A Cry For Justice

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

Treating An Abuser As A Non-Believer

“Is My Abuser A Christian?” If you read Jeff C’s book, he gives you a pretty straightforward answer: “No”. He makes the case that an unrepentant, habitual abuser is not a Christian. His reasoning is that abusive behavior is not consistent with a regenerate heart- we are called into a new kind of life and the old has passed away. While all believers sin, the sin we are talking about (a sense of entitlement and a complete lack of empathy) simply is not characteristic of a real Christian. This is not to say that a Christian may not take an abusive action, but ultimately he or she will not fall into a habitual, unrepentant pattern of abuse.

I’m not writing this to answer that question, though- I will leave that to Jeff, who is a great teacher of scripture. I’m writing this as someone who struggles and wonders why that question is so tough for me (and maybe it is tough for you too?). Why is it hard to just label my ex a non-Christian and move on? And is it wise for me to focus my attention there? I know that some have no problems with this (the behaviors of their abusers were so horrific and ungodly that there really were no questions). But I think there are some of us dealing with more subtle forms of abuse who really question ourselves.

I must admit, my heart does not want my ex to be an unbeliever. In fact, I guess you could say I WANT to be wrong about the divorce if it would mean that her soul is safe. I want there to be some mitigating factor that excuses her behavior as a believer. I spent years married to her in a context of believing that we worshiped together, evangelized together, and studied scripture together. To go from that image of her to one where she never knew the Lord and it was all a lie- that’s a hard pill for my heart to swallow. In fact, I find my head and my heart in disagreement on this.

I really do think dwelling on this kind of a question can be unhealthy. I suppose part of the “defogging” that I’m going through means getting a truer look at my ex, but these things take time. The hardest thing about the divorce for me was that I was judging her as unworthy to be my wife. I have a very difficult time judging another person, even when his or her behavior deserves it. So when taking THAT step is so hard, am I emotionally prepared to go the distance and say the she absolutely is not a Christian? Honestly, I just don’t have the emotional capacity to make that “judgment” of her. And really, I shouldn’t have to- I don’t think the focus of abuse survivors leaving destructive marriages should be focused on the guilt of their spouses. The focus should be on what they know beyond a shadow of a doubt- that they are experiencing pain from their spouses that is too great for their marriages to withstand.

So I propose that if we struggle to assign the status of “unbeliever” to an abusive spouse, can we at least meet in the middle? Can we say something like “The state of her soul is in The Lord’s hands, but because she has behaved like an unbeliever I must treat her like one in order to protect myself?” I think that is a lot easier to understand and say on an emotional level, and it does not require us to feel like we are judging our spouse at a time when we are just trying to get in touch with our own emotions.

Maybe to some this seems like an unhelpful exercise in labels. Perhaps. It’s just that I’ve heard enough about how if my divorce was valid then she must not be a believer. It felt like a huge burden to make sure I knew the state of her soul before I could seek freedom, and I don’t think that’s the right question to be asking at a time of emotional duress. We ought not to put victims in place of judges over their spouses, but judges over their own needs and boundaries. The question is not “How evil/bad is your spouse?” but “What do you need in order to feel safe, physically, spiritually, and emotionally?” Once we take care of that need and begin to get away from the fog, then we can start asking (and answering) the weightier questions about our ex’s.

53 Comments

  1. Katy

    YES!!
    I am struggling because my daughter keeps tearfully asking me if her dad is going to be in heaven – and in my heart I think it’s clear that the answer is NO so I tell her “I don’t know your dad anymore, only God knows what’s in his heart, and we have to leave this decision in God’s hands. But a true believer always has good fruit, not ugly rotten fruit.”

    It is a very hard thing to deal with – I would be fine to never ponder this question again but I’ve got kids who wonder what’s going to happen to their dad. 😦

    • Jeff S

      Katy, that is a great point- this whole question of answering the questions of children is one that really hurts my heart. My son isn’t old enough to ask these questions, but some day he will be. I don’t ever want him to hear me talk bad about her- I feel he needs to make his own assessment as he is able. That being said, I will have to answer his questions some day about why I made the choice to divorce.

      This is something I think a lot about even when I post on this site- he may come behind me some day and read all of my posts, and when he does I hope he can do so feeling free to make his own choices and form his own beliefs about her. So when I comment publicly on my own experience I really try to stick with what I felt and what I needed to be healthy rather than her actions. I’m not always perfect in that endeavor, however.

      • MeganC

        Sometimes, though, it is necessary for a parent to have to speak truthfully of their ex in order to protect the soundness of mind of the children. When my ex was hurting them emotionally. I had to sit them down (and they are older) and explain what was happening just so that they had/have the emotional armor to handle the manipulation. I feel, often, that I need to explain what is happening so that the children (1) are not confused and (2) do not consider his behavior normal and choose that route later in life. Surely it varies from case to case . . . but there is no harm in being honest with the kids, if need be. I think there is a way to do it without being ugly or disrespectful. Sort of a “this is how it is” way of talking. I know not everyone agrees with this but it has really given my kids security to be able to talk about the things they have seen and heard. I know this cannot always be the case, however. Many parents have gag orders and can say very little to their kids. 😦 This is heart-breaking.

      • Jeff S

        Yes, I think this is a very complex topic and no two situations are the same. I’m completely inexperienced in this area since my son isn’t really old enough to ask questions.

        As I think about it, what I seek to do is always to be on my son’s “side”, but never demand that he be on mine. How that plays out is tricky, though.

      • MeganC

        Yes — I know what you mean. I want to do the same. Not demand loyalty but somehow enable them to see the entire picture. I have never demanded loyalty from my children but there was a time, about 5 months ago, where I got a letter from someone in my family and it just broke my heart. The kids saw me crying (although I was trying to hide it) and I told them I had just received an ugly letter full of accusation. My daughter starting crying angrily and my son balled up his fists. One of them said, “How could ANYONE be so ugly to our beautiful mama?!” Jeff . . . It was so healing for me. I never demanded anything from them but they displayed a love for me and a protectiveness that I had never seen before. And I realized, in that moment, that my love for my children . . . and their responses . . . were healing me.

      • Amy

        MeganC,
        What you said about it being necessary sometimes for a parent to speak truthfully about their ex to their children…that really resonated with me.

        I had it drilled into me after my ex left me and my two boys four years ago that I was never to say anything bad about their father. To which I agree, YET, there were times he did some horrible things, and not just to me but the boys, and I kept my mouth shut. What my boys were told from their youth group leaders, and I ashamedly admit, myself, was to honor their father no matter what he was doing. They were to continue loving him and not be hateful or angry with him.
        And honestly, I think that did my two sons a world of damage…and hurt.
        But I was trying to be so careful as to not show or say anything bad about my ex, that I feel I went too far the other way of not speaking up for not only myself, but my two boys when things were not right.

        And to this day I hate the fact that I never spoke up more about the horrible things their father did. Speak up and tell them that his behavior, his actions and his words were not okay.

        My boys are now 21 and 18, so they were teens when their father moved out. A year ago my oldest actually verbally attacked me one night over how I was and had been lying all this time about what had gone on between his father and I. He went on to lash out at me and when I tried to speak up he gave me the most hateful look (I saw my ex standing before me with that look) and told me how he had just spent six hours with his father telling him how it really had been and did not want to hear my lies. 😥

        We have pretty much swept that under the rug and just do not talk about it. Everyone tells me that in time the boys will know the truth…how can they not, they lived in that horrible verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive environment their whole lives!
        But I still wonder about that…I’ve often thought, how can someone know the truth when all they hear are lies??

        I’ve come close so many times to talking with both my boys. I’ve prayed that God would give me an opportunity to do that and there have been, but as always, I’ve chickened out. And the reason…I’m so afraid of my boys being angry at me. I would die if either of them ever walked away from me and so I stop short of trying to explain how destructive their father’s behavior had been, and possibly still is.

        Anyway, I know this is an older response and I’m kind of off topic from the original post, but it brought all this up again for me.
        I cannot tell you how pressing this is on my heart, but as I’ve told friends, I do not want to do something only to make myself feel better. I would only want to talk with my boys if I truly felt it would benefit them.

        Thanks for listening. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        I think there is a way to communicate it, where we are not cutting the other parent down, and that is what is important. I think explaining that people do things because they don’t love God as they should, or that they have flaws in their character, that we want to make certain don’t carry over to our children, is a good way to handle this topic with smaller children. Those who have older children could just do it the same way, but also have deeper talks about issues of abuse and the behavior, more so than the person. I try really hard not to say anything bad about my spouse, but there are times, when I am a mess and my children do see me struggling. Because they are old enough to understand, they do get upset, but I have to remember, that if things went the way my heart desires for them to go, it wouldn’t be happening at all. I think that is what children see. If we are bitter and nasty towards the offender, in front of our children, they will pick it up and run with it. If we are hurt, but not bitter or nasty, then they will sense our pain and it will actually help them to learn empathy and understanding and they will respect us for not teaching them anger and bitterness, but that we loved our abusers, we just could not allow them to abuse us anymore, nor abuse our children. We are all trying to protect and do what is best for them. Eventually, they will have to figure it all out on their own, but for now, we just do what God would have us do and that is be truthful and honest and teach, teach, teach them so they do not fall into what the enemy wants them to carry on for the next 100 generations and train them in good character. If they ever do stray once they search for truth, they will come back to the parent, who taught them love and honor, not the one who lied and abused. Praise God for that!

    • Deborah

      I struggle so much on what to tell my kids. But I read that allowing them to believe all is ok and hiding the abuser that way is very dangerous. Because WHEN the abuser starts in on them, they will believe that they are at fault. They will take on that guilt. My abuser was/is a master at gas lighting and projection. He has already started in on my kids (only 3 years post separation). I found that I HAVE to be honest with them but at their levels. They know that daddy hurt mommy and would not stop and would not say sorry, so mommy had to leave. They also know that if daddy hurts them like he did with mommy, emotionally or physically, that is not ok and that is daddy’s bad choices, not their fault. They know they are safe to tell mommy or someone they trust, if he does that. I often have to process through with them why their daddy blamed them for what he did wrong. I had to do that with my son the other day. But what do you do if your child is learning those behaviors of blaming others and using them? I am having this issue now…he gets blamed for his fathers wrong doing or mistakes and in turn, he is beginning not to accept responsibility for the things he really needs to. It breaks my heart to see this happenening.

      Also, how far can you really go, without being accused of PAS? I don’t disparage, but I tell the truth.

      Deborah

      • Katy

        Deborah-
        my daughter periodically has a lot of self-guilt, where she begins to think that the divorce was her fault (she was only 6 at the time!) Now she’s 10 – but she still goes back over old history trying to figure out if it was because of her!
        So I am ALWAYS reinforcing the truth with her. No, it had nothing to do with you. No, you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. I divorced daddy because he would not stop hurting me and he was never sorry. You are blameless, you are innocent, let go of these burdens and let Jesus have it….
        we have this conversation maybe once every 6months. Contrast with my sons, who don’t seem to have these issues…it might be age/gender related. You are never wrong to speak the truth, when you do it gently and with love. 🙂

      • Still Scared( but getting angry)

        Deborah, I see the same thing and worry about being accused of parental alienation. It is so hard to protect them, speak the truth without judgement. And then seeing poor behaviors in your kids!! My daughter, yes I struggle with seeing it in her. She was actually improving when she wasn’t seeing her dad and now she is back to seeing him. It’s awful. I have been having her read In Sheep’s Clothing. I hope it helps. And I pray a lot.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, Deborah. Just constantly reenforcing truth, without anger or bitterness, as best you can. Protecting the children is at the forefront of life, until they are trained how to respond and not to blame themselves. Just be healthy yourself, and they will learn it. There are none of us who are 100% healthy in every way. We can only do our best and trust God with them. I would do all I could to protect them too, if you see that they are being abused by him this way and it is creating a problem in them. That would include orders of protection and supervised visitation! If he is going to abuse them, he doesn’t need to see them until he can stop doing that.

  2. MeganC

    Jeff S – This is a very well-written post. I, too, struggled with the idea of whether or not my ex was a believer. I mean, not only did he claim to be a believer . . . but he also claimed “special status” as a “called” man of God — called into the ministry. And I followed him there. The level of disillusionment would be absolutely overwhelming. And, then, the struggle he had with sin in his life was more struggle than I had ever seen ANY Christian have. The consensus toward the end was that he was not a believer. This came from our counselor. So, he got saved. But, when the behavior did not change, he got saved again . . . and again . . . It was so confusing, I almost refuse to re-visit that time of my life. They were dark times. The awful truth is that, if someone could pronounce him a non-believer, there would be great relief to me. That would mean that all the things he told me . . . that God was not with me or that I was displeasing God would be a lie for sure. If someone could tell me he was not a follower of Christ, I could say to myself, “Good. Because his way of life so contradicted Christ and so confused me . . . now it all makes sense. He wasn’t a believer. He was a liar.” That would release me from any doubt.

    Many people now tell me that there is no way that he could have done the things he had done to me and consistently walk with Christ. But that is as far as I could go with judging by his fruit. But, I do know, that nothing he did pointed toward God at all . . . and that he did not know how to love . . . and that he was, truly, inCAPABLE of love.

    • Heather

      Jeff, I struggle with this also. It goes against my belief about not judging hearts and motives. It goes against the love I had for my ex for decades. It goes against what I needed to believe for my own security.

      What I can admit are the painful experiences, the feelings of abandonment, the many years that I covered his offenses so my children, family, and friends would respect him. These are real and now that I am living away from him I have learned to accept and admit them. It’s all too easy to slip into the familiar and make excuses.

      My children are all adults. While they were young I did my very best to build up their dad. At the time I thought that was best. In the end, when it all erupted they saw things for themselves. They saw the truth. It broke my heart, but it was necessary for them.The strange thing is that it didn’t come from me. It came from him after I said that I couldn’t live that way any longer. I filled in the blanks after the fact. He shed tears and admitted his sins before them without ever discussing it with me first. He threw them and me under the bus. In the end, what he intended as evil against me, in time God used to draw my children closer to me than ever before. They are stronger for it now.

      We can never know the eternal destiny of anyone but we can certainly judge evil deeds. How I wish no one has to question the pain that they feel when they are treated cruelly.

      I am thankful for seeing that I am not alone though I would rather no one had to endure these abuses!!

    • Anonymous

      It doesn’t matter, Megan, if he was a Christian or not! Him telling you that God was not with you and you were displeasing to God, were a lie, nonetheless! I think what you say here is exactly why Ps. Crippen says that abusers cannot be saved. I mean, honestly, if we can still have our sin and act upon every bit of it, whenever we feel like it, then where is the “new creation” we have once we are saved, and where is the Holy Spirit? Of course we all still sin, but what does Paul say? He says that they were sinning in ways that should not even be named among Christians (which abuse is one of those sins) and that he did not know if he was wasting his time with them or not, because he could not tell if they were really Christ’s or not! It is the same with us. Some of us cannot tell for sure, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have cause for doubt. AND, your ex’s behavior does not change the fact that you were and are in Christ – a Christian! He was abusing you, period. It was a lie! Whether he was a Christian or not at that time, it was still a lie! Just like a pastor who excommunicates a true believer, for not listening to him tell her to let the abuser back in, he may be a Christian, but he is messed up in his theology and views of God and just because he excommunicates me, doesn’t make me not Christ’s! It may make him not Christ’s, but it doesn’t make me that!

      • MeganC

        Thank you, dear Anon, for that wise comment! You have blessed me today. Yes. It was a LIE!!!

      • Anon, you know how much I’m cheering to hear you say things like that! It’s been a long and windy road, this theological confusion, but you are out on the straight now! And picking up speed for the final leg of the journey. 🙂

  3. Wendell G

    You know, there is precedent in Scripture for treating someone as a non-believer. Check out Matthew 18: 15-17 (ESV):

    15″If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

    Some versions use the term pagan instead of Gentile, but the meaning behind it is the same. Treat them as someone outside the faith.

    I Corinthians 5 (ESV):

    1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
    3For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
    6Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
    9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    If you consider 1 Timothy 5:8, then you could easily place abuse in the same category:

    “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

    While we cannot know the heart for certainty, for our protection and the protection of the innocent, we cannot associate ourselves with certain people. God will sort out the true state of their souls!

    • Jeff S

      Thank you for these scriptures Wendell- it was actually 1 Timothy 5:8 I had in mind when I phrased the statement that way, but all of the ones you cited make the point even more clearly.

  4. Laurie

    Thank you, Jeff S.! This is exactly where I get bogged down. I like your answer, to leave the state of my ex’s soul in the hands of the Lord and know that the way he treated me was not how a believer treats another, whether believer or not. Good post!

  5. Katy

    The reason the “good fruit” versus “continually rotten fruit” is on my mind is because that was the Bible verse my kids were studying last week at church….then 2 nights ago my daughter asked me the question again and cried about her dad.
    (Here I think is where the Spirit guides us, and shows us what things we need to say to our kids and when)
    All of this is going to vary by the age of the child, the circumstances surrounding the abuse/divorce, whether there is still ongoing abuse that they need to be protected from etc.
    This is an ongoing process that will likely continue the whole time that they are growing up and in my care – and I always think toward the future with an eye toward getting them strong and full of wisdom so that when they pick their own spouse someday – they’ll be prepared. 🙂 Amen

  6. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    This rang so true and was so wonderful to read. Thank you.

  7. K

    From what I understand, abusive people are obsessed with their need for power. Their world orbits around themselves. Every waking moment is an opportunity to build their own ego, every person is a tool, every bit of knowledge is a weapon. Anything or anyone that doesn’t contribute towards building up their ego is ignored or shunned.

    That mindset cannot possibly coexist with the Holy Spirit. Seems pretty simple to me.

    • Jeff S

      K, I agree with you in general- but for some of us it is hard to comes to grip with this in our hearts.

      Also, it seems that is is possible for a genuine believer to manifest these attitudes for a time and then repent when convicted- I think King David is an example of this with Bathsheba. It could be that divorce is the very thing that drives a genuine believer to repentance, so I think we want to be careful about putting things in such stark terms that a survivor feels guilty when his or her abuser truly does repent after a divorce. I think that would be an exception rather than the rule, though.

      • MeganC

        I am struggling with this a bit . . . I mean, it is one thing for a follower of Christ to slip up. We are heavily convicted when we do. We don’t want to do it again. We repent and take steps to counter the temptation. But, it is another to live a consistent life of rebellion toward God. Can we not say that a person who lives a consistent life of rebellion toward God is a non-believer? I am not trying to be difficult. Just trying to understand.

      • Jeff S

        Megan,
        I don’t think there’s any disagreement. Consistent, unrepentant abuse is not consistent with true belief. My own struggle is how you define someone as being “consistently unrepentant”. How long does it take before we’re sure, and should a victim wait around to find out? My thinking is that it’s not the concern of the victim to figure it out- if it hurts too much to be safe, it seems to me that is the most important thing to focus on.

      • MeganC

        I see. Yes, that makes sense. I think it is different for me. I think . . . I almost want to know that he was an unbeliever. I would love nothing more than for my ex to comes to grips with his salvation and truly choose to make God the King of his life. But, I want to know that, when he was with me for those 12 years, he was not. I know that sounds awful. But, he was a seminary student, grad, minister, “called by God” and yet treated me like dirt. So . . . do you see my struggle? If he truly WAS saved during that time . . . then, perhaps, God was OK with the way he treated me — consistently. I don’t know. Maybe I am the only one who feels this way. 😦

        I no longer believe that God was OK with how my ex treated me. I really don’t. But, I think I would have had a hard time with thinking that “maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t” only a year ago.

        Regardless, it really isn’t my place or my job to decide whether or not he is saved. Like you and Wendell have said, it is my job to stay away from a person who consistently hurts the children and me.

      • Jeff S

        Megan, I totally understand- and I think a lot of how these emotions affect us depend on exactly what kind of abuse occurred and where we are in the process of healing.

      • Anonymous

        Megan – So, if he was a Christian, that changes what? God does not approve of abusing anyone! God doesn’t look and say, “Oh, he’s a Christian, so I will overlook him abusing his wife and kids”. No, that is not God. He actually would look and say, “What does he think he is doing!?!” and then send something to you to stop it, let’s say, divorce for example. As a Christian, you are right, if he slipped up and abused you once, the Spirit would convict him and he would repent and repentance means change. He would have removed himself from you and your children, just to have time to prove to himself, that he would not slip up again and would get the appropriate help in order to ensure you and the children’s safety. I get right where you are, because I deal with this as well. So, if we are all just still a bunch of sinners, and Christ’s sacrifice actually made no difference in my life and how I live it, then you have a reason to believe that abuse is just another one of those “sins” we all do. But that is a lie and not the truth. If Christ is truly in us, as he is in you and me, then He has made a difference. Do you abuse? Abuse is different than just becoming angry and then repenting, saying you are sorry and moving on. The lines become so blurred when the church will not step up and say what God really says. Abuse is wrong, always! You can rest in the fact, that even if your husband were saved, he had a huge abuse problem, that he was not willing to let go of. If he does at some point, it doesn’t change the fact, that he didn’t repent and change when he was married to you. He was an abuser. If he repents down the road, then great and we all rejoice. But it doesn’t change the fact, that he abused you. In fact, it more than likely means, he will admit to all the abuse he did to you and your children and publicly declare his repentance toward you and your children, in order to truly glorify God for changing him and bringing him to true repentance! Ha! Then you would know for sure, wouldn’t you!

    • Well said K. If abusers find no joy in serving God on earth, they really would not find joy as a resident of heaven. Their actions show that their spirit is not fitted for heaven, and they would not make a natural transition into the kingdom. Charles Spurgeon delivered a lot of excellent sermons on this topic, and they are available on the internet. Reading them helped me with this topic.

  8. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

    • Possibly we are getting the issues confused. There is a difference between saying that our ex’s are unbelievers and saying that it is not possible for them to be saved in the future. To say theformer, is not necessarily to say the latter.
      I for one, have no problem whatsoever saying and believing that my ex is not a Christian. But I would not necessarily say that there is no way God he will ever be saved in the future.

  9. Meg said “… . . I almost want to know that he was an unbeliever.”
    I understand that feeling Meg, I felt the same way when my first marriage broke down.

    I didn’t realise how strongly I felt that way until my new church (the one I went to after leaving the church that judged me for getting a protection order) declared formally that my ex was to be treated as an unbeliever. I had applied to the leaders (pastor and elders) to make a formal ruling on whether or not I had biblical grounds for divorce. They decided and put in writing that my ex was to be considered as an unbeliever, and Yes, I did have biblical grounds for divorce under 1 Cor. 7:15, because he had abused me. The relief I felt, when I read that letter! I had not expected to feel such immense relief. To have it put in writing by my pastor and elders, men whose spiritual leadership I had voluntarily placed myself under, was such a weight off my chest!

    So I think your longing for that validation is quite understandable.
    At the same time, I agree with Jeff S that not all survivors feel the same way about this. How we each feel about knowing whether our ex was or was not an unbeliever can vary greatly, and can be varied or coloured by many different factors.

  10. Another thing. One reason that I don’t like to think of my second husband as being an unbeliever is that that means I married an unbeliever. I was a professing Christian who knew the Bible; I knew not to let myself become unequally yoked. Yet I married a man who (I now believe) was never a Christian, although at the time I married him I was sure he was a Christian.

    Now; I could juggle that round lots of which-ways and say I was a bit of a fool or a great big fool to marry him – looking back I can see there were some red flags that I should have heeded but didn’t. And I could then remind myself that he was a jolly good con artist and found exactly the right words to say that would be the key to opening my heart. (He told me how much he LOVED and SUPPORTED the work I do for victims of abuse.) And all those intellectual to’s and fro’s would have validity.

    But you know what I find hardest about this? It’s the sheer humiliation. I was silly enough to choose a dud man. I was needy enough for love to overlook a sizable red flag. I let myself fall in love too quickly. I was a gullible woman (2 Tim. 3:6). And I – me of all people – should have known better.
    But I take comfort and direction from Phil. 3:13-14

    But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    • Katy

      Barb that’s what I’ve been learning. We are all vulnerable. None of us is immune even when we learn all there is to know – and some of us just have a broken “man picker” and there’s not much we can do to fix it. 😉
      Everyone needs love. ((hugs))

      • Thanks Katy. One positive spin off of my second marriage is that when someone discloses to me that they have had two abusive relationships, I can say that I have too, which helps lessen their embarrassment. 😉

    • Anonymous

      I understand this as well, Barb. Feeling totally humiliated. But, I was also not as mature in Christ as I grew to be today, that many years ago. So, I grew and he didn’t and that is the first mark of a true believer – spiritual growth. But, how do you know someone is a Christian for certain, until you live with them. I mean, they professed Christ. They went to Church. My husband did not appear to be an immoral man. How were we to really know, because abusers are so good at hiding who they really are. How many women are married for years before their spouse abuses? That was not the case with me, but I stayed anyway, mostly thinking he said he was a Christian, certainly God will convict him and he will change! There are so many things we all know today, that we did not know then. I am humiliated too, but what am I going to do about it? I guess I will have to swallow my pride at thinking I could not make that same mistake twice in life and get on with things. At least we all feel badly for making the mistake twice and if it was sin, are ashamed of it. I don’t think it is a sin, to trust someone or to love someone who turns out to be unhealthy and abusive. But, I have learned and continue to learn, that I will not ever blindly trust anyone again. They will have to prove themselves to me, including pastors!

  11. Now Free

    Barb, if there is anyone that should be embarrassed, it is I. And I am. Just thinking about being married to a man who continually abused me for 42 years embarrasses me, but I tell my story to help others.

    He went to church with me, hiding his abusive personality under a mask of charm and piety, and except for reading the Bible in church, I never recall him reading God’s Word in our home or anywhere else. He would not even attend to church without me. Strange for a person who needed to control and abuse me so thoroughly.

    Even his very severe physical abuse early in the marriage was not enough to have me leave him. I continued to bear and keep secret his covertly aggressive emotional and verbal abuse for decades before I decided enough was enough and to leave. So yeah, I am embarrassed but need to get my story out.

  12. KayE

    In some ways I wish I was not sure if my ex is a believer or not, because then there would be at least a little hope.It took a long, long time for me to accept that my ex can’t possibly be a real believer. But it seems completely black and white that he has never known Christ.He attends church every week, and has always given lots of money to the church and to his favourite missionary friends.He has been a church elder, and been on the missions committee, and a short term missionary.He reads his big black bible regularly.Most of the church people I know are completely taken in by his charming ‘Christian’ persona.

    But he has been persistently cruel and violent to me over many years.He continues to put me down viciously, in front of the children. I don’t recall him taking responsibilty for any of his actions, ever. He has never ever been sorry for anything, ever. Everything is always someone else’s fault.He has absolutely no concept of being a sinner, he told me that sin is just about making mistakes. He says God always forgives him everything when asked, so I should too. Not that he believes he has ever done anything wrong to me.

    In my particular situation, I believe it is vital to be honest about these things with my teenagers, because otherwise their understanding of true Christianity would be distorted.Learning to discern the difference between genuine and counterfeit Christianity is one of the things that has helped me to survive.

  13. Jeff, thank you for your post. Barbara thank you for your comments! I have struggled with this issue too. And since my ex died, I struggle with wondering what happened to him after death. He was the father of my children, who were heartbroken at his death, despite his abuse. And they (young adults now) would like to believe he is with God, even though there is little reason to believe it from the way he lived. He was a minister too, by the way. After he left the church he was a gifted and charismatic teacher, beloved by his students and they mourned his death as well.

    It was really hard to piece together all the conflicting elements and make sense of it all. And I too wondered for years and years how I could have been duped into marrying a non-believer/or was he a believer/abusive and angry closet alcoholic/charismatic preacher/praying man with a wealth of knowledge about the Bible.

    To this day, I find myself sometimes hoping he is in heaven.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Becky, I thought I was on the side of hoping my ex is a believer for my kids, until I read your last line and irrationally I am now terrified he is a believer and now I am fearful I will see him in heaven. I am still afraid of him and emotionally feel like God wouldn’t protect me in that situation. I know it’s not logically or true. Whew! The things one learns about oneself.

    • MeganC

      Becky — I understand that confusion. I was just talking to a friend about it yesterday. I thought I was marrying someone “safe” because he was a minister — or wanted to be one. I thought I would have a godly marriage. I, too, feel that embarrassment. There were red flags . . . and people who said things to me that should have clued me in. But, I wanted to be married. 😦 And I really didn’t believe I deserved better, due to my family situation. But, I wonder, as well . . . I should have known better. But, as Barb said . . . we cannot dwell on it. We must press forward now.

      I can only imagine all your mixed emotions. 😦 You have been through so much. Big hugs.

    • I too wondered for years and years how I could have been duped into marrying a non-believer/or was he a believer/abusive and angry closet alcoholic/charismatic preacher/praying man with a wealth of knowledge about the Bible.

      Becky, that is so poignant. It makes me worship God because He knows how all those / / / things fit together.

  14. LorenHaas

    There was a couple in my previous church that struggled all through their seven year marriage. They received a lot of counseling from several different pastors and licensed professionals. The husband became, and still is a close friend of mine. We walked through these difficult times together, with much prayer and petition. In the end, he decided to end the marriage (although I did not agree).
    During their final period of separation, the wife started attending and counseling with another church. My friend agreed to meet with the staff as a concession to his wife. It was a set-up. They proceeded to pound him with scripture and accusations without ever listening to him. It was quite apparent the decision had been made without even talking to him that he was responsible for the divorce. (My experience was that they were both guilty parties) He understandably left the meeting.
    Fast forward 18 months. My friend bumps into the pastor of this church and he admits to my friend that he had performed the marriage ceremony between his ex-wife and another man. Clunk! His reasoning was that since my friend was an “unbeliever”, it was OK for them to marry. Double Clunk!!
    Now, if my friend is a non-believer then neither am I, nor anyone else I know. This pastor decided that he must be an unbeliever because it was inconvenient to think otherwise. After all, they knew the woman to be Christian (and a great addition to their worship team) therefore; my friend must be the “non-Christian”.
    This is not a victimless event. This transparent foolishness caused my friend to question his faith and ultimately the reliability of pastors. I certainly lost respect for this local pastor and his staff.
    My point is that the label of “non-Christian” is easier to assign than to truly know. I have to make a judgment it would be that they are “acting as if they were a non-believer” and confess that is all I can judge.

    • Katy

      that’s perfectly understandable in a case like that, where an outside party has no true knowledge of the people involved! wow.
      However within my marriage – I knew his heart because he showed it to me, over and over again, every day, for 7 years. And it was black and ugly.
      Therefore I’m in a much better position to judge whether he was a believer or not – but again, if I were looking on on someone else’s marriage I couldn’t do that. (but then again there’s no need for me to judge anyone else’s marriage anyway. The only person’s life I’ve got to worry about is my own!)

    • Jeff S

      Yes, this stuff can be very harmful. What I was mostly thinking of in my post was my thoughts and how I process things- not what I publicly say about my ex. From the comments I can see I’m not the only one who thinks and wrestles with this. It’s really more about processing the death of the marriage and everything it was understood to be than it is about doctrine of who is or can be a Christian. At least, that’s how it is for me.

      I would say churches that don’t want to marry spouses who divorced Christians should adopt “treat as an unbeliever” stance.

    • Loren, that is a very interesting story. When leaders are not willing to hear from both parties, that’s wrong. They don’t have to necessarily hear from both parties at the same time in a round table meeting (and probably shouldn’t, if there are allegations of abuse), but unless one party’s sin is undisputed public knowledge and is one of the heinous sins listed in 1 Cor. 5:11-13, leaders should give both parties the opportunity to be heard. Then, of course, the leaders need wisdom to detect any manipulation and lies that are going on. 😉

      Your friend’s case sounds like a travesty of justice. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

      And since Matthew 18 says treat the non repentant person as a non-believer, the phrase you used — ‘acting as if they were a non-believer’ — is appropriate. We are told to treat a person as a non-believer when they are acting as a non-believer would act. When we do this, we aren’t saying we can infallibly see their eternal destiny or the innermost core of their heart, we are just making a functional judgement. A very important judgement for the health of the body, the church.

  15. Anonymous

    I have not read all the comments here, but I will just say that when people call me asking what is going on, I do not say anything “bad” about my husband. I just tell them there are problems, and that I do not feel comfortable going into any of the details with them. I have a couple of very close friends, Ps. Crippen and Barb and my counselor, that I go into details with, but only because they can help me. Why? Because I am not out to repay him or hurt him in anyway and it is not my job to make others take my side or to make them think less of him. I would hate to have to watch him climb the approval ladder, if he ever changes, and we all know how people are. When they hear of something bad about someone, they remember it forever. No one in my church knew I was even having marital problems, (let alone all the areas of abuse) until the leadership got ahold of it and they told everyone, all the intimate details of everything. I then had to answer some questions in order to protect myself and my children, but it did not start with me.

    When asked if I think he is a Christian, I have my own personal belief, but I have just learned to just say, “You will have to ask God that question” and leave it at that. If they push me, I just tell them that I am not responsible for his soul, it is between him and God. I do not dwell on it, anymore. Distance has made that easier for me.

    However, I also believe that distance makes the heart grow fonder and with time, as we start to heal, we can all start to downsize all that happened, or because we have been abused, our thinking is still not as healthy as it should be, but downsizing the abuse is not really the truthful or healthy thing to do. It happened, how it happened. Diminishing the abuse or denying it, may even happen if we are experiencing false guilt. But, in my opinion, in order to grow and be healthy, we always will have to have some sort of truthful semblance of what really happened, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. It is sort of like remembering how it felt to touch that hot stove as a child, and the painful burns it left! It doesn’t mean we hate the stove or don’t learn how to properly use it. This has nothing to do with whether we have truly forgiven our abuser or not. It is just living to make healthy, godly decisions in the future. We must learn to be strong and denying or diminishing the abuses that happened to us, will only weaken us. A time will come when we will just learn how to talk about it, without becoming angry, triggering ourselves, or sounding vengeful and bitter. The truth of what happened to us, will always remain the truth. I have no idea when that change in ability to talk about it will come, but I believe it will as we all heal.

    I hope I have not repeated anything from the other comments…

    • Jeff S

      Very insightful, Anonymous, especially about the downsizing.

    • MeganC

      Yes, thank you, Anon.

    • Wendell G

      All good points Anon, and we also don’t want to be the beginning of the rumor mill. Too many people just can’t keep confidences!

      I am seeing that in another situation. I started a Facebook page about escaping porn and had a young woman send me a PM about a situation she is facing with this. It seems that every time she tries to find an accountability partner, they end up spilling the beans to someone, or just simply reject her. She is very hurt by this, especially people she thought she could trust blabbing things around to other people!

    • Our situations are all somewhat unique in how much we are embedded in churches and local Christian communities, and how much we are still responsible for under-age children. But in my particular case, I have chosen to tell virtually anybody that my former husbands were abusers. I may or may not go into details of how my husband acted during the marriage – the abuse tactics they used – depending on who I am talking to. But I freely tell anyone that abuse was the reason I left those marriages. I think that is fair. It is not unduly covering up the sins of the abuser (helping keep their sins secret) nor is it broadcasting every nitty gritty detail.

      Years ago, I felt more vulnerable to being shamed by fellow Christians. When they queried why I was no longer with my husband, I would answer, “There were problems in the marriage.” But that non-informative neutral statement soon felt inadequate to me; and I felt like people who heard it would assume that I was being cagey because I bore some of the guilt for the marriage breakdown, which I didn’t believe I did. So I decided to say point blank “My husband was an abuser.”

  16. Rachel

    When my abuser told me that I am trying to make him fill a place in my life that only Jesus can fill and that I need to learn to trust God more for things, instead of going to other people for help, my response was; if the god you serve allows and even orders a man to beat up his wife to purify her, I want nothing to do with such a god.

    Seven years ago he had a highly emotional experience in which he sought God and fasted and prayed for weeks. Finally he came to the conclusion that he has found God and because I did not have the same experience, then I do not know God and must somehow be humbled and brought to repentance and made to earnestly seek God. From that point on our marriage was steadily downhill with him becoming more and more abusive. He felt that since he has “the Holy Spirit” he is incapable of sinning, thus everything he did was right and of God and woe to anyone who tried to tell him otherwise!!! Especially me,who was supposed to be this submissive wife. He literally quoted scripture that he claimed God gave him that justified him beating up the children’s mother in front of them so they could see what God thinks of rebellious, unsubmissive women. Three years later I am still trying to straighten out the lies he told our children about how God hates certain people. And in my own mind, too, wondering sometimes whether he might have been right. This was so extremely confusing!! Praise God I am finally starting to make some sense out of this mess. He has sent me some incredible friends who are helping me to straighten out the spiritual and emotional mess my life and the lives of my children had become. Blogs such as “A Cry For Justice” have had a huge impact on my ability to sort out this garbage. Thank you all!!

  17. Not at all an unhelpful exercise in labels. I agree with every well written word. Compassion and reality in one non-judgmental handshake. I believe if more people could read and embrace this, their road through and past abuse would be a gentler one. Thank you. Diane

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