I have seen and heard of many people that have worked, forgave, and did everything humanly possible to do their part in reconcilation. Prayer, Study, Counseling, and still the unrepentant spouse remains emotional abusive, verbally abusive, and/or physically abusive. The loops they jumped threw, and the goals they met. There is more than one reason why someone would question if it is time to file for divorce. It has nothing to do with the pat answers most hear spoke about, and the tough thing is I don't think most realize how much people suffer...even after making this decision.
I have been doing some housekeeping, and I remember finding this article and asking her permission to reprint it here. I think its still offers insights that some may find helpful. She speaks clearly on issues of domestic abuse. I hope you enjoy the article!
Note: The website has since gone down. If anyone is aware of where Ginny is now writing please let me know!
Is Divorce the Answer to Spousal Abuse?
By Ginny Hunt
Divorce-- the severing of a covenant, the dissolution of vows. For the abused woman, divorce looms as the death knoll to all her strenuous efforts at keeping her family intact. It is also a frightening prospect as many abusers are so obsessed with controlling their wives that they would refuse a divorce even if it meant killing their wives instead. Seventy-five percent of all domestic homicides against women occur during the time when the victim is in process of leaving her abuser. When I was attending a support group for battered women, one member of our tight-knit and trusting group was murdered by her estranged abusive husband. He would rather she be dead than allow her to go through with the divorce she had filed. I attended her wake and her funeral and I am painfully and intimately familiar with the extreme danger of spousal abuse now. Still, knowing Jackie the way I did, I know she would not have chosen otherwise. To have stayed in the marriage was killing her, just more slowly. Watching the courageous women in my support group trudge week after week into the police stations and courthouses to file yet another criminal charge, another court order, another motion to keep them and their children safe from these men with whom they had once shared a home, a life, their beds, helped me to understand that divorce is never the option of choice for battered wives. Instead, most women would rather cling to the hope that our abusers will one day wake from their self-centered and destructive sleep and see us for who we really are, love us as we desire to be loved and we would live happily ever after. The realization that this outcome is never to be is a crushing defeat for the abused woman. Hope is what has kept her going through the beatings and verbal lashings. Hope is what has held her captive. Hope has been her only reason for living. To lay hope aside is utter defeat for the abused wife. Those who would say that divorce is the "easy way out," do not understand ease. It is obvious to anyone who has been privy to an abusive relationship that those are utterances of ignorance.
Christian women often have yet another obstacle to finding freedom from abuse: their own religious training. In error, many pastors and Bible teachers, especially of the more fundamentalist Protestant leanings, continue to teach that a wife must remain in submission to her husband even through abuse and that divorce is never an option for a Christian couple. There are several different interpretations of Bible passages concerning divorce. All may be applicable to one's individual circumstances or none may be. Personally, I do not desire to find a "legal loophole" in Scripture because Scripture, to me, is not a legal document or a code of laws but a labor of love, a message from my heavenly Father. The Lord ordained that marriage be a blessing between two who desire to become one. We compliment one another. We dance together as we navigate the steps of our lives. We support one another, submit to one another, sharpen one another and love one another. Or so it should be. When a husband has been regularly abusive over the course of several years and after repeated attempts to confront and expose his sin he continues his attacks unabated, even a devout and conservative Christian woman may begin to think about divorce. Divorce is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her husband and her God.
Once a woman asked me, "What about those who choose NOT to divorce ...? Is their marriage still "nullified...with the Lord's OK"? What exactly nullifies the marriage? Do they need to remarry one another, renew their vows? How does one person's sin negate the vows of another?"
Willingness to reconcile on the part of the offended is a mark of the love of God in that person's heart. It is the model God has given us in the story of Hosea, that of the offended Hosea pursuing the unfaithful Gomer as a picture of God Himself pursuing His adulterous people. It is the act of Jesus who lays down His life "while we were yet sinners." Forgiving love is the inconceivable, unexplainable pursuit of the offender by the offended for the sake of restored relationship with God, self, and others. (Dan Allender, Bold Love p.29) One can be willing to reconcile, even offer reconciliation, yet still have requirements, standards and boundaries that need to be met in order for that reconciliation to take place.
Jesus noted that the bill of divorcement was only given in the first place because men's hearts were hard. In Malachi, God reprimands men for dealing "treacherously" with their wives. Divorce is never, ever intended to be God's best, but sometimes, as in the case of unrepentant abuse, it may actually be a step towards moving from a state of lesser morality to greater morality. Divorce is usually a public acknowledgement of something that has already taken place in private, the nullification of a marriage, the dissolution of a partnership in all the ways that truly matter, in all the unmeasurable intimacies between a husband and wife. What exactly nullifies a marriage? The continual, unrepentant breach of the marriage covenant in a way that harms the persons involved. The question then is, "Does the sin of one allow for the sin of the other?" Well, not exactly. That question presupposes that an abused wife would be "sinning" by filing for divorce, and that is something not all Christians agree upon. Many devout Christians see divorce as a tragedy but not as a sin.
My ex husband was flagrantly adulterous and committed various kinds of criminal acts including sexual molestation of teenage girls for which he was arrested twice during our marriage. He had repeated affairs and one-night-stands with whomever would comply with him or whomever he could coerce, which finally resulted in a baby, born out of wedlock two years after the birth of our own son and while we were still very much married. When confronted with these affairs and illicit activities, his response was rarely repentant. It was more along the lines of "Don't cage me in. I need my freedom." More often, he lied and denied them. He also forced me into unnatural acts and raped me repeatedly, as well as beat me, tied me up, locked me out of the house, knocked me unconscious, and many other criminal and abusive acts. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to persuade him into marriage counseling, I finally went into counseling myself. At first, the counseling focused on what I could do to better my marriage -- for I was not looking for a way out in the beginning -- and I put the newly learned communication skills into practice. However, without the cooperation of my husband the marriage only became more and more unhealthy. I finally had to accept that my husband was simply not willing to be married to me. He didn't file for the divorce as life in the status quo was grand for him and suited his needs just fine. He had a full-time wife and mother of his child at home to keep his house, raise his son, wash his clothes and cook his meals as well as partner with him in the home business while he busied himself with his adulteries and criminal activities. He had little incentive to better himself or his marriage, no immediate or compelling reason to change.
After one particularly cruel tirade I left -- fled -- to a battered women's shelter seeking refuge, not a divorce. Hope springs eternal in the heart of a battered woman and I still hoped that my batterer would see the light. Upon entering the judicial system hoping to receive court protection for myself and my son, I soon found that divorce was necessary to be eligible to receive the protection I needed. I learned that no judge would take my requests for protection from violence seriously unless I was also, in conjunction, requesting a divorce. So I filed for divorce knowing that I could drop the divorce proceedings if my husband evidenced any sign of repentance or change. Instead, he sued for custody, an act that resulted in a lengthy and heart-wrenching series of court appearances and a legal bill I would be paying for many years to come. He continually harassed us with the legal system and refuses to this day to pay child support. These are obviously not the actions of a repentant man and I felt no compelling obligation to offer reconciliation to him under such circumstances. In fact, to offer an unrepentant abuser reconciliation is to put a silent stamp of approval upon his sinful and destructive actions.
The Bible regularly deplores violence and abuse, especially of those weaker and in less of a position to defend themselves. The state in which a battered woman lives daily can be accurately described as a state of oppression. Biblically, an oppressed person is one who is crushed, injured, and afflicted. To oppress someone means to press upon, defraud, violate, deceive, drink up, to use and to do violence or wrong. Other meanings include cracking in pieces, literally or figuratively. To break, bruise, crush, discourage, oppress, and struggle together. These words paint an accurate picture of what happens to the victim of abuse. So, while many think the Bible is virtually silent on the topic of domestic violence, it isn't. In fact, it has much to say. One pivotal Scripture verse is found in Malachi 2:13-16: And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, inasmuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. In these verses, the Lord, speaking through the prophet Malachi, is condemning the Israelites for domestic abuse. He plainly states that this was not why He ordained marriage, that women are not to be treated in this fashion, that the men's prayers weren't even being heard because of their violence against their wives. Unfortunately, many churches simply focus on verse 16, "God hates divorce," alienating it from the context, thereby using it as further oppression against women who are being abused and who seek safety through divorce. The traditional teachings concerning wifely submission, divorce, and the role of women within marriage in the traditional and conservative Christian home actually conspire with the abuser to sabotage many women's health and well-being. Most abused women find little sympathy or support within the church after sharing the secret of their domestic abuse. Many pastors continue to counsel women in these situations advising them change their ways, presuming that there must be something the victim is doing to provoke her husband to violence. Women in traditional fundamentalist churches are often taught to believe that they can change a man through prayer and submission according to verses such as 1 Peter 3:1: "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation [behavior] of the wives." Women who are being regularly beaten are, by virtue of a literal rendering of that one verse taken out of context, being put into the position of thinking that their husband's walk with God is their responsibility and that if they remove themselves from harm, they will be responsible for their husbands going to hell or falling into sin because their behavior wasn't convincing enough.
First of all, the language in 1Peter 3:1 speaks of unbelieving husbands, not those who claim to be Christians. In the giving of household instructions, as was very common in those days from leaders of various organizations, Peter addresses the various relationships in which power and control often determine the course of the relationship. First, in 2:13, Peter instructs submission to governmental authorities. There was often strife between governors and those whom they governed, and such contention often stood in the way of sharing the Gospel. It is also being assumed that, in general, the governing authorities are not believers. The principle objective of these passages is to demonstrate how one can, within traditionally hierarchical and authoritarian relationships with unbelievers, share Christ. Governing authorities were more likely to listen to the rational words of people who were peaceful and law-abiding. Secondly, Peter recommends servants to submit to their masters so that the masters, assumed to be unbelievers because slavery was not approved of for Christians, could see the Christlikeness of the Christian servants and be swayed by their actions. Likewise, Peter recommends that women who are married to unbelieving husbands do the same so as to be a witness for the Gospel. He goes on to speak to husbands of unbelieving women. I can determine that they are unbelievers because he speaks to them reminding them that they are "heirs together of the grace of life," of zoe, which is mere vitality, not pneuma, which is the rational and immortal soul. Peter is saying that they have the gift of a life together here on this earth and that the husbands need to respect that life as God-given. Peter tells husbands to dwell with their unbelieving wives in understanding, giving honor, value, and dignity to them, as unto the "weaker vessel." Weaker here is comparable to the usage of the word in 1 Corinthians 8:9 where Paul is discussing the spiritually weaker brethren and the care which the stronger brethren ought to give so as not to stumble them. Therefore, I believe Peter is referring not to the physical attributes of women but to the spiritual state of an unbelieving wife who is married to a believing husband. Therefore, the argument that an abused woman ought to stay in close quarters with an abusive mate, whether he be a Christian or not, is taking 1Peter 3:1 out of context. Peter is clearly talking about how interpersonal relationships can serve as contexts for great witnessing potential and he is not speaking of particularly dangerous situations in which the victim, by her very presence, lends a hand to sin.
Research has shown that submissive behavior of battered wives might in itself provoke more violence. Many traditionalist Christians teach that the primary responsibility for a good marriage relationship lies with the wife and her submissiveness to her husband. Christian pastors often promise that God will take care of women who thus submit if there is any abuse, that God will honor their obedience. But the experiences of battered women are in sharp contrast to these misguided promises and erroneous assumptions about God and His Word. Traditionalist, fundamentalist Christians who adhere to these teachings truly need to reexamine the words of Jesus regarding authority and the exercise of power. In Mark 10:22-42 Jesus looks at the preconceived notions of male power and dominance and then He counters with: "Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all." Paul, likewise, combats the patria potestas or absolute male power philosophy of the ancient Gentiles with his insistence that Christian men, having agape love through his identification and relationship with Jesus, are motivated to freely sacrifice themselves for the sakes of their wives. James Alsdurf and Phyllis Alsdurf sum up this dynamic succinctly in their inspired work, Battered Into Submission (1989 InterVarsity Press): "To stress wifely submission in a vacuum devoid of husbandly love can result in a disregard for a woman's report of violence and place the woman and her children in great physical danger. Ultimately, it can perpetuate the cycle of violence. When the painful circumstances of battered women are ignored in order to elevate a legalistic standard, it produces people unable to 'rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn' (Romans 12:15)" Studies also indicate that this traditional view may be one of the factors involved in creating an environment for abuse. The rate of wife beating in couples where the husband dominated was found in a study by sociologist Kersti Yllo to be 300 percent greater than for egalitarian couples. The conclusion of the analysis was "regardless of context, violence against wives is lower among couples where there is a relative equality in decision-making...In general, domination of decision making by husbands is associated with the highest levels of violence against wives." Other studies have found similar results, the majority of battering of wives occurs in homes where the husband holds the reins of power. Critics might argue that these studies merely indicate that we are prone to our fallen flesh, and that God's word couldn't be at fault. I would agree that God's Word is not at fault, but that we have not taken advantage of the whole counsel of Scripture, and that we have traditionally favored certain verses over others, especially where male power and headship is reinforced. I believe strongly that the fault lies in us, not in the Scriptures, and a thorough and balanced reading with as few preconceived notions and biases as humanly possible will render a different result, a more egalitarian and just result where power is more equally distributed and shared mutually among members of the church and between husbands and wives.
The Bible speaks loudly and clearly on the subject of abuse and its root causes. It also speaks of God's heart concerning the abused. Psalm 9:9 says, "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." The Lord is compassionate and merciful and leans toward those who have no help but Him. He desires to be a refuge, a safe place, for those who find themselves broken, crushed, and taken apart piece by piece. God severely speaks against those who abuse their power and who use it selfishly and to hurt others. He never advises anyone to participate in that abuse. In fact, He goes farther and tells us to intervene, to "hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death" (Psalm 102:20) The Bible also bears strong words about what God will do to the abuser, the oppressors who wield their power in a harmful and unworthy manner: Psalm 72:43 says, "He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor" and Proverbs 14:31 states, "He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor." Interestingly, in that verse, the word used for poor doesn't indicate financial circumstances but instead speaks of dangling, being weak or thin and comes from a word meaning to be oppressed. Abuse incites God's anger like nothing else and gives Him cause for wrath. Psalm 12:5 says, "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him." And may it be so, for every woman and her children suffering under the yoke of domestic oppression and family violence that this blessing of Scripture be given unto her:
In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. ~Isaiah 54:14
And so it may be necessary for an abused woman to file for and secure a divorce from her abusive husband. In doing so, she is participating not in sin but in breaking the yoke of bondage and oppression upon herself and her children. In fact, to stay and remain a victim of the abuser's violence would be a kind of participation in his sin, if only by remaining his victim. Ultimately, the decision remains with the abused woman and it is one that should be free from judgment from those she needs to support her in her stance against oppression - her church community.
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Wings has many good resources for someone that is suffering oppression at home from domestic violence. Emotional abuse and Verbal abuse are also oppressive, and people tend to mininze them. Look to James 3, and tell me if you think God agrees!
Divorce, Domestic Violence and the church, emotional abuse, emotional abuse within a marriage, protection from abuse, repentance, sacrifice, verbal abuse, Violence against Women, Wife abuse
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