Allowing For Divorce Is Not Enough
One of the big issues we are taking on here at ACFJ is those churches who disallow divorce in the case of abuse. Jeff C brings this up often and it remains his sticking point (rightly so) with many pastors and teachers. The notion of asking an abuse victim to remain bound to an abuser is such an abhorrent thought once you realize what abuse is and does to people; it’s impossible to reconcile the thought of forcing continued marriage to an abuser with any notion of a loving God. For those who are interested in the Biblical arguments, check out either Barbara Robert’s book “Not Under Bondage” or one of David Instone-Brewer’s books “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible” or “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church”. I think this is definitely a huge mistake the church is making in handling domestic abuse; however, I also think that correcting this doctrine is not going far enough.
Many pastors when confronted with abuse do everything they can to convince victims that the abuse a) does not exist, b) is not that bad, or c) is tolerable with the strength of the Lord. This is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen– rather than trying to convince a victim who has finally come out of “the fog” to go back in, pastors and the Christian community should be actively watching for and identifying those who are stuck in the fog of abuse, and waking them up. How different would that be if a pastor’s wife went up to a woman and said, “I noticed that you’ve seemed distant, especially when your husband is around. Have things always been like that?” How different if a victim was encouraged to come meet with the pastor and honestly evaluate the health of her marriage?
I do realize that we don’t want to go around trying to convince every married person that any painful thing going on in his or her marriage is abuse and entitles divorce; my guess is that many people are afraid of this. But I contend that they are afraid of it because they don’t think they can know what abuse looks like. They aren’t trained. But if we were trained; if we kept an eye out and said “Not on my watch!”, how much would that change things? I think the impact would be huge.
Abuse victims are master deceivers because they think they have to be in order to be healthy and accepted. And the people they deceive the most: themselves. They will lie to you straight to your face and tell you everything is fine, because it MUST be. They can hardly handle the idea that they are victims and their most intimate relationship is a source of pain. That creates the “fog” they live in that can take years to come out of, if they come out of it at all. By the time ANY victim is strong enough and awake enough to show up at your door asking for a divorce, Pastor, she’s already done the heavy lifting. She is not a problem to be solved. In fact, it’s LONG past time for you to be involved. She’s already done the work that you should have been doing beside her. Get on board and help her see it through– you can do that much.
So yes, I think allowing for divorce is a major issue, but that’s not far enough. Does it seem ghastly that a pastor would be the one to point out to an abused women that she’s a victim? It shouldn’t. I fear for some that thought is in fact unnatural, but if a pastor is someone who watches the sheep and cares for even one little lost lamb, then there is nothing more natural than identifying and helping a lamb in the fog of abuse.