists on using that phrase, or treating broken, wounded sheep like that—then they are not emulating the Chief Shepherd Himself, who would never approve of that.

      By the way, who in the church can claim that they have never “played with fire” as you brought up? This is not to agree with them, in aiming that remark to those that are abused and / or divorced. What I mean is—I’ve willfully, foolishly and sometimes knowingly dabbled and danced around with lots of fire in my life. Been around very predatory persons.

      And yes, I’ve gotten burned, too, and I paid for it. But the Lord has never treated me as if to say:” well, you’re on your own now. I’m not going to pull you back from any future fires, or dive in to save you from the present fires that you are now burning in. Do you really expect Me to help someone who is so obviously unworthy?”

      I have yet, in my circumstance, to have a single Christian ask me directly “What led to you two divorcing?” Or, “are you okay?”

      I’m going to keep that close to my heart. I recall not asking a woman who was going through a divorce, but later on it all came out. I was blessed but also felt burdened with what she ended up telling me, but I was not going to blame her in that it was hard on me to hear it. And I do not regret being there for her, trying to be an ear for her. But I got a huge but very bitter taste of what divorce can put a person through.

      I remember telling her that I didn’t ask because I thought it was a private matter (and I didn’t know her very well at the time), and she told me (kindly) that it was okay because it was really not any of my business. She confided in me due to a series of events that would take too long to go into!

      But I learned a lot from that experience, and from marrying into a family in which there is a lot of divorce. Please please please understand that I had little to no experience in divorce except for ones that were in the public eye, but for everyday people they almost never talked about it or opened a door for it—-so I tended to tell myself that it would be very taboo to ask.

      Now I’m trying to keep that door open, as you brought up. It may be taboo to ask, but I would only do it at the Lord’s leading (also if I felt that person would be all right to share and trust me with their stories).

      Keep in mind that Christ Himself was quite inquisitive, and in Old Testament God can be seen asking lots of questions as well. “What do you want?” “What can I do for you?” “Do you want to be made well?” “What you are doing?” “Why are you doing that?”

      A lot of questions never get answered for one reason and one reason only: we never bothered to ask. We never bothered to find out. We never took the time or gave them the chance to reply. We didn’t know, because we didn’t ask, because it’s likely that we didn’t care. Or, we didn’t want to know, because we didn’t want to care, and we didn’t care about what they had to say in the first place. If we care, we are now accountable to act like we care, and that is a lot to ask of oneself. So we might choose to gossip, because we are curious enough to speculate, but we refuse to care about that person—-because is far more serious. When you refuse to speculate anymore, that means you are serious about treating real people as if they are real people—-not as if they are characters in a play or movie!

      My comment below pointed out that I tried to be quite inquisitive. It got me into a lot of trouble, simply because I dared to ask questions that no one wanted to answer, or talk about. Or bring up, or deal with, or barely acknowledge. I know this sounds crazy, but I could FEEL them shutting down, or shunning me when I tried to reach out.

      My comment stands. Don’t change those ways. We love it when children ask questions, or when students raise their hands in the classrooms and want to know more. They are curious, so they ask—and with that knowledge they learn to build character. They learn how to care about things that matter. Why are adults not encouraged to be the same way?

      • Kind of Anonymous

        Hi Helovesme, thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response! I love those very much, they give me much to think about.

        I am thinking about what you said about the whole “it has to get worse before it’s okay to divorce” idea. I see this in municipal government, where people say it’s not okay to spend money to fix a dangerous intersection because only two people have been hit but then ten people get massacred by speeding cars and suddenly it is now okay to make that expenditure. That is backwards and it says a lot about the way primary values in church have been made secondary or worse. I was going to say society but the thing is, society would often protect you if you were being mistreated and call crap, crap. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about how David violated the Sabbath to feed his hungry men and how they ate the showbread which was lawful only for priests to eat, it spoke volumes to me. It made me wonder; could it be true? David’s life meant more than the rules and since David wasn’t coming from a place of not reverencing and loving God and taking Him seriously, it was no sin but rather mercy.

        You said a lot that provokes further cud chewing so I will probably have to come back later tonight or tomorrow, but thank you very much for responding and affirming. 🙂

  5. Helovesme

    I am not from a divorced family, or a Christian home (my parents are still together), but it was an abusive home.

    But I DID marry into a family that has many professing Christians in it, and there has been a fair amount of divorce with members of this family. Most of these divorces occurred when I was not in the family, so I do not know much about what went on in those previous marriages. I’ve been able to pick up on some things, but the overall vagueness still persists.

    As you can imagine, those things are very personal and private. So I didn’t want to pry, but I did try to pick up on any comments made. The reason is because I wanted to get to know them, and knowing about their pasts plays into that. Plus, I was very “green” about divorce in general, and hearing personal stories helps tear down that ignorance.

    This is going to be very hard for me to write about. I got a “crash course” into the many, many woes and wounds that divorce might entail as I tried my hardest to understand and fit into my in-law family. And again—-bear in mind that most of them are professing Christians, but I am not exactly sure how that timing fell into when they were previously married and divorced.

    This has given me strong insight into what it might feel like for those that have personally been divorced, or have been the child of divorce. Bear with me, though—I got a good, hard glimpse, but nothing that compares to what it is really like.

    But in being an outsider, interestingly enough I think I was able to get some pretty accurate perceptions that others (who were more closely connected) did not see.

    When I first met my husband’s family, despite there being multiple spouses and multiple kids from multiple marriages—it seemed fairly functional and fairly well-connected. It seemed like everyone just “blended” together.

    One of the main things I finally picked up on is this: despite an outward show of amiability, I believe there was a lot of ugliness right underneath. But it was all stuffed and silenced, and somehow—everyone knew how to play along with that, but I had no idea how such a game was played. That did not work in my favor at all.

    It took me years to realize that my husband’s parents (who are divorced) barely spoke a word to each other, if they even dared to be at the same gathering. My understanding of “amiability” back then meant a lack of screaming and shouting—but I had never factored in “silent treatment.”

    It took a good decade for me to unearth the layers that were lurking underneath. And I’m still trying to work through them, because there are so many of them, and still so many unanswered questions.

    My husband’s parents are divorced, when he was five. It has absolutely affected our marriage, but not because of the divorce itself. It is because of how it was handled. There was little to no communication about anything, and asking questions or trying to fill in a lot of empty slots might be met with dishonest, or half-truthful replies. Or, with strong emotion that fairly discourages asking any more questions, or ever bringing up those topics again!

    When there is a stigma or shame about something—-silence is usually the norm. Silence and a strong tendency to avoid any discussion, and to focus solely on secrecy.

    I had the terrible dishonor of witnessing a divorce on my husband’s side, and I am still traumatized and wounded from it. The young lady that left the family was like a daughter to me. The whole thing was “handled” in similar ways as previous divorces from long ago: shunning, secrecy, and shaming anyone (aka me) who tried to ask questions—-because I was never even told about the divorce. I had to find out through “gossip,” which is the worst way to find out. I hate gossip, because it is so harsh and heartless.

    So the stigma can be just as alive and kicking today as much as it was in previous generations; I cannot stress that enough. And it needs to stop!

    I don’t want to preempt anything Barb will bring up. But even though my husband was very young when the divorce occurred (I stupidly thought that he wasn’t too strongly affected since he was so young)—-it made a huge impact on him, and therefore it made a huge impact on me, as his wife. One that I don’t know if he has fully processed, or even knows how to. I think he handled it by not handling it at all.

    My way of handling was not so passive. I had more questions than actual answers, and more “slanted” facts than actual reality, and I had more speculation or mere “I don’t know, I never asked, I don’t recall” than actual pieces of the puzzle to work with.

    Information can “trickle” out, though. One time my husband’s dad spilled out a lot of beans about the divorce that almost knocked me over; I was so shocked. I still don’t know what to do with what came out.

    I don’t believe in handing small or young children “adult sized” problems—-so I am not trying to fault any of the parties involved for being so closed mouthed about their divorces, if their kids were very small. However, even toddlers can pick up on things, and even though they understandably do not know how to make sense of those things—-they are impacted.

    And those kids will grow up before you know it. By that time, they are hopefully mature and grown up to the point where they might have a lot of questions. Depending on the circumstances, I don’t know how the parents should answer them—-but I beg of you—-please take their questions seriously.

    They may or may not want to get married someday themselves, and it DOES matter to understand what kind of a home they came from. And my husband was never able to get real, honest, serious answers—-and it took him enormous courage to even ask such questions.

    Bear with me, I have sympathy for parents! They may be caught off guard if and when the kids try to bring these things up. But please—keep in mind that they are no longer five or ten years old. I do wish my husband had been taken more seriously, because he is far from being five anymore!

    While I would like to think of our marriage as separate and distinct from BOTH of the marriages of our parents—-without a doubt, we were strongly impacted by so many things from those marriages, that we didn’t fully understand.

    I thought it was going to be MY side of the family that caused us the most trouble, given my “daddy issues,” but honestly—-the opposite has been the case. This may be because they profess Christ, but I honestly do not understand how they choose to conduct themselves as professing Christians.

    And please let me reiterate—it’s NOT because of the existence of divorce. I made it clear in a previous comment that I don’t believe that a divorced home automatically equals broken, dysfunctional, doomed. This is true for both Christians and non-Christians.

    But it takes hard work to work out and work things through. You have to resist the temptation to ignore any and all elephants in the room. That is what my husband’s family has chosen to do, and that is partly why I refuse to have anything to do with them anymore. The other reasons are along the same thread: I don’t like how they treat each other, and people in general. It’s the 2nd greatest commandment, and you can’t “skirt” that in favor of upholding stigmas and secrecy.

    A united family, IMO, is one that communicates well and can be honest and open with each other—whether it’s a one or two parent household.

    This has been a very twisted, topsy-turvy comment, and I’m so sorry for that. I sincerely hope my thoughts came through without implying or imposing anything negative on anyone.

    I would please ask that no one try to convince me, even with the best of intentions, that my husband’s family was simply misguided and didn’t mean any harm. I did my best to be very fair to them in this comment. And I would actually agree with anyone who might try to claim that. I DO believe they meant well, and are misguided and possibly embarrassed by past or current events.

    But I still refuse to condone their conduct, and I work very hard to not condemn them, either. So if anything like the latter slipped into this comment, please let me know and I will try to fix where I went wrong.

  6. Finding Answers

    Suzanne, Seeing Clearly, Kind of Anonymous, and Helovesme,

    Thank you ALL for sharing your stories, for taking the time and mental / emotional / spiritual effort to put into words your experiences, thereby beautifully demonstrating Barb’s analogies.

    • Suzanne

      I’m grateful for forums such as this that afford us the opportunity to share our experiences, especially if they help others.

  7. minagelina

    I wanted to inform you of a website that appears to be dangerous. It’s called “Biblical Gender Roles” and has a page that says God wants people to stay in abusive marriages. I read enough to know that it basically undermines everything you are trying to get out. They espouse wife discipline and really chop away at what is determined to be abuse. I hope we can get this site shut down one day. So many commenters are getting into marriages and others are in abusive ones already.

    • Yes, I have been aware of that site for a long time. It is very dangerous.

      My policy has been to ignore it because it is so dangerous. But thanks to your prompt I have just added it to our Hall of Blind Guides at the sub-page Christian Authors and Ministries in our Hall of Blind Guides.

      • minagelina

        Thank you!

      • And by the way, Minagelina, it’s nice to hear from you again. If you have any thoughts or feedback on this series I wrote about divorce, I’d love to hear it.

      • minagelina

        Barbara, I just saw this reply many months later, lol! Are you referring to the posts you linked above? I have read those and really thought they were helpful. The second post was the most challenging for me, particularly about “chorizo.” However I really liked them. I also appreciated Instone-Brewer’s book listed so that we can check it out ourselves. Thank you!

      • Thanks for your feedback, Minagelina. 🙂
        Yes, I meant the posts I linked to above (in my blog post).

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