A Cry For Justice

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

Barbara Roberts responds to Wayne Grudem’s paper on divorce for abuse

Wayne Grudem used to say there were only two biblically-sanctioned grounds for divorce: adultery and desertion by an unbeliever (based on Matt. 19:9 and 1 Cor. 7:15). His counsel for abuse was to provide protection, church discipline, possible separation, but not divorce.¹

He has now had changed his mind. Let me quote from his paper presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Nov 2019:

During 2018-2019, I had an increasing conviction of need for re-examination of divorce for self-protection from abuse.

My awareness of several horrible real-life situations, and thinking, “This cannot be the kind of life that God intends for his children when there is an alternative available.”

In an interview with Christianity Today, he explained a bit more about what led him to change his mind.

“My wife Margaret and I became aware of some heartbreaking examples of such things as severe sexual humiliation and degradation that had continued for decades, and another case of physical battering that had gone on for decades,” he told CT. “In all these situations the abused spouse had kept silent, believing that a Christian’s duty was to preserve the marriage unless there was adultery or desertion, which had not happened.” (archived link to CT article)

Now back to his paper:

examples of  horrible real life situations

– arguments, disagreement →repeated rape
– battered – no help when abused spouse went to pastor
– repeated threats of physical harm or even murder

Still, I was never quite persuaded by the “abuse is a kind of desertion” argument.

I did not think it right to say that “abuse is another kind of desertion” because I could not see it as something Paul intended to mean in 1 Corinthians 7:15:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so [literally, “let him separate”]. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Grudem grappled with 1 Corinthians 7:15  by investigating the phrase “in such cases” —

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (ESV)

He asked himself whether it meant only in this case (only the case of desertion by the unbeliever) or whether it meant any cases that have similarly destroyed a marriage.

He looked at extra-biblical literature and found several examples where the Greek phrase ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις (“in such cases”) includes more kinds of situations than the original example.

He noted that if Paul had meant to refer only to desertion he could have used the singular phrase “in this case”. But Paul chose to use the plural phrase “in such cases”.

Grudem then adduced further reasons why abuse should be included in “such cases” in 1 Cor. 7:15 and considered a legitimate ground for divorce. NB: Grudem is not the first to put forward these reasons. In the next quote I give from Grudem’s paper, he is reiterating arguments that others have put forward. I made these arguments in my book. Grudem did not refer to my book in his paper.

Additional reasons why abuse should be included in “such cases” in 1 Cor. 7:15 and considered a legitimate ground for divorce

1. If abuse by an unbelieving spouse forces the abused spouse to flee the home for self protection, the abuser has caused the separation just as much as if he or she had deserted the marriage

The result would be the same as desertion (no longer living together)
“in such cases” would seem certainly to apply to this situation (very similar!)

2. “is not enslaved” (ou dedoulōtai) = not enslaved to a spouse who has destroyed the marriage relationship

Paul is saying the deserted (or abused) spouse is not under such an “enslavement” requirement. This verb suggests that attempting to maintain the marriage with the unbeliever who wants a divorce (or carries out a divorce) would mean being trapped in a life of hardship, mistreatment, and debasement. Staying in a marriage with ongoing, destructive abuse would similarly be an “enslavement”.

3. God has called you to “peace”: with sense of “harmony in personal relationships”. This “peace” is like OT sense of shālôm, “a state of well-being.” Ongoing, destructive abuse is not this kind of “peace.” Paul contrasts the life God has called us to with the continually unsettled situation of being married to a spouse who has left the marriage. This would also apply to an abusive spouse (continual battleground, not “peace”).

He concludes that “in such cases” should be understood to include any cases that similarly destroy a marriage:

We could paraphrase:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In this and other similarly destructive cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

This reasoning also explains why Paul felt freedom to add desertion as another ground for divorce in addition to adultery, which Jesus had specified. In both cases, the marriage has been very substantially, or even fatally, harmed.

Abuse is in some ways more harmful than desertion, because abuse includes repeated demonstrations of actual malice, not simply indifference. Abuse is actively and repeatedly malevolent.

I have to give him credit for listing examples of conduct that destroys a marriage. He does not confine his examples to physical/sexual assault. He seems to recognise that abuse is a pattern of conduct. He might even concur with my definition of abuse. Here are the examples he gives:

Other specific kinds of behavior that in some cases might be so severe that they would belong in the category of “in such cases” (1 Cor. 7:15), because they have similarly destructive effects in the marriage:

a. Extreme, prolonged, verbal and relational cruelty that is destroying the spouse’s mental and emotional stability
in cases of mental/emotional abuse, the determination of “substantial harm” is more difficult and more subjective, but not impossible
b. Credible threats of physical harm or murder of spouse or children
c. Incorrigible (or recalcitrant, or inveterate, or incurable) drug or alcohol addiction accompanied by regular lies, deceptions, thefts, and/or violence
d. Incorrigible gambling addiction that has led to massive, overwhelming indebtedness
e. Pornography addiction would also fit here, but it would also be included under meaning of “sexual immorality” (Gk. porneia) in Matthew 19:9

Grudem’s suggested guideline on grounds for divorce:

Divorce for self-protection is morally permissible in situations where one spouse is repeatedly inflicting substantial harm on the other spouse, such that the abused spouse must leave the home for self protection, and also in other situations that are similarly destructive to a marriage.

This “substantial harm” could be physical or mental/emotional (from verbal and relational cruelty).

Situations that are not legitimate reasons for divorce:

Not: because marriage is hard, or husband and wife are not getting along
Not: because one spouse wants to marry someone else

Grudem articulated why (in the past) he had been unable to see 1 Cor 7:15  as covering abuse. His explanation struck me as rather wooden. For well over a decade it has been self evident to me that abuse is a form of desertion, or, to put that another way, abuse destroys marriage in a similar way to adultery or desertion destroying marriage. And I agree with Grudem that abuse is often worse (more hurtful, more damaging) for the mistreated spouse than adultery or desertion.

Prior to reading Grudem’s paper, I had never heard anyone say that the phrase “in such cases” was a tangle in the knot… or a key to untangling the knot. Nevertheless, it has been the key for Grudem. And now he has untangled that knot to his own satisfaction.

Grudem’s work on the phrase “in such cases” is a new contribution to the debate. A useful contribution. Useful because it will help those who (like Grudem) are using a hermeneutic (an interpretive method) that hyper-focuses on Greek word studies.²

Grudem’s work seems to be bearing good fruit:

The response from the ETS audience was “overwhelmingly positive and appreciative,” Grudem said, and he received few objections. “One woman afterward told me she counsels abused women, and she wept with tears when she read my outline. More than one person said to me afterward, ‘I came prepared to disagree with you, but you persuaded me.’” (CT article)

Where I think Grudem still falls short

1. Grudem says pastors and elders can (and should?) be the ones to decide whether a particular victim of abuse is allowed to divorce

From his paper:

Pastor and elders, if asked for counsel, need wisdom to assess the degree of actual harm in each case. [They] must first hear both sides: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17).

Hearing both sides – Does he mean doing couple counseling? Putting the victim and the abuser in the same room and asking them to each give their side of the story? That is unwise for multiple reasons. Click here to learn why couple counseling is dangerous.

Grudem has failed in his duty of care to victims. He didn’t say that couple counseling is NOT recommended when there are allegations of abuse. His failure to say that indicates how little he seems to yet understand the dynamics of abuse.

2. Grudem says restoration of marriage must always be the first goal

In pastoral counseling, restoration of marriage must always be first goal: 1 Cor. 7:11-14

1. Pastors (or counselors, or friends) should first try to restore the marriage through counseling, temporary separation, and, if the abusing spouse is a professing Christian, church discipline.
2. If the abusing spouse is a professing Christian, then sometimes the abuse will stop as a result of counseling and church discipline. If the abuse does not stop, then the church may treat the abuser as a non-Christian (see Matt. 18:17).

Grudem says “sometimes the abuse will stop as a result of counseling and church discipline”.  He gives no evidence to back up his assertion. Permit me to be cynical. Click HERE to learn more about abusers pretending to reform.

3. For church discipline Grudem cites Matthew 18 but not 1 Corinthians 5

Like the vast majority of church leaders, Grudem points to Matthew 18 but does not point to the church discipline prescribed by 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.  This is another shortfall in his position. The commandment in 1 Corinthians 5 is Put the abuser out of the church: hand the abuser over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Click HERE to read more on the application of 1 Corinthians 5 to cases of domestic abuse.

4.  Why did it take Grudem so long to wake up?

I give him credit where it is due. Grudem heard the testimony of victims, their lived experience, saw the contradictions in his doctrine, and grappled with scripture to find answers to the ethical dilemma.

But I am dismayed it took Wayne Grudem this long to become aware of heartbreaking examples of spousal abuse.  I am dismayed it took him this long to see the ethical contradictions of his former view.

I suggest that Grudem has been living in the evangelical bubble where the coal-face reality of domestic abuse is often covered up or disbelieved, especially by those in leadership. A bubble where victims of spousal abuse were hesitant to seek help from people like Wayne Grudem.

If victims did seek help from him, his ears were closed to their cries for many years. Read here and here for reasons why I believe this is so.

Was Wayne Grudem filtering their cries for help through his authority/submission ideology?

We know this for a fact: Wayne Grudem believes that within the eternal Godhead (Father/Son/Holy Spirit) there is submission and authority.

Grudem’s view of the Trinity is oddball/unorthodox/heretical. Want proof? Click here & here.

In 2005, when being interviewed at the Revive our Hearts podcast, Wayne Grudem said:

The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity….

And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity. (link / archived link)

If you want to read my thoughts on what Grudem said in that ^ podcast, click here and scroll down to where I discuss the Revive our Hearts podcast.

Was Wayne Grudem’s hyper-focus on authority/submission making him impervious to the cries of the victims of spousal abuse?

I believe that Wayne Grudem is aware of both the A Cry For Justice blog and my book on the biblical grounds for divorce for abuse. I believe that because:

  • In 2010 I had an email conversation with CBMW regarding their Statement on Abuse.
  • Wayne Grudem, as co-founder of CBMW, was one of the people I was emailing in 2010.
  • About three years later, a fellow who wrote a few guest posts for the ACFJ blog told us that he had heard directly from Wayne Grudem (by email) that Grudem was reading the ACFJ blog.
    (c
    lick here to read all this documented in more detail)

Abuse sufferers have a sixth sense for the people who would be unlikely to believe them. They develop this ‘sixth sense’ by much painful experience of being misunderstood, patronised, disbelieved, poorly counseled, dismissed, falsely judged, ordered around, and down-right bullied. They are reluctant to seek help from people like Wayne Grudem because they know they will be urged into counseling that prioritises authority/submission and marital restoration.

5. Counseling which prioritises authority/submission and marital restoration puts undue pressure on the victim

When the abuser knows that the counselor prioritises authority/submission and marital restoration, the abuser is happy. The abuser is happy because the counselor’s priorities serve the abuser’s agenda.

  • The abuser can claim that the person who is being abused is bad/ sinful/ not properly submissive.
  • The abuser can claim that the person who is being abused is sinfully resisting the counselor’s marital restoration agenda.

6. Grudem needs to apologise to Christian victims of domestic abuse

He needs to apologise and ask forgiveness for the harm he did to many victims by his former doctrine which forbade divorce for abuse.

7. Grudem needs to retract or update all the publications he has written where he forbade divorce for abuse

If he does not do that, if he does not withdraw those things from publication or add crystal clear updates to them, his former doctrine will continue to do much harm.

***

Footnotes

¹ In Grudem’s book Christian Ethics (2018) he taught that adultery and desertion were the only two grounds for divorce. Prior to 2018 Grudem had stated that view many times: see this article at his website; the article is undated but we know it was on his website in 2012.

² I agree with Glenn Butner who pointed out a problem with Grudem’s correction.

Glenn Butner’s thread at Twitter:
One problem here is that this correction remains based on flawed hermeneutics – biblical ethics cannot be reduced to a single word study, but requires complex hermeneutic discussions about which texts to apply, when, and how.

Surely biblical doctrines like the image of God or the Ephesians 5 conception of marriage as a mystery depicting the love of Christ challenge prohibitions of divorce in circumstances of abuse, too. Surely, the purpose/intent behind the explicit rules would point the same way.

Yet, it’s a single word study that makes the difference. It’s the same as his recent affirmation of eternal generation based on a word study of monogenes – the conclusion is right, but this should have been clear from the larger scope of Scripture well before the word study.

Theology and ethics cannot be reduced to the presentation of word studies, or else theology and ethics are not genuine disciplines; only philology [word study] is. One of the things evangelicalism needs most is a clearer vision for theological method.

If you read closely you’ll see that I agree with his conclusions. However, he had the wrong view for years partly because he had the wrong method, and he still has that method, which means in other areas he’s likely to still hurt people.

 

 

20 Comments

  1. TS00

    Fabulous post. In my opinion, Grudem, and other evangelical leaders are feeling the heat produced by your and similar blogs over the last decade, which have brought awareness to the issues of DV and the great harm the traditional church teaching on divorce does to many.

    I heartily second your suggestion that it is the authority/submission model that is in error, and, IMO, not only perpetuates but potentially creates abusers.

    It is also extremely narrow sighted to view restoration of the marriage as always the main goal in marriage counseling. This is to completely ignore or remain oblivious to the realities of narcissists, sociopaths and all sorts of chronic, destructive abusers. Such people will rarely be capable of healthy relationships, and the vital task is to rescue those who have been victimized by them and by the church which has too often supported the abusers.

    We all get the value of marriage. It is absurd to assert that divorce among believers is due to taking marriage too lightly. I reject the implicit belief of so many church leaders that women who seek divorce are sinful, raging feminists who just don’t want to submit to their proper authorities. Until they get the authority issue right, the church is never going to handle abuse issues well.

    • James

      I like your summary, TS00’s and especially the naming up the personality disorders which are unable to change.

      Christian pastors, more than anyone, should know that there are wolves amongst us. So why don’t they preach and apply that knowledge and wisdom? Isn’t that what shepherds are supposed to do – protect the sheep from the wolves?
      Oh, wait . . . .

    • HeLovesMe

      Wow I loved your summary TS00!

      The sum up of the heretical submission narrative of the Trinity, dangerously applying that to Biblical marriage, echoes Barb’s writings wonderfully.

      It’s the last paragraph that I especially wish could be shouted from the rooftops. There are few greater insults than casually and cruelly implying a victim of abuse isn’t serious about her commitment to the marriage.

      It is about as insulting as it gets for a few reasons:

      First of all, it can take a long time before a victim even realizes she’s being abused. The fog that abuse creates, my friends, may not be tangible but it’s very real.

      Knowing something doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready to act on it. Or, you know it but haven’t accepted it. You can’t. It’s so hard to believe, that well—you just don’t. The shock hasn’t worn off yet.

      It’s the abuser that did not take or ever intend to take the marriage seriously, so why would anyone pick on the victim as the so called flaky one looking for a so called frivolous reason to divorce? And is anti submission to boot?

      At first I intended to write that is so obvious that how can anyone think otherwise?

      My abuser was my father. Then I remembered how easily I was blamed, or I blamed myself. I should not minimize that fog. It can choke the sanity out of you. Shame, as well, has that effect.

      Abuse is not about a lack of, or having a dismissive attitude towards authority in general, or a disdain for submission.

      Abuse is inflicted upon you without your consent. I think abuse can be falsely presented as if it’s anything but abuse, which is how that fog of deception is as powerful as it is.

      I don’t believe any sincere born again believer gets married with the idea in mind that it will ever, or could or should ever end in divorce, not to mention having a clue that she will ever be abused by the very person she has chosen to love and trust for her entire life.

      The insistent but dangerous aim for restoration aspect Barb and yourself touched upon is so easy to fall for. A victim likely wants some hope to hang onto, even a false one. It’s like shining a man made flashlight into the spiritual darkness that is abuse and assuring the victim that it’s actually God’s light. But it’s not. It’s a false, man made, battery operated device that is not going to penetrate any of that darkness, not to mention overcome it.

      No doctor in his or her right mind will tell a person who has cancer that they are guaranteed to beat the disease. They’ll tell you that they’ll do what they can to help you, improve your quality of life, give you the best options possible. But they can’t and won’t make any false promises.

      A pastor urging restoration from the very start is not only not being realistic, he’s not caring about helping and assessing the needs of those that come to him. That’s the most important thing to focus on, yet so many victims find out that being helped is not the priority they were hoping for.

  2. Finding Answers

    From the original post “Abuse sufferers have a sixth sense for the people who would be unlikely to believe them. They develop this ‘sixth sense’ by much painful experience of being misunderstood, patronised, disbelieved, poorly counseled, dismissed, falsely judged, ordered around, and down-right bullied……”

    ^That.

    From the original post “Hearing both sides…..”

    ^That is difficult (impossible?) if the abused cannot remember the incident(s) and / or lacks the words to accurately describe the abuse.

    I agree with Barb’s analysis of Wayne Grudem’s paper on divorce for abuse.

    ^That (my agreement with Barb) would NOT have been possible prior to my coming out of the “fog” of abuse, remembering the incidents, and finding the words to accurately describe my abuse.

  3. James

    Barb,
    This is such a well reasoned, well researched and well presented article. You give credit where is is due and appreciate Grudem’s new position but point out that his reasoning is lacking and will most likely still prove problematical going into the future because of that – entitlement and poor theology.

    The quote from Glenn Butner is telling, especially this part –
    “Theology and ethics cannot be reduced to the presentation of word studies, or else theology and ethics are not genuine disciplines; only philology [word study] is. One of the things evangelicalism needs most is a clearer vision for theological method.”

    Word study is not going to give consistency. Only a theology applying well established base principles can do that. God is consistent. Inconsistency is not of God.

  4. Kind of Anonymous

    Good for him to go public with such a change of understanding. I was impressed that he didn’t just stick to severe physical abuse like many do. Barb your post is very well articulated.

    I wouldn’t have a problem leaving it up to elders and pastors if in fact, one could trust their spiritual maturity and wisdom and depth of knowledge of both scripture and Christ, not to mention their integrity and spiritual health. That’s the problem. I remember going to my pastor about my first marriage/divorce situation. I was in turmoil, not sure if I was in the right to think I had the right to end a relationship I’d been frightened and coerced into.

    The fact that I had severe PTSD certainly helped that along, as a manipulative fit of outrage with an implied suicide threat triggered [in me] a break with reality and resulted in my being unable three days later to clearly recall why I was still going out with him and why I felt so ambivalent about it. Throughout the relationship he used the threat of anger to bully me into backing down any time I tried to assert myself or confront anything. I figured the solution was to trust my leadership and have them sit down with me and explain why or why not my decision was right or wrong.

    I didn’t reckon on the fact that at the time I went to see him, my pastor was involved in committing adultery with one of his elder’s wives. I expected him to spend some time going through scripture with me and asking questions, taking time to prayerfully discuss and consider the situation. Instead he said something about not wanting to beat on me about my life as his life certainly wasn’t perfect, then prayed for me that I would enjoy my life and sent me on my way. I walked out of his office thinking “What just happened”? It was later that the news broke that he and the woman he’d been committing adultery with had left their spouses for each other and married one another. Now it all made sense.

    Is this an isolated incident, this issue of spiritually compromised lives? Hardly. If it’s not adultery, it’s people pleasing, if it’s not that, it’s unbelief, and so forth. So trusting one’s leadership can only be done once one has determined that they do indeed walk with God. Even Paul said that savage wolves would come in among the sheep. And he spoke of people among the brethren that were like clouds without rain. I don’t see any biblical or common sense reason to assume that just because there is a church, a steeple, a guy with a bible college certificate that this equals trustworthy leadership.

    • Kind of Anonymous said –

      Good for him to go public with such a change of understanding.

      I agree. Grudem will no doubt cop flack from the ultra-hard crew.

      It is a black mark against R.C. Sproul that he didn’t go public when he changed his mind on divorce for abuse. R.C. Sproul Changed His View on Abuse as Grounds for Divorce – but to our knowledge he never publicly announced that change

      R.C. Sproul was very old when the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements began to get traction. I doubt he was aware of the groundswell of survivors beginning to speak up about abuse.

      I wonder how much Wayne Grudem’s going public with his change of mind is related to the ever increasing exposure and disclosure of abuse within churchianity.

      I wonder how much Grudem’s willingness to listen to victims’ stories was brought about by the ever increasing discussion of abuse in churches.

      Victims of abuse are more confident to come forward since #MeToo & #ChurchToo got traction. Victims often feel inspired and empowered to come forward when they hear and see other victims coming forward.

      The scales are teetering. I wouldn’t say the scales are tipping yet, but thanks to #MeToo and #ChurchToo they are no longer rust-locked and immovable.

      • Kind of Anonymous

        I agree, I hope Grudem’s change of heart is more than just avoiding disapproval by jumping on a politically correct bandwagon or worse, reluctantly admitting something he had been trying to get away with not dealing with. But at least he did practice integrity and say his mind had been changed through deeper investigation and that it was more than just a flip flop.

        I am glad he openly stated what he concluded. I don’t think he is the sort to say something just because of social and political pressure. I hope because he has such a deep commitment to scripture, he will be able to hold his own when challenged by those who don’t like his change of heart.

        As much as social pressure can produce change that is good, like anti slavery, anti apartheid, etc it’s limited in its scope if it’s just agreed with in order to go with the flow. I am sure that there were slave owners who outwardly went along with the whole free the slaves thing in order to seem like decent and honorable people, since it was no longer decent to practice slave ownership.

        But their hearts weren’t changed from “I am entitled to own you because you are a lesser being” to “How could I have treated my fellow man so evilly, God forgive me”. If such could have continued to benefit from owning their fellow men and women, they would have if no opposition were present. Probably what you were getting at when you wrote about wariness towards church abuse programs. Houses built on sand because they are not founded on real knowledge of Him? Seems so.

  5. Seeing Clearly

    Thank you, Barbara, for combing through his revisions and guiding us through his rhetoric. The Wayne Grudems of (c)hristianianity will account to God for facilitating ongoing abuse while victims were, for decades, crawling into their professional offices pleading for many, many things. Most of all, to be believed and helped to stand on the feet, once again.

    Perhaps if these leaders were superimposed with the mind and body of victims for a long period of time, they would choose to understand scripture the way God intended.

  6. Seeing Clearly

    My previous comment seems quite harsh and I questioned myself why I was having such a strong reaction. What I realized is that the other half of Grudem’s belief system is not mentioned in his writing. The other half is the residual life that victims live if they indeed get away from their spouse. Is Grudem willing to own any of the aftermath of the rest of the victim’s life? Will he vow to create a network of means for her needs to then be met? She will have probably lost her career, her health will require a lot of medical attention. Her social structure will need to be restored, her children will need physical and emotional strengthening. This does not begin to address the journey out of the abuse, PTSD, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, making decisions about finances, vehicle repairs, housing, etc that she was never allowed to make while in the marriage.

    The Grudems of our (c)hristian world have been playing god with the lives of victims and continue to dangle a slow timeframe of powerful teachings that as yet, do not set the victims free. Abuser still hold the power as well. I am speaking from ongoing personal experience.

  7. many years

    Wow…this is quite a lot to assimilate. It is interesting that I was ruminating upon this very subject this morning. My main goal was to be led by the Holy Spirit to unravel some of this jargon of so-called Biblical proportions which keep women ‘stuck’ in abusive marriages, and why there aren’t more examples in scripture. Well, God showed me today that there are at least four such examples where the husbands did abandon their wives, in a matter of speaking, and a kingly person delivered each one of those women. And I have spiritual chills just thinking of these hidden gems which will add more fuel to the fire, so-to-speak, and more earnest intent for women who were used in the old testament (so-called) times.

    So, we have Queen Esther; Sarah who was Abraham’s wife; Rebekkah who was Issac’s wife, and Abigail who was Nabal’s wife. There are similar circumstances in all of these godly women’s situations. Please read the entire account in the Book of Esther.

    Let’s begin with Queen Esther who was chosen by King Ahasuerus as his wife after he had banished Queen Vashti for not appearing before the royal court. (And yes, I would like to go to the Hebrew or Latin version to see that record of the account, as I have not done that yet.). Enter, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle who thwarts a plan by two of the king’s chamberlains to slay the king. Mordecai tells Queen Esther of the plot and she tells the king, who immediately inquires into the matter, and the two chamberlains are hung on a tree. It is entered into the king’s chronicles in the sight of the king

    Enter, Haman who is promoted by the king and has a seat above all the other princes. It is the custom to bow before that high position which Haman now holds. Mordecai, Queen Esther’s uncle, sits by the king’s gate and refuses to bow before Haman, (because Mordecai is a Jew and was taught not to bow down to anyone but the Lord) which infuriates Haman, and he seeks to destroy the Jews when he finds out who the people of Mordecai are. Haman goes to the king to cause a decree for all Jews to be killed. When Esther finds out about the decree from her uncle, she goes into mourning for her people. Mordecai tells her that she must go before the king to save her people. (There is more to the story but I am making it short.) She approaches the king and he accepts her person holding out his golden sceptre. She tells of her plight, and the king realizes he cannot change his decree, but he realizes the evil intent of Haman, and the story speaks for itself. The reason I am pointing out this story is the fact that a godly woman, in a king’s court was being given an alternative to go to the king because evil was being planned against her and her people. An evil authority, in the form of Haman, was seeking her life, and Esther had the courage to go before the king. This is what we, as women are to do, is to go to ‘good’ authority for our protection against evil men. That is the example of this story.
    The king is an authority figure, and he stood up for Queen Esther against the evil Haman.

    As women, we can go to authorities to seek protection, as this story points out. The king is a type of Christ who redeems his beautiful bride and we, his daughters of the king, when we are in desperate need of being helped. We aren’t to just sit around and ‘take’ the abuse. We are to do something about it. And yes, never do it on your own, but have people who are backing you up and helping you.

    In the case of Abigail who was married to a ‘churlish, rich man named Nabal’, was in a situation where her husband was endangering his entire household for not showing kindness to David (the anointed one to be king when Saul died). David was wroth with Nabal and was going to kill all of Nabal’s household. Abigail intervened and went to David bearing food, and supplies for David and his men. She told David about Nabal, that he was a son of Belill, and that no man could reason with him. So, Abigail pled with David for the lives of her family. David perceived that Abigail was a wise woman, and her bold courage kept her entire household from being destroyed. When Abigail told Nabal about what she had done, it says that ‘his heart died within him and became as stone, not functioning’ and he died ten days later. Here is a story of a godly woman, knowing how to deliver her household with wisdom, which she had to go to the ruling authority to ask for her life, and God was with her. She went above her husband’s rule, because God’s authority and the ruling authority was greater than the husband’s. This is another reason why women can and should go to the authorities when a husband no longer protects and cherishes his wife. I might add that Abigail had people in her household who knew what type of a man Nabal was. So to have back-up in abusive marriage situations, it is best to have a plan before attempting to confront or leave an abusive spouse.

    Now we have the two stories of both Abraham and also of Issac, who were in similar situations, at separate times in their lives, traveling through a strange kingdom. Both men are fearful for their own lives because they both have beautiful wives, so both men do basically the same thing, telling the kings of each province that their wives are their sisters. On the one hand, with Abraham, he is jeopardizing Sarah’s sanctity. He is caring more for his own life over that of his wife’s. (Isaac does the same thing later on in his life). The king, who takes Sarah, is given a dream by God, who actually comes to King Abimelech in a dream by night and tells him that he is a dead man if he takes the woman which he has taken, for ‘she is a man’s wife.’ Abimelech asks God, “Will you slay a righteous nation?” And he tells God that “in the innocency of my own hands I have done this.” Because Abraham had said ‘she is my sister’ and Sarah had obeyed Abraham and had said “He is my brother.” God actually then told Abimelech that he knew he had done it in the integrity of his own heart. God had intervened again, for a godly woman who was obeying God. And he also intervened for King Abimelech who was a righteous king.

    And because of the original post where it is talking about men abandoning their wives, the thought struck me that both Abraham and Isaac ‘abandoned’ their own wives, in a foreign land, knowing full well what could have transpired with the men of the land, and the kings, to do with Sarah and Rebekkah; the men of the land could have done as they pleased. And it would have been upon Abraham’s head because of his own unrighteousness, and his sin. But GOD intervened on behalf of His daughters. HE was the one who protected them because of ‘bad’ authority on the part of Abraham and Isaac. So, yes, women can and should go to GOOD authority and right the wrongs of a bad marriage where the husband is not fulfilling his god-given authority which is his duty to protect his own wife. Yes, a husband abandons his wife when he is not fulfilling the verse ‘submit to one another’ not just the wife submitting to the husband, especially to ‘bad’ authority which God does not honor.

    So, this is MORE evidence that God wants justice done, in wrong and abusive marriage circumstances. In the circumstances of Abigail and Queen Esther, both of them went above and beyond the wrong authority because in the case of Abigail, the sins of Nabal, and in the case of Queen Esther, an evil man in the king’s court (Hey? Sounds like some ministers doesn’t it?) in order for Abigail and Esther not to just save themselves, but to save other’s lives in the process. And so, not only are women to get out of bad circumstances, but they are to help other women to see that it is approved by God in his own Word to do so, and they will be blessed by Him.

    • Thank you many years for this excellent comment. You drew together the commonalities in those stories and applied the principles to domestic abuse. I take my hat off to you. 🙂

  8. many years

    I meant to say that Mordecai was taught NOT to bow down to anyone but the Lord. The account of Abraham and Sarah is in Genesis chapter 20, and the account of Isaac and Rebekah is in Genesis chapter 26. The account of Abigail is in First Samuel chapter 24.

    [Many Years longer comment altered to include the word “not” in reference to Mordecai. Editors.]

  9. Very helpful. Thank you.

  10. Hello Sunshine

    I winced when I read “in cases of mental/emotional abuse, the determination of “substantial harm” is more difficult…” I’m imagining he meant elders would “hear the case” and determine if a woman had been officially harmed enough yet to be granted a get out of jail free card. I don’t have words for the humiliation and injustice this process would be likely to cause. How about if she gets to be the judge of whether she’s suffered enough cruelty at the hands of the man who vowed to love her that it counts as substantial harm to her stability?

    Similarly, I can only imagine the dangers and difficulties that would ensue when the elders took it upon themselves to judge if the murder threats were “credible” or that the addiction was truly “incorrigible.” If a husband is making murder threats…enough said!

  11. Hello Sunshine

    My heart also sinks at “in pastoral counseling, restoration of marriage must always be first goal.” Please, church leaders, care for eternal souls must take precedence over an institution that is by nature temporary and subject to dissolution. Biblical marriage includes Biblical outs in order to protect the individuals. It appears to me that God’s priority is the people above the marriage.

  12. Hello Sunshine

    I don’t think the majority vote of any elder board ought to be the ultimate authority on whether a woman is allowed to divorce, and aside from the ridiculous conversations about whether the debt is actually massive and overwhelming enough or not, etc. that I can imagine taking place, I’d like to just add that even if such matters belong in the hands of elders, the elders I have known are woefully unprepared to make such determinations.

    The elders I have known were elected because they were “nice guys,” their dads were pastors or their wives are smart and outgoing, they are successful businessmen, they’re willing to lead prayer aloud, they’re free on Tuesday nights… Hopefully, they are truly Christians of good character and wisdom, but there’s no guarantee they are that, much less that they know the first thing about domestic abuse, addiction recovery, or assessing crime threats.

    • Hello Sunshine

      And worse yet, I’m pretty sure the ones I’ve known think that because they’ve seen a few R rated movies, been in a couple of Sunday School marriage how-to classes based on popular Christian books, and been elected elder that they are all set to make those determinations. They plan to count on the pastor to guide them with relevant Bible verses…if any…they don’t know and won’t go looking. Beyond that, they’ll pray together, and voila! whatever they think must be from the Holy Spirit and enforceable upon a church member’s life.

    • Hello Sunshine, your experience of elders is similar to mine, not so much now, but certainly in years gone past. Thank you for putting it in words so neatly. 🙂

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