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 [Affiliate link] 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 [Affiliate link] by Warren Lamb. 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)
Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell
The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse
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
10 thoughts on ““Leave the choice to divorce to the victim,” says the SBC’s Church Cares curriculum.”
I believe this is quite artful. This statement is about what he is NOT saying. Colour me suspicious if you like. If I were talking to Brad Hambrick, I would challenge him to state this in the positive and say what he IS saying – something that he can be held to. For instance, “Refusing to change abusive behaviour is worse than divorce. Therefore, divorce is justified in those circumstances.”
(Ignoring the phrasing in the negative, again, and the fact that it is not definitive.) – How often is it the case that the abusive spouse refuses to change abusive behaviours? I would imagine that, commonly, the abuser either denies the abuse or (if faced with undeniable evidence) says they will change – and then doesn’t.
Is Brad Hambrick outlining a case scenario that is, in practice, rare and ignoring the far more likely scenarios?
Thank you, James, for giving me a starting point for my own words / phrases, and I hope I don’t unintentionally omit any of my own words / phrases.
(Omitting details for my protection.) Or is Brad Hambrick simply spinning stories? I am GENUINELY curious, and I am NOT intending to sound critical of / disparage Brad Hambrick in any fashion.
Knowing my own difficulties / frustrations in communicating the pictures in my mind, perhaps people like Brad Hambrick, etc. don’t know how to communicate clearly, so the people like Brad Hambrick, etc. (unintentionally) leave pastors / counsellors / etc. room for making (potentially false) assumptions.
If people like Brad Hambrick, etc. were to state themselves clearly, perhaps there would be less room for the wolves and their allies to twist words / phrases into something that was never intended by the original speaker.
Thanks for your astute comment, James. There’s much to ponder in it. I especially like your suggestion of challenging Brad Hambrick to state in the positive what he IS saying – something that he can be held to.
What would be the consequences if he said:
My guess is that many people in the SBC would consider that beyond the pale.
It’s a pickle, isn’t it? I don’t know the circumstances of this program but if it is like all the other church programs, it is following the failed Catholic Church sexual abuse model. A critical factor is that the people who presided over and enabled this disaster are the same people who are presiding over “The Fix”.
The good news is that the SBC leadership have faced the fact that they are accountable to the flock.
The challenge now is to hold their feet to the fire to make the accountability more than window dressing.
People are going to have to be removed – lots of them! That’s the Litmus Test.
Finding Answers said:
Well said, Finding Answers.
Brad Hambrick has been granted authority to teach on these matters by the SBC. In addressing the faithful, he is also assuming authority from Jesus. With Authority comes Responsibility. Mr Hambrick is responsible to the SBC (who are presumably paying him) and is responsible to Jesus (who will most definitely judge him – doubly).
If these two responsibilities are in conflict and Mr Hambrick is aware of this, he may be tempted to use diplomatic language which allows different parties to read different meanings into his words.
If he wants to walk this path down the middle of the road trying to stay in touch with both sides, sooner or later, he will “get squished like grape”, as Mr Miyagi so wisely said. 1[For readers who might be unfamiliar with this particular reference in James’ quote to “get squished like grape” and the name “Mr Miyagi”, we have added links providing some background at the end of James’ comment. Editors.]
[June 9, 2022:
“Walk in the middle, get squished like grape.” Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid, movie, 1984. Martial Arts Quotes [Internet Archive link] Scroll part way down the page for “Walk in the middle, get squished like grape.”.
In James’ reference, Mr. Miyagi is from the 1984 movie of: The Karate Kid [Internet Archive link]. The Internet Archive links are copies of the Martial Arts Quotes and Wikipedia pages. Editors.]
It’s so nice to hear from you, James. You picked up on something extremely relevant.
When I first read Brad’s statement, my first thought was: “what are you saying exactly?” The way YOU suggested it should be phrased was so direct that it left little to no room for confusion.
I believe you said later on that Brad might be trying to more “diplomatic.” That too is something I picked up on.
That is not always a bad thing. For example, if two countries who are in opposition can converse about a conflict first versus going to war right away—-that would be wise. But you do need to know when it’s time to stop conversing, admit that a conflict cannot be resolved, and to consider and / or prepare for combat.
If you’re dealing with an abuser, conversation is likely pointless. Diplomacy (for them) is a tool for dodging accountability and is not aimed to achieve a resolution. They live for combat, live to stoke conflict and love to cause pain and suffering. They are not at peace with God, so they have no interest in peace with their fellow human beings.
When it comes to dealing with an abuser, you can’t play around with words, because an abuser LIVES to play around with words. If you aren’t 100% direct, coherent and clear—you’re giving an abuser more and more to work with.
Abusers might try to delay the inevitable. If they sense the walls are closing in on them, they might do whatever they can to slow down that process.
Well, we “sort of” think this person is dangerous, but we are “kind of” hoping for the best, because we “may or may not know” if he or she is an intentional abuser.
Cue in my former pastor. He suddenly retired when the walls started closing in on him. His infidelity was on the verge of being revealed. That did not stop the news from coming out, but by minimizing himself as a public figure, that may have helped his situation somewhat.
(Side note: I don’t label my former pastor as an abuser, only because I don’t know enough. But he was an adulterer.)
I love Matthew 5:9:
A bit more context is in Ephesians 2:14. He broke down the hostility between Heaven and Earth so He could BE our Peace. Add in Proverbs 28:1:
These verses indicate a strong dislike for hostility in any way, shape or form. Peacemakers understand this. But they also understand that if hostile persons insist on remaining hostile, and peace is not an option—-they will not sit back and be all mellow and mild about it. They will be bold. They will fight for the rights of others and defend the oppressed as they are commanded to, and this does NOT mean they are not peacemakers as He looks for.
Brad should have understood this right away—abusers are 100% hostile to peace and 100% intent on remaining hostile. That should have been 100% clear in that statement right off the bat.
As James and Finding Answers and Barb picked up on—-if you give an abuser any room on the dance floor, they’ll keep up the fancy footwork—-attempting to dazzle or distract those around him or her. Get them off the dance floor and stop giving them any sort of floor, period.
When I asked my church to remove my unrepentant abusive spouse who was only repentant to the Elders not to me, they followed up by a “no” and that I should look to my own behavior, search my heart, and that they had no evidence other than his conviction. sigh.
Sarah, what happened to you is so very typical. I am so sorry you were subjected to that injustice.
I am so sorry, Sarah. Your story is so common and it’s sickening.
Barb posted a letter from Julie Cleaveland about giving her former church leadership the “comfort” that they gave her [link] . She brought up that she was told that maybe her ego needed to be taken down a peg—-had she considered that God might be working on HER sinfulness?
I’ve picked up that church leadership tends to “project” the abuser’s guilt onto the victim. What the abuser deserves is given to the one or ones that are undeserving—–the very ones who have been hurt and are guiltless.
I’ve now read SO many good articles about why this scenario tends to play out. Since there are a handful of reasons, I don’t want to try to carelessly “pin” one on your personal situation.
But one thing stands out to me in reading Julie’s letter and your comment:
First of all, you will never, ever find a victim that is pure as the driven snow. If that is the ONLY way that abuse will be taken seriously, then abuse will never be taken seriously.
I have a lot of pride that exhibits itself in many ways. I can be labeled as a loud mouthed troublemaker. I struggle with letting the Lord truly tame my tongue. I can be selfish, irresponsible and impatient. I lean towards being rebellious and disobedient.
If you give me a list of all my problematic areas, I will likely ADD to that list because some things were left off. Bring it on. You’re likely not telling me anything I am not at least somewhat aware of.
You WILL have to answer me this though: what in the world on that list has anything to do with being victimized by an abuser? Tell me straight, and tell me now. You’ve made it clear that something about ME has something to with HIM abusing me.
If you’re so sure of that, then you must know something that only you and the Lord know. He has not told ME what you are suggesting, so perhaps YOU should tell me. And I’ll take it to the Lord so He can either confirm or deny it. But take it to Him I will, make no mistake.
I am a prime candidate in need of the Lord’s humbling. But humbling is NOT the same as humiliation. He will never, ever use a tool designed to destroy me in order to save me. And abuse is a tool of destruction, not construction.
Who in their right mind would ever suggest, for example, that the Lord would sanction the horrors of sexual assault on a person who is considered “promiscuous” in order to confront or condemn such a “prideful” lifestyle? Being attacked in such a humiliating way might put a halt to “such behaviors” given the trauma experienced. Did God command me to be hurt in such a way, to convict me of previous sins, and therefore “humble” me before Him?
Makes me sick to my stomach to even imagine such heartless cruelty. But Sarah and Julie’s stories run along those lines. The horrible hypothetical I described is NOT terribly unlike or too dissimilar to what they were told.
In essence, you deserved to be hurt by the sins of others, because God wants you stop hurting Him (or others) with YOUR sins. Now take your medicine like a good Christian and humble yourself before Him—-that is His goal and intent—-so get on board sooner rather than later.
Sarah and Julie and whoever else had to listen to such evil nonsense—hold your head up high before Him. Don’t bow your head down and accept such sinful shame. Do not equate the fear of man with the fear of God.
This is good news as ANY move in the direction of victims is an improvement! But the abusers skilled manipulation makes the words “if they are truly repentant” irrelevant. They know how to do fake repentance. And to acknowledge that they are the problem and really mean it is a fantasy. But this DOES give a victim some recourse by having it written down. Great post! Thank you.