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.
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 36:1-4; Mic 2:1; Prov 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!
Source: Barbara Roberts, Bible Society Australia, Is there biblical grounds for divorcing an abuser?