A Cry For Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Further Reading

Our FAQ page What About Divorce? 

Murderous Words From a Smiling Mouth: A Common Abuser Tactic

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

The Abuser as Kidnapper and Slave Master

Abusers Want their Victim to Die

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


  1. searching4truth

    What advice would you give to a woman who has been in a physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially abusive relationship and the physical abuse has stopped several years ago but subtle lies continue? Is she free to divorce? I have been following your blog for over a year now and it’s given me clarity in many ways, but I still struggle with guilt when I think about divorcing my husband. I read articles like this and I feel freedom and relief…but there is still the nagging guilt of wondering if I’ve done everything I can. Am I taking every verse correctly in context??

  2. Mr R

    Well said! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. This church had more common sense than is seen in many of our Christian churches today.. Many times women just leave the church altogether if their consciences are repeatedly overruled by church leadership who cannot see the truth of their relationship, especially when they are married to people who are not fit for relationship – they are in marriages that they just cannot stay in.

  4. Clockwork Angel

    Yes! Church history really does shed some light on the subject, doesn’t it? Interestingly, if you want to go back further to the medieval Western Church, you’ll find that though they had a belief in a sacramental marriage that could only be declared null (via annullment) at best, the church would still grant spouses a divorce from bed and board if abuse could be proven. I have even read from one source (though I’m having trouble finding it now) that this included *mental cruelty*, at least in one point of time in medieval Europe. Even post-Reformation England would grant divorce from bed and board on the basis of severe physical abuse and cruelty. However, this was very difficult to obtain. Women had to prove adultery also took place. And, it required an act of Parliament to grant. Nevertheless, the concept of being able to leave your spouse if you’re being abused is there.

    Another example is in Ireland, before they were completely Romanized in their Christianity. They mixed church canon law with the Brehon laws. Women could get divorced (and remarried) for abuse, among a list of other grounds. A simple Google search will give you some interesting links to read with citations from historical works.

    Meanwhile in Eastern Orthodox churches, they have always permitted divorce and remarriage. Today’s modern Eastern Orthodox bishops recognize more and more the legitimacy of divorcing for abuse. Though it can still be wretchedly hard to get permission to divorce (depending on the bishop), nevertheless, one must ask how it is that the eastern churches have developed a wildly different tradition from their western counterparts, if there is supposedly a uniform Christian view on the subject?

    When you step back and look at the whole picture, suddenly the dogmatic proclamations from modern pastors regarding divorce and remarriage aren’t so clear-cut.

  5. Clockwork Angel

    Whoops! Small correction on my last post: Regarding being able to divorce via an act of Parliament in Reformation England, I believe I got my divorce from bed and board (i.e., separation) mixed up with the total divorce with permission to remarry. Apparently, the act of Parliament was for the latter. If you managed to obtain this, you would have permission to remarry. Divorce from bed and board (which did not give permission to remarry) was handled by church courts, and could be obtained on the grounds adultery or cruelty. Obviously, Reformed England had the hardest laws regarding divorce and remarriage. But my point in bringing this all up is that so many churches today won’t even let innocent spouses physically separate from the cruelest of abusers, when such a teaching by and large is not part of historical Christianity.

    • Divorce from bed and board (which did not give permission to remarry) was handled by church courts,

      Actually, I think the Roman Catholic church courts allowed separation from bed and board. The Roman Catholic church allowed separation from bed and board but said that this was not divorce. Rome absolutely forbade divorce. Rome allowed (and still allows) ‘annulment’ but not divorce.

      After Henry the Eighth split England from Rome, and the Anglican church was formed, the Anglican church continued for quite some time with the ‘separation from bed and board’ notion. For more on the history of divorce and remarriage in various churches (the early church, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and various branches of Protestantism) see Appendix 10 in Not Under Bondage.

      • Clockwork Angel

        Yes, divorce from bed and board and separation from bed and board are the same thing. Historians and lawyers use the terms interchangeably. Rome permitted “divorce” (separation) without the right to remarry. An absolute divorce with the right to remarry is a Protestant thing. Or an Eastern Orthodox thing. This is why when pastors rant and rave that you can’t get a divorce, but only separate, I roll my eyes. They always assume divorce = remarriage. Not necessarily, depending on how one uses the terminology. In fact, getting a divorce in some states in the USA is necessary for child custody, as far as I understand.

        In fact, today’s Roman Catholic and Anglican churches will permit a civil divorce with no annulment required, with the understanding that it’s really a divorce/separation from bed and board, with no right to remarry, regardless of what the state allows you to do. You can still receive communion in both churches so long as you don’t remarry, or else get an annulment before you remarry. Again, this is why so many Protestant pastors sound like lunatics. They can’t seem to separate divorce and remarriage as two separate things in their heads, and thus won’t let their parishioners do either. Shucks, my Anglican priest told me that he helped advised someone through a divorce. So there you have it. Pastors who forbid people from divorcing in situations of abuse etc. are nuts and completely “divorced” from the historic reality.

      • Basically I agree with you CA, except for the bit where you said

        divorce from bed and board and separation from bed and board are the same thing. Historians and lawyers use the terms interchangeably. Rome permitted “divorce” (separation) without the right to remarry

        The Roman Church has never said that ‘divorce from bed and board’ and ‘separation from bed and board’ are the same thing. So any historians or lawyers who use those the terms interchangeably are not accurately representing what the Roman Catholic Church says.

        As I understand it, Rome permitted and still permits separation from bed and board and in that circumstance Rome does not allow remarriage to a new partner. Rome also created the (mostly unscriptural, much manipulated) ‘annullment’ system which declared that the marriage had never been a legal marriage so it was spiritually permitted to annul it (= to declare it nul and void). And if a marriage had been annulled because the church had ruled there had never been a real marriage in the first place, the person whose marriage had been annulled could marry someone else.

  6. Anonymous

    This isn’t exactly on-topic, but I read The People’s Bible and there was a simple sentence that just had so much clarity for me:

    “Every time we sin we rebel against God and serve Satan.” (p. 83 of the 1, 2 Samuel book).

    Sin separates us from God. Sin is serious, serious, deadly business. Jesus said, “you are either for Me or against Me.” There is no in-between.

    I think it’s a particular light-bulb moment for me because I married someone who very nearly killed me and who should be in prison……and it’s like a tolerance that is built up in the victim where nothing much phases the victim anymore because pretty much everything that could happen to them, has already happened to them and life is just a blur of pain.

    I’m being mobbed yet and there’s a lot of ongoing victimization, and it’s helpful to see that these aren’t just poor choices on the parts of those who victimize me, but rather Satan’s army, doing its devilish deeds. And these people aren’t looking to serve Almighty God but rather are doing their father, the devil’s evil works.

    Thankfully ACFJ exists and this blog keeps on going as reading the 90 percent versus 10 percent thoughts from last week’s comments, was really helpful for me. Most of the world’s population is going to hell. Most people do not seek to do God’s Will, serve Him, glorify Him, and keep His Commands.

  7. Seeking

    When i met my husband over 20 years ago, he was a gentle patient and a man of God. Little did I know what was lurking underneath. Maybe if I had given it serious thought I might have realized that marriage to him was a no-no.

    After marriage the real him came out in tranches. He did not not turn into a frog overnight. Worse still I never realized what he was doing to me would be regarded as abuse by this site. It is only now that I have been reading the articles on abuse by ACFJ which has helped me a lot to understand what I went through and that it was not my fault.

    I believe in God and that He has helped me to cope with the trauma I faced, even when I did not know that my husband was evil. I was praying that he would leave but he did not. I read a reader’s comment on this site that Pastor Jeff had mentioned that when God does not remove us from the abusive marriage it is because He has a purpose for us to fulfil and that there may be something He wants us to learn and at the right time God will remove us from the marriage. Could you please tell me where I can find this particular post by Pastor Jeff. I just need some encouragement not to give up as nothing seems to be happening and God seems silent. Thank you.


    • Hi Seeking, I am unable to recall that Ps Jeff wrote that “when God does not remove us from the abusive marriage it is because He has a purpose for us to fulfil and that there may be something he wants us to learn and at the right time God will remove us from the marriage.”

      I don’t think Jeff would have written anything like that, as he doesn’t believe that and he knows it is advice that could easily lead to victims staying for longer in the abuse.

      Your comment brings up the whole question “What is the purpose of suffering?” It’s a complex question, but a good one!

      Do we sometimes learn things from the suffering we undergo? Certainly. Do we sometimes find that suffering matures and grows our character? Yes. Do we sometimes find out, after the suffering is over, that other good things come from that experience? Yes. We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

      Did Christ’s suffering bring wonderful things to His people? Yes — because He atoned for our sins so we can be forgiven. But can an ordinary human, a flawed human being, atone for the sins of someone else? Can a victim of abuse atone for the sins of her abuser? NO! Never never never can the victim’s suffering make the abuser better, bring the abuser to repentance, help the children of the marriage, ‘display the gospel’ to a watching world, etc. The church today dismally fails to teach this!

      The church today usually tells victims of abuse that suffering is always to be just endured without resistance, without complaint, with ‘joy’, and without ever fleeing from those who are sinning against the victim and causing her to suffer… The church today typically fails to teach about the biblical principle of fleeing persecution.

      Welcome to the blog. 🙂 We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQs. You will find at least one topic there which directly relates to your question.

    • Also, many victims of abuse who have separated from their abusers do not say that God removed them from the abusive marriage. Some of our readers testify that God opened doors and provided in unexpected ways– but that only really happened after the victim herself decided to separate from the abuser and was taking steps to achieve safety away from the abuser. You do not have to ‘wait on God’ for Him to take the initiative. You can, if you wish, take the initiative to separate from your abuser yourself. And there is no sin in that decision!

      Here is a post which may help you: https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/10/10/the-bible-does-allow-divorce-for-domestic-abuse/

  8. questioning

    I was in an abusive marriage for many years. Separating from my former husband was definitely the right thing to do for me. After a few years of separation we were divorced in a civil action. I have not remarried. There are additional circumstances that have prevented me from remarriage. Looking back, I can see that I would have made serious mistakes. I found myself the target of more abusers. I did not find them out at first. What kept me from remarrying was my uncertainty about God’s blessing. Being abused causes emotional damage and distress. In my case I was not ready to remarry in the 14 years since I was separated. I am getting the wisdom that I need for remarriage now, but it’s not on my radar at this time for various reasons.
    The apostle Paul’s advice was to remain unmarried. He states that we would be happier unmarried. I think for me, he was right. Paul states that if we remarry we will need to please our mate. Being single allows us to commit fully to God, to make our own decisions.

  9. Eagerlabs

    [Note from ACFJ Admins, Eagerlabs has told us she meant to post this comment on the post about Debi Pearl’s book.]

    Wow. I know what site I’m on yet still struggled with it being a poor attempt at satire when reading that drivel. What verbal vomit! I couldn’t even finish reading the honeymoon assault. *Gulk*

    • Hi Eagerlabs, I put a note in you comment saying you posted it at the wrong post. Can you plse post yr comment on the Debi Pearl post as well? Thanks!

  10. Jessica K

    This is stomach-clenchingly frightening. As a survivor of emotional, financial, and (eventually) physical abuse, this kind of twisting of God’s word and intent make me ill. This is the kind of message that I heard in my own upbringing that kept me trapped far too long in an unhealthy and dangerous marriage. How horrible that they are propagating such emotional abusiveness as “God’s plan” to a wider audience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    • Hi Jessica, welcome to the blog 🙂

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQs.

      If you want us to change it to something a bit less identifying (you gave what appears to be you first name and the initial of your surname), just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be happy to assist. 🙂

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