“Leave the choice to divorce to the victim,” says the SBC’s Church Cares curriculum.
The Church Cares video curriculum produced by the SBC has said something rather stunning about divorce.
Near the end of lesson 10, “Pastoral Care and Correction for an Abuser,” Brad Hambrick says: “We do not view prolonged separation or divorce as worse than refusing to change abusive behaviours.”
That is good news. But there’s something even better! Regarding separation and divorce he says, “In abusive situations we do not tell the abused spouse what they ought to do. We believe that is a matter of conscience and wisdom.”
Many victims have been condemned and even excommunicated by church leaders when they divorced their abusers. So it is small but significant progress for Brad Hambrick, a Biblical Counselor and key figure in the SBC’s Church Cares curriculum, to have said this.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that all SBC church leaders will follow what Brad Hambrick taught there. But those who do will be helping prevent and combat the secondary abuse that so many victims have suffered from professing Christians.
You can view all the videos here: Church Cares video curriculum. If you want to watch only the part of the Lesson 10 where Brad says this, start watching at the 25:55 time mark. Here is my transcript of Brad’s words:
What if the abusive individual is married and does not repent?
If the abusive spouse does not repent, then the church should remove the abusive spouse from membership and support the abused spouse in whatever decision they need to make for their safety.
Even if a church does not believe that continued abuse fits the abandonment clause of 1 Corinthians 7, their choice is not between one holy and one unholy option. The choice is between empowering an abuser and supporting a victim pursuing safety. Child custody and removing financial leverage often require taking legal steps. A victim of abuse should have the support of their church in taking the steps necessary to ensure their safety.
If questioned by an abuser or another church member on this, the response should be something like this:
It would be hypocritical for an abusive spouse to condemn their spouse for separation, while not addressing their own abusive behaviours.
(27:16) As a church we do not view prolonged separation or divorce as worse than refusing to change abusive behaviours. Unfortunately, those were the only options the abusive spouse left to their family.
In abusive situations we do not tell the abused spouse what they ought to do. We believe that is a matter of conscience and wisdom. We do support the victim of abuse in the choices they need to make for their own safety and the safety of their children.
If church discipline has been done well, the actions of the abusive spouse are public enough that this kind of statement can be made to church members who are concerned about the church’s stance on marriage.
The notes at the end of the video say: “In abusive situations, we do not tell the victim what they ought to do (unless they are required by law to take a certain course of action). We do support the victims of abuse in the choices they need to make for their own safety and the safety of their children.”
If any SBC church tries to discipline a victim of abuse for divorcing the abuser or refusing to reconcile, we can now push back at that church using Brad Hambrick’s words.
We can ask them, “Why don’t you follow the recommendation made by Brad Hambrick? After all, he is an SBC man and a biblical counsellor! He says the church shouldn’t tell the victim what to do but let the victim decide whether to divorce.”
The abandonment clause in 1 Corinthians 7
Brad Hambrick noted that some churches believe continued abuse fits the abandonment clause of 1 Corinthians 7. I’m pleased Brad referred to that. In my book Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion I present detail arguments for abuse being a form of abandonment. See links for further reading below.
Church Discipline – the process Brad Hambrick recommends
You would have noticed that Brad talked about church discipline. The way he conceives that is based on Matthew 18. In the videos, Brad and the other members of the Church Cares teaching panel don’t mention using 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 for church discipline process. That disappointed me.
Hambrick recommends and details a process of church discipline to deal with the abuser. This process sounds more comprehensive than what many churches have used in in the past. I’d like to reserve my thoughts on Brad’s recommended process until I or other advocates hear from victims of domestic abuse about how that process worked out in reality
My fear is that church leaders will be way too optimistic that they can change the abuser with their abuser-fixit programs.
Abusers VERY SELDOM reform
I recommend church leaders read Behind the Veil: Exposing the Evil of Domestic Oppression and Providing Hope by Warren Lamb (affiliate link). The book is new: it came out in Jan this year. Church leaders, supporters of victims, and victims will all benefit from reading this book.
Warren Lamb is a pastor and biblical counselor who has a lot of experience in counseling with oppression and abuse survivors. For over thirty years he has been “banging on the doors, walls and windows of the Church in America to understand, talk about, and put an end to the pernicious evil of ravenous wolves wreaking havoc among the sheep.” (9)
Can the oppressor be redeemed?
The simple answer, of course, is “Yes; no one is beyond the power of the Gospel.”
The reality however is far more discouraging than that declaration and than you might imagine.
The figures and statistics that are available distill down to this: 1-in-40 of these offenders will begin the work of authentic change (most often because they have been court ordered to do so); of that 1-in-40, 1-in-100 will actually stick with and complete the minimum of two to three years of very tough and difficult work to change.
And when we say “change,” we are not talking about behavior modification. No, we are talking about heart/mind/life transformation. (234-5)
While the repentance and redemption of domestic oppressors is possible, it is both rare and unlikely. Do not be taken in by easily spoken promises, well-timed tears, and snakey manipulations. (248)
Church discipline and church permission for divorce – how my mind has changed – 1 Cor 5 is more appropriate than Matt 18 for church discipline of abusers
What does the Bible say about Divorce? – an FAQ page on this site