A Cry For Justice

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

Church Leaders and Authors are Violating God’s Instruction About Matters of Conscience

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:1-13)

There are of course many issues in Scripture that are non-negotiables. The Ten Commandments are an example of such. They are not matters of conscience left to each person to decide. Murder is murder. Adultery is adultery.

But the Bible has quite a lot to say about other issues that do vary in our application of them. Back in New Testament times Paul dealt with things like whether a Christian should eat meat that had been purchased in the idol temple. We call these issues “matters of conscience” and the Bible shows us that these are things which are to be left up to the individual Christian’s conscience. One eats. Another doesn’t.

However, it is a serious error to limit ‘matters of conscience’ to the subjects the early Christians were facing. God would have us draw out the larger principles that are transferable to our own day. Don’t pass judgment on a brother if he _______, and you do not _______.  Going to movie theater. Having a television. Drinking alcohol. If you grew up in a church you were probably taught a list of ‘forbiddens’ that included way more things than what the apostles gave to believers —

abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:20 CSB)

But what I want to talk about here are subjects that I suspect almost none of us heard were matters of conscience to be left to the individual to decide and apply. I submit to you this list (which of course is not exhaustive) —

  • Whether to marry or not to marry (lots of churches give this one lip service as a matter of conscience but in practice they insist on marriage)
  • Whether to divorce — that’s right. You heard me correctly. The decision to divorce is up to the individual believer’s conscience before God as long as it is exercised without sin. The church’s authority to discipline (listen to this very carefully now) only concerns matters of sin, not matters of conscience. A church should certainly discipline an abuser, but has no authority to say yea or nay as to the victim’s right to divorce.
  • The specifics of how a husband is to carry out his husbanding role in his marriage
  • The specifics of how a wife is to carry out her role as a wife in her marriage
  • The specifics of how a father or a mother is to function. [Notice in these last three points I say “specifics.” Scripture gives us principles, but the Lord does not tell us “now wife and children you are to greet husband/father at the door when he comes home from work and you are to then _______ and then you ______, etc., etc.”  No.

We could go on and on, but you get the point? Churches and christian authors and pastors and conference speakers continue to go on and on in dictating binding laws in these areas and more that God has not given them authority to direct. This is the danger of the myriads of “how-to” books down at the Christian bookstore.

Let me give you a personal example of how this business plays out. Over the last say 45 years, I was made to feel very guilty by churches and pastors and speakers and books. I wanted to serve the Lord, and I did. I worked hard at a full time job and went to graduate school at the same time. I became a pastor and fought battle after battle.

But I rarely led my family in regular, nightly, formal, family “devotions.” I was told I should. But I just wasn’t moved to do it. I saw others doing so and I figured they were spiritually superior to me. So…guilt.

And then the years went by. Wanna know what happened?

Our children grew up loving Christ. They walk with Him today. They married genuine Christian spouses. And I realize that what happened all those years is that myself and my wife WERE teaching and discipling them every single day. Through our example of genuine Christianity. Through my preaching and teaching week after week in church. Through our real love for them and for one another. It was real, and they knew it.

Guess what else happened? Many of the children who grew up in the rigid homes under a patterned, scheduled devotional time, rebelled against the Lord. Some of their lives are just a mess. Not all. And I am not saying that some real Christians don’t carry out regular, formal family devotions to good effect because it is from their heart and the kids know it. But what I am saying is that much of what I was pressured with was mere outward shell, hollow religion, by people who were legalistic formalists who had the form of godliness but denied its power.

So let’s close by coming back to abuse. If anyone can honestly say before the Lord that the Spirit of God is leading them to freedom by divorcing a wicked abuser, no one has the authority to tell you otherwise. No one has the right — no pastor, no church, no church member — no one has the right to invade the specifics of your life as you walk with Christ and tell you to deny what the Spirit of Christ is telling you.

If you haven’t already, you may want to go peruse your library and have a book burning fueled by any volumes still lurking there that want to run the minutia of your life for you.

***

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33 Comments

  1. Amy

    Excellent post!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Amy. When churches and pastors and theologians decide to add the 11th commandment “Thou shalt never divorce for abuse,” they go beyond Scripture and exceed the role God has appointed them to. They become guilty of binding the Christian’s conscience – something only the Holy Spirit can do.

      • Amy

        I just never really thought of it like the way you wrote it! And reading the scripture, Romans 14:1-13 really opened my eyes to the idea of judging others based on conscious decisions, not sin.

        Oh how I wish this post had been written 8 years ago when my ex walked out and I was condemned by many in my former church for not choosing to reconcile but instead choosing to divorce because I truly felt the Lord had set me free from that 20-year abusive marriage. Instead all I heard was how God hates divorce and unless my ex had been unfaithful I had no grounds for divorcing.

        Fortunately, one elderly couple from the church took me under their wings during that time and they were the first ones ever to say how unfaithfulness doesn’t just refer to sexual infidelity. I’m sure they would completely agree with this post you wrote, for they were one of the few who never judged me and actually encouraged me to leave that marriage.

      • Suzanne

        I think that many pastors, Christian authors, and “Bible teachers” who read this are likely to have their heads explode. I couldn’t stop picturing them red-faced with self-righteous indignation over the idea that God doesn’t want His children to remain in abusive marriages. Just this morning I participated in a discussion with a pastor and several very godly women about divorce for abuse. We women gave concrete examples of abuse, how it hurt the innocent child of God, and how were further abused by churches where we were made to feel like the sinner just for getting away from the abuser. We also talked about how the marriage covenant had been broken by the abuser. This pastor insisted that divorce is never an option for Christians. Sigh. In this age of apostasy I hold little hope that this attitude, this doctrine of men, will ever be seen for the cruel, non-scriptural, man-made dogma that it is.

      • Lea

        “I think that many pastors, Christian authors, and “Bible teachers” who read this are likely to have their heads explode. ”

        I got into an argument the other day about how the spouse is in the best position to judge whether pornography, or adultery, or abuse are serious/grounds for the marriage to end or whether a spouse is repentant. They could not handle that at all.

        It’s like they are worried that this has ceded too much control to an individual and they will abuse it by divorcing. But the other spouse, in these cases, is already abusing their position! I can see benefit in consulting with wise elders (wise being important here!) before making a decision, but I can never see giving anyone else that ultimate decision making authority.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Very good. You know, common sense would tell us that it is the spouse who is in the best position to know what is really going on in the marriage and yet outsiders who want to wield their “church” authority hold it over the victim’s head.

      • Amy

        When I first became a believer, about 10 years into my abusive marriage, my then-husband and I were taken under the wing of an elderly couple from the church we attended at the time and they helped to lead us to Christ — I saw ‘we’ because supposedly my then-husband accepted Christ too and got baptized.

        Anyway, one day after I shared privately with the elderly woman that things weren’t good in my marriage she went on to tell me about the terrible treatment she received from her husband early in their marriage after she had become a believer but he wasn’t yet. Although she never used the word ‘abuse’ and I was still struggling with the whole abuse thing at the time, she was definitely being abused. But in her eyes, it was a test from the Lord to suffer and stay strong, so she stayed in that marriage and she was so proud that she had because her faith (basically her staying and taking the abuse) eventually led her husband to Christ or so she thought. Her husband had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s when we met them and she told me how he was so kind and gentle towards her now and staying and suffering like she did (abuse) only helped to strengthen their marriage.

        So this was one of my first experiences as a new believer within a church. Although she may not have been in the role of a church leader per se, she obviously played a huge role in that church by taking new believers under her wing and shaping their beliefs early on. And her story stayed with me for years and was partly to blame for my misunderstanding of what it means to suffer for Christ.

        After we moved from that area I did keep in touch with her through Christmas cards mostly and she would send us one with a letter in it, but the year my ex walked out I explained the situation in my Christmas card to her and never ever heard from her again. Sadly, I would come to find out that was only the first of many believers who would have nothing to do with me especially after I divorced. 😦

      • Jeff Crippen

        Amy – how very, very deceiving the enemy can be. This is surely an example. That man, despite what the wife claimed, never changed. I have heard the stories – “oh yes, he changed,” but every one of them has turned out to be false. That guy played the Christian role and yet acted wickedly and such a person has no conscience. She created a twisted dynamic that she fed off of herself by staying in that abuse and worse, she worked to suck others into the same cauldron of deception. The truth came out when she dumped you like you were scum. So glad you see it and are free.

      • Amy

        The sad thing is, Jeff, that this woman really truly loved the Lord and I think really meant well. It was almost 20 years ago I sat at her kitchen table and she explained about becoming a believer to me. So sad that she apparently was fed lies about marriage and twisted it so she could feel better about staying I guess. She likely has passed away by now, but when I think back to her I see how she was like so many other Christians I would come across over the next several years feeding me misinformation about marriage and abuse.

        And unfortunately, most people in the church we had attended with her all those many years ago had a similar view.

        I’m so grateful for all that you, Barb and everyone else here at a Cry For Justice do to replace those lies with the Truth.

  2. Debbie J

    This kind of thing is what makes me sick regarding so many misguided “christians” and churches today. They seek to dictate and control every area of our lives, even though many have a “beam” blocking their own sight. While contemplating, going through and following my own divorce, I have heard and read constant admonitions and condemnations which have led me to near hopelessness at times. However, I have daily sought God’s own counsel and I am assured of His love and grace always!
    I want to shout out from the rooftops to the oppressed that “divorce is NOT the unforgivable sin!!!!” It is, as Pastor Crippen says, a matter of conscience. The enemy relishes in our thinking that we are condemned, and without hope. It leads to a downward spiral and a time of wasted gifts. I have come to the realization that I am a truth-teller and this makes me – and any one of us that does the same – a target for destruction, but I take heart, for He has overcome!
    Blessings~

    • Jeff Crippen

      “They seek to dictate and control every area of our lives” – and that is the heart of Pharisaism. Sheer legalism. We are to refuse to be put into that bondage. Christ came to set us free.

    • Suzanne

      Yes! It’s all about their power and control over others.

  3. Grace551

    Really good post. Thank you, Jeff. This helps my thinking.

  4. Starlight

    You are so right Jeff. I know families who do evening and breakfast table devotions daily, legalism and huge atrocities against the children are a also a part of daily life in that family. Your children grew up free with a godly example, these children are not free and I thought no they are also trapped by mind control! When the sons leave the nest they are twice as wicked as their dad was, and believe in their own entitlement and rightness! (They would call it in biblical authority.) I am seeing it in the way my mom has been terrorized and taken advantage of in shocking ways by some of her grandsons who seem to not know right from wrong.

  5. jesusfollowingishard

    I have a friend who is Orthodox and she , i dont know if she represents the rest of the orthodox church but she believes abuse is as bad as adultery therefore God allows even encourages divorce for abuse because he wants us free from evil in our homes.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Your friend is correct. But I would not be at all surprised if most Orthodox (Greek, Russian) churches would not support divorce for abuse. I am no authority on that, so perhaps someone who is can elaborate for us.

      • I’m no expert on the Eastern Orthodox churches either, but I have read that they talk about the ‘death of a marriage’. As I recall, they say there are a number of reasons why marriages can die, and one of those reasons is if one spouse is abusing the other spouse.

      • Charis

        In reply to Barbara’s comment about Eastern Orthodox churches and the “death of a marriage”: Where is the like button?!

        I have described it that way myself – and so have many other commenters here. The divorce was simply the death certificate validating what was already determined to be dead. Long dead.

        Too many churches/pastors have it backwards, declaring that divorce is causing the death, pulling the plug. No! That is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

      • ^ Like

      • Sorrowful

        Exactly. When one partner has refused to examine the elephant in the room for years, all the while the wife is imploring God for something to change, the marriage is already dead.

  6. Gothard Survivor

    A new book Entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage was written for Christian counselors and quotes from Jeff’s book. It came out in June and I hope to hear your review of it.

  7. Momof3blessings

    Insightful, helpful post, Ps. Jeff. It sheds light on an area where abuse victims have been consigned to darkness for daring to divorce. It’s been over a decade, but I’m just now coming to terms with how wounding the legalism at my former church was to me. Please keep posting your wisdom, and thank you for validating the pain of being discounted by legalists who are convinced their pat theology has the final answers.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Actually as we think more about this, it strikes me that all the mountains of books written on “Christian” or “biblical” marriage and family are nothing less than sheer legalism designed to enslave. It really is that bad. I mean, whose business is it really as to how my family functions, how my wife and I choose to relate to one another, how we handle our finances, how we educate our children, and on and on? Of course I know there are principles and instructions and commands given us in Scripture and we are safe to heed those truths. They are truths. They are healing. They set us free. But then we are dumped on with all these interpretations that are supposedly “God’s Word” when in fact they are man’s opinion. Matters of conscience. God gave us one Book. We would do much better if we pretty much just stuck to it.

      • KayE

        I agree. I think all those books full of rules about “Christian ” marriage are really designed to control relationships within the “Christian” church. The rules about divorce have the same purpose. When victims of controlling, abusive spouses start questioning the rules, then some of the powerful people in the system feel very threatened.

      • Jeff Crippen

        You nail it KayE. The longer I live and the more clearly I see the Lord’s truth the more I realize how much absolute legalism I have been taught, all the while being told it was the Christian faith. All those warnings in Scripture to us about these things are more serious than we realize.

      • Sorrowful

        The fear of “no fault divorce” creeping into the Church is hamstring in these leaders. Why they can’t see that this is obviously not a case of “no fault” is beyond me.

  8. everydayBRAVE

    Our church board, pastor and a couple women in the pastors back pocket were declared the only ones who knew “the truth” when it came to my friend’s abusive marriage. Her conscience and ours were violated by the church in not allowing her or us to obey our conscience by speaking truth and exposing evil. I never realized until reading this post how much their oppression was a violation of our conscience and why the emotional strain of this process was so intense. Our conscience is telling us to do one thing, meanwhile whenever we try to act on it, we were abused and ostracized by the church. It seems the ones who were set on keeping us from obeying our conscience were the ones who have no conscience at all. It is their goal,whether they are aware of it or not, to shipwreck our faith. Through the process, the Lord kept reminding me, Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Freedom to obey your conscience. Thanks for this post!!

    • Lea

      Our church board, pastor and a couple of women in the pastor’s back pocket were declared the only ones who knew “the truth” when it came to my friend’s abusive marriage

      I will never understand the arrogance of people who claim to know the ‘truth’ despite not being there at all.

      Your friend knows the truth. She was there.

  9. Stronger Now

    Interestingly, I am hearing over and over again, in the descriptions of “church” leaders and their insistence on “no divorce for abuse,” etc. one phrase keeps popping up: POWER AND CONTROL. They are using their position, their legalistic interpretations, and their influence, to exert coercive power and control over those they are supposed to be shepherding.

    Hmmmm. Sounds like they’re cut from the same cloth as the abusers they’re protecting.

  10. everydayBRAVE

    Yes, cut from the exact same cloth. These “annointed” ones as they call themselves are above any biblical standard they hold us to but are right there to point the finger on “no grounds for divorce.”. They can gossip, slander, lie, be flat out abusive, triangulate the victim’s church, friends and loved ones against the victim, curse, rage and some how duck under the radar of all these behaviors under the guise of “protecting the sheep.”

    It makes me sick that all this happens in the name of Jesus. They try to be our conscience and the reality is, theirs is seared and their hearts are hard and their only motive is to enslave and oppress. May the Lord deal justly with these wicked men.

  11. Raped By Evil

    Mocker, scoffer, wicked, evil, faultfinder, grumbler, without love for others are just a few of the names the bible gives to people like my husband.

    The list that Pastor Crippen provided about things that are left up to our own conscience and based on our walk with God, have proven to be what destroyed me when I was following what “the church” told me was biblical. Having children when I wasn’t ready with a man that wasn’t of God (but claimed he was), squeezing myself into what others deemed to be the perfect mother role, allowing my husband to rape me whenever he wanted to under the guise of serving the Lord etc., etc., etc.

    This needs to be screamed from the rooftops! This understanding that there are matters of conscience that are to be decided by the individual based on their relationship with God. The prison of lies that permeates the churches today with wrong teaching regarding conscience, is destroying God’s true children and it needs to stop.

  12. minagelina

    This is so hard because wanting to divorce makes me feel guilty even though I “know” that my husband has been abusive. I was married once before, and he was probably npd and very abusive. But even then I felt guilty for leaving. It is difficult to determine whether or not this is truly your conscience or programming.

    • Jeff Crippen

      mina- The conscience to listen to is the one that is telling you that you need to be free from abuse. The guilt is false guilt, strengthened diabolically by, as you say, programming. Objectively you have every right to divorce because abuse is a violation of the terms of the marriage covenant.

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