A Cry For Justice

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

Church Leaders Charge Victims with Sin for Leaving the Abuser

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Peter 5:1-3)

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17)

Ok, let’s sort this church authority thing out again.

Hardly a week goes by that we do not receive a report of a local church – pastor and leaders – threatening to or actually exercising discipline (up to ex-communication) on an abuse victim. Generally a woman. Why? Because she refuses to reconcile, return to, submit to her abuser. The church tells her God does not permit her to divorce.

And they cite verses like Hebrews 13:17 above, but in language that makes it sound like they are covered regarding Peter’s instruction to them not to lord it over the flock. “We are saddened and grieved. We love you and your husband. We want the best for you and your family. It grieves us to tears that you have not obeyed our instruction to return and be reconciled.” Yada, yada, yada. Same old schtick. Usually these kinds of letters save the real punch for last – “and unless you do obey we will be forced to enact church discipline upon you.”

So what about this church authority business?

The local church has indeed been given Christ’s authority. For what? To deal with unrepentant sin in people who claim to be Christians. The church has the authority to actually hand such a one over to Satan (see 1 Cor 5) and Christ stands with the church in that action when rightfully carried out. A church that will not obey the Lord in this regard is sinning. Their authority rests in the Scriptures.

Now, here’s the thing. In these abuse cases (and probably in many others as well) what is happening over and over again is that THE WICKED PERSON – THE ABUSER – IS NOT BEING PUT OUT OF THE CHURCH, THE VICTIM IS!! Happens all the time. ALL the time! And why is she being put out? Because she will not “obey” the pastor/elders instruction to return to her abuser, remain married, and never divorce.

Alright then. Let’s move on a bit further here and ask the pertinent question:  DOES THE LOCAL CHURCH HAVE THE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY GOD TO GRANT OR DENY PERMISSION TO DIVORCE? Or, to put it this way, DOES A PERSON NEED TO OBTAIN THE PERMISSION OF THEIR CHURCH BEFORE THEY CAN DIVORCE? These churches would answer both questions “YES”!

And I am telling them, NO YOU DO NOT.

What churches DO have the authority to deal with is sin in unrepentant professing Christians – like abusers. The only authority the church has is the Word of God. And although there are legions of rankly arrogant church leaders around today who insist that THEIR take on what the Scriptures say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage is the infallible, inerrant position, what kind of person, really, is going to insist that THEIR position is correct when in fact it is obvious that so many Christians disagree on these subjects? YET THESE PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY EX-COMMUNICATE AN ABUSE VICTIM FOR NOT SUBMITTING TO THEIR INTERPRETATION AND OBEYING THEM.

People – you do NOT need your church’s permission to divorce. Yes, if you sinfully abandon your spouse for selfish, evil reasons, then you are sinning and it is your SIN that the church has authority to deal with. But where – show me chapter and verse – where does the Bible EVER say that the local church has the “keys” that the Pope claims to hold when it comes to granting or denying marital divorce? Where? It isn’t in the Bible. It is an invented tradition of man that is holding so many people in bondage.

We have victims contact us regularly, all in fear and terrible anxiety, because they know they are being abused, they know in their own conscience God is leading them to leave their abuser, but their church is overtly or covertly threatening to ex-communicate them from the kingdom of God, and so they don’t know what to do. I tell them all the same thing. Don’t fear those threats. Laugh at them. They hold no authority over you in your decision to leave your abuser. You do not need the church’s permission to divorce.

Pastors, elders, and church members – all of you who keep laying this enslaving false teaching on people – YOU are playing the role of the false teachers the Apostle Paul warns us all against who hinder people from the kingdom of God. Yep, it’s YOU:

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. (Gal 5:7-8)

No, this persuasion is NOT from the Lord. It is from YOU guys who are lording it over the flock and claiming authority for yourselves that Christ never gave you. You know what He says about you? This –

I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Gal 5:12)

And the Lord also exposes your real motive in treating victims like you do –

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Gal 6:12)

Oh, I’ve seen the game. I know the company line. No divorce for abuse. No divorce except for adultery and even if the guy does adulterate, God’s best is for you to stay in the game. That’s the line. That’s the “approved tradition” of the usual culprits who sit on stages at conference after conference (which I gave up attending long ago)  and write the books (which I quit buying long ago) and garner the oohs and ahhs from the masses (that I never received). And you, the disciples of these culprits, all know full well that if you stray from their company line, it’s going to cost you. So you just keep perpetuating these perversions of God’s Word else you know that you might have to pay up like a creationist professor in a typical evolutionary university. I know. I have seen it over and over again. I have personally communicated with big name church leaders who privately admit that divorce for abuse is right but then say “but if you tell anyone I said that I will deny it.” Yep, that’s what they say.

You, the victims of abuse or other wrongs that destroy the marriage covenant – you do not need the permission of your pastor, of your elders, of your church to divorce. And when they insist that you do, when they start the rumblings and threatenings of the ex-communication machinery, shake your head, knock their dust off your shoes, and move on with no fear into freedom.

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Further Reading:

Church discipline and church permission for divorce – how my mind has changed (by Barbara Roberts)

David Instone-Brewer, The Westminster Confession, and Judging Divorce

The Puritan Confessions on Divorce & Remarriage — Ps David Dykstra discusses why the London Confession (the confession of Reformed Baptists) did not include the section on divorce and remarriage which the Westminster Confession included.

Does God hate divorce? (Youtube)

Isn’t adultery the only ground for divorce?

True or False?  “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”

Arguing From the Lesser to the Greater to Establish Biblical Divorce 

Challenging the No Divorce for Abuse Fortress Which Has Been Raised Up Against the Knowledge of God

Is Mercury Poisoning a Valid Reason for Divorce?

Is Divorce For Abuse Biblical?  Who’s Asking?

The Bible virtually commands divorce for domestic abuse

Good men: please denounce the Permanence View of Marriage that denies any reason for divorce

You have heard that it was said “God hates divorce,” but I say unto you. . .

We Make Void God’s Word when we Prohibit Divorce for Abuse

Which One is Worse? The Adulterer or the Abuser? Thoughts on Divorce for Abuse

19 Comments

  1. <>

    What incredible duplicity! And look what’s happening to more and more celebrity pastors. . . .

    Thank you, Jeff, for continuing to shine the light and give hope.

  2. Teres

    I left a church for all those reasons. The “pastor” sent letters concerning my soul (accusing me of being the unbeliever here.) and then accused me of slander (another trick). Hardly anyone spoke to me from the church after that. I divorced and moved away.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Changed your screen name for anonymity. GOOD decision to leave that “church” and get free and move. Excellent and so glad you were able to do it. Yep. I have been a pastor now for 34 years and I am still blown away at how many of these guys are standing in pulpits and oppressing the oppressed. Typical scenario is that the abuser ends up still sitting in the pews, a member in good standing, feeding on the sympathy and pity of those he has made his allies.

  3. Lea

    “I have personally communicated with big name church leaders who privately admit that divorce for abuse is right but then say “but if you tell anyone I said that I will deny it.” ”

    Here is what I think is happening with some people. They think if they say it’s ok to divorce for abuse, people will start divorcing for any old reason and they are just SO worried about that, that they feel the need to ignore the real problems and start minimizing them – for instance, every example they give will be something ridiculously trivial. There is this huge fear, imo, that it will open the floodgates and they would rather people stay in abusive marriages than see someone completely unrelated potentially divorce for reasons they don’t like.

    Which is doubly wrong, because if someone is going to divorce for trivial reasons they are going to do it whether the pastors agrees or not.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Nailed it!! Good words. The fact is that the divorce rate in the church needs to be HIGHER in the sense that we should be helping abuse victims get free of their abuser. And if we would keep exposing abusers instead of covering for them and becoming their allies, they would eventually leave and divorce for abuse would get less and less necessary. These wicked types, make no mistake, LOVE the church because they know they can easily dupe people.

    • Sunflower

      That’s the exact reason why abusers abuse. They are afraid that ‘if I give her an inch, she will take a mile’, so they keep their thumbs HARD on you and make sure you don’t get that inch. Control. Power-over. It’s addicting, and it’s not Christian at all. I think it’s the biggest lust of the flesh there is.

      • Lea

        Oh! Very insightful I think, Sunflower.

    • Well said, Lea.

      My book did not open the floodgates to trivial divorce. I’ve not had ANY feedback saying that…. except for a few things from men who are obviously abusers. (Their language is easy to recognise, if you’ve heard from enough of them.)

      Never once has a pastor written to me saying “Your book opens the floodgates to trivial divorce.” And at least of one of the men who reviewed my book specifically stated that my book does not open the floodgates.

  4. Anonymous

    I was at the grocery store the other day, filling my cart with chips. An older woman (over 70) came near me and said something like, “We all love chips but they aren’t good for us,” then went on to say that she eats them anyway. I told her I don’t touch them–they were for my husband. She laughed and said her husband loves them too but he shouldn’t eat them due to his health issues. I told her I no longer police my husbands health and freely buy all the “bad” things he knows he shouldn’t eat, drink or smoke because for one thing it’s “his” money and for another it just creates battles that I have zero desire to fight any longer.

    As we talked she said that she’d been married for 45 years. I said, “And it’s been hell, right?” She looked at me closely and then started to laugh! As we talked I shared that I too had been married for nearly three decades, so “on paper” it looks like we have a successful marriage but the reality is that I’m basically married to the emotional equivalent of a toddler. She asked me if I wasn’t worried that I’d have to take care of my husband if he ruined his health. I told her that bad health can happen to anyone at any age and I’d deal with it when the time came but that if the roles were reversed my husband would have no qualms about abandoning me.

    This woman then shared the sorrow of her marriage and how this was actually her second marriage (her first husband had died) but that it too had been hell. And THIS is truth and THIS is reality and THIS is something that abusive elders in the church force us to hold on to.

    Where were these “concerned” men (or women for that matter) of God BEFORE I married this Anti-Christ? Where were these knowledgeable fellows when I was being trained up to serve and cater to ALL humans including those who belong to the devil? Where were these experts when I was wanting to serve Jesus but had seen several beautiful truly Godly women broken and destroyed by their good “Christian” husbands so I thought to myself that if THESE women weren’t good enough to be Godly wives, I wasn’t worthy AT ALL, so gave up and settled for a “decent” man.

    And there are people who will read what I’ve written above and will IMMEDIAETLY start to lambast me for my insolence and say that I DESERVE what I got and that it is clear to them that I have a rebel heart and mind and no wonder God gave me an Anti-Christ for a husband!

    And they, like so many of us did before we came to understand the truth of Gods word, miss THE ENTIRE point….they miss THE HEART! They miss the heart of God and instead hold onto all the “rules” that have been created in order to pretend that all we need to do is do A then B then C and all will fit perfectly into the box that they’ve created for us. And we who truly belong to Jesus will be defeated.

    But we aren’t defeated are we little ones? Those of us here. We ARE the true remnant of God…

    2 Corinthians 4:7-9, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; [we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;”

    The word for “earthen” is used only twice in the bible and here it means, “ostrákinos (“earthen, made of clay”) is used metaphorically of the frail human body of believers – which serves as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” That’s us…the frail human body of believers…and THIS frail human’s (me) love for Jesus can’t be kept locked away. And THIS frail human (me) had tried for over forty years to be everything these abusive men of the church had wanted me to be…until Jesus woke me up. Thanks fellas but I’ll just hang out with MY savior Jesus and he can be found in His word and in the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.

  5. Released!

    Oh boy. I stayed in a church that told me that I must not divorce my husband even for abuse. However, they would not counsel us on a regular basis. I grew more angry and frustrated and continued to let the church know if his escalating abuse. Instead of protecting me and confronting the abuser, they sat in silence while I rapidly deteriorated emotionally from the abuse. I started coming here to this website thank you Lord for bringing me here and I realized what was going on. I started to see through the fog and recognized the spiritual abuse and left that church 3 years ago. About 18 months after that, I received a letter from them feigning concern over my soul and that I was being charged with the sin of not attending church. What a joke. I just laughed. It took me another 2 1/2 years before I was willing to step into another church. I told the pastor I was divorced from my husband for abuse and alcoholism, and he told me that my husband broke the marriage covenant and that I was not sinning by having divorced. Bless that man. I stayed at the church. They have come up alongside me and helped me and my children showed us the live of Jesus in action. I am so thankful. Wonderful churches out there do exist.

    • Anonymous

      Released, I’m so proud of you and so grateful that you’ve found a wonderful church! It’s amazing how different God and the world look to us once we’re able to be His children instead of the puppets / paper dolls they tried to force us to be with all their traditions of men.

      It seems that many of these abusive churches would rather have every single one of the true Christians who attend their churches, “… (sit) in silence while I rapidly deteriorated emotionally from the abuse.”

      “Yep, but you’re still toeing the line, right lady? I mean, we can’t have you naïve women waking up to the truth in God’s word or the strength that can be found through the Holy Spirit. So just sit your pretty little self right there, don’t raise your voice above a whisper and we’ll continue to tell you that it’s NOT abuse you just need to look at things in a different way…OUR way, the way that shuts you up and tears you down but keeps us having access to those like you so that you can prop the rest of us up. It’s a fine, fine system we’ve got in place (from our self-loving standpoint) so don’t rock the boat. The water is deep and cold outside OUR walls of safety, so just sit down and grab an oar and work like mad, while we sit here judging your rowing capabilities and finding them lacking. Row, row, row your boat…”

      Oh how I DON’T miss those days of abuse within the abusive church systems.

  6. MarkQ

    So much truth. I came from that tradition. The person who called it quits was the sinner, no matter what the other person did, even sometimes adultery.

    The obedience to leadership is even worse than that, though. It seems that no matter how stupid the leadership’s direction is, members are forced to obey it. If a member refuses to obey the leadership, the “issue” is never how stupid their advice was or whether they really had the authority to command it, but simply the fact that the member disobeyed.

    One issue I was really close to was this on steroids. I have nearly all of the pertinent records. The church told a man to quit his job because his occupation was “sinful”. I wasn’t a fan of his job either, but, I didn’t think the church had that authority. The leaders wrote a justification for their decision that not only was full of logical errors, but that effectively said no one could work for a public company (working for a company that is greedy for profit is “sinful”). This was appealed, and the next tier of church government doubled down by adding their additional conditions to what companies people could work for. The end result (taking their logic) was that virtually every secular occupation is “sinful”. One of the leaders tried to wake them up to the question of whether it was really legitimate for leaders to exact that sort of control over a member and his question was soundly rejected.

    On the flip side, the victim was weighed down by misinterpreted Bible verses. He kept feeling like he needed to reconcile, but every time he tried to reconcile, it made matters worse. Many of his trusted friends were saying, “set a godly example by obeying the leaders, even though you disagree”. His situation really exposed to me how abusive that church was.

  7. Marie Notcheva

    Thank you for telling my story. People from that church are coming out of the woodwork – PRIVATELY – to voice their support and tell their own horror stories with Heritage. This has been done to so many people (spiritual abuse is not just limited to divorce cases, of course). I’m sick of it and tired and too busy to deal with this, but enough is enough. Someone had to stand up to them and say “No more!”

    A woman who left the church for similar reasons (spiritual abuse, but not divorce) a year and a half ago just messaged me:

    When I heard that someone had gone public with an injustice that was done to them at HBC, my comment was “Tim ticked off the wrong person this time! Thank you for your courage and for speaking the truth. We all have our own stories with different situations but these elders should be ashamed and God will defend you, you’re not alone!

    🙂

  8. Anonymous

    When a pastor becomes abusive, tormenting, and manipulative himself as he actively sides with your admitted wife-beater abuser, then all is lost. Church becomes something foreign. I don’t know how a pastor, while acting in his pastoral capacity, is allowed to be so violating and menacing. With all the subtlety in the world, of course. When witnesses are not around. It ruins a person’s faith in everything. If the church is corrupt and pastors are creeps, then what is left in life? I think about what the lives are like for those sexually abused as kids by Catholic priests who then were treated as the troublemakers out to ruin a priest of all people! This might not be the most on-topic comment but it is really weighing on me. Sure pastors are fallible and human, but why take up for a known criminal and violent predator? Why further torment that victim who basically has nobody and nothing? Without any shame or hesitancy in doing it all, either.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I believe the answer to most all your questions is – those kind of pastors are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are unregenerate.

    • I agree with what Jeff said — they are very likely wolves in sheep’s clothing and not born again so they don’t have the Spirit indwelling.

      If the church is corrupt and pastors are creeps, then what is left in life?

      What is left is God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to Him we cling.

      • Anonymous

        “What is left is God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.. And to Him we cling.” So comforting how you said that. When drowning in a vat of poison, one tends to develop huge blindspots. Of course, God is left.

        People are just mere fellow humans. God is our Maker and Creator and He is everything. We are not to trust in man, but God alone. Yes, to Him, through His Holy Word and the Sacraments, we cling.

  9. Un-Tangled

    The same sort of things are said to a victim of parental abuse if she walks away from her abusive parent/family. The verses she is hit over the head with are “Honor your father and your mother.” Apparently, according to these people, if a person is abused by a stranger, she can escape and find freedom. However, if she has the misfortune to get married to or be born to an abuser, freedom is forever denied her…because, they are, after all, family. That’s illogical, unBiblical, and evil.

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