I believe Christian women struggle with their understanding of the bible when they try to leave their abusive husbands. This was definitely my most difficult challenge. I thought if I sought a divorce, I would be sinning against the Lord. I already felt enough guilt heaped upon my shoulders daily by my husband. I didn’t need the guilt of thinking I had gone against the bible to be added onto that.
I recently read a book called A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, by a pastor named Jeff Crippen which helped me think through this difficult issue in a new way.[i]
Crippen looks at marriage as a contract, just like any other contract we enter into.[ii] In a contract, each party makes promises. Blessings are given if both parties keep their promises, and curses are given if one of the parties doesn’t. For example, I promise to pay my mortgage to the bank, and they promise to allow me to continue living in my home. If I pay my mortgage on time, I have the blessing of being allowed to continue living in my house. If I refuse to pay my mortgage, curses go into effect. They can evict me from my house!
When spouses enter into a marriage contract, they make promises to each other before witnesses, and before God. Spouses usually promise to:
Forsake all others
In abusive marriages, the abuser breaks these promises daily. But unlike every other contract, the Christian victim appears to have no recourse. She is told she cannot break her part of the contract even though the other party (the abusive spouse) never loves, honors, or cherishes her. He receives no curses for breaking his part of the contract, but continues to receive all the blessings forever. As Crippen says, “Something is really wrong with this picture!”[iii]
Crippen says divorce has two parts:
Destruction of the marriage—accomplished by the willful, habitual, unrepentant breaking of the vows by the abuser. This is what causes the marriage to end.
Divorce of the marriage—when the marriage is over, the innocent victim may then, without sin, file for divorce from the civil authorities.
In Matthew 19:6b when Jesus says,
Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.
Crippen concludes, “But Jesus did not teach the human marriage covenant is impossible to break. In fact, he instructed no one should break it, indicating that by violation of the vows. . . the guilty spouse separates what God has joined together. Separating what God has joined together is always sin, but only for the guilty spouse.[iv]
Therefore, to all Christian women who are married to abusive men: It is not unusual for them to twist God’s word for their own purposes. And what IS their purpose? To keep control over you. This allows them to continue abusing you, and to get whatever they want from the relationship.
Dear Lord, I pray you will be with abused wives who are reading this blog today. Lord, please help them to discern whether they are being abused, and whether it would be best for them and their children if they were to separate from their abusers, at least for a time. If they do decide this, I pray they will be wise and careful as they move forward, and make a safety plan, (see my blog on safety planning). We pray your peace and protection over them. Amen.
P.S. If you have had trouble getting help from your church, please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide describes the dynamics of abuse from a Christian perspective, then educates church leaders how to help those who experience it. Click here to see a preview of the written and video guide.
[i] Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood, A Cry for Justice, How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church (United States:Calvary Press Publishing, 2012), 303-305.
[ii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 293-294.
[iii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 294.
[iv] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 298.