Are There Biblical Grounds for Divorcing an Abuser?

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Here is an excellent and thought-provoking article by Barbara Roberts of A Cry for Justice on the biblical grounds for divorcing an abuser. The scripture she uses is descriptive and well-applied. It should bring clarity and comfort to abuse victims all over the world. I forwarded the article to my church elders and asked for a discussion.  Let’s celebrate the spread of this courageous message to more of the Christian church!

OPINION | Barbara Roberts

Monday 10 August 2015

Domestic abuse is a pattern of power and coercive control exercised by one spouse against the other spouse. Abusers employ covert or overt aggression, lies, manipulation, unjust criticism, insinuation, blame-shifting, threats and micro-management of the target’s everyday life to undermine her dignity, her liberty, her personal confidence and identity. The abuser tries to keep his target living in fear and confusion (and thus under the abuser’s power). The abuser believes he is entitled to treat his spouse that way. The abuser’s pattern of conduct doesn’t have to include physical abuse to qualify as domestic abuse. The genders are occasionally reversed, but I’ll speak about the victim as female. Domestic abusers typically target intimate partners and ex-partners but may target other family members; children are harmed indirectly even if they are not directly targeted.

Marriage is a bilateral covenant where each spouse promises to love, care for, honour and respect the other. If one spouse engages in a regular pattern of exercising demeaning, contemptuous, deceptive, cold, calculated, manipulative power and control over the other, that spouse violates the covenant vows of marriage over and over again. If a husband treats his wife like an object rather than a person, if he acts like he owns her body, mind, thoughts and feelings and has the right to tell her what she feels and how she thinks, and the right to subtly monopolise her attention by keeping her afraid of him, he is doing the very opposite of loving, cherishing, honoring and respecting his wife. In exercising such power and control, physical violence isn’t necessary: it can be achieved with emotions and attitudes, words, body language, sexual behaviour, economic control, and constricting the social life of the victim. Violence is just the optional icing on the cake.

I’m not talking about slipping into a sin like King David did and then repenting when confronted and convicted with his guilt. I’m talking about continuing to oppress someone by wicked, multifaceted conduct and to hold a self-justifying belief in one’s right to do so, despite being confronted about it by upright people. I’m talking about a person who, when confronted, denies he is doing it, minimizes it, shifts the blame unjustly to his victim, and crafts a tangled web of lies to make it look like he is a nice guy and his wife is crazy or making it up. Think about it ¬– to live like this, a person must violate and sear the demands of his own conscience, stiffen his neck against any conviction from the Holy Spirit, and high handedly disregard all the biblical precepts that call him to repentance.

“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him… Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. … whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3:6,8-10)

Can a person who practices this pattern of coercive control and power over their spouse be a Christian? It seems to me that the Bible tells us they can’t be. To choose to behave this way while professing to be a follower of Christ, is more wicked than to choose to abuse your spouse without any pretense of being a Christian. The “Christian” domestic abuser is systematically taking the Lord’s name in vain and being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you (2 Pet 2:13) … hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear (Jude 12).

I believe 1 Corinthians 5 is the appropriate text to use in disciplining domestic abusers who profess Christianity. Verse 11 lists six heinous sins for which a professing ‘believer’ is to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Two sins in that verse epitomise domestic abuse. (1) Being a reviler, which means an abuser, someone who insolently and insultingly criticises another person. (2) Being an extortioner/swindler, someone who seizes by force, is aggressively greedy and takes advantage of others. It continues to astonish me how little this verse is heeded by the church.

Regardless of what a “Christian” domestic abuser might profess, the church ought to treat them as unbelievers, and not merely as ignorant unbelievers who simply need to hear the gospel explained. We must wrap our heads around the abuser’s mindset: His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity (Ps 10:7; cf Ps 36:1-4Mic 2:1Prov 4:6).

The abuser works to divide his target (his spouse) from her children, her congregation and her support networks. I submit that Christian leaders and counsellors need to heed Titus 3:10-11 — As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. After all, God only gave one counselling session to Cain!

Read more….

Source: Barbara Roberts, Bible Society Australia, Is there biblical grounds for divorcing an abuser? 

5 thoughts on “Are There Biblical Grounds for Divorcing an Abuser?

  1. Hi Melissa. This article articulates much of what I’ve often said to my mom. As I shared with you before, she was also abused by her husband. Many times she’s felt guilty, like she was letting God down by divorcing this depraved human being. Yet I’ve often pointed out it was not her that broke the marriage vow.

    Yes, she left him. What makes abusers so toxic, if not deadly, is that they hold onto their victims even tighter as things get worse. It’s seems rare for the abuser to be the one to leave. Still, the technicality of who legally filed doesn’t change the reality of who truly broke the marriage convenient.

    God makes it very clear that treating one’s spouse with violence IS a marital separation! “For the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I hate divorce and marital separation and him who covers his garment [his wife] with violence. Therefore keep a watch upon your spirit [that it may be controlled by My Spirit], that you deal not treacherously and faithlessly [with your marriage mate].” Malachi 2:!6 AMP

    Actually, I would recommend good study of the book of Malachi to anyone struggling with this issue. It really does shine some light on God’s true intention for marriage. Abuse was never a part of God’s plan! God has indeed called us to peace. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and this article! Audrey

  2. Audrey,
    I’m so glad that you were able to articulate these truths to your mother. You said it so well: “…the technicality of who legally filed doesn’t change the reality of who truly broke the marriage convenient.” The abuser WANTS to keep power and control over the spouse- they want to keep abusing – they don’t want it to end! But they are the ones breaking God’s design for marriage. The spouse who files for divorce after experiencing unrepentant abuse is simply filling out the legal paperwork for what has already ended long before.
    Thank you for sharing your experience, wisdom, and encouragement! It is a blessing!

    • And thank you Melissa. Your website and the article you shared actually inspired me to write a blog post on this issue. I’m planning on putting it up Tuesday. I’m definitely recommending your site, so stay tuned! It is so inspirational how you are using your story to help others. God bless you, and keep being awesome. :-)

      • Audrey,
        I am grateful for your blog post on this issue on your website:

        It is a blessing to many women to hear your thoughts on this difficult subject of abuse and divorce and the bible. As a Christian woman who was emotionally and verbally abused in my marriage, I can share that it was a gut-wrenching decision to divorce. The guilt, shame, and fear you mention kept me in the marriage for many more destructive years than I should have stayed. I hope as more women understand that God says in his Word that he cares about their safety and sanity, and that His design for marriage is not one of violence and fear, that they will get help.

  3. A profound article. I find it difficult to understand the mentality of those who abuse. Why someone would want to make another person, who he or she supposedly cares about, miserable? But I know that it happens, and it happens frequently. I’ve also seen it happen in my family and yet I’ve not been able to figure out the underlying reasons.
    Most religious texts were written in a time of male-dominance, and were mostly written by men – abuse may not even be defined as abuse in them.

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