A Cry For Justice

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

The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce is dangerous for abuse victims

The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage suggests that only physical violence is grounds for divorce. And it assumes that marriage problems are mutually caused so both parties are partly at fault if the marriage is in difficulties.

What’s more, although the Position Paper — which came out in 1992 — says that an abused spouse can divorce for physical abuse, the Paper’s guidance is not binding on PCA churches in America. Churches do not have to follow the Paper’s guidance if they don’t want to.

  • A PCA church can tell abuse victims that they have no grounds to divorce their abusers, even if the abuser uses severe or habitual physical violence.
  • A PCA Church can excommunicate abuse victims for divorcing abusers.
  • And no-one in the PCA will hold that church accountable for its cruelty to the victim.

We know that PCA churches are often excommunicating abuse victims for divorcing their abusers, because we hear the reports from the victims. Jessica Fore’s story is one example. We’ve heard too many reports of PCA churches mistreating and disciplining victims of domestic abuse to discount this kind of thing a rare aberration in the PCA. A woman who wants to be known as ‘DB’ said recently:

My cousin is in ministry with the PCA. He and his wife are currently getting degrees in counseling. They are currently counseling over a dozen abuse survivors who were further abused by the church. Please pray that they will be able to influence others to come together and change the policies and understanding that govern domestic violence and spiritual abuse.

I am not giving the link to where DB said that, to protect her and her extended family. Another person responded to DB’s comment:

Yeah that doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’ve heard from other counselors that say the PCA keeps them in business.

We don’t want to give them impression that all PCA churches are mistreating abuse victims. We have at least one longtime commenter on this blog who attends a PCA church which disciplines abusive husbands and proactively supports women in their decision to divorce abusive men.

We’ve heard that the Position Paper isn’t followed in many PCA churches. We’ve heard that some PCA pastors are not even aware of the Paper, which suggests PCA seminaries and media are not putting much effort into telling their students and pastors about the Paper. And we know of at least one PCA church which selectively cherry picked sentences from the Position Paper in order to condemn her for separating from her abuser — read a letter from a PCA church which did this.

Why is this PCA Position Paper dangerous for abuse victims?

The problems are in the section of the paper titled ‘Applying Paul’s Instruction About Desertion Today’ (Section II, paragraph E, subsection 4). That section states their position on abuse being grounds for divorce.

It assumes that marriage problems are always mutually caused and both parties are partly at fault

On p. 245 of the Paper, when advising elders who are dealing with a marriage in which divorce is on the cards, it says:

The elders must carefully approach the question of delving beneath the precipitating cause of the divorce to the underlying issues. The elders cannot allow themselves to be used by one spouse seeking the condemnation of the other’s sin, while refusing to acknowledge, in most cases, some responsibility for the crisis.

Elders who follow that teaching will refuse to wholeheartedly condemn the abuser and believe and support the victim. This means they will further oppress and hurt the victim. And in doing that, they will enable the abuser.

It suggests that only physical violence is grounds for divorce

It says ’emotional problems’ are not ground for divorce. It dismisses emotions as merely ‘inward and subjective’ experiences and ignores the fact that abusers emotionally abuse their victims with calculated forethought and intention to intimidate and confuse them. It never discusses how abusers can inflict great harm on their victims by using emotional abuse, verbal abuse, coercive control, financial abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, intimidation, micromanage the daily lives of victims, treat them like servants or slaves, and psychologically manipulate them by gaslighting them.

Here are excepts from the paper in which I have used red font to show how the Position Paper only consider physical violence to count as REAL abuse and only if it’s ‘serious’ or ‘habitual’ violence.

Are there other forms of separation today that may be considered equivalent to this leaving of the marriage of which Paul speaks? Specifically, what about cases of habitual physical abuse? Has that person deserted his spouse to the extent we may label it de facto divorce? We must be careful not to open the floodgate of excuses. On the other hand, we need to recognize the reality of the separation. We should allow Sessions the liberty to discern with much prayer what would be the proper response in particular circumstance. … 

What is more, a husband’s violence, particularly to the degree that it endangers his wife’s safety, if unremedied, seems to us, by any application of Biblical norms, to be as much a ruination of the marriage in fact as adultery or actual departure. This is so precisely because his violence separates them, either by her forced withdrawal from the home or by the profound cleavage between them which the violence produces, as surely as would his own departure, and is thus an expression of his unwillingness ―to consent to live with her in marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-13; Eph. 5:28-29). Further, insofar as the passivity of the blameless spouse is an important prerequisite in Paul‘s permission of the dissolution of marriage on account of desertion, it seems right to note that in the case of physical abuse, for example, the blameless spouse is similarly victimized. 

Finally, credible alternatives to this point-of-view seem to us to be wholly lacking Scriptural support. It is all very well to recommend separation as a temporal expedient to protect a battered wife, but perpetual separation amounts to a Roman Catholic doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage and could scarcely be justified as a Biblical alternative to divorce.

Indeed, separation of any kind as a means of dealing with marital difficulty and preventing divorce not only is neither recommended nor mentioned in Scripture, but seems to be contrary to a fundamental principle of Biblical spirituality, viz. that what ought not to be done, ought not to be approached.

We are quick to add, however, that the list of sins tantamount to desertion cannot be very long. To qualify, a sin must have the same extreme effect as someone‘s physical abandonment of his spouse. Both porneia and desertion are objective acts by which a marital covenant might be broken. The Bible gives no justification for divorce based on merely inward, emotional, and subjective reasons. Even if we find justification for interpreting porneia and desertion in a broader sense than some have, they must be broadened only within the boundaries of serious objective acts of sexual immorality or desertion. They must not be interpreted in any way that opens the floodgates to divorces based on subjective reasons, such as irreconcilable differences, emotional separation, loss of affection, or the like. There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for His people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. Emotional problems in and of themselves are not Biblical grounds for divorce. And the elders of Christ’s Church must not surrender to worldly pressures and allow that which God does not allow.

David Clyde Jones suggested that the divorce paragraph in the Westminster Confession be revised

The PCA  in America supposedly adheres 100% to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). Every PCA minister and elder has to vow at his ordination that he believes the WCF and will uphold it.  The Westminster Confession was written in the seventeenth century. There is no good reason why it could not be revised by the church today and the modified version be used as the benchmark for the PCA  and any other Reformed denominations which wanted to use it. In fact, R Scott Clark who is highly respected in Reformed circles suggested recently (here) that we need a new confession, because there are different issues today which the old confessions do not adequately address.

Professor David Clyde Jones who taught Biblical Ethics at Covenant Seminary suggested¹ that paragraph 24.6 of the Confession ought to be be reworded as follows:

Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage, yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion repudiation of the marriage covenant as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.

My message to church leaders who are reading this post

If you think only physical violence counts as ‘real’ abuse, please read our definitions in the sidebar of this blog. And because I know most pastors are time poor, I’ll make it easy for you by pasting them here:

The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.

The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.

* Sometimes the genders are reversed. See ‘male survivors’ in the Tags tab in our top menu.

And for leaders who want to learn how better to respond to domestic abuse, we’ve created a special page on this blog: As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?

________

¹  “The Westminster Confession on Divorce and Remarriage” by David Clyde Jones, Presbyterion XVI, 1 (Spring 1990), p 28.  [ https://www.academia.edu/ may have a link to that article but their website was not working when I wrote this post.]  Dr Jones submitted his article to the Eighteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America as part of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage; see p 214 n. 67  of the PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce & Remarriage. The PCA committee chose to not agree with Dr Jones’s suggestion of a change in the wording of the WCF. And they didn’t even mention his suggestion in their Position Paper.

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Related posts

Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt believe that abuse is grounds for divorce

Abuse in a PCA church: Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story  (part 1 of a 7 part series)

Jessica Fore (Abuse Survivor) Charged by her PCA Church with Contempt – She is Telling the World — the church is Faith Presbyterian Church Watkinsville Georgia, USA.

One of the Worst Letters We Have Seen From a Pastor to an Abuse Victim  — this letter came from a PCA church

When Christians only partly get it right about abuse and divorce  — this critiques an article about divorce by Dr Michael (Mike) Ross who at that time was the senior pastor of Christ Covenant PCA church, Matthews, North Carolina.

Ps Mike Ross, Christ Covenant Church NC — Why Hasn’t He Answered Jeff Crippen?

Abuse and Divorce: A Disagreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith by Ps Jeff Crippen

You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse

64 Comments

  1. Hello Sunshine

    Quoted from position paper above: “There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for His people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other.”

    Is this true? Is a marriage covenant being upheld when one party does not love the other?

    When parties have entered into a marriage agreement with the expectation of mutual love (it is usually part of the vows, after all) and one is actually UNLOVED, is it really the other’s duty to persevere in great pain and does their commitment mean they must continue business-as-usual in the marriage?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good observation, HS. Marriage is a covenant, a legal contract if you will at minimum. False swearing and deception in entering into a contract are always grounds for dissolution of the contract in most any contractual relationship we could imagine. For anyone to swear in vows to “love, honor,” etc and then to never intend to keep that vow is rank deception. And if we were to flesh out the failure to love, how it is evidenced in other words, it would be pretty ugly. “Even when we are not loved by the other” = “even when your spouse abuses you, repeatedly deeply hurts you with no repentance, ignores you as if you don’t exist” and on and on. But you are right. The wording here in the quote minimizes that evil and enables abuse.

      • M&M

        I’ve heard it said “it’s a covenant, not a contract” meaning that you can’t leave it the way you can leave an employment contract. However, I don’t think you can love your neighbor without putting some limits on what is tolerated.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes, I’ve heard that too but it doesn’t hold water. Covenant or contract. Virtual synonyms.

      • Still Struggling

        HS and Pastor Jeff, I read that paragraph and had the same thoughts. I’m not a part of that church but It seems the PCA and many other churches have a warped view of God’s design for marriage and what vows mean. So did I at one time. I know better now. It’s their own human view, not God’s which he clearly lays out for us in scripture. How do I know now? Through study of His word, coming to know His heart through prayer and all the reading I do here and comforting words from all of you at this blog. I am so thankful God lead me here and you are all so open about your experiences. Bless you and Barbara for working so diligently to share the truth of God’s heart through proper study of scripture. The truth is setting me free!

      • Jeff Crippen

        Thank you for the encouragement SS! Yes, most all of us were duped by the false teachings so prevalent in churches. Things that originate in man and yet are paraded as God’s Word. But the Lord turns on the lights of our minds and by His Spirit and Word exposes these things as lies. It is growing harder and harder every year it seems to find a local church that has rejected the “company line” of twisted Scripture teachings. Blessings on you as well!

      • The “covenant, not contract” is a false distinction, and ALSO completely meaningless. The point they are making is generally that covenants can’t be broken. But this is false all the way through scripture. Covenant breakers are real people in the bible. God himself divorced Israel because they didn’t keep the covenant.

        We are saved, not because covenants are unbreakable, but because Jesus kept all of the conditions. it is an important distinction. If covenants were unbreakable, no matter what anyone does then Jesus’ life, work, passion, and resurrection would have been unnecessary.

        God is still just and holy, and cannot dwell with sin. Whether you call it a covenant or a contract, the point is still that they can and are broken all the time. That is why Jesus came into the world.

    • HeLovesMe

      Thank you for that wonderful comment. I recently had a Facebook discussion with someone who was asking some honest questions about what abuse is, and what Scripture has to say about it, etc. I confess I used some words from this website to describe abuse, which I hope is all right. It’s hard to find that one verse that maybe he was looking for that says: “thou shalt not abuse (in any way, shape or form)!” Instead I pointed to verses about the marriage covenant & indicted that when these verses are disobeyed, neglected, ignored or downright challenged–that is going to bring nothing but bad fruit. It’s not just no fruit, it’s bad fruit. If a husband constantly refuses to love his wife as himself–that is going to leave the spouse feeling unloved, alienated & unworthy. That, to me, is another way to define abuse. When the covenant isn’t being lived out, pursued & very much taken seriously–I believe it will spell disaster. I don’t understand, at all, how they can advocate that a loving God only cares about physical bruises on a physical body. My bruises were almost never physical & I can testify that He saw (and so did I) every single inner bruise that no one saw but Him.

  2. Seeing Clearly

    Thank you for bringing PCA’s documentation once again.

    This past week, I became aware of one more physical disorder due to long term spiritual, emotional, mental abuse. VSD (Vocal Chord Disfunction) is often found in women who have experienced sexual abuse, among other causes. The result is shortness of breath due to vocal chords closing instead of opening to inhale.

    Most often, it is overlooked as the source of breathing difficulties. Asthma is the misdiagnosis. In 2000, I had to end my career due to extreme abuse. At that time I had, what I thought was a few asthma attacks. Due to asthma diagnosis, I have been using a steroid inhaler for the past 15 yrs, never sensing it helped. Currently, a Pulmonologist diagnosed VCD. It makes great sense. I will hopefully correct the dysfunction with speech therapy and intense psychotherapy to face the events of abuse at a deeper level.

    Today’s blog reinforces the great damage occurring on a daily basis because church leaders claim to have the final word on abuse, Incorrect, untruthful words are placed on paper and given power to hold the abused in a bondage that sends them to medical offices over and over, draining finances, losing jobs, stepping away socially, struggling to get the life-giving oxygen that God gives so freely.

    Infirmation in VCD is readily available online.

  3. M&M

    This sounds like it’s saying the grounds for divorce must be at least as severe as adultery, but I feel like coercive control of any kind (physical or not) is worse. Not trying to downplay the pain of adultery since it feels like emotional abuse, but the theoretical scenario of adultery without other coercion gives the victim more freedom to seek support. So if the requirement for divorce is “at least as bad as adultery” then non-physical coercion qualifies!!

    Although yesterday’s sermon at my not-PCA church didn’t mention abuse or divorce there’s 2 things I appreciated. A pastor said that “wives submit to your husbands” is a less severe verb in Greek than “children obey your parents”. I inferred that you don’t treat a wife like a child. Also, significant time was spent on “Fathers do not embitter your children”. It won’t stop an abuser, but it tells potential victims that God doesn’t approve of abuse.

    On idea I’ve never heard, but have thought about is the difference between obeying tasks and obeying emotions. For example, if an angry, hateful father says “clean your room” God wants the child to clean the room but does Not want the child to feel worthless or hated. Since it’s not natural for children to make the distinction they associate room-cleaning with abuse and may grow up to hate certain parts of the Bible and/or think that any reference to cleaning is abusive. Hebrews says that we respect our earthly father’s discipline, but what about those who have reason not to respect it?

    • 3Blossommom

      Adultery doesn’t just feel like it is emotional abuse. It is, in every facet, emotional abuse, because it can not be accomplished without manipulation, emotional abandonment, coercion of a sort, and usually some gas-lighting thrown in. And serial adultery also qualifies as sexual abuse and is often carried out by a dark triad type personalities who are committing other forms of abuse like neglect, financial abuse, or ambient abuse. Adultery is seldom just a thoughtless one night stand that is easily overcome.

      • Jeff Crippen

        3Blossom – Right on. Like most of us I was taught that while by the letter a person married to an adulterer could divorce him, the “higher and more noble” Christian way is to forgive them and remain married to them. I dumped that terrible thinking years ago. I actually encourage people married to an adulterer to divorce them. People I know well who remained married to the adulterer have spent the majority of the years of their lives hooked to a person who in reality never loved them, lied to them, neglected them, refused to enter into a real relationship with them, played the religious hypocrite, and seriously damaged their children.

      • M&M

        That makes sense. I was writing as if there were an unplanned, spontaneous instance of adultery, but if most of them are serials that requires coercion or deception like you said.

      • Lea

        I was writing as if there were an unplanned, spontaneous instance of adultery

        I’m not sure I believe this is actually a thing, anyways. A kiss, maybe.

  4. Seeing Clearly

    It might be important to add that a 30+ yr marriage to a false minister left me nearly dead; in many ways, including physical. I realized divorce was the only hope for survival. Now, nearly 10 years past divorce, I continue to work very hard on healing ever dimension of life. Religious leaders, “Christian” psychiatrist, “Christian ” marriage counselors all advocated to save my marriage, no one told me that U could divorce or should divorce to stay alive.

    • cindy burrell

      Hello, Seeing Clearly. What you shared here about the moral failure of fellow believers is the issue that troubles me most ans it represents what is (more often than not) typical of abuse victims’ interactions with those within the contemporary church. It is appalling and contradictory to the heart of God.

      There is no love in those mandates and no comprehension of the sanctity of marriage – for marriage is intended to be a safe, love-based relationship, not a form of bondage. I pray that you are now healing from the emotional trauma you have endured.

  5. Lea

    I would say that sexual abuse IS physical abuse.

    We must be careful not to open the floodgate of excuses.

    I think this mentality is a huge part of the problem here. Anyone who wants to divorce can do so. If they are going to you for advice, this should not be much of a consideration, and obviously they are erring on the side of WAY too much caution here. (Churches should be providing advice anyway, not directives imo. They don’t have to live in a marriage)

    • M&M

      Personally, I do understand why churches don’t want to condone an ungodly divorce, even by accident. We need to be different from the world on some issues, BUT I do agree that they should be a lot more permissive when it comes to divorcing abusers. Even if the world agrees with the choice to divorce doesn’t make it wrong. It’s not about being opposite of the world, but about being just, which may or may not oppose the world. An example where it’s appropriate to oppose divorce is if someone is just looking for better physique or more money.

      • Lea

        Personally, I do understand why churches don’t want to condone an ungodly divorce, even by accident.

        The problem, to me, is that church leaders think they are even capable of determining who they should ‘condone’ and who they should not in individual cases. I think history would show that that is not the case, that their own biases and prejudices show through.

        If you are going to err, it seems less dangerous to err on one side than the other.

  6. 3Blossommom

    My grandparents helped to found the local PCA church I attended in high school. I don’t think they ever had notions like this and my grandfather always sat on the session until his death in 1991. They were good and godly people, but not so rigid.
    Would these men who draft these positions even listen to a counselor or psychologist define and explain emotional abuse and the effects it has on a marital relationship? Because, it is not really subjective when the rubber meets the road. It seems their definitions and statements would make it almost impossible to prove anything. And why does it seem violence must be extreme to get absolute certainty that leaving is okay. Have they no idea that violence might not even escalate. It may simply begin on the occasion the abuser decides to kill the victim?
    My own pastor (non-denominational) recently had a professional counselor teach the elders about emotional abuse. I believe it changed their views on many things.

  7. MarkQ

    I think the “two sides to every story” is Kindergarten playground thinking. The same thinking evident in Paul and Tedd Tripp’s books. The idea is that for every sin, there is an equal and opposite sin. The kid that got the bloody nose was also the one that was calling the other kid names. The fix – force the kids to shake hands. Reconcile.

    Unfortunately, that is not true even at the Kindergarten level. In fact, the PUBLIC SCHOOLS are now more holy than the churches in this regard. The public schools recognize that bullying is a pattern of behavior that uses emotional and physical violence to harm or control a victim. The public schools recognize that bullying is often one-sided and that the victim did nothing to deserve the bullying. The public schools recognize that they have to provide safety for the victims and other eyewitnesses to tell what is happening, and that they positively have to intervene.

    The church needs to take off the blinders. Paul bemoaned savage wolves that would infiltrate the church and devour the sheep. This paper shows utter blindness to the behavior of these wolves, and instead tries to portray every marriage in the church as two misguided sheep who just need to be helped along.

    What does the Bible say? Were there two sides to Cain and Abel? Did Joseph deserve to be thrown in a pit and sold into slavery? Did David deserve to be pursued like a criminal? Are there two sides to Jesus’s crucifixion? Did Stephen contribute to his own death?

    NO! The Bible clearly teaches that these men were innocent! I’m sure a clever PCA pastor could pin something on each one of them. Abel didn’t share his sheep for Cain to offer a proper sacrifice. Joseph should’ve kept quiet about his dreams. David may could have only killed a few men instead of his 10,000’s. Jesus should have understood that confronting the Jewish leaders was a bad idea. Stephen probably could have toned down the anti-Semitic rhetoric.

    • Abby

      I love your comment, MarkQ, Were there two sides to Jesus’ crucifixion? Now, why couldn’t He just get along?

  8. HisBannerOverMeIsLove

    ” There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for His people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. ”

    That’s when the bucket of tears 😭 let loose.

    If I say I hate my life…but yet Christ is part of it…Am I living without faith and hope?

    • Jeff Crippen

      HisBanner – that quote about great pain often being in marriage is worse than nonsense. Note the passive language these guys used – “work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved.” Now for crying out loud, I get absolutely sick of this pious god-talk lingo these types use. It really fries me. Where in the Bible are we ever told that in marriage, in even and perhaps especially in a Christian marriage, we can expect to very often experience “great pain”? Let’s put that into active language – “Often in a Christian marriage one spouse will habitually and without repentance inflict ongoing tremendous abusive pain. He is an abuser. He does not love, even though he promised to. But hey. YOU have to “work through the pain and learn to love.”

      I tell you, that stuff sends me ballistic. What does that even mean? The fact is that the abuse victim has been working her darndest for decades to love her abuser. Active loving him. She doesn’t have a doggone thing to learn in regard to love – except maybe that she is married to an abuser who never loved her and never will.

      See, the jargon these high and holy types spew from their halls of academia and pulpits don’t hold up under even a small amount of scrutiny. They are cruel and they inflict in their deception evil bondage upon victims.

      If any of you out there are married to a person who claims to be a Christian and yet does not love you, inflicts pain upon you regularly – yes, you do need to learn. But it isn’t how to love that you need to learn. Nope. What you (and all of us) need an education in is the nature and tactics of sociopathic, narcissistic abusers and what to do about it if we find ourselves in relationship with one.

      Turn that bucket of tears into anger, HisBanner, and direct it at the guys who wrote this oppressive nonsense. You have faith and hope. Don’t let these kind rob you of it.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Giving ourselves permission to be angry is difficult at first. It is an essential part of separating from one who claimed to love us, but never, ever did. Coming to that realization, of never having been loved by a spouse, is painful to admit. And the first response is often, “how could I have been so stupid to have missed that,”. Gradually, as we see the light, anger can be diverted from inward to outward and used as energy to fight our way out of the marriage.

        It helps to see the picture from God’s perspective. We are God’s creation, but a loathsome human seeks to destroy us, not love us. It is all for there own personal gain, no regard for God or humanity.

        You are correct, Jeff, that ‘the abuse victim has been working her darndest for decades to love her abuser.’

      • MarkQ

        Completely agree with you, Jeff. This is the language of spiritual abuse. I know it all to well. You point out the key, passivity, detachment and emotional manipulation.

        Take Piper. If you don’t enjoy your job, your problem is that you lack joy, and you should pray that God would give you joy.

        So, first of all, if you don’t enjoy your job (passivity – that somehow your job is entirely neutral and that any lack of joy you experience in your job is what you bring to your job, not what your job brings to you) (detachment – that somehow you can emotionally remove yourself from your boss yelling at you and calling you worthless and lazy multiple times a day to experience joy) you lack joy, and you should pray that God would give you joy (emotional manipulation – that somehow, despite the fact that your work environment is abusive, true faith would allow you to not only cope with that environment, but overcome your own negative experiences with positive experience.)

        This is simply the justification for the emphasis on victim blaming. As I said above, this can be used, regardless of justice to turn the tables on the victim. Someone in the church stole your car? Well, if you had true faith, you would have seen that this brother really needed the car, and God would have given you joy in giving your brother the car, but instead, God is demonstrating to you the result of you being tight-fisted!

      • cindy burrell

        Thank you for your passionate, life-giving response, Pastor Jeff. These are the truths that need to be proclaimed over and over again – as you guys do so well.

      • Exactly, Jeff. Marriage should not cause pain and suffering and we should not expect that. Marriage as portrayed in scripture is for the joy of both participants. We have to stop excusing hurt and pain in marriage as normal and expected. It isn’t. When there is pain, it means that something is dreadfully wrong.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes, like those guys’ own marriages are botched and painful and they are probably the ones causing the pain!!

    • Hi HisBanner, tears are often part of healing. And as for hating your life, remember Elijah? At one point he asked God to let him die. You are not alone — you’re in the company of many saints. 🙂

      (((hugs)))

      • And I don’t want you to think this means I’m encouraging you to take your own life, HisBanner! I would like you to stay alive and keep commenting on this blog — your comments are helping others.

    • HeLovesMe

      If I say I hate my life…but yet Christ is part of it…Am I living without faith and hope?

      HisBanner; good Lord I felt such pain for you @ reading those words. I’ve felt that way MANY times in my life, before and after I was saved. I too wondered if I was truly saved, b/c depression seemed so unlike a Christian’s life. But I was wrong. He was always there for me; and frankly He was never more real to me than when the tears wouldn’t stop flowing (He sure knows how to step in & hold me together!) Barbara put it so well; you’re in good company from many of our brothers in the Word–Jeremiah is one of my personal favorites b/c he went through so much and yet prevailed (ever read Lamentations? He was not a happy camper. But the Lord worked on him). Sending a great big hug and prayers as well. Lean into Him. Jeff said it so well about how wrong it is to not feel and be loved by your spouse. Neglect is so brutal & beyond painful–why that is seen as “passive” or just “part of marriage” is beyond me. Neglect is a form of abuse. But no one loves you like He does. He never stops, He never takes his eyes off of you, and you are His beloved. He sees your pain & knows how to fill you so that you are complete from head to toe. Lean into Him. He is there for you. You are His daughter–precious & a true treasure.

      And MarkQ I just wanted to thank you for you words. That was spot on! I was bullied badly as a child and I wish they’d had those notions when I was young! I mostly felt to blame & the bullies were never truly held accountable. It’s so good to know that things are different now, although I’m sure there’s plenty of changes that still need to be made.

      Sorry I’ll end this soon–SeeingClearly also hit the nail on the head. That is something I’m still working on. Not blaming myself for being so stupid @ not seeing certain things. Even subtle red flags, but I wasn’t able to put the pieces together until much later. I also had to allow myself to feel anger, but a righteous one–and not turn it into hate, a sinful form of resentment or a very nasty bitterness that blocked out His peace, wisdom & a desire to love others despite all that rejection. I’m a work in progress, but He is with me!

  9. anonymous

    I am a long standing member at a PCA church who really has stepped up to the plate to face EVIL square in the eye, expose it publicly from the pulpit, throw evildoers out of the church, and come alongside victims in every capacity.

    I don’t see where this PCA Position Paper is addressing emotional abuse; perhaps it should. It seems out of balance to emphasize that the PCA Position Paper concludes that ’emotional problems’ are not grounds for divorce.” At least from what is cited on this paper, it is talking about “emotional problems” between couples in terms of communication, not “feeling” in love, and other common ‘subjective’ excuses for divorce in our society today, rather than referencing issues of emotional abuse. Perhaps it would be better to commend the PCA for holding a strong biblical line against casual no-fault divorce in our culture while offering constructive advice on how the position paper can be improved to guide churches on how they can better protect abuse victims. I have no doubt there are PCA churches that have been overly harsh and abusive towards abuse victims, and NEVER would I be a part of such a denomination.

    I don’t think the fact can be neglected that we are one of the few denominations left who even practice church discipline. Are abusers disciplined by mainline churches or broadly evangelical churches? No, because those churches don’t even practice church discipline!

    The PCA Position Paper could probably use some updating.

    • Hi Anonymous,

      I agree with you that the PCA can be commended for, as you put it, “holding a strong biblical line against casual no-fault divorce in our culture”. But the PCA is not unusual in standing against casual no-fault divorce. All the evangelical denominations take that stand. So it’s not that much of a commendation. (I don’t include liberal denominations in the term ‘evangelical’.)

      Now, this seems to be the part of the paper that you are hearing differently from me:

      The Bible gives no justification for divorce based on merely inward, emotional, and subjective reasons. Even if we find justification for interpreting porneia and desertion in a broader sense than some have, they must be broadened only within the boundaries of serious objective acts of sexual immorality or desertion. They must not be interpreted in any way that opens the floodgates to divorces based on subjective reasons, such as irreconcilable differences, emotional separation, loss of affection, or the like. There is often great pain involved in marriage, and God intends for His people to work through the pain and learn to love even when we are not loved by the other. Emotional problems in and of themselves are not Biblical grounds for divorce.

      And you said:

      It seems out of balance to emphasize that the PCA Position Paper concludes that “emotional problems are not grounds for divorce.” At least from what is cited on this paper, it is talking about “emotional problems” between couples in terms of communication, not “feeling” in love, and other common ‘subjective’ excuses for divorce in our society today, rather than referencing issues of emotional abuse.

      Firstly, the paper talked about “inward, emotional, and subjective reasons… such as irreconcilable differences, emotional separation, loss of affection, or the like.” It did not use the term ‘communication’. So I think you may have been reading into the paper a concept that was not actually there.

      Secondly, it’s true that by referring to “inward, emotional, and subjective reasons… irreconcilable differences, emotional separation, loss of affection” the Paper may have been referring to the kinds of reasons which a non-believer may cite for divorcing their spouse. It is true that the no-fault divorce system allows divorce for reasons that Christians would not consider to be biblical (covenant breaking) grounds for divorce.

      But here’s my point: Because the paper referred so often to physical violence and it only referred to emotional experiences negatively, almost disparagingly, saying they are not grounds for divorce, the paper was neglecting the plight of many (perhaps most) victims of abuse. Some abusers use extreme physical violence but many abusers do not use physical violence (or haven’t progressed to physical violence yet). And many more abusers use violence that would not be classed as ‘extreme’ because it doesn’t put the victim’s life in danger and don’t inflict physical injuries that require medical treatment. In fact, I read from a DV expert that the most common type of physical violence used by men who abuse their partners is doing things like a push or a shove two or three times a year. This is the elephant in the room which the paper ignored. And by ignoring it, the paper implicitly lumps any victim who is reporting emotional abuse into the category of ‘inward, emotional, subjective reasons’… which the paper says are not grounds for divorce.

      Of course, if you want to check whether or not I was biased in selecting quotes from the paper, you are free to read the whole Paper as I gave a link in the post. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        With all due respect to your article, Barbara, more than I, you have probed deeper into the ministry issues; and having said that, it will be better that I leave those issues to others far more equipped, especially when largely we are in agreement.

        As previously stated several months ago, it brings me great pleasure that my PCA home church is shedding more light on DV thereby bringing in a speaker for a conference this September, with the objective to hold up domestic violence as biblical grounds for divorce.

      • Thanks Anonymous, and we hope your church leaders will be writing a guest post for our blog! 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Barbara, please forgive me if my comment suggested you were being biased in ‘selecting’ comments. I would never for a moment think that of you. You are one for whom I have utmost respect not only for your work here on this blog & the intensity and passion with which you express yourself, but quite frankly, for all that you have endured victoriously. To borrow your phrase, “the fire in your bones” gives all of us survivors hope as we all seek to shed light on EVIL. 🌷

      • Hey Anonymous, I wasn’t offended or upset by your comment at all. 🙂 🙂

        I only wrote that thing about my perhaps being ‘biased’ so that the malignant lurkers at this blog would see I’m quite open to being reproved if they can to bring proof that I need to be reproved. 🙂

    • Lea

      >Are abusers disciplined by mainline churches or broadly evangelical churches? No, because those churches don’t even practice church discipline!

      They also don’t kick out women for leaving abusive husbands.

      Church discipline is not a good, in and of itself. It has to be used properly, and sparingly (imo). (and some mainlines do use church discipline. I know it was mentioned at mine, but it is quite rare)

      • Jeff Crippen

        Lea –

        Did you make a mistake in wording in your sentence – “They also don’t kick out women for leaving abusive husbands.”? Because in fact it is very common for local churches to ex-communicate abuse victims. Perhaps the latter is what you meant?

      • Lea

        Jeff, what I mean to say was that in churches that do NOT practice church discipline also do not make the grievous, damaging errors with church discipline. I meant to refer to mainlines, though, and missed that she (or he?) mentioned broadly evangelical churches. Sorry that was unclear!

        I guess I have sort of a ‘first do no harm’ philosophy on it. I certainly think there are occasions when someone should be removed from a church, but there should be a really good reason. If you put the focus on discipline itself as a ‘good’, you are going to overuse it, which leads to great harm.

  10. Anonymous

    For clarity, I could have better said: I would never be a part of such a church, not denomination, because clearly I am part of the PCA denomination.

  11. MarkQ

    Anonymous, “I don’t think the fact can be neglected that we are one of the few denominations left who even practice church discipline.”

    I highly doubt that. If you are like the other NAPARC churches I’m familiar with, churches and church leaders are rarely, if ever, disciplined, except over theological differences. Supposedly, each church is required to keep minutes of all actions taken by the session, and there should be clear signs (e.g. lots of discipline and aggressive sanctions) that the session is abusing the flock, yet, in my 40+ years as a NAPARC member, I never heard of a church or church leaders being charged at a Presbytery or GA level.

    So, when you say church discipline, what you really mean is whipping wayward sheep, not protecting the flock from wolves, right?

    • anonymous

      What I really mean, MarkQ, is exactly what I said: When a victim steps forward, this PCA church has and continues to practice church discipline according to Matthew 18. They call out evil and wicked abusers and hold them accountable, suspend them indefinitely from the Lord’s Table, expose them by an announcement from the pulpit immediately after Sunday morning worship, throw them out of the church and in solemn conclusion tell them in writing their actions are those of an unbeliever, not led by the Holy Spirit. And when it is learned the abuser is ‘worshiping’ at another church, these PCA leaders go and talk to those church leaders making them aware of the excommunication.

      And it does NOT matter who the abuser is, a church member or a church leader, a wolf is a wolf and in this church will be dealt with as such.

      So you are free to call it “whipping wayward sheep, not protecting the flock from wolves” but those of us here in this PCA call it church discipline, and proceed according to Matthew 18.

      • MarkQ

        “And it does NOT matter who the abuser is, a church member or a church leader, a wolf is a wolf and in this church will be dealt with as such.”

        This is great talk, and this is precisely what my NAPARC former church taught as well. However, I can count on zero fingers the number of elders and pastors who I’ve ever heard convicted of “lording it over the flock”. It seems completely incongruous that “lording it over” is a sin specifically mentioned by Jesus, and then later reiterated by Paul, and yet it seems that churches that claim to show no preferential treatment in discipline seem more interested in protecting a perceived authority structure than disciplining.

        In fact, I’ve been told by elders in my former NAPARC church that Presbyteries have specifically told sessions that they were overstepping their authority and yet, the “solution” was to tell the church to cease pursuing discipline and let the member transfer away. That doesn’t sound to me like church discipline.

        That is like saying we are a nation that practices “rule of law”, yet our Secretary of State illegally transmits classified documents and our policemen kill innocent civilians without receiving the just penalty our laws say they should.

        Was “deposition” sufficient discipline for Tullian Tchvidjian? Was the administrative consequence of removal from office sufficient to bring restoration and reconciliation to his well-documented victims of spiritual abuse, clergy sexual abuse, slander and gossip? Or, did he receive a relative slap on the wrist because he’s part of the Evangelical elite?

      • Jeff Crippen

        MarkQ – I understand what you are saying. Anonymous has seen proper use of church discipline against abusers and so on in her church. The point you are raising in response is that it is rare to see church discipline enacted against a church leader as opposed to a church member. You both make valid points. Anonymous’ church, I have to say, is a rarity. Most local churches do not deal justice to the abuser or deliverance for the victim.

      • In my experience & observation, Presbyterian churches like yours, Anonymous, are quite rare. It is such a blessing that you are able to witness church discipline being carried out in a truly biblical way!

  12. Misti

    We’ve heard that the Position Paper isn’t followed in many PCA churches. We’ve heard that some PCA pastors are not even aware of the Paper, which suggests PCA seminaries and media are not putting much effort into telling their students and pastors about the Paper.

    I find that a bit odd, as I remember hearing it discussed among the men in the PCA churches I attended. Not all were in ministry, but at least some of them were active in the denomination and would go to General Assembly.

    • Hi Misti, thanks for sharing your experience. Our impression about how well known the Position Paper is in PCA churches was based on a relatively small sample. Here are the reasons for our small sample. We seldom get emails (let alone blog comments!) from PCA pastors and leaders. When I had a discussion with an American PCA pastor about our work, I mentioned the Paper to him and he had never heard of it before; he’d been a PCA pastor for many years. We hear from many survivors of abuse who have been or still are in the PCA, and very seldom do they mention the Position Paper which suggests the leaders in their church are not talking about the Paper to the congregation. And Jeff’s church is not a PCA church, so he isn’t mingling with that camp.

      But I would be glad if it’s true that more leaders in the PCA are aware of the Paper than I had thought.

  13. Anonymous

    Barbara,

    I could never be part of a church who would not ‘deal with’ the predators that we all know roam about in all churches. I would flee for safety!

    I have also witnessed the leaders of my church get on a plane and go to and confront another PCA church who would not discipline an abuser and who would not support the victim.

    Indeed I am blessed to be part of a body of sinners saved by grace who when an excommunication occurs, we ALL are soberly warned: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked; whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Gal. 6:7

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anonymous – THAT is a good and rather rare church you are in then. Blessings on those leaders.

      • Anonymous

        Pastor Crippen, these leaders have all read your book, A Cry For Justice, and have great respect for your work here on this blog. Blessings!

  14. Song of Joy

    “We must be careful not to open the floodgate of excuses.”

    Very similar statements are usually made in other Christian articles about marriage and divorce. The warning that secular, non-religious people frequently divorce for frivolous reasons.

    I think that is an erroneous assumption!

    Of all the divorces that I personally know about, with both acquaintances and relatives, the reason was always very serious. Almost all the divorces were caused by adultery along with other abuses. The only divorce I know about where adultery wasn’t mentioned, was due in part to serious mental health issues with one partner.

    I don’t think people, whether Christian or not, ever undertake divorce for trivial reasons. It’s my impression that it is an agonizing decision for everyone.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good words, Song of Joy!

  15. Important update: Sam Powell’s sermon The Purification of the Church gives superb teaching about true excommunication compared to the kind of excommunication which is done by hard-hearted leadership.

    Here is my transcript, starting from 20:59 in the audio:

    Historically the church has confessed that church discipline is a mark of the true church. But that means something different than simply the ability to kick people out of your group. The Roman Catholic Church practiced excommunication. The Reformers rejected them specifically as a true church, for they did not have the marks of true excommunication. Most of the Reformers had actually beeen excommunicated by the Church of Rome.

    But we learn [in Scripture] that the only excommuication that is valid is that excommunication which Christ has comanded in His Word, and therefore it’s done by the power of Christ.

    The Reformers taught that Rome did not actually practice true excommunication, for it wasn’t done by a local body of believers but by a hierarchy of clerks in the Vatican. It wasn’t done by the Spirit of Paul [Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit], but according to the traditions of men. And it wasn’t done in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of Jesus Christ, but by the power of the sword in the name of the Pope, through bullying and intimidation. That is not true excommunication.

    And I am saying that because it is important today, because there are many who are excommunicated from their church because they irritatated their pastor, because they didn’t give enough money as the board of elders thought they should have, or for various other reasons. And I’m saying this for their comfort. David himself was driven away from the church, by Saul. Many suffer exile from the church because of false accusations, because of the hardness of heart of the leadership or the greed of the elders. But that is not true excomunication; it doesn’t have the marks. So take hold! God is not bound to the opinions of wicked, self-absorbed men.

    I would encourage you that if this is you, to return from the exile and find a true church to worship in. Make Psalm 42 & 43 the cry of your heart, as David did when he was exiled.

    One thing you will find is that churches who exile God’s true people, generally fail to excommunicatate the type of people who practise the things that God hates. Those types of churches are generally full of swindlers and revilers and fornicators who thrive and prosper, while those who oppressed and downtrodden are cast out. They are simply not a true church.

    This primary text for that sermon was 1 Corinthians 5. Sam Powell’s previous sermon on that series also deals with 1 Corinthians 5 and I encourage readers to listen to that sermon as well. It’s called Things That God Hates.

    • I’ve now listened to Sam Powell’s sermon The Purification of the Church right to the end. Something he said near the end has blown my mind. I urge everyone to listen to it. I’m going to listen to it again to mull over what he says.

      What blew my mind is how he interprets 1 Corinthians 5:5. In the KJV that verse is rendered: To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

      Sam thinks that when it says ‘the spirit may be saved,’ it is the spirit of the true church (the lump of dough) which is referred to, not the spirit of the man who is being expelled from the church (the leaven).

      You can check out what how other bible versions render it here on Biblehub.

      • Jeff Crippen

        That makes a lot of sense to me. I have always had an unsettled feeling about the standard idea that the evil man’s spirit might be saved. It doesn’t square with the rest of Scripture. Thanks!!

      • Yeah, I’ve always had an unsettled feeling about the standard idea too, Jeff!

      • I greatly struggled with that verse. It’s why I choose to preach through a book – it forces me to deal with the text, even when it is difficult.
        Excuse me for jumping in here, but it might be helpful to share my thoughts as I struggled through it.

        There are three possible interpretations.

        One: throw him out to Satan so that his body will suffer and his soul will be saved. Many commentators take this view. They view the offender somewhat like Job. But the problem is that nowhere does the scripture separate the body and the soul like this. The person is saved, not the immaterial part of the person. Second, Job wasn’t suffering for the cleansing of sin. Third, it doesn’t square with any other passage of scripture.

        The second interpretation is that the flesh is the man’s old nature (a common usage for Paul) and the spirit is the man’s new nature. This is the one that I always assumed was the correct one. But I was uneasy and finally rejected it. First, if the man had a new nature, Paul would not have written as he did. The man was to be excommunicated BECAUSE he wasn’t a believer at all. How could he then have a new nature to be preserved to begin with? Second, nowhere does the bible say that Satan destroys our old nature. That isn’t what he does. he seeks to make our old nature stronger, not destroy it. Third, it didn’t fit with the rest of the passage. Paul’s concern is NOT the future salvation of the wicked man, but the purification of the church. Third, if it was the wicked man’s flesh and spirit that Paul was speaking of, you would expect the third person singular possessive pronoun (his flesh, his spirit); but there is no pronoun there. It simply says, “for the destruction of THE flesh that THE spirit might be saved …

        So I looked at the third explanation. The man was to be delivered to the kingdom of Satan, where he belonged, so that the pride and arrogance of the Corinthian church might be destroyed, and the new man of humility and faith might be preserved to the day of the Lord Jesus.

        This fits the context perfectly. The very next verse, Paul uses the example of bad leaven corrupting the lump. It isn’t the bad leaven that Paul is concerned with. It is the corruption of the lump.

        Also, in Chapter 3 of the same book, Paul has already rebuked them for their “fleshly” arrogance and for not walking in the spirit, which is faith in the finished work of Christ. Instead of placing their hope on Christ crucified (the spirit) they were placing their hope in the things of this world – success, money, reputation, “wisdom”, etc . This, to Paul, is “fleshly”. Following that theme, Paul understands that the Corinthians refusal to exercise discipline was a mark of that same pride. it would eventually destroy them all.
        so he commands them to throw the guy out to the kingdom of the devil, so that their pride might be destroyed and their faith and trust would grow.

        It fits the context, the grammar, and the theme of the book. That’s why I went the way that I did.

        The point is this – those that commit those things that God hates – reviling, abuse, sexual immorality, theft, drunkenness, etc – must be cast out of the church for the purity of the church and the safety of the sheep. If there is no biblical discipline, there is no church. Just a country club or cult of personality. If the church is full of people that God says he hates, and the leadership refuses for whatever reason to discipline, then run far away. You aren’t in a true church.

        if this comment is too long, or involved, you can delete. But I thought that correct doctrine in this area might be a balm and a help to those who have been harmed. If you have been thrown out of a “church” for seeking justice, you haven’t been thrown out of a true church at all.

      • Jeff Crippen

        I am going to give your words here to our entire church family. You nailed it. Thanks much.

      • Thanks Sam Powell. I very much appreciate your explanation of why that’s the best interpretation. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  16. Anonymous

    MarkQ, there’s a familiar saying: “The fish stinks from the head.” And if in fact the Psalm 10 predator roaming about in my church were not called out and held accountable according to the instructions given in Matthew 18, and for the entire congregation and onlookers to witness, then I would conclude our leaders are evil and corrupt as well.

    And if these leaders are corrupt at this level with church members, then they are corrupt with other church leaders as well. Then I, like you, would also be calling this my “former” church.

    • MarkQ

      Yes, for that and a lot more, it’s my former church, even though there are potentially churches within that denomination that take sin seriously like yours.

      • Anonymous

        I admire your passion to speak out and give voice for such a noble and worthy cause. May God bless you mightily, MarkQ!

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