Male abuse is based on sexual entitlement, says relationship counselor Don Hennessy, and every abused woman senses this. We must take focus from the woman and put it onto the abuser, challenging his attitudes on sex. It is his responsibility to seek permission, not hers to refuse (or allow). The Bible itself condemns men’s sexual sins more than women’s.
Male abusers, Hennessy says, are more devious and cunning than pedophiles, almost never change, and are fully aware of what they do and how it affects their targeted victims. We fail to wipe out this crime because we do not call it such. Abusers are con men who use brainwashing tactics to fool women.
Victims are no different than non-abused kind people and they have no “pathology” driving them to be targets. The only thing that can be said about most/all victims is that they are ethical, are unaware of whatever tactics the particular abuser wants to use on them, and either knowingly or unknowingly will give up their own needs to benefit others: all traits society encourages at large, but especially in women. Hence the irony and betrayal when targeted persons are criticized for putting up with the treatment.
An abuser operates like this:
First Step: He selects a kind, honest woman who puts others first and doesn’t yet recognize signs of a toxic person. He uses grooming, like a child molester would, on the target to ensure she will do anything for him and not figure out what’s going on. He chooses whichever tactics the particular woman is susceptible to, or grooms her to be susceptible to some, if need be.
From day one, therefore, the abuse begins as he gets into her head.
He gets her to take blame for couple problems; she examines her behavior and thinks if she changes he’ll stop being nasty. Victims don’t see the treatment as abuse because it looks different in the context the abuser creates. Example: he may blame outbursts on his mental health, “triggers”, or PTSD, calling it “accidental.” He acts differently in public to keep up an image, so no one believes her if she tries to expose him. He says he loves her but what he “loves” is her service, which is why he fears a breakup.
Second Step: He skillfully sets her up by using various methods. When he asks her questions and listens to her intently, he isn’t being polite; he’s gathering information to use against her later (her fears, weaknesses, wishes, attitudes, knowledge- or lack thereof, susceptibility to certain con tactics). He fakes a persona or worldview that makes him desirable to whichever target he chooses. If he is unable to, he may try to change her wishes or worldviews.
He presents himself as needing to be understood so she’ll pity and help him. Remember that it is often hard for even savvy people to distinguish between an unethical person and a person with mental or other issues whose behavior may sometimes be undesirable. Sometimes even behaviors themselves are hard to determine as “undesirable” or not depending on the context they are in.
He tries to appear different than other abusers or authority figures his target dislikes (he may say, “I don’t yel like your father,” or, “It’s different when I do it. You’re just assuming something bad because guys you didn’t like did that to you.”) He invents life stories to excuse his behavior, after learning what justifications she is likely to believe; or, he’ll blame her. He fakes apologies to get off the hook, or is overly loving after being mean.
Third Step. He then sets up terms and conditions of being “his woman.” Sometimes the woman is already groomed by her family or society, as in misogynistic households, anti-female religions, or cult environments, and his work is done for him. This doesn’t make him any less guilty- he is merely a vulture rather than a lion. If her gut tells her something is wrong with this setup, especially if it is about him or his actions, he gets her to ignore it. He may call her “crazy,” tell her she “overanalyzes” him whenever she starts putting the pieces together, or tell her she “overreacts” if she’s angry, etc. He only lets up temporarily when she obeys, and he only gets worse in the long run. Even when he’s “nice”, she fears him, and the situation as a whole is abusive even if his behavior at the time is not.
Fourth Step. Sexual abuse is the batterer’s ace in the hole. The abuser carries out sexual and other abuse while pretending to be in love. The bed is his battleground. He must break down any resistance to his sexual authority, whether by intimidation, whining, guilt tripping, or claiming that “men have certain needs.” He experiences God-like power through sexual oppression of her. Porn may shape or reinforce his attitudes and sexual desires. Target women often resist by leaving the marriage bed, but this is sometimes dangerous as he may retaliate.
Oftentimes the target doesn’t even realize the issue is about sexual domination. For example, after an attack he launches on an unrelated issue to distract her, such as how dirty the kitchen is, the victim feels she must offer sex to pacify him. He gets his sex and also gets to keep her thinking she must mistrust her own abilities and thinking, which allows him to manipulate her even more. Victims hide, or sometimes don’t realize, the level of sexual selfishness and abuse. A few abusers withhold sex as punishment, or to confuse the target.
The fact that our society already blatantly promotes the idea of male sexual entitlement means that all women, from birth, are being groomed for this type of abuse, from all angles and at all depths. Coming out of this Matrix-like system is like climbing a mountain for some women. Those who do are often so shocked at how widespread, insidious, and just plain evil this societal setup is, and are heartbroken and confused to discover their beloved husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, uncles, cousins, public figures (including religious figures) and celebrities are culpable in both using it and helping structure it.
Fifth Step. The abuser also starts offending against whatever else makes her feel human. He doesn’t need his standards met because he’s insecure, had OCD, or really hates a messy kitchen, but so he can make her doubt and hate herself so he has more control. More complaints mean more pacifying him, more obedience, and more trying to jump through his hoops. She tries to explain why she hates what he does, but he stores her complaints in his head so he can use them against her, because he now knows how it is affecting her. No matter how gently she brings it up, he gets angry or changes the subject. When he acts “nice”, it’s to re-groom her so he can offend again. Her first step to freedom is learning not to feel guilty for his actions.
Sixth Step. He destroys her relationship with the outside world. This is purposely done to isolate her so she can’t expose him or get the strength to leave. He finds out who is closest to her and grooms them to support him or think she is crazy or lying. Abusers often use children to attack the victim, and fight for custody. They may accuse her of being “spiteful,” “vindictive,” a bad mother who tries to poison the kids against him. They may spoil the children when their visitation occurs so the children will gravitate towards them, or may abuse (or even kill) the children to punish their partner. Abusers are not insane and choose to do everything they do, especially this type of abuse.
Seventh Step. Abusers only change their behavior (and it’s nearly always a temporary change) when they want to escape a consequence. Many kill their wives if they try to leave, even if they had not displayed one symptom of violence before. They want their victims to come back not because of love but because they benefit from the relationship at the target’s expense, much like a slave owner wants his slaves back if they run away.
There is nothing wrong with a woman who was targeted by an abusive man.
Abusers target whoever they want. Abused women are not abused because they have borderline, bipolar, are “difficult,” depressed, or “strong willed.” Abused women are abused because an abuser chose to abuse them, just as shooting victims are shot because a shooter chose to shoot them. The only pattern that may be true of abuse is that these men choose women who are kind and who are unfamiliar with the tactics, motivations, and warning signs of abusers. Even then, abusers may still choose to target a more educated or sassy woman, for a challenge.
“If you’re being blamed for something that’s not your fault, run,” says Hennessy. Don’t analyze what you did wrong, because it’s most likely nothing.
And even if you have done something wrong, abuse is unacceptable no matter your behavior.
This article was written by one of our readers; many thanks to her for putting it together! We encourage you to print the PDF and give it out to other people, post it at bus stops, etc.
Don Hennessy Series – 13 posts which showcase the work of Don Hennessy
The abuser’s deceptive way of asking questions; and Jesus’ shrewd use of questions to stymie the wicked
I published this post in 2015. If you want to comment on it please do so at the original post so that all the comments are in one place. Thanks!
Telling the truth is central to Christianity. In the lead-up to my conversion, God pricked me multiple times about how I was a liar and I had to stop doing it.
Buckling on the belt of truth is the first step in donning the armor of God. If we don’t put on truth, the rest of the armor will be of little use.
… take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth … (Eph. 6:13-14)
For the domestic abuser, lies and deception are core conduct. Many of the lies they tell are designed to make them appear virtuous, honourable and beyond suspicion so they can more easily carry out their villainous deeds.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. (Rev. 22:15 KJV)
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There are many labels used to pathologise, blame and discredit victims:
- Stockholm Syndrome
- battered women’s syndrome
- learned helplessness
- traumatic bonding
- re-enactment of trauma
- repetition compulsion
- women choose abusive men
- women unconsciously attract abusive men
The concept of “Stockholm Syndrome” has become a ‘received truth’ in the mental health field. It shifts the focus away from actual events in context to invented pathologies in the minds of victims (particularly women).
“Stockholm syndrome” is one of many concepts that can be used to silence individuals who, as victims of violence, speak out publicly about negative social (i.e., institutional) responses.
Terms like Stockholm Syndrome and codepent need to be contested over and over again, as they are deeply embedded in the mind of many people who ‘helping’ victims of abuse.
I encourage you to dig deeper by reading the following three posts. Each link will open in a different tab. The first two are from this blog; the last one is from Confusion To Clarity.
Note: I do not necessarily endorse every resource that Confusion to Clarity recommends on their website, but it’s heartening that they are passing on the wisdom of people like Dr George Simon Jr and Dr Allan Wade.
Jenny’s Story: Observations of Life from a Three Year Old ‘Sheltie’
Jenny’s story was written by ‘Kathryn’, who uses a pseudonym because her X gets in stalking mode when the mood strikes him. Kathryn’s blog is Escaping the ‘trap’ of domestic violence. [Re-blogged with Kathryn’s permission.] Possible trigger warning for those who have witnessed animal abuse—but overall this is a story that shows recovery and healing after escaping domestic abuse.
My Mom told me that she picked me out when I was no bigger than of a stick of butter, only one week old. She said she came back to visit me and check on my growth progress each week. Normally, I wouldn’t have been able to go home with my new Mom until about 8 weeks old. However, the breeder told her that since she “was not a novice dog owner” she could take me home at 5 ½ weeks old.
The day Mom brought me home I weighed almost 3 lbs. I was still so little that I didn’t know how to drink water by myself. So, she made my food with a lot of water so I would receive the proper hydration.
It was very scary at first when I went into the house. There were these two huge beasts. My Mom told me they were my “Old Aunts”. She told me they are called Collies. One was named Betsy, and the other was named Abby. They came to me right away. They started sniffing me…but their noses were so long, that they knocked me over each time they got near me.
I soon learned they were so much fun! Especially Abby. I could run under her legs, and jump up and bite her neck fur with my teeth. She would try and shake me off, but I could hold on really good. Abby sometimes would walk around with me hanging from her neck fur. Mom laughed so hard. She took many pictures of me hanging from Abby’s neck. Next, I found out that I could pull Abby’s lips with my teeth. She took photos of this too. I didn’t see what was so funny about this, we were just playing. Betsy always seemed to “protect” me from Abby, whenever she would get too rough with me.
Betsy would growl at Abby and then walk away. Then Betsy would let me lay by her…plus, she never took my toys away from me. There was a man that lived in our house. He didn’t like me too much. My Mom told me that he liked me Ok, but it was her that he didn’t like. He would yell at my Mom and call her names. He would hit her, and sometimes she would have to get stitches. He even braked some of her ribs, and smashed some of her fingers. One time he throwed a knife at her and it stuck in her hand. Another time he was mad at her and started chasing her. It made my Mommy fall off the porch and she broke some stuff. She had to go to the hospital. When she came home she told me that some of her bones got broked. She had to stay in bed all the time, except to go potty. When she would have to get up, she had to use what she called “Crutches”. My Mom had to use those crutches for many weeks. Then she got better and we did stuff together again.
One time when I was on the floor with Abby, the man picked me up. I thought he was going to cuddle me. Instead, he held me up equal with his shoulders, and just let me drop to the floor. I started crying…then my Mom saw what happened. Another time, when I was still little, unable to go down the stairs by myself, he kicked me. I don’t think he was too nice. I was scared of him, and when he would come into the room, I would try and hide behind my Mom, or one of the “Old Aunts”. I didn’t want him to pick me up no more, ever.
There was another time the mean man hurt me again. When Mom heard me crying, she rushed in there immediately and scooped me up in her arms. She quickly carried me into her bedroom to look and see what the mean man did. My Mom told me, “Jenny, no one will ever hurt you again”. From that point on, my Mom never let me out of her sight. She went to the pet store and purchased a car harness for me. So, when she went anywhere, she took me too. One day, something really bad must have happened. Next thing I knew, the police were at the house. My Mom grabbed me and her briefcase and we left. I was worried and scared. Why is my Mom shaking and crying? What’s wrong? I wanted her to go back and get Betsy & Abby, too. Is the mean man going to follow us and the policeman?
We drove to a big building. My Mom handed me to some strange lady, and then she left! Why did my Mom leave me?! Now, the lady put me in a little cage. There were others too, in little cages. All of us were crying. None of knew why our Mommy’s left us in this place. Will I see my Mom again? What did I do that my Mom gave me away? Was it because of the mean man? Where’s my Mom!
I remember crying and crying, but no one came. Next the lights were turned out and I was by myself in the little cage. There were none of my toys, but there was water and food available. I just wanted my Mom. My special teddy bear wasn’t here, either.
The next day a lady came in to see me. She seemed so happy. She opened the cage and let me out. Then she took me outside to play. She even knew my name. When she would toss me a toy, I just sat there. I wanted my Mom. The lady picked me up and held me and petted me. Then she told me why my Mom had to leave me there, and that she would be coming to take me back…but it would be to a new home. Yet, the lady said that she didn’t know how long I would have to stay here. This nice lady held me for a long time. And I liked her. Her name was Kate.
Two whole days past before I saw my Mom. This time she looked so sad. She could hardly talk because she was crying. She took me out of the cage, and held me close and walked outside to the play area so we could be alone. She sat on a bench with me on her lap. I was looking up at her, wondering what’s wrong!
Mom told me a lot that day. She said she is staying in a “safe house”. The people at the “safe house” didn’t allow puppies. This was the reason I was at the ‘big building’. Mom said it was the Humane Society…and it was a kindness that they allowed me to stay here for free, until Mom finds us a new place to live. The sad part was that I was never going to be able to live with my “Old Aunts”, Betsy & Abby…ever again.
Mom would try and come to see me each day, but sometimes that was impossible. It was a long drive, plus Mom was the responsibility of the people at the “safe house”. Usually, when she needed to go somewhere, a staff person or volunteer would have to accompany her.
Then one day my Mom came to see me with one other lady. She told me that her “case manager” had given permission for Mom to bring me to the “safe house” to play in their big yard. Mom told me there would be kids there, too. Oh boy! Kids! I love kids; they know how to play real good games. When we got to the house, there was a sign on the door that said, “WELCOME JENNY”. I loved it here, being with my Mom. Time went by so fast. Then my Mom had to drive me back to the big building…and I cried and Mom cried. I could tell it hurt my Mom so much to leave me here.
The next time I saw my Mom, she brought me one of her blouses. It had my Mom’s scent on it! I was so happy. She put it in my cage and at night I didn’t cry too much anymore. Yet, Mom was so upset at seeing me in the cage that she told Aunt Vickie.
Aunt Vickie & Aunt Jan came all the way out here to take me with them. Aunt Vickie told me I was going to live with her until Mom got us a new house. Aunt Vickie and Aunt Jan are so much fun. On the way back to Aunt Vickie’s house, Aunt Jan held me and petted me. They both talked to me. I think they knew how hard it was for Mom to see them drive away with me. She didn’t know when she’d see me next.
Aunt Vickie’s house was so much fun. She had a big beast and a smaller beast. She told me the big beast was an “English Springer Spaniel”… and that she was my cousin. Her name is Emma. The little beast is called a “Cat”…she, too, is my cousin. Her name is Gracie. I liked Gracie a lot, but I don’t think she liked me. Emma was fun all the time. She taught me “tricks”.
One of the “tricks” Emma taught me, was how to tear wall-paper off Aunt Vickie’s bathroom wall. We had so much of it all torn off. We thought we did a good job. But when Aunt Vickie got home from work, I don’t think she was too happy.
Another time at Aunt Vickie’s, Emma & I were playing in the backyard. I saw a bunny. I like to chase bunnies. I did that at my old house, but I was never able to catch one, because I was too little. However, this time I caught that bunny. I bited him on the back and shaked him real hard…but then he stopped moving.
I started to shake that bunny from side to side, like I do my toys. Next, thing I knew there was blood all over my long fur. I thought this was odd. The next thing I knew was that some of the ‘stuff’ got into my mouth. Aunt Vickie saw me and came running out immediately and made me stop what I was doing. I didn’t know it was wrong to chase and shake bunnies. There was blood all over me by now. The bunny was dead.
Aunt Vickie took me in the house and gave me a bath. I could tell she wasn’t too happy with me, but I still didn’t know why. Didn’t she see that I killed that bunny real good? I shaked it real hard, so Aunt Vickie would think I was a big girl. Aunt Vickie loves me. She dried me off and petted and talked to me. I love Aunt Vickie so much…but where is my Mom? Aunt Vickie helped me make a birthday card for my Mom, too.
One day Aunt Vickie told me that she and my Aunt Jan were going to take me back to my Mom! WOW…I’m going to my Mommy. She got us a new house. It was a little sad for me though, as I would not be able to see Betsy or Abby. It was going to be just me & my Mom. Did Betsy & Abby miss me like I miss them? I didn’t miss the mean man.
When we got out of the truck my Mom ran to me. She picked me up, held me close and began crying. She told me “Jenny, I will never leave you again”. Aunt Vickie and Aunt Jan were only able to stay for a little while. I miss them all the time, and especially cousins Emma & Gracie. Emma & Gracie have a new brother & sister. Their names are Petey and Betty. They are miniature long-haired Chihuahua’s.
The new house wasn’t a house. It was called “an apartment”. There was a huge sliding door, and outside was like my old house. It had lots of tress and grass. But why is this place so small? Where are my toys? Who am I going to play with? Everything was so different. I didn’t understand why, but living here had something to do with the mean man.
One day, Mom was crying so hard she was shaking. I looked up at her and wondered what was wrong! She told me that Betsy went to heaven. Does this mean I will never ever see her again? I asked my Mom if I can go to heaven, too, so I can see Betsy just one more time. Mom told me “No’…that I wasn’t going anywhere unless she goes with me, and that she wasn’t going to heaven for a long time yet.
It seemed like a long time passed. Then a big man with a little girl saw me and Mom outside in the yard. The little girl wanted the big man to stop so she could play with me. She told me the big man was her Daddy. Her Daddy was talking to my Mom. I was afraid of men, real afraid. I didn’t want to go too close to him, but the little girl was OK. I didn’t like the big man talking to my Mom. I wanted him to go home, but he could leave the little girl here so we could play. He kept talking to my Mom, and it was making me afraid. What if the man was like the mean man at my old house? Then my Mom would have to leave me again. I would rather go to heaven and be with Betsy than be away from my Mom for so long ever, ever, again. I don’t like the big man talking to my Mom. I even growled at him and showed me teeth, but he just laughed at me.
One day the big man saw Mom and me sitting on the patio. He came over, and Mom asked him to sit down. He was eating my all time favorite thing. Oranges! I sat real close to him. When I looked up at him, he gave me a slice of his orange. Oh boy!!! This big man was nothing like the mean man. He paid attention to me, he was nice. He even gave me my favoritest food. Ever since that day, the big man has loved me. He always plays with me and takes me places. He lets me chew gum and gives me Popsicles. He takes me to the park and to the pet shop. One time he even took me to the floor of the hospital where he works. He calls me “his little girl dog”. I love him.
He loves my Mom too. I think that’s why they got married. Now, I have a “real” Daddy and my Daddy loves me and my Mom. Daddy and Momma cook together all the time. I like to be in the kitchen with them when they cook. Daddy drops stuff on the fl oor and I get to eat it. Sometimes he says, “Oh no! Jenny don’t eat that!” I eat it anyway. One day Daddy had a Bagel with some honey. I jumped up and took it right out of his hand. He said,” Jenny NO!” I tried to run under the table with it. Daddy took that Bagel right out of my mouth and ate it. Mom said to my Daddy, “Don’t eat that! Jenny had it in her mouth”…Daddy said, “I’m doing it to spite her!” I started thinking that “spite” & “spider” are two different things, cuz’ I didn’t see no spider but I didn’t get the bagel either.
One time Sarah (the little girl) was here. Daddy ordered pizza. Sarah was standing up and had a piece of pizza in her hand. Well, that piece of pizza was right at the same level of my head. So, I took it from her and ran under the table. This time Mom, Daddy & Sarah yelled at the same time, “Jenny NO!” I asked Mom if “NO” was my last name. She told me “NO”. So I was right, “NO” is my last name. I’m “Jenny No”.
One day as my Mom was petting me, she noticed a bunch of ‘stuff’ all over my back. She asked my Daddy, “What’s this all over Jenny’s back?” Daddy said he didn’t know. So, he and Mom picked me up to get a better look. It was RICE! Daddy had been cooking rice and he dropped a lot of it and it landed on my back. He never even noticed it until Mom was petting me. They brushed it out of my fur, but they wouldn’t let me eat any of it. Sometimes he drops pasta sauce or cheese on me, too.
There were other things I’ve eaten or swallowed, that upset my Daddy & Mom. There were several coins, a rubber band, piece of aluminum foil, band-aid, a marble and a small nail. This, of course, was not all at the same time, but over a course of a year. They are very careful with everything now. Although, I’ve found an occasional dime or penny. They said they don’t want me getting something that could hurt me. But none of it hurt, it all tasted good. Plus, I’ve swallowed plenty of the “eyes” off my toy bunnies & teddy bears. Mom says that’s not good, ‘cuz then they can’t see how pretty I am.
In the beginning I had my own blanket to sleep on. It was at the foot of Mom and Dad’s bed. But after some time I decided to sleep between Daddy’s pillows. I wait until he is snoring, then sneak up onto the bed. Mom says she doesn’t know why I do this because I can’t get out from there by myself. She has to pull me out by my front paws. (My Mom doesn’t know I do this because I want to protect my Daddy the way he protects my Mom and me.)
Daddy wasn’t used to me sleeping on my back with my paws up in the air. The first time he saw me sleeping like that, he panicked. He woke Mom up and said, “Look at Jenny! What’s wrong with her?” He thought I was dead. Mom started laughing and told him I was fine, I just like to sleep like that sometimes. Daddy was so relieved. He told me, “Jenny, you gave me quite a scare!” I didn’t mean to scare my Daddy, but that’s just the way I sleep at times. I never get scared when he sleeps on his back.
I have huge boxes of toys. Daddy has really big shoes. Sometimes, I put one of my toys in his shoe, and sometimes I drop one into his backpack. I want him to always know I’m thinking of him. There are times I put one of my toys on top of his toilet. I dropped my pick doggie on Daddy’s toilet…but this time it was different. The toilet seat was UP and my pink doggie fell right inside the toilet and I could not get her out. I was scared. What if Daddy gets mad? Oh well, I just won’t tell him about it. But he found out anyway.
When Daddy leaves for work, I don’t like it. As soon as the door shuts, I grab one of my toys. I run back and forth down the hallway with one of my toys in my mouth, all the while growling. I want my Daddy! Many times I can hear him laughing even after the door is shut. Then I sit by the door and howl. But he never comes back.
After Daddy goes to work, I make a ‘nest’ with piles of my toys. Sometimes I can drag one of Daddy’s tee shirts, or a sock. I put these things on top of my pile of toys. Then I can sleep on this pile. It has my Daddy’s scent. This makes me happy. Mom laughs at me, but she understands that I just miss my Daddy.
When he arrives home in the morning, I get so excited. I wag my tail so rapidly that my whole body goes from side to side. Daddy won’t pet me until I’m sitting down. So, I try and sit still, but when Daddy begins petting me, my tails goes back and forth on its own. Then Daddy laughs and picks me up. He always says, “How’d you do last night, my Little Girl Dog?” My Daddy loves me!
‘Still married in the sight of God’ has been a piece of Christian jargon for centuries. Like the slogan ‘God hates divorce,’ it has been a cause of injury and entrapment to many victims of domestic abuse — as well as to those who have suffered other kinds of marital violation.
This article only discusses the history of the phrase ‘still married in the sight of God’ as it has been applied to divorced or separated people. Those who have questions about the phrase’s truthfulness and applicability are referred to chapter five of my book Not Under Bondage. (affiliate link)
Use by the Church Fathers and the Roman Church
It is not certain when the phrase ‘still married in the sight of God’ first came to be used, but similar expressions were used by the church fathers. About AD 400 Jerome (who translated the Latin Vulgate — the only Bible available in Europe for centuries) said:
A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another. (1)
Around the same time, Chrysostom explained the scripture “the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives” (Rom. 7:2) by saying,
…wives, even if they have left their husbands, have the law in the form of a chain which condemns them, accusing them of adultery, accusing those who take them, and saying: ‘Your husband is still living and what you have done is adultery.’ (2)
Roman Catholic Canon Law no. 1141 states (link):
Marriage which is ratified and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power, nor by any cause save death.
Use by Protestant Theologians
Protestants have used the phrase ‘still married in the sight of God’ in various ways. Some have taught there is no such thing as a dissolution divorce. (3) According to this view, the Bible permits divorce for adultery, but divorce never dissolves the marriage bond. The marriage still exists, so remarriage is only allowed if the ex-partner dies. The Anglican Church held a view like this for several centuries.
In his book Divorce — the Unforgivable Sin? (4) the family lawyer Ken Crispin relates the story of a woman who had been divorced from her husband for ten years, during which time the ex-husband remarried and had three children to his new wife. The relationship between the woman and her ex-husband was trouble-free. Then a Protestant minister explained to the woman that:
her husband’s second marriage really constituted nothing more than adultery. Accordingly it was her Christian duty to do all she could to break up the relationship.
Though she felt the lives of three children should not be disrupted, the minister’s authority caused her to doubt her own opinion.
Other Protestants apply the expression only to unbiblical divorce — whatever they conceive that to be. Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher, said
…a woman divorced for any cause but adultery, and marrying again, is committing adultery before God. …persons once married are in the sight of God, married for life, with the one exception of proven fornication. (5)
John Murray, the respected Presbyterian theologian, explained Matthew 5:32 by saying,
The only reason for which this remarriage can be regarded as adultery is that the first marriage is still in God’s sight regarded as inviolate. The divorce has not dissolved it. Illegitimate divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond and consequently the fact of such divorce does not relieve the parties concerned from any of the obligations incident to marriage. (6)
Craig Keener says,
Matthew 5:32, then, claims that the marriage is valid in God’s sight until one party dissolves the marriage through unfaithfulness. (7)
Use by ordinary Christians
‘Still married in the sight of God’ is a short and memorable phrase. Ordinary Christians sometimes employ it (or its variants) glibly without any appreciation for the fine exegetical balance required in interpreting divorce texts. The debate about biblical grounds for divorce has been so hotly contested, so complex, and so inconclusive that some people have latched on to simplistic phrases hoping they provide certainty amidst the confusion.
Well-meaning Christians have used this phrase to urge fellow Christians not to divorce by saying, “If you divorce you will still be married in the eyes of God”. If the recipient of this advice has an active (but under-informed) conscience, this advice may have a restraining effect. After all, if every couple’s marriage were indissoluble other than by death, remarriage after a civil divorce would be divinely prohibited. A Christian contemplating separation or divorce would thus be constrained to a life of celibacy and singleness.
A survivor of abuse told me that a Baptist layman had asserted that she was “still married in God’s sight” while she was separated from her abusive husband. The Baptist had been “getting alongside” the husband because the husband made pretenses of becoming a Christian (which he always did every time his wife left him). The Baptist apparently thought that he was doing both husband and wife a Christian service by trying to encourage their reconciliation. This woman had separated and reconciled with her husband more times than she can remember. Every reconciliation saw a return of the abuse.
Ceci is a woman converted to Christ during the time she was married to an abuser. In her testimony she describes how eventually discovered that her husband was a serial murderer and rapist. With little church support and despite many obstacles, she turned him in to the police and he was eventually sentenced to prison. Fearing she was committing the unpardonable sin, she divorced her incarcerated husband. She was then told by the murderer’s parents, as well as by the Catholic priest who had officiated at her wedding, that her marriage still existed in the sight of God.
It can be chilling when abusers use the phrase against their wives. An example can be found in the movie Chocolat, where a woman flees from her abusive husband and takes refuge with the owner of the chocolate shop. When the husband tracks his wife down he shouts at her, “We are still married in the sight of God!” to try to browbeat her into reconciliation. The abused woman cleverly retorts, “Then God must be blind!”
The phrase “still married in God’s sight” encourages unthinking, hamfisted responses to the complex questions of Christian divorce and remarriage. I pray that the expression falls into disuse and that the Christian community will show a more finely nuanced (by which I mean more biblical) approach to divorce and remarriage.
News! I have just updated our FAQ page What About Divorce? It now includes a list of pastors and theologians who have said that abuse is grounds for divorce.
- Jerome, Letters, LV: To Amandus 3 – 4.
- Chrysostom, Second Homily on Marriage, “De libello repudii”.
- For example, William Heth and Gordon Wenham, Jesus and Divorce; first published London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984; Biblical and Theological Classics Library edition, Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster, 1997.
Note: Heth has since changed his mind on divorce and remarriage
- Ken Crispin, Divorce — the Unforgivable Sin?, Sydney: Hodder and Staughton, 1988, p. 5.
- Charles Spurgeon, Popular Exposition of Matthew, Zondervan, pp. 29, 160; cited in Guy Duty, Divorce and Remarriage. Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship, 1967, 1983, p. 120-121.
See also J. Carl Laney, The Divorce Myth. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1981 (p. 116) who says, “Since divorce is not instituted by God, it is in almost every circumstance not recognized by him; hence, divorce and remarriage is adultery since the original marriage is still intact from God’s perspective.”
- John Murray, Divorce, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1961, p. 25.
- Craig Keener …And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991, p. 35.