A Cry For Justice

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

Marriage is Made for People, Not People for Marriage

One of our readers asked if we could post the following paragraphs from our book, A Cry for Justice [*affiliate link], as she found them so helpful.  So, here they are! Thanks to her for typing them up for us:

From A Cry for Justice  by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood, page 202-204

Insistence that the Marriage be Preserved at All Costs; Distortions About Divorce

“The teaching of the church has compounded much of this hurt rather than alleviating it. Victims of continued abuse have been told they must stay married, and if they do get divorced, they have been told they cannot remarry until their former partner has died. And sometimes those who have divorced and remarried are told by their church that they must now divorce their new spouse because in God’s eyes they are still married to the person who abused or neglected them. Thus the church makes them a victim for a second time.” (Instone-Brewer 2003, [Kindle] Location 1795)

You cannot truly be a follower of Christ and at the same time reject the biblical model of “one-man, one-woman marriage” which is entered into with the intention that it last for life. Jesus was far too clear on His position to permit this kind of “waffling.” This has been God’s plan from the beginning. It is an order of creation not to be altered. Therefore, divorce is not God’s perfect will for any marriage. But then, enter sin.

One of the irritants Christians often apply to the abuse victim’s wounds is the assumption that God would have every marriage preserved at all costs. This notion, coupled with the fantasy that “with just a little hard work we can put this thing back together,” has worked to enable hosts of abusers, and to intensify the suffering of their victims. Listen to the following Scripture:

Mark 2:23-28 One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of man is lord, even of the Sabbath.”

In Matthew’s parallel account, we also have this statement recorded:

Matthew 12:7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Christians, like these critics of Jesus, often embrace a traditional view of marriage that is just that – tradition. I do not mean the one-man, one-woman for life model that is normally intended when the term “traditional” is applied to marriage. The tradition in this case rather is the notion that man is made for marriage, not marriage for man. As the Pharisees had inverted God’s order for the Sabbath’s value and purpose, so Christians do the same in regard to marriage. This means that when an abuse victim comes to her pastor to reveal what her abuser is doing, the welfare of the victim is made subservient to the institution of marriage. But marriage was made for man! Marriage is a gift created by God for men and women to enjoy, not an ordinance to which people are to be enslaved at all costs.

What God desires, in the application of His law, is mercy. Yes, the Sabbath is to be observed, but it is for man’s sake, so that he might rest and refresh himself and enjoy God. The same is true for marriage. Therefore to insist that an abuse victim is to remain in her marriage “no matter what,” is to do what Jesus forbids: condemnation of the guiltless. And this is precisely what this book takes as a major thesis, namely, that the evangelical church has been condemning victims of abuse and withholding mercy from them.

Just as the Pharisee’s teaching about the Sabbath exceeded God’s Word and purpose and placed a huge burden upon people which they were never intended to have to bear, so it is with marriage in the teaching of many conservative, evangelical churches. The end result is sadly common – the guiltless victim is condemned for separating from and/or divorcing her abuser.

When man enslaves people to distortions of things God has intended for man’s good (like the Sabbath and marriage), Christ would have us set those people free! It was not God’s blessing of the Sabbath rest that Jesus opposed, but the twisted perversion of it imposed upon people by the Jewish leaders. In the same way, it is not the blessing of marriage as created by God for our blessing that we oppose but the wicked, twisted thing it becomes in the hands of evil people.

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  1. joepote01

    Very well stated, Jeff! Good post!

  2. Andrew

    Thank you for posting this extract. It is so rare indeed to see divorce treated in such a balanced and biblically sound manner.

    • Thank you for your comment, Andrew. We don’t have all that many men commenting on this blog, and we appreciate your encouragement.

  3. As I See It Only

    To those who are troubled by the ‘to death do us part’ phrase in the old vows, kindly ponder this: Is not one who habitually sins, truly dead already? If so, then the victim/spouse is released from that marriage bond and free to marry in the Lord, for the former abuser/spouse is dead.

  4. If i had the time I would do a study of the NT looking for how many times the Pharisees brought up the Sabbath to attempt to discredit Jesus. It was probably their favourite tool of combat.

    I reckon that in the broad sweep of current conservative Christianity, the intensity and controversy about various types and sub-types of divorce doctrine (all legalistic) is on a par with the hair-splitting sabbath legalism of the first century AD. If you want to discredit someone or set the crows carking, say something disparaging about that person’s view on divorce.
    Marriage and family come close seconds, so you can throw them in for good measure, just to get a bit of extra spit and polish on your Pharisaic brass buttons.

    And to clinch your case, all you have to do is imply that those who don’t adhere to your particular doctrine of marriage, divorce and remarriage are well down the slippery slope to gay marriage. (gasp)

    Then pass the offering basket around. . .

    • Just Me

      And bonus points if they throw the word “feminism” in there.

  5. Now Free

    If there had only been a blog like this decades ago…if there had been a web, period…I might not have been so blind as to think that separation or divorce was displeasing to God, even in the severely abusive marriage I was in.

    I would shout it from the housetops if I could… when I can finally say: “I am a divorced woman and God is pleased!”

    • YES!

    • — that is, yes to your shouting from the housetops.

      but ‘so blind as to think that separation or divorce was displeasing to God, even in the severely abusive marriage I was in’ ??

      I prefer to think of you and all the rest of the innumerable victims as not blind but blinded. Blinded by wrong teaching from the leaders of the church who decided right doctrine and right interpretation of scripture… leaders who I believe should have known better — should have listened to victims more and believed them more, and sought the truth from God’s word when they saw how much injustice was being done in the name of God. I could theorise forever about why they ignored the injustice, and yeah, it’s not fair to lump them all together, but along the way there have been leaders, mostly men, who have purposefully kept victims intimidated and in bondage to their unjust and un-Biblical doctrines of divorce. Yeah I’m angry.

    • Heather 2

      Oh Amen, NowFree!

      Better late than never, but I wish my eyes had been opened so much sooner.

      I am blessed to read these articles, as well as what others have experienced. I am affirmed time and time again.

  6. bright sunshinin' day

    Thank you typist for the effort to put these truths from JC and Anna’s book before us!

    “As I See It Only” says: “To those who are troubled by the ‘to death do us part’ phrase in the old vows, kindly ponder this: Is not one who habitually sins, truly dead already? If so, then the victim/spouse is released from that marriage bond and free to marry in the Lord, for the former abuser/spouse is dead.”

    Bravo! Well stated. In discussion with others, the breaking of the VOWS “till death due you part” are the “chains” in which they reason to enslave the victim, as Jeff says, “to DISTORTIONS of things God has intended for man’s good.”. Hasn’t Jesus Himself already defined death for us?. Jesus said if someone looks at another lustfully, this is adultery. If we hate another, this is murder.

    The on-going repeated murder that happens in an abusive marriage is grounds for separation and/or divorce and in some cases, jail or the electric chair. It is abandonment and smashing of the vow to love and cherish. Good grief, do you think Jesus looks on these “murderous marriages” with glee and admiration? Do you think He who sits on His throne and laughs because He SEES their day is coming (Ps 2) says to the wife, “Submit to this murderous marriage (without a word) so I can do my work through you.” Or do you think the One who hates oppression and helps the needy would EMBOLDEN the murdered/and or the faithful shepherds, to rise up and flee, press charges, apply church discipline, separate, divorce, call 911, whatever is appropriate, to oppose the evil?

    What amazes me is this. I hear sermons on 1 Peter 2:9ff and Romans 13 re submission to government. Most pastors include in their talk that there is a time NOT to submit to the governing authorities since we must obey God rather than man. They hail Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his opposition of Hitler. They warn the congregation that the time may be coming soon for us to stand up against tyrants and are we willing? BUT, when I mention to the pastor after the sermon that the tyrants are already here, on our soil, and in many homes, what is the response? The vows – the wife must remain and let God do His work because she vowed before God till death. Mercy, please.

    As I leave these conversations, I think: when your little precious daughter grows up, i hope you don’t have to find out the hard way.

    Ending on a good note, thank God for those who have helped EMBOLDEN many to do as God has done and will continue to do – oppose the evil doer. I can see more clearly now!!!

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