IMO the church is so afraid of advocating divorce that they miss the mark when it comes to victims of domestic violence.
If the church in general would take the time to look at some of the Scriptures I (and others) have repeatedly brought up in this forum concerning divorce instead of going on their traditions and misinterpretations and ASSUMING they are correct, maybe we'd see a change in the way churches treat domestic violence.
Below is a four page reference document I put together for the church where I used to go, a few copies of which I have left on their book table a couple years ago (which reminds me, I should go put some more there and let them yell at me if they want but at least maybe someone will read it and take it seriously).
(The formatting doesn't come out right in here. I made the original in MS Word. Does anyone know if there is a way to attach an MS Word document on here, or a way to set one up on the internet so I can link to it? I'd like to make this available in case anyone else wants to print this out and share it with local churches.)
Any man who brings violence and abuse into his family life is putting asunder the marriage covenant that God has blessed. The violence is what breaks up the marriage, and the one responsible for that violence is the one responsible for the breakup. The actual divorce is in fact only the public acknowledgment of the private truth that a marriage has been long since destroyed by abuse.
As Christians, we consider marriage to be a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. In this covenant they bind themselves exclusively to each other in love. This love is a gift from God, and expression of this love glorifies God in a very special way. Love is not expressed, and God is not glorified when one or both partners become abusive. Often the church disapproves of divorce because it breaks the covenant. Yet, look at Jeremiah. God did not break the covenant, but considered it broken because of the unfaithfulness of the Chosen People. When one partner violates the other, they have in that moment broken the marriage covenant. When we as the church attempt to shame the victim and hold them to a covenant, which has already been broken, in a sense we violate them again.
Matthew 5:32 contains an exception clause, "saving for the cause of fornication." In Ezra 9 and 10 there is a Bible example of the exception clause in action. It will be studied in detail later in this course.
If a couple is living together in a relationship that God does not recognize as a marriage in the first place, then, because there is no lawful marriage, there can be no lawful divorce, only a putting away. (A separation) So to paraphrase again Matthew 5:32; "The Law says that a lawful divorce (of married people) requires both a putting away and bill of divorcement. But, if they are living together without a lawfully-binding marriage contract for a bill of divorce to void, then the solution is simply a putting away. (As in Ezra 9-10)
QUESTION: Sometimes he is so nice and charming. He goes to church a lot, and everyone there thinks he is wonderful. They just don't know the side that I see at home. Which one is really him?
ANSWER: It is not uncommon for battered women to describe their partners in these terms. There do seem to be two sides to his behavior. His public image is often charming, wonderful, courteous, active at church or in the community; yet, your experience with him is very different. You see his abusive, angry, controlling, manipulative side at home.
If your partner has truly repented and been converted, has genuinely turned to God, then he should perform acts worthy of his repentance; wait for him to no longer be abusive and controlling to anyone. If his conversion is not genuine, if he is only using this as a way to manipulate you or the legal system or his counselor, then you do not have any obligation to respond to him... In other words, there are some persons who are abusive and hateful to others and yet who put on the facade of religion to cover up their true selves. God knows these persons and knows what is really in their hearts. God does not expect us to be gullible and to accept their religiosity at face value. If their actions in private are not consistent, if they are abusive at home but at church are zealous converts, then they are presenting the "outward form of religion," but are denying its reality. Their conversion is a fraud. Do not be deceived by it.
In the story of Saul and David, we see that David did not do anything to provoke Saul. In fact, he repeatedly attempted to soothe, appease, use reason, and bargain in order to stop the violence. None of his efforts worked! Many victims of domestic violence find themselves in the same situation. They may spend years trying one thing after another to avoid the abuse and to please the abuser, with little success. It easy for such relationships to progress into a situation in which one person becomes a tyrant and the other experiences fearfulness, confusion, and low self-worth.
The issue becomes clearer when one realizes that domestic violence is not as much about what the victim does or doesn’t do, as it is about an abusive person’s desire to achieve and maintain power and control over another. It is a pattern of coercive, intimidating, or assaultive behavior aimed at controlling the victim through fear of harm or loss, humiliation, belittling, criticism, threats, abusive control and isolation, raging, withholding, physical or psychological assault, etc. While abuse may occur in any relationship, domestic violence is based on a systematic and repeated pattern of such behaviors with the intent of diminishing another person and maintaining control over them. Meeting an abuser’s demands usually does little to improve the situation, because the abuser relies on the abuse to maintain power and control. When one demand or condition is met, more may appear. The victim may come to feel a sense of futility and hopelessness about the situation, as well as feelings of being inadequate, unworthy, or defective.
The erroneous doctrine of forbidding one to marry after a divorce has been preached and taught in many churches. It has violated the conscience and hearts of those who’ve been divorced, driving them into a constant state of confusion and negatively impacting their lives. The only way for these people to come out of that confused state is to leave the church, and many have done just that. Not only do they leave the church to remarry, they also need to be able to make the right decision to divorce when it’s necessary in order to save themselves and their families before all is destroyed.
In order to understand that there IS marriage after divorce, we will examine the Scriptures in Matthew 19:3-12 focusing on the usage of the Greek word, apoluo. The Greek word apoluo that’s translated “divorce” or “to put away” is a general word. Its primary usage is: to “send” (apoluo) someone home when it’s getting late.
When two people are leaving each other there is a “separation.” Apoluo is a separation in general, which does not involve the “legal” aspect of a permanent separation like a divorce. The common usage is seen in the Scripture “When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. SEND (apoluo) the multitudes away, that they may go unto the villages and buy themselves food’” (Matthew 14:15). The Greek word apoluo doesn’t have a legal aspect to it. It’s just a common word that means, “I’m going to go” or, “away from, to separate.” Because of our wrong beliefs about divorce, this key word was purposely translated (incorrectly) so it would not conflict with our beliefs.
When used concerning a marriage it means a separation and NOT a divorce. If a spouse separates intending never to return, then the next step comes into play; the spouse obtains a “certificate of divorce.” This is what the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees (the religious lawyers of His day) was about in Matthew 19:3-12. The legal question was, “Do you just separate, OR do you separate AND give a certificate of divorce?” The Greek word used for divorce in these Scriptures means, to “send away” or separate from, NOT a finalized legal divorce.
How the Devil Used the Errors of the Marriage Covenant Being "Unconditional"
The devil was able to spin a web of lies and deceit which drove couples away from the original marriage covenant because of the errors taught by God's church. Of course the church did not decide to teach error; rather, the truth has been lost through time.
Let me explain. I believe that because the truths of marriage, divorce, remarriage, submission and covenant have been lost through time, it gave the devil a powerful opportunity to actually use the errors that are being taught as truth within the church to enslave many of God's people in bad marriages. His church, the very people of God, who have been given the awesome responsibility to uphold these truths have become the very taskmasters enslaving God's people by ignorantly upholding the devil's agenda.
Somewhere down through history well-intended translators of the Bible have adopted these errors as truth. I believe some were done purposely to fit their desires, but most were probably through ignorance. Because the famous Scripture of Malachi 2:16 has been translated and taught as "God hates divorce" instead of its real meaning of "God hates a separation (to marry another person without getting divorced first)," the devil was able to convince us that marriage covenants are unconditional. If he could get the church to believe that marriage covenants are unconditional, he could use the church itself as a prison camp to enslave God's people thereby disabling them from fulfilling the calling of God on their lives because of fear, guilt and shame. Sadly, He has accomplished his mission, to a great extent.
The devil was also able to tie together the wrong translation and teachings of "God hates divorce" to the church teaching that there are no valid claims in which one can divorce (because marriage is taught to be an unconditional covenant). This has propagated the message that the marriage vows (the conditions of the marriage covenant), are useless and invalid, thus binding the victim of the violation into an indissolvable relationship.
HOW TO BE HELPFUL TO THE CHRISTIAN BATTERED WOMAN... Particularly with Christian churches, there is a tendency to focus the discussion about wife abuse on the question of how to keep the family together at any cost. Hence, at times the well-intended advice of a pastor or church friend has discouraged the battered woman from leaving an abusive situation, in order to "keep the family together." Tragically, this advice does nothing to stop the abuse and may in fact endanger the battered woman and her children and ultimately destroy the family
HOW TO BE HELPFUL TO THE CHRISTIAN BATTERED WOMAN...
There are three goals that you should keep in mind as you respond to her.
1. Protect the victim (and children) from further abuse. This may mean calling the police to an emergency situation, referring the woman and her children to a shelter or safe home, or helping her to go out of state to stay with a relative. The point is that she needs immediate safety and we need to find a way to provide that as best we can.
2. Stop the abuser's violence. This may also mean calling the police to make an arrest, referring the abuser to a treatment program, or simply confronting him using our pastoral authority and telling him that his violence has to stop. We should not try to accomplish this alone. We need to call on the resources of the community to help him.
3. Restore the marriage and family if possible, or mourn its loss...
...It is possible that even when goals number 1 and 2 are accomplished, the marriage cannot be restored. The damage may be too severe for the woman to ever recover a sense of trust and safety. Or if the abuser refuses to repent and to seek help for his problems, there is no hope for restoration. In these cases, the only option is to mourn the loss of this relationship and deal openly and supportively with the reality of a broken marriage leading to divorce.
Excerpts from: “The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages” – a book by Amy Wildman White
Erica desperately wanted out of her marriage with Jack, but she could not connect her feelings of despair and an almost overpowering desire to escape with anything overtly destructive Jack was doing. Jack was a good father, had no problem with alcohol or drugs, did not chase other women, was a good provider, and had never harmed her physically. By contrast, Erica was aware of her own shortcomings as a wife and mother. She experienced guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and embarrassment over her inability to respond sexually to her husband.
Frequently, this is the presenting picture of a woman in an emotionally abusive marriage. In the absence of physical abuse, neither the woman nor the pastor she seeks out for help is likely to recognize that the emotional climate of the marriage is squeezing the life out of her.
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What is the prognosis for an abusive marriage and what options are open to a woman who is a victim? When a woman begins to recognize manipulation and control and finds the resources to grow toward increasing independence, the marriage is brought to a crisis point. Most likely when the woman is no longer able to be manipulated, the husband will escalate in his abusive patterns.
It may be extremely difficult for the wife to convey what she has experienced. The community will probably be unable to see past the charming ways of the husband. People will often respond in a scrutinizing or critical manner toward the wife or reject her altogether. Many may give the husband a supportive ear instead of holding him accountable. This behavior inadvertently encourages him to continue his abuse. Abusive men draw energy and self-justification from people who listen in silence. When the crowds disappear, the wife becomes the target of his increased anger.
With the escalation of abuse and/or the response of unsupportive friends, the wife may either sink back into a depressed, helpless state or move toward separation and divorce. At this point a husband may become desperate and be willing to work toward change because he knows he will no longer be able to sustain the marriage through control. If the husband is truly broken regarding his behavior, intensive individual and marital counseling are vital for the restoration of the marriage. Some men, however, refuse to change. If a man does refuse to change, what option remains for a woman who is the victim of emotional abuse? What about separation and divorce?
These questions can be answered properly by first understanding the biblical view of marriage. Marriage is, primarily, a covenant with God to love and honor one another, to participate in partnership and mutual submission. Submission is often greatly misunderstood.
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When abuse exists, and the abuser refuses to change his attitudes and behavior, he has in fact abandoned his wife. He has chosen to serve himself instead of carrying out his marital obligations to love, honor, and cherish her. When this occurs, the marriage covenant has been broken. He has in effect chosen divorce by defiantly neglecting his marriage vows, giving the woman the right to file a legal suit.
Unless pastors and counselors can recognize the often subtle and always complex dynamics of emotional abuse, women will continue to be victimized first by their husbands and then by the church or the community. An abusive man who is not held accountable is indirectly supported and given license to continue his destructive patterns, and those around him become enablers. Women are not treated with dignity and respect, as God intended, and so God is not honored.