A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce is dangerous for abuse victims

The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage suggests that only physical violence is grounds for divorce. And it assumes that marriage problems are mutually caused so both parties are partly at fault if the marriage is in difficulties.

What’s more, although the Position Paper — which came out in 1992 — says that an abused spouse can divorce for physical abuse, the Paper’s guidance is not binding on PCA churches in America. Churches do not have to follow the Paper’s guidance if they don’t want to.

  • A PCA church can tell abuse victims that they have no grounds to divorce their abusers, even if the abuser uses severe or habitual physical violence.
  • A PCA Church can excommunicate abuse victims for divorcing abusers.
  • And no-one in the PCA will hold that church accountable for its cruelty to the victim.

We know that PCA churches are often excommunicating abuse victims for divorcing their abusers, because we hear the reports from the victims. Jessica Fore’s story is one example. We’ve heard too many reports of PCA churches mistreating and disciplining victims of domestic abuse to discount this kind of thing a rare aberration in the PCA. A woman who wants to be known as ‘DB’ said recently:

My cousin is in ministry with the PCA. He and his wife are currently getting degrees in counseling. They are currently counseling over a dozen abuse survivors who were further abused by the church. Please pray that they will be able to influence others to come together and change the policies and understanding that govern domestic violence and spiritual abuse.

I am not giving the link to where DB said that, to protect her and her extended family. Another person responded to DB’s comment:

Yeah that doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’ve heard from other counselors that say the PCA keeps them in business.

We don’t want to give them impression that all PCA churches are mistreating abuse victims. We have at least one longtime commenter on this blog who attends a PCA church which disciplines abusive husbands and proactively supports women in their decision to divorce abusive men.

We’ve heard that the Position Paper isn’t followed in many PCA churches. We’ve heard that some PCA pastors are not even aware of the Paper, which suggests PCA seminaries and media are not putting much effort into telling their students and pastors about the Paper. And we know of at least one PCA church which selectively cherry picked sentences from the Position Paper in order to condemn her for separating from her abuser — read a letter from a PCA church which did this.

Why is this PCA Position Paper dangerous for abuse victims?

The problems are in the section of the paper titled ‘Applying Paul’s Instruction About Desertion Today’ (Section II, paragraph E, subsection 4). That section states their position on abuse being grounds for divorce.

It assumes that marriage problems are always mutually caused and both parties are partly at fault

On p. 245 of the Paper, when advising elders who are dealing with a marriage in which divorce is on the cards, it says:

The elders must carefully approach the question of delving beneath the precipitating cause of the divorce to the underlying issues. The elders cannot allow themselves to be used by one spouse seeking the condemnation of the other’s sin, while refusing to acknowledge, in most cases, some responsibility for the crisis.

Elders who follow that teaching will refuse to wholeheartedly condemn the abuser and believe and support the victim. This means they will further oppress and hurt the victim. And in doing that, they will enable the abuser.

It suggests that only physical violence is grounds for divorce

It says ’emotional problems’ are not ground for divorce. It dismisses emotions as merely ‘inward and subjective’ experiences and ignores the fact that abusers emotionally abuse their victims with calculated forethought and intention to intimidate and confuse them. It never discusses how abusers can inflict great harm on their victims by using emotional abuse, verbal abuse, coercive control, financial abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, intimidation, micromanage the daily lives of victims, treat them like servants or slaves, and psychologically manipulate them by gaslighting them.

Here are excepts from the paper in which I have used red font to show how the Position Paper only consider physical violence to count as REAL abuse and only if it’s ‘serious’ or ‘habitual’ violence.

Are there other forms of separation today that may be considered equivalent to this leaving of the marriage of which Paul speaks? Specifically, what about cases of habitual physical abuse? Has that person deserted his spouse to the extent we may label it de facto divorce? We must be careful not to open the floodgate of excuses. On the other hand, we need to recognize the reality of the separation. We should allow Sessions the liberty to discern with much prayer what would be the proper response in particular circumstance. … 

What is more, a husband’s violence, particularly to the degree that it endangers his wife’s safety, if unremedied, seems to us, by any application of Biblical norms, to be as much a ruination of the marriage in fact as adultery or actual departure. This is so precisely because his violence separates them, either by her forced withdrawal from the home or by the profound cleavage between them which the violence produces, as surely as would his own departure, and is thus an expression of his unwillingness ―to consent to live with her in marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-13; Eph. 5:28-29). Further, insofar as the passivity of the blameless spouse is an important prerequisite in Paul‘s permission of the dissolution of marriage on account of desertion, it seems right to note that in the case of physical abuse, for example, the blameless spouse is similarly victimized. 

Finally, credible alternatives to this point-of-view seem to us to be wholly lacking Scriptural support. It is all very well to recommend separation as a temporal expedient to protect a battered wife, but perpetual separation amounts to a Roman Catholic doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage and could scarcely be justified as a Biblical alternative to divorce.

Indeed, separation of any kind as a means of dealing with marital difficulty and preventing divorce not only is neither recommended nor mentioned in Scripture, but seems to be contrary to a fundamental principle of Biblical spirituality, viz. that what ought not to be done, ought not to be approached.

We are quick to add, however, that the list of sins tantamount to desertion cannot be very long. To qualify, a sin must have the same extreme effect as someone‘s physical abandonment of his spouse. Both porneia and desertion are objective acts by which a marital covenant might be broken. The Bible gives no justification for divorce based on merely inward, emotional, and subjective reasons. Even if we find justification for interpreting porneia and desertion in a broader sense than some have, they must be broadened only within the boundaries of serious objective acts of sexual immorality or desertion. They must not be interpreted in any way that opens the floodgates to divorces based on subjective reasons, such as irreconcilable differences, emotional separation, loss of affection, or the like. There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for His people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. Emotional problems in and of themselves are not Biblical grounds for divorce. And the elders of Christ’s Church must not surrender to worldly pressures and allow that which God does not allow.

David Clyde Jones suggested that the divorce paragraph in the Westminster Confession be revised

The PCA  in America supposedly adheres 100% to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). Every PCA minister and elder has to vow at his ordination that he believes the WCF and will uphold it.  The Westminster Confession was written in the seventeenth century. There is no good reason why it could not be revised by the church today and the modified version be used as the benchmark for the PCA  and any other Reformed denominations which wanted to use it. In fact, R Scott Clark who is highly respected in Reformed circles suggested recently (here) that we need a new confession, because there are different issues today which the old confessions do not adequately address.

Professor David Clyde Jones who taught Biblical Ethics at Covenant Seminary suggested¹ that paragraph 24.6 of the Confession ought to be be reworded as follows:

Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage, yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion repudiation of the marriage covenant as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.

My message to church leaders who are reading this post

If you think only physical violence counts as ‘real’ abuse, please read our definitions in the sidebar of this blog. And because I know most pastors are time poor, I’ll make it easy for you by pasting them here:

The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.

The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.

* Sometimes the genders are reversed. See ‘male survivors’ in the Tags tab in our top menu.

And for leaders who want to learn how better to respond to domestic abuse, we’ve created a special page on this blog: As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?

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¹  “The Westminster Confession on Divorce and Remarriage” by David Clyde Jones, Presbyterion XVI, 1 (Spring 1990), p 28.  [ https://www.academia.edu/ may have a link to that article but their website was not working when I wrote this post.]  Dr Jones submitted his article to the Eighteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America as part of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage; see p 214 n. 67  of the PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce & Remarriage. The PCA committee chose to not agree with Dr Jones’s suggestion of a change in the wording of the WCF. And they didn’t even mention his suggestion in their Position Paper.

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Related posts

Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt believe that abuse is grounds for divorce

Abuse in a PCA church: Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story  (part 1 of a 7 part series)

Jessica Fore (Abuse Survivor) Charged by her PCA Church with Contempt – She is Telling the World — the church is Faith Presbyterian Church Watkinsville Georgia, USA.

One of the Worst Letters We Have Seen From a Pastor to an Abuse Victim  — this letter came from a PCA church

When Christians only partly get it right about abuse and divorce  — this critiques an article about divorce by Dr Michael (Mike) Ross who at that time was the senior pastor of Christ Covenant PCA church, Matthews, North Carolina.

Ps Mike Ross, Christ Covenant Church NC — Why Hasn’t He Answered Jeff Crippen?

Abuse and Divorce: A Disagreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith by Ps Jeff Crippen

You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse

Debi Pearl’s “Created to be his help meet” — a review by Avid Reader

This book goes way off the deep end in craziness but the root problem is that Michael and Debi Pearl are violating God’s law of sowing and reaping. (Galatians 6:7-8) They want one spouse to sow to the flesh without reaping any consequences because they won’t allow the other spouse to set any boundaries.

[The ACFJ team encourages readers to click here to vote on this review at Amazon where it was originally published.]

Debi Pearl writes, 

Never demand a man love and cherish you because he ought to. (p. 31)

Your husband will be selfish, he will be unkind….not respect your rights…foolish….cruel….actually walk in sin…… (p. 55)

In most marriages the strife is not because the man is cruel or evil; it is because he expects obedience, honor and reverence and is not getting it. Thus he reacts badly.”(p. 79)

If some worthless men had wives who were more ______, you fill in the blank, they would not be so worthless. (p. 278)

The further you read in this book the more you find real hatred for women. Debi is so focused on blaming women that she will contradict herself in the process. Then she turns around and tries to portray God as an abusive father!

Reflecting God’s nature

Debi writes,

There are basically three types of men. The different types are just as marked in one year olds as they are in adult men. It seems that God made each male to express one side of his triad nature.”(p. 75)

Wait a minute. There’s only ONE man who reflects God—Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:3) But Debi claims that these three types reflect God’s nature: Mr. Command man, Mr. Visionary and Mr. Steady.

Mr. Command is actually the type of abuser known as the Drill Sergeant. Listen closely to Debi’s words.

Command men…..are known for expecting their wives to wait on them hand and foot…..She is on call every minute of her day. Her man wants to know where she is, what she is doing and why she is doing it. He corrects her without thought. For better or for worse it is his nature to control…… A woman married to a Command Man wears a heavier yoke than most women but it can be a very rewarding yoke….her walk….is easier because there is never any possibility of her being in control…. Command men have less tolerance so they will often walk off and leave their clamoring wife before she has a chance to realize that she is even close to losing her marriage… The Command man feels it is his duty and responsibility to lead people and he does whether…they want him to or not. (p. 77-78)

That’s supposed to reflect God’s nature? This is so far from the heart of God. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He doesn’t kick the door down. Plus, Jesus NEVER leaves us.

Now would Mr. Command ever allow another man to walk in and take control of his life? Of course not. That’s the double standard. He feels entitled to usurping authority over whole groups of people but would never allow another man to control him. Yet the irony is that Mr. Command is NOT controlling the only thing that God actually commands him to control — himself! SELF-CONTROL is God’s will for our lives not letting Mr. Command do whatever he pleases, trampling on everyone else’s boundaries.

Then there’s the other two types. Debi describes Mr. Steady as a loyal husband who works hard and takes care of his family. On the other hand, Mr. Visionary is lazy, refuses to work, and hops around the country, chasing empty frivolous things. Exactly what the Bible warned us NOT to do. (Prov 12:11)

Debi describes him as so irresponsible that “if our husbands are visionaries they will yell and make our life miserable until we run back to mama and end up sleeping in a cold bed and living on food stamps.” (p. 97)

“They are often the church splitters….they can be real jerks who push their agendas, forcing others to go their way.” (p. 80-81)

Why is Debi totally fine with allowing this guy to disobey God’s command “to settle down” and work to earn his own living? (2Thes 3:12) Meanwhile, Debi won’t allow the wife to work outside the home so this guy is allowed to destroy the family’s finances, while the wife is supposed to watch helplessly! And then Debi shifts the burden of responsibility to God, saying that God will clean up all the messes that this guy is creating. The irony is that while God will hold this guy accountable for his sin, Debi won’t.

This whole book revolves around the sin of showing partiality (James 2:9) by consistently making excuses for the willful sin of one spouse while blaming the other spouse for everything. On page 207, Debi blames Bathsheba for David’s sins but never holds David himself accountable when she says that Bathsheba’s “lack of discretion cost her husband his life.” (p. 207)

No! David murdered her husband. Then God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David not her. Even when David repented, he took full responsibility for his sins without ever blaming her.

Throughout this book, Debi Pearl twists Scripture to fit her opinion then rejects actual verses that she doesn’t like. For example, she slams women for working outside the home but won’t accept how God raised up Deborah to judge the entire nation of Israel. And she ignores where the Apostle Paul actually commends women for laboring with him in Phillippians 4:3 (also see Romans 16:1-2).

Meanwhile, Debi keeps disregarding God’s commands to keep her tradition when she writes, “Women are simply deceived.” (p. 111)

The Bible says that women “have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor 2:16) All the “treasures of wisdom” are in Christ who dwells in us. (Colossians 2:3 & 1:27)

Debi: “It is NOT God’s will for your husband to reverence you.” (p. 137)

God commands husband to reverence their wives in 1Peter 3:7 and warns that their prayers will be hindered if they don’t!

Debi: “You were created to make (your husband) complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.” (p. 21)

God says, “The desire of the righteous is granted.” (Proverbs 10:24) “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4)

Debi: “Dominance and control are always masculine characteristics.” (p. 115)

No! God commands women “to be self-controlled.” Titus 2:5(NET)

Debi: “A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.” (p. 50)

Nope! Since there’s no law of God against self-control (Galatians 5:23), Debi doesn’t get to make up rules that take away our ability to make our own personal choices. You can’t function in self-control if someone else is making all your decisions. Jesus commanded us not to allow anyone to take away our ability to say “yes” and “no,” warning us that “anything else comes from the devil.” Matthew 5:37(CEV). Yet page after page of this book tries to eliminate people’s ability to say “no” in their own lives. And this book doesn’t even try to hide the vileness of teaching people to submit to abuse.

Listen to what Debi’s husband, Michael Pearl, writes,

Wives…are not prone to be balanced or wise.

A husband has authority to tell his wife what to wear, where to go, whom to talk to, how to spend her time, when to speak and when not to, even if he is unreasonable and insensitive. (p. 260-261)

That violates God’s command in 1Cor 7:23b(NET) “Do NOT become slaves of men.” Yet Michael actually likens wives to slaves when he writes,

Many women disobey their husbands on grounds that they are obeying God instead. (p. 259)

The wife is to obey her husband in all things. (p. 261)

The servant is not given the option of deciding that the master is not acting within the will of God and therefore should not be obeyed. It is acceptable with God—God’s will—for the underling to suffer wrongfully and take it patiently. You will surely wonder, ‘Why is it the will of God for the underling to suffer at the hands of an unjust and perverse authority?’

Two reasons are obvious….First the chain of authority must remain intact, even to the point of allowing some abuse. The other reason is….lady, you were created to give glory to God. When God puts you in subjection to a man whom he knows is going to cause you to suffer, it is with the understanding that you are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering. And when you suffer wrongfully, as unto the Lord, you bring great glory to God. (p. 262-263)

Did God tell the Israelites to submit harder to Pharaoh’s abuse because the chain of authority can’t be broken? NO! Here’s what God actually told Moses,

I have seen the troubles my people have suffered in Egypt, and I have heard their cries when the Egyptians hurt them. I know about their pain. Now I will go down and save my people from the Egyptians. I will take them from that land and lead them to a good land where they can be free from these troubles. It is a land filled with many good things. Exodus 3:7-8a (ERV)

That’s the heart of God which this book totally misses. Jesus said it best, “Get behind me, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord thy God, and HIM ONLY shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8) Yet this book keeps trying to usurp God’s authority. Debi says,

When you obey your husband you obey God. (p. 22)

Like Eve we imagine that we can disobey……God’s Word and our husband’s word.
(p. 129)

Right there Debi just tried to seat man on God’s throne — the devil tried that and got kicked out of Heaven. This is pure idolatry — trying to put man’s words in God’s mouth which Jesus warned us about in Matthew 15:9.

The Bible distinguishes between obeying God and obeying man. (Acts 5:29) Consider Romans 13, which tells us to submit to civil authority because “the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God.” Romans 16:2 (NET) Resists the “ordinance” NOT God Himself because civil authority is not the same thing as God Himself. Remember when King Herod tried to stand in the place of God, he was immediately struck down. (Acts 12:22-23)

Debi Pearl is actually teaching the same twisted theology from the 1970’s Shepherding Movement that caused tremendous damage. The founder of the Shepherding Movement, Derek Prince wrote,

“Christ doesn’t rule in every area directly, in His own Person. He rules through delegated authority.”

Whenever God’s delegated authority touches our lives he requires us to acknowledge and submit to it just as we would to him in person….. Our attitude towards those whom God sets in delegated authority over us is….our attitude towards God.
(Discipleship, Shepherding, Commitment, p. 19-20)

It is the same thing that Debi Pearl teaches, when she says that “the degree to which you reverence your husband is the degree to which you reverence your Creator.” (p. 22)

Michael Pearl even uses the same terms from Shepherding, when he says, “In those areas where God has delegated someone to be in authority he has relinquished a certain amount of control to that authority—for better or for worse. God doesn’t micromanage all spheres of authority. He allows certain latitude for the authority to be wrong and still retain the office.” (p. 259)

When Saul became abusive, did God tell David to stay at the palace and pray for Saul to change? No! God repented of making Saul king and revoked his authority.

Meanwhile, this book continues teaching Shepherding theology. Michael Pearl writes, “The authority God gave to your husband is his alone and God will not interfere and take back to himself that power even if your husband abuses his powers…” (p. 260)

“As a divorcee, she maintains the image of the persecuted and abused victim but in many cases it was her standards that created the rift that led to divorce.” (p. 261)

Same thing taught by another founder of Shepherding, Bob Mumford:

Your higher power may not be doing it right according to your standards…..but there’s not a thing you can do about it but submit. (Problem of Doing Your Own Thing p. 67)

Too often we want our ministry directly from God. We want personal attention. We aren’t about to receive what we need through some delegated representative. (Problem p. 73)

I know of a church where the members took the stand that our pastor is right, even when he is wrong.”(Problem p. 85)

The error of Shepherding theology was:
1) Disregarding 1Timothy 2:5 by trying to put a mediator between you and God
2) Teaching idolatry by seating man on God’s throne
3) Disobeying Jesus by taking away the ability of people to say “yes” and “no”

Sound familiar? That is Debi’s book in a nutshell.

Boundaries

To better understand how Debi tries to destroy personal boundaries let’s review what boundaries actually are. In the book, Boundaries In Marriage, Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend write,

Couples have a duty to set limits on each spouse’s destructive acts or attitudes. For example, if a husband has a gambling problem, his wife needs to set appropriate limits, such as canceling his credit cards, separating their joint accounts….to force him to take responsibility for his problem. (p. 43)

Another problem may occur when a wife stands up for the right thing, and her husband tells her she is not being submissive. She may confront her husband’s attitudes or addiction or lying or some other ungodly behavior and then she is called “unsubmissive. (p. 245)

What submission doesn’t mean is that a husband just tells a wife what to do……The idea of submission is never meant to allow someone to overstep another’s boundaries. Submission only has meaning in the context of boundaries for boundaries promote self-control and freedom. If a wife is not free and in control of herself she is not submitting anyway. She is a slave subject to a slave driver and she is out of the will of God. If a wife is being put under some law that says she is “bad” if she doesn’t submit to her husband’s cruelty and problems then she is not free at all. Likewise, if she is not free to say no without being deemed “bad,” then she is not free at all. A free person is the only one who can submit.
(p. 245-247)

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How can I help my children heal from abuse? — a new FAQ

How can I help my children heal from abuse? 

Recently we had a new commenter ask us for some guidelines/tips on practical healing for her children.  Since this is a commonly asked question Barbara collected helpful posts and created an FAQ page.  We encourage you to check it out.

All of our FAQ pages are worth checking out, especially if you are relatively new to our blog.  You can find them by clicking on FAQ in the top menu.

Dealing With Pharisees and Their Spiritual Abuse – by IamMyBeloved’s

Having been sorely abused and in the end excommunicated by church leaders after she called on them for help because her husband was abusing her, this lady speaks from experience. Many thanks to IamMyBeloved’s for writing this post. 

This is a topic that is coming into play all too often among abuse victims as they try to get help and escape domestic abuse. As we all know, the Church can be a great source of help, if she understands and is educated in abuse. AND if she is truly Christ’s church and not a counterfeit. But, all too often we fall prey to a ‘c’hurch body that desires power and control over victims of abuse, failing to give what Christ really requires, “mercy, not sacrifice”. Instead, Pharisees desire to be right and they seek control through legalistic demands.

Marriage in God’s eyes is made clear from Scripture. But when a marriage is only on paper, having been destroyed by unrepentant, habitual violation of the marriage covenant vows, I highly doubt that it exists in God’s eyes. When the covenant is broken in a marriage, there is only one way to restore that covenant. That happens through true repentance and a restoring of the marriage covenant. When people say that you are still married “on paper”, they are dealing law out to you.

God sees the heart of man and makes His determinations about us, based on that. If you remember, certificates of divorce were to be given, but that was still under Law. According to civil law today, we are still “legally” married, until that paper is signed by a judge, granting the dissolving of the legal marriage. In God’s eyes however, it is my conclusion that once the covenant in a marriage is broken, the marriage is over. We still do the paperwork, just as God did with Israel, but His marriage to Israel was over before He gave them the Certificate of Divorce. That was the Law. So, remember that when dealing with church leadership who refuses to believe the marriage between an abuser and his victim is over. Do the paperwork and be free.

As a joyful survivor of spiritual abuse, I can speak to this topic and give information as to how to deal with this problem area. It is pretty simple. When leaders in the local body abuse their authority, they are truly left with no authority to speak on behalf of God or to give counsel to the body. They have placed themselves in the position of God Himself, but misrepresent Him, and are no longer able to be useful to anyone, including victims of abuse.

The term “local body” is important, because most of these type of ‘c’hurches try to make us believe they are the only Church, that only they rightly interpret God’s Word and that they are the only true Church. But they are only a local Church body, not the entire body of Christ. As Christians, we are part of the entire body of Christ. No one can say we have entered the body or demand we leave, or excommunicate us from the body of Christ, except Christ. In Romans, we are told that Christ is the only One Who could bring an accusation against us, and if we are truly in Him, it will never happen—no matter what. Why? Because it is His work to keep us and cause us to arrive safely home to be with Him forever. Nothing we do here on earth, can keep us from the love of Christ, once we are truly in Him. It is His blood sacrifice that we have received, in place of our own works, to cover over and pay for all our sin, that brings us into Salvation. Nothing we do can earn it for us. We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Not knowing what to do in a situation and then perhaps making the wrong decision, does not affect our Salvation. It appears to me, that the majority of these problems stem from local bodies that do not really know or understand the Gospel. Marriage and divorce are not determining factors for Salvation.

Jesus said He came to die for the “sin of the world”. Notice that. “sin”, not “sins”. The sin of this world, is making ourselves God and living our lives as such. That is what Christ died for. The original sin in the garden—I will be as God! Now just look at how these false leaders dole out spiritual abuse against God’s people, especially the oppressed. Isn’t this exactly what they are doing? They seem to say, “We are God and unless you do as we say, you are not going to be called a Christian!” There it is right there. They have made themselves God in your life and the safest thing for any of us to do at that point, is to run from them and never look back. We are called to submit ourselves, so their job will be easy and their judgment and accountability go smoothly for them, but we are never called to submit to leadership that is abusively and wrongly applying the Word of God and preaching a false Gospel. Never!

When church leadership begins a process of trials and excommunication for a victim who is leaving an abuser and trying to protect herself and her children, it is nothing less than spiritual abuse. Christ’s model of leadership is to for His under-shepherds to place themselves beneath those who are in their care, in order to uplift and lead, not oppress and drive. When leadership in a local body begins to run roughshod over the congregants, they are in immense error biblically and it is actually our job to expose them and make them accountable for their sins against us.

It needs to be understood that no one on earth holds power over us to demand we behave a certain way or do certain things in order to keep our Christianity. There is only One Who keeps us and that is Christ. Yes, we are to follow His Word and commands, but our salvation alone belongs to the One who gave it to us, Christ. We are only kept by faith in His atoning blood shed for us, not in our works, our wrong choices or our marriage vows and whether those are kept according to another one’s opinions on marriage when those views are not faithful to the whole counsel of God. These false leaders make marriage a god and a hill we either live or die on. They make it into a work that determines our salvation, but that is clearly a lie and a false gospel.

Having gone through trial and excommunication myself, my advice is based on hindsight and what I should have done, not necessarily what I did. Anyone who is placed under such abusive power and control, already being in abuse fog, typically responds with at least some amount of fear. That was my case. I wrongly believed that these abusive men held some sort of power and decision over whether I was in fact a Christian or not. But the truth is, that only belongs to God and Christ, and no one else.

My advice to anyone facing this kind of spiritual abuse is to, in a word, run. Do not look back. When they send you things in the mail, don’t accept them. When they contact you in anyway, don’t answer or read it. Throw it all in the trash and move on. They hold no power over you, in any way.

Now to some that may sound like rebellion, but in rightly reading and interpreting the Word, it is the right thing to do. It is evil and needs to be shunned. Spiritual abuse has long and lasting effects on people, if it is not dealt with rightly.

In my case, my new Church told me not to answer them, read anything from them and throw anything I did receive from them, in the trash. I wish I had listened, but in my fear, I decided to go over to the “reading of the charges” against me and enter my plea. Ha! What a joke. This alone is unbiblical and spoken of only in Scripture, as men lording power over others. If you remember, the counsel and courts in Scripture in Acts, are persecuting the true Christians! That is where denominations pull their ability to form Courts and put the sheep on trial within the local body comes from and it is being wrongly interpreted by those denominations. If they held the truth, they would see how wrong it is to try to have that kind of power and control over the sheep. It is nonsense and actually just proves that we are in a local body that is in error in its interpretation and application of Scripture.

In the end, I was excommunicated. Even though emotionally it affected me, it was not for long. Why? Because God showed me they held no power and in the end, that Church fell apart and split and became their own enemies. The man and his wife who did that to me, no longer pastor, anywhere. They are no longer famous, except for their abuse. Perhaps God will use it to bring them to the Truth. God has a way of dealing with these spiritual abusers and our job is just to flee them and their false power, as well as the false Gospel they try to teach.

A true shepherd loves the sheep and does not lord anything over them. He attempts to correct within his authority, in love and with protection for the sheep. I was blessed to have Jeff and a new leadership that eventually saw through the abuse and in the end told me I was right in divorcing my abuser. They gave me sound and biblical counsel as to how to deal with the previous pastor and his abuse of me. They told me he would excommunicate me because he craved power over the sheep. He was indeed, a false shepherd. A wolf.

If you are in the position that I was in, you need to realize that biblically, you do not owe abusive, erring leaders, anything. Nothing. You owe it to yourself and to them, to flee and ignore whatever abuse they may do to you. Who cares if they excommunicate you? They cannot take you from the love of God, ever. They do not decide if you are a Christian or not. They have no power to do that. It is only Christ Who decides that and if you are in Him, it has already been decided and Jesus Christ will not turn against you or turn on you.

Turn and run, don’t walk, and don’t stop until you find a sound local body who will support and love you and help you heal. Then, never look back except to remember there are wolves among us and their job is to devour you, but God has rescued you from their hand.

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Up to 1/3 of relationships that end fatally have no history of violence

As there were no bruises, she never felt it was something she could take to the police. She left the family home following a breakdown in the couple’s marriage. A few days later, her abusive husband shot and killed her and their daughter outside the local swimming pool. Then he turned the weapon on himself. Here’s the full BBC News story:  Spalding shooting: Sons denounce killer father as terrorist.

Up to 1/3 of relationships that end fatally have no history of violence. Which is why calling your domestic violence hotline is critical.  

The Hungarian Christians of 1562 Had More Sense than the No-Divorce-for-Abuse Preachers Today

Does an abuser disturb the conscience of his victim? Does the abuser live in a constantly unquiet, peace-destroying manner?

Recently Barbara sent me a four volume set compiled by James T. Dennison, Jr. entitled Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. I have been skimming through them to see what they had to say about marriage, divorce, and possibly domestic abuse. And what I am finding is that anyone who claims that THE true and obvious Christian doctrine on these subjects allows for no divorce for any reason, or no divorce for abuse, is, well, just plain ignorant of church history. The fact is that some Christian churches and believers who have gone before us DID allow divorce and they allowed it for abuse. [Actually most Christians have at least allowed for divorce in cases of adultery or desertion].

Let me show you two paragraphs from the Hungarian Confession of Faith, 1562 —

Fourth: [reason for divorce], the cause of religion, i.e., when one of two unbelieving partners is converted and the other remains an unbeliever. If the unbeliever is unwilling to remain with the believer, let him go away. Or if the unbeliever persecutes the believer for his faith, disturbs his conscience, and is constantly unquiet. In such cases, a brother or sister is not under bondage because the Lord has called us to peace (1 Cor 7:15). Let either the believer or the unbeliever go their way for the sake of peace and conscience.

There! And what is abuse if it is not the persecution of a wicked, unsaved spouse persecuting the believing spouse for their faith? Does an abuser disturb the conscience of his victim? Does the abuser live in a constantly unquiet, peace-destroying manner? YES! And yet in our day people like John Piper and others insist that their teaching is the only teaching, that theirs is binding, that theirs is the Word of the Lord which everyone is bound to obey or else be guilty of sin before God and put out of Christ’s church. What arrogance!

And that is not all that the Hungarian reformers had to say about this —

Sixth: [reason for divorce], the case of assault and homicide, i.e., when the one partner seeks to kill the other. Let the attacker be punished for his homicidal intention; let the innocent party [divorce] and marry in the Lord.

We have written more than one post and also included in our books that abusers are murderers. Abuse slowly but surely kills. It destroys one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. The abuser is a reviler who, even if he never uses his fists, assaults his victim regularly. The Hungarian church of so many centuries ago recognized this and gave instruction that the abuser be punished. Yet today most churches not only refuse to punish the abuser, but they embrace him as a fellow Christian and the punishment most often goes to the victim. Do you realize that the absolute ‘no divorce for any reason’ position (like Piper’s) actually requires remaining married to a murderous spouse. You say your husband shot you and you nearly died? Well, he’s still your husband!! That is the cruel insanity these guys are trying to bind us with.

Here is one more paragraph from this confession that I find very interesting and refreshing. It concerns the authority of ministers —

And this we understand to be the legitimate vocation [calling] to the ministry, and not teaching a gospel other than what the Lord taught and commanded that it might be preached to all the peoples (Gal 2), not tyrannically lording it over the consciences of those before whom they serve  (Luke 22; 2 Cor 1; 1 Peter 5), because they are the kingdom and inheritance of the Lord (2 Cor 4).

See it? This confession maintains that pastors and elders and local churches have no right to “lord it” over the consciences of believers. [Actually most of the reformed confessions have a very similar clause in them]. Lording it over simply means commanding and ruling over someone as if you were their king. Not so said the Hungarian church. Ministers do not have authority over the consciences of the flock. Their authority only comes from the gospel, from the Word they are commissioned to preach, and they are not to go beyond that. I maintain, and I suspect the Hungarian Christians would have agreed with me, that when church leaders forbid an abuse victim from divorcing their abuser, they are in fact lording it over that victim, exercising an authority that Christ has not given them, and thus guilty of abusing Christ’s sheep for which they will one day have to give Him account.

Today, church leaders and Christian authors often teach as if their take on marriage, divorce, and remarriage is “gospel,” the only true doctrine to be found in Scripture. And yet they seem to be oblivious to the fact that it is not at all difficult to find examples in the history of the church of Christ’s people who taught otherwise. In their arrogance and ignorance they demand that the flock obey them even though conscience, the leading of the Spirit, and common sense dictate another course.

Christian, you are free to divorce an abuser. And you are free to remarry, in the Lord.

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Further Reading

Our FAQ page What About Divorce? 

Murderous Words From a Smiling Mouth: A Common Abuser Tactic

The Spirit of the Abuser is the Same as a Mass Murderer

The Abuser as Kidnapper and Slave Master

Abusers Want their Victim to Die

Spiritual Abuse and the Church: Can a Church Bind Our Conscience?