The Issue at the Heart of Domestic Violence

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

I was doing some reading today and a phrase struck me, right in the middle of a letter someone had written. I’ve been trying to think how to put this thought into words and here it was, already done:

…an abused spouse is in bondage and cannot make Jesus Lord over her life as the abuser lords over her heart and mind, leaving the person unable to think correctly, living in constant fear rather than loving submission to God and each other. It is a known fact that spousal abuse causes damage to mind, soul, and spirit that is often irreversible…

This bit is from a letter quoted in an article called Divorce and the Church.

When an abusive spouse demands dominance of his wife’s time, thoughts, actions, viewpoints, theology, political opinions, dinner plans, housekeeping techniques, self-image – every littlest part of her being – he is making an idol of himself.

When an abuser says his wife is less than God says she is, he is making a god of himself. He is saying his opinion carries more weight than God’s opinion of his wife; therefore, He is greater than God.

God says she is good. God says He created her specifically, for a unique purpose. When an abuser says his wife is stupid, worthless, ignorant, rebellious, wicked, (you fill in the blanks), he is calling God a liar and making a god of himself because he is saying he is right and God is wrong.

When he accuses her where God does not, he is making a god of himself. He is holding his judgment higher than God’s judgment.

When an abuser physically hurts his wife, he demands that she violate her allegiance to God, who has told her to keep her body, His temple. So the abuser is usurping authority to denigrate the temple of God.

When an abuser says he is his wife’s absolute authority and everything he says is God’s word to her, he is making an idol of himself. Jesus died to enable a personal relationship between each of us and God Himself. Each of us must personally accept Christ as Savior. A husband cannot do that for his wife. Accepting Christ establishes a personal relationship with God; from that beginning the rest is a personal relationship as well. The Holy Spirit indwells each of us and speaks to each of us, personally. Any husband who stands in the middle of that, and demands that his voice is greater than God’s to her, is making an idol of himself.

An abuser demands that his wife divide her allegiance. She can be a Christian and follow God only where it doesn’t contradict his demands of her.

This is fundamentally why an abuse victim cannot remain with a spouse who persists in his abuse. If the abuser will not repent, fully – which includes taking all responsibility, making restitution and submitting to long-term accountability – that wife is obligated to God to separate from a man who demands she serve two masters and deny her Lord God.

In fact, in Ezra 10, God told the Israelites to divorce their wives who worshiped idols. In Is. 50:1 and Jer. 3:8 God says He divorced Israel because of their idolatry. Idolatry is absolutely a Biblical reason for divorce.

There is freedom in this understanding. This is a freedom the church needs to wrap their hands around and stop tying chains of bondage around abuse victims. When churches demand that abuse victims stay in an abusive marriage, they are participating in idolatry. They are agreeing with a false god and telling someone under their supposed spiritual protection (shepherd – servant guarding the flock for his master) to deny their faith and serve a false god. This is a very serious issue. The church should fall on its face in repentance for this sin. It is grievous. We should be helping victims to safety, not holding the doors to their cells shut.

24 Responses

  1. Wow, I’ve never heard this rationale or these scriptures used in explaining why it is OK for the abused to seek a divorce. It is very helpful to me, as I am one who is in a verbally abusive situation, as well as my kids. I have struggled for a very long time with whether or not I should leave, wondering if God would want me to leave my husband of 16 years, but I know he doesn’t want us to be abused. Thank you for this article.

  2. You are very welcome! You are right – it is not God’s heart for you to be abused, not even verbally. It is a really BIG deal. And once you are out of it and you are able to tell Satan to stop beating you about the head and shoulders with false guilt, you look back and it is even more obvious than ever.

    I wish you all the best on your journey.

    — Danni

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been so helpful to me. I suffered Domestic Abuse and Violence at the hand of my ex who had declared himself a pastor. His use of God’s Word as a manipulative tool against me was the worst violation of all, even more than the physical abuse. The scars are deep.

    Information like this, again, is very helpful.

    God bless you!

  4. Dani
    It was the most wonderful article i read. I and Asian Indian and stand on the brink of a divorce. I loved him as God wanted me to. But he was abusive. I waited for three years for him to change, even had a baby..but it was getting worser. Seperated i waited, fasted and prayed for him. Forgive i could..not forget. The marks were deep. My only concern was can i serve God if divorced. Now i realize God wants me to be a blessing to all the hurting people out there. I am happy in the Lord, my daughter is growing up in a loving and peaceful and godly atmosphere. I stay with my parents. God has blessed me financially. When i count my blessings..its more than i could ask for. Anyway i still dont intend to give up praying for him. I am getting filled up with more of God’s love for him. At “JESUS’S” feet every knee should bow. I am at peace after going thorough your site. If God could use your experience to be a blessing to many, i believe i can be too…..God bless You.

    • You are right – God can and will use you. Rom. 8:28 is for you just as much as for anyone else. God can use anything for good and make treasure from the trash that happens in our lives. People may judge you but those who do are not seeing you the way God does.

      God bless you, too!

      — Danni

  5. “When an abusive spouse demands dominance of her husand’s time, thoughts, actions, viewpoints, theology, political opinions, dinner plans, housekeeping techniques, self-image – every littlest part of his being – she is making an idol of herself.

    When an abuser says her husband is less than God says he is, she is making a god of herself. She is saying her opinion carries more weight than God’s opinion of her husband; therefore, She is greater than God.

    God says he is good. God says He created him specifically, for a unique purpose. When an abuser says her husband is stupid, worthless, ignorant, rebellious, wicked, (you fill in the blanks), she is calling God a liar and making a god of herself because she is saying she is right and God is wrong.

    When she accuses him where God does not, she is making a god of herself. She is holding her judgment higher than God’s judgment.

    When an abuser physically hurts her husband, she demands that he violate his allegiance to God, who has told him to keep his body, His temple. So the abuser is usurping authority to denigrate the temple of God.

    When an abuser says she is her husband’s absolute authority and everything she says is God’s word to him, she is making an idol of herself. Jesus died to enable a personal relationship between each of us and God Himself. Each of us must personally accept Christ as Savior. A wife cannot do that for her husband. Accepting Christ establishes a personal relationship with God; from that beginning the rest is a personal relationship as well. The Holy Spirit indwells each of us and speaks to each of us, personally. Any wife who stands in the middle of that, and demands that her voice is greater than God’s to him, is making an idol of herself.

    An abuser demands that her husband divide his allegiance. He can be a Christian and a servant-leader and follow God only where it doesn’t contradict her demands of him.

    This is fundamentally why an abuse victim cannot remain with a spouse who persists in her abuse. If the abuser will not repent, fully – which includes taking all responsibility, making restitution and submitting to long-term accountability – that husband is obligated to God to separate from a woman who demands he serve two masters and deny his Lord God.

    In fact, in Ezra 10, God told the Israelites to divorce their wives who worshiped idols. In Is. 50:1 and Jer. 3:8 God says He divorced Israel because of their idolatry. Idolatry is absolutely a Biblical reason for divorce.

    There is freedom in this understanding. This is a freedom the church needs to wrap their hands around and stop tying chains of bondage around abuse victims. When churches demand that abuse victims stay in an abusive marriage, they are participating in idolatry. They are agreeing with a false god and telling someone under their supposed spiritual protection (shepherd – servant guarding the flock for his master) to deny their faith and serve a false god. This is a very serious issue. The church should fall on its face in repentance for this sin. It is grievous. We should be helping victims to safety, not holding the doors to their cells shut.”

    You will see I have switched the genders, in the interest of fairness and balance. Can you agree that the same principles would apply to the male abuse victim? Why or why not?

    May the Lord bless you in seeking His healing!

    • I ABSOLUTELY agree! 100%. You are dead on-target.

      Abuse is not gender specific. It goes both ways and is just as wrong either way.

      — Danni

  6. Thank you, Danni.

    On another note ….. even though ….. or maybe, as a result of ….. being divorced and remarried myself ….. I would counsel that even though a separation is warranted in most PROVEN abuse cases, that is still not necessarily cause for divorce. In some cases, and depending upon the type and nature of the abuse, a separation is exactly what the enemy wants.

    If a couple is separated without an action plan and without accountabilities, the separation becomes a convenient habit and an excuse to grow lazy. In most cases, the kids need Mom or Dad around while they are working on the issues. The longer the separation, the easier the “escape” of divorce is ….. and I believe that goes against the message of reconciliation.

    • I completely agree with this as well; as a person who was separated twice before finally being divorced.

      I believe that biblically there is a place for, and even necessity for, separation sometimes. I also believe that, ideally, the Mt. 18 process should be followed first, except where life and limb are in danger. I haven’t known a church yet that would dare to do it, but it is the Biblical process.

      However, regardless, Satan is going to be all over a person who is separated. That is just the way it is. A person who is separated needs to be strongly supported. Ironically, with things as they are right now, they are least likely to be strongly supported because the church doesn’t understand either abuse, or the Mt. 18 process, or the Biblically-ordered separation.

      I have told many people that separation is not merely a precursor to divorce. I generally get blank stares. Ideally it is a window for repair. That’s what God would like to do with it. It is a window for waiting, praying, seeking God for direction. It is not “the period before divorce.”

      The one hazard I found was that the church put an inordinate amount of pressure to reconcile, when I think it would be far healthier, especially with abuse on the table, for the church to have a “seeking God” posture too. With a pressure to reconcile approach, all that weight lands on the shoulders of the victim — because you can bet an unrepentant abuser isn’t taking any of it. If the church can take a posture of “let’s seek God together” that puts them on the side of righteousness. Whichever of the couple are also on the side of righteousness are walking and praying in agreement with the church and there is unity. If either party of the couple is in disunity, this should more readily become apparent.

      This should also be more beneficial when dealing with a manipulative abuser who is attempting to use the church to manipulate his/her spouse back into the marriage with a false repentance. The church needs an unusual amount of discretion and insight. If the focus is on “seeking God” rather than on “reconciliation” that will frustrate the daylights out of a manipulative abuser! They don’t have patience for that – they just want that victim back under the same roof!

      — Danni

  7. My wife is a product of a IFB belief sysytem, Danni. She was formerly married to a narcissist for over 20 years. He was also a pastor within that system. Without knowing your whole story, it appears you are also a product of something similar. So, your (and her’s) experience in that errant system has left scars.

    My precious wife is still healing from them and she has come a LONG way in the few years we have been married. I am very aware of the jaded views of that particular religious system. Can’t say as I blame you!

    But please be aware that you are coming across as painting a broad-stroke brush against ALL the church universal, sister. That is unfair. As a Charismatic Christian and with 30+ years of church experience …… mainline denominations and non-denoms …. I can assure you that most bodies do NOT sanction spousal abuse nor do they enable the abuser. The IFB movement is rife with it, as we all know. Some individual churches still enable it, yes.

    All hope is not lost! Eyes in the chuch community are waking up to the fact of spousal abuse. Trust me, it is still true that male victims are far less likely to be believed or helped. This corresponds with the overall secular view of male victims, too. But, there is hope. Things overall are better.

    • I have to agree completely that male victims are far less likely to be believed and to receive help than female victims. They are less helpless in the situation – economically and physically. But they are even less likely to be believed, especially in the church, and more likely to be stigmatized. And I have personally known male victims in the church.

      I would like to believe this problem is not a broad problem. It is NOT universal – which I state frequently. However, I do believe it is a broad-based problem. I do not know of a single church anywhere near me that I would be comfortable attending because of this issue. And I live in Atlanta, not nowheresville. (I’m also limited to the bus/train system since I don’t have a car, which limits my options significantly.)

      When churches say they do not sanction spousal abuse or enable abusers there is a difference between those words and actual reality. They can say that and they would treat a victim from outside the church differently then they would treat a couple in the church. They would treat a couple in the church where one spouse is overtly physically abusive in combination with adultery and drug abuse differently than where the abuser is putting on a good “Christian” front, working in the youth group, and not leaving any bruises. Worse yet if that abuser is on the pastoral staff – and yes, that happens too. And I’m talking about even over the long term. The second scenario just gets too uncomfortable because they would have to “judge” and they don’t want to get their hands dirty and be divisive and it’s too hard.

      There are subtle ways the church enables abusers without realizing it – like we’ve discussed with the Fireproof movie and the terminology used in a Biblical separation. I want to raise awareness of these things. For those on, let’s say “your” side – someone who is working in churches with people going through this type of situation – you are seeing that churches are trying to do the right thing — I’m trying to show what it is actually like for those on “this” side as a former victim who talks with many, many, many other victims who are experiencing what churches of all denominations and types are actually doing, when they do or don’t attempt to “help.” This is actually why I decided to add the “Church Helps?” section – to document what victims are actually experiencing. It will take awhile to accumulate. I wish I could go back and populate it with what I’ve already heard but it would take forever and three days.

      There are many churches that truly don’t care and don’t try at all – women should shut up and take it; men rule, women submit.

      There are many churches who think they do care because they are busy looking outside the church doors at “the lost” (they would do anything for a non-member who was in an abusive marriage) and they are oblivious to the ones in the pews who are suffering and being neglected. This is a huge pocket of people who are gushing out the church doors. This is a big issue.

      And there are churches who are genuinely trying to help and who are unknowingly doing harm. I hope these can gain some pointers on fine-tuning what they’re doing to make it even better, rather than taking offense.

      All hope is not lost. As long as we are here on this earth hope is not lost. And I can hardly think God would have put this on my heart to do if hope were lost. 😉

      — Danni

  8. From my perspective, and with the feminist influence infiltrating so many churches …… the message to men is, “Man up and take the abuse and treat your wife as Christ treats the church!!!” You see, we have lost what it is for the men of the church to act as servant-leaders ….. as Jesus did ….. and for the women ….. particularly the younger ones …. to accept this themselves and joyfully submit to that Godly authority. I am NOT saying that every woman is to submit to every man. The Bible does not teach that. It is my conviction that there is taught a divine order in the family and church. We cannot allow the minority of abusers and abusive cases to overrule the rule the Scripture. The exception should always be seen as just that, the exception.

    From “your side”, are you really trying to see both sides of the coin? My wife has healed partly because she is able to separate her experience from what she now sees is reality …… that most churches are not out to “get her” and her feelings and views are valued. She now has a voice. I depend on her. I trust her discernment. We have healed together, though some scarring remains. It is a process.

    I want to encourage you to move away from what I discern as instant suspicion about the ministry of the church at large. Groups like the IFB should not be allowed to cast a shadow on ALL Christianity. I remain convinced they and those like them are the exception, not the rule.

    • And what I see is that you “see” “feminist influence” lurking around every tree and bush, and are rushing to attack a dust bunny. I would suggest this is based on what you are hearing from somewhere.

      I haven’t ever heard the church telling men to “man up and take the abuse and treat your wife as Christ treats the church” — though I can sure imagine it, given the lack of understanding that generates the same misunderstand of God’s heart and Word of God toward female abuse victims. It would produce just this very attitude toward male abuse victims. That is not “feminist influence” – that is lack of spiritual maturity in the house of God and it is hurting men and women equally.

      I cannot agree with your flow of logic. You have started with a correct statement that men are being mistreated at the hands of the church, but you have misdiagnosed the cause as “feminist influence.” This leads to what I believe is a secondary failure of logic in the assumption that complementarian theology is the only logical answer to the problem. I cannot accept that since men are being mistreated by the church, the logical end is that complementarian theology must, therefore, be the answer. That takes several assumptive leaps. But this is not an appropriate venue for digging into the depths of that logic.

      Lack of spiritual maturity and understanding in the church leads to both men and women who are victims of abuse being mistreated by the church.

      I do think I am attempting to see both sides of the coin. Am I perfect? Certainly not. None of us are. I am ever seeking to learn more and open to God’s continued direction in His time and in His way.

      — Danni

  9. I have never stated that the feminist influence is THE reason for the problems we have ….. it is just one of many. It is a main one, though. It is through Feminist Theology, for instance, that we have the unBiblical platform of “mutual submission” in marriage. The Bible, in context, does not teach that. It does teach it as being from one Christian to another. The Eph. 5 passage is so often misquoted and misapplied in marriage. If you like, we can look at that passage as an example and discuss it.

    You specialize in calling attention to the fact that some churches have no understanding of the abuse issue. You are very correct, some are deficient. I am called to teach/preach the Word. Part of that includes exposure of errant doctrine. I don’t focus on JUST the error of equalitarian thought. I have to focus on things as a whole. I center on Feminist Theology here because that is one of the aspects of your site. Some of your links have FT teachings. So do some of your writings.

    Complimentary Theology was correctly taught and modeled for generations, starting in the Book Of Acts with the Church Age. The misuse and abuse of the roles of men and women in the family and church has been allowed to detract from it’s healthy message. That is error. Abuse and control is not the heart of CT. It never was! So, I do my best to bring a healthy focus on the matter.

    You seem to have a very narrown focus on one issue in the Church. Fine with me. More power to you. It’s needed! Bless you for it! Mine is more far reaching. Yours is a pistol shot, mine is a shotgun blast. They are both effective. Neither is more important than the other.

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