A open letter to John Piper about his view on divorce
We are publishing this open letter to John Piper as part of our advocacy for victims of domestic abuse and all Christians who have become divorced because of their spouse’s grievous violation of the marriage covenant. The author wishes to remain anonymous but we (Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts) are very confident that the author’s experience is genuine. This is not a contrived letter. It’s a letter written from the raw heart of pain that Piper’s position on divorce causes to victims of domestic abuse.
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I want to address the effects of your “high view” of marriage. I believe your view is both unscriptural and not “high”. The former I believe has been fairly well explained by David Instone-Brewer, but it is the latter with which I am most concerned.
I will not claim that this is not a personal issue for me. I am divorced, and from that I can say that the “high view” of marriage is a low view of me. It is very difficult to sit here as a believer, someone with faith in Christ who has endeavored to follow and serve Him throughout my life, and know that influential teachers like yourself teach that my marriage was more important than my safety, health, and family (in which I include my son who had to feel the effects of my depressed, suicidal, and emotionally abusive wife). You should know the very real effects your public teaching on this subject has. You have been clear that you would support a continued marriage in which I found myself unable to function out of fear and and distress. Had I continued on that road, I have no doubt I’d have lost my job, my son, and probably even my life. I was at a point I could not continue to function – the person I loved and who knew me better than anyone else saw fit to control me through self-directed violence and I was helpless to stop it. You have no idea the toll that took on me, but what’s worse is that you don’t care. Your teaching very clearly states that I am to endure anyway, regardless of the circumstance and suffering.
In your response to David Instone-Brewer, you label his arguments for divorce for the reasons of extreme and unrepentant neglect a “tragedy”. Such a word choice belies understanding of what it is like to be in such a marriage. I understand your view that God offers no relief for a person in such a marriage (by “relief” I mean “divorce”, as any solution that involves a continued intimate marriage relationship to an abusing spouse I see as temporary at best, and therefore not real “relief”), but to label the idea that God would do so for an abused person a “tragedy” is truly disheartening. At the very least, a compassionate human being with the earnest belief that the Bible teaches no divorce in any circumstances should feel some amount of pain at denying divorce to an abused spouse. You are essentially condemning them to torture for the rest of their lives- at the least a compassionate human being would regret having to take such a stance.
I decided that I wanted to live and thrive, not remain abused and broken. The price has been high, as I have lost almost all of my friends, my church, and a huge chunk of my faith. I still believe in the Bible and that Jesus Christ is the only solution to my sin problem, however my ability to trust anyone in matters of faith is almost zero. It’s hard to trust people when there are those out there like yourself who teach such an un-compassionate view of marriage. Any Bible believing church I attend is going to have a high regard for your work, and that in turn leaves me feeling less than trusting, as when I think of you I think of all of the pain you were willing to call me to endure without any understanding at all of what it is like to be in my shoes. It’s hard for me to trust anyone who would hold you in high regard for that reason.
And yet, with all of the loss in my life, I am still FAR better off than I was in my marriage. I will take the loss of friends, church, and pieces of my faith if it means I get to live and not show my son a picture of marriage that approves of neglect and emotional abuse.
I disagree that your “high view” of marriage is “high” at all. In your view, marriage is boiled down to nothing more than commitment. Commitment is the only thing that defines a marriage. You can have marriage without love, affection, faithfulness, kindness, or any other positive quality. Not even our relationship with God measures up to this test – James is quite clear that true saving faith leads to more than just commitment – it is lived out in action. But a marriage, according to you, requires no action to BE a marriage: it only requires commitment. I reject this; a marriage in which one party sees fit to abuse and cause constant unrepentant harm to the other is not a marriage – it is dead.
You lament that divorce is the easy way out; in this you paint with a broad brush. I did everything I knew to save my marriage, I worked as hard as I knew, prayed relentlessly, and had faith that God would give me the strength to endure. He didn’t, and for my work and effort I received judgement and a second-class place in the body of Christ. Divorce is the second hardest thing I’ve ever gone through – the first being marriage to someone who neglected and abused me. It was NOT “easy” by any definition.
I hate divorce. I’ve never been able to enjoy movies about getting over divorce and the mere thought of divorce has always turned my stomach. When I found it necessary for my own survival, it tore me up inside. My solace comes in my steadfast belief that filing for divorce is not the same as causing one, and I was not the cause of my divorce, regardless of how my ex, the church, and you see it.
Your teaching has dangerous consequences: people like me read your words and take what you say very seriously. When you leave no room in your church for abused and broken divorcees, that has real world effects. I am such a broken person, and I do not know where I’ll end up. I am fighting the guilt and shame of divorcing my wife and I have to remind myself every day that my guilt and shame are not real – that there is no condemnation because I am in Christ. What I feel is based on how men like you view me, not how God views me. I hope that I can find believers with whom I can some day open up and have a trusting relationship again. Right now I am scared to talk to any believers at all, for judgement is just a few words away. I know for certain I will never end up in your church and I will cringe every time you are quoted. It is difficult to respect a man who would call me to endure torture in a situation he does not understand.
Even with that I believe you love the Lord and are doing your best to serve Him. If I were a better, stronger man of faith I could filter your bad theology and un-compassionate views and focus in the places where God truly speaks through you. In my head I know that is how I should be, but I’m not there. It is too hard for my heart to yield when there is a major portion of your public ministry that I believe is hurtful and not of God. Hopefully I will overcome that some day. In the meantime, I pray that God will convict you of your mis-teaching of His Word and repent for the pain you have caused in lives like mine. Your public teaching DOES affect people in my situation very much, whether you see our pain or not.
For further reading
The book Not Under Bondage is packed with scriptural arguments for why the Bible gives three grounds for divorce: abuse, adultery and desertion.
Online articles that give scriptural reasons why Piper’s divorce doctrine is wrong:
Two posts which show how Piper’s doctrine has had horrific effects on victims of domestic abuse: