Why Won’t the Church Address Domestic Violence?

I have to give a round of applause to Michael Spencer of the Internet Monk blog for his piece yesterday on this subject. He did a great job and he’s taking some heat for it.

You have to read it, but he gives 10 reasons why churches and pastors won’t step up to the plate on the issue of domestic abuse in the church – and they are not only right on target but communicated in a way that strips all the veneer of piety right off the excuses. I love the fact that he’s daring to take on the issue, when he is 1) a man!!!! yeah!, and 2) not a victim. In a strange twist of illogic, victims who speak out are automatically discounted considerably because we are assumed to have an agenda of validating ourselves.

So check it out and be sure to let the iMonk know you appreciate it!

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Christian Men with Abusive Wives

This conversation took place in one of the comment threads and I know there are many other men who are walking in the same shoes. My answer to this man is by no means comprehensive. But it’s a good place to start.

Scott said:.

I am a man and my spouse has been horribly abusive to me verbally. Sometimes I want to leave the marriage. I’ve gotten as far as to fill out the paperwork but I keep reminding myself that “God Hates Divorce”. I know a few good christian men that believe in mutual submission out of respect for God and are in a similar situation. i.e. the Woman is horribly abusive, mean, disrespectful and hateful. What is your experience with the reverse like my situation?

Danni said:.

First thing off the bat, I would recommend you read Barbara Roberts’ book, Not Under Bondage which I recommend in the left sidebar of this site. She digs into the Word in great detail.

As for my experience, I have definitely seen women who are abusive to their husbands! This is just as much of a problem for those men as it is for women who have abusive husbands. It is no less wrong for a woman to be abusive than for a man.

And here’s something important. God is no respecter of persons. He does not hold men in greater bondage to abusers than He holds women! That is impossible because it would violate God’s nature.

In the Word it says that a man must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and then they will be one flesh. But what if that wife will not allow the husband to cleave to her? In that case, she is putting asunder their one-flesh relationship.

And what does the Word say about that? The one who puts asunder is the one on whom Jesus places blame — not on the party who may get a legal document attesting to the existing reality of the relationship. That marriage was put asunder by the one who refused to remain in the one-flesh relationship, not by the one who gets a legal document entitling them to live in safety.

And the Word says death and life are in the power of the tongue. It is just as deadly to live with someone who is verbally abusive as it is to live with someone who is physically abusive. That is not metaphorical; it is literal.

Look at Malachi 2 in the King James Version. I love the way it says this — it says God hates putting away. It doesn’t say God hates divorce. Yes, God does hate divorce. So do I. So do you (I would certainly hope). But God does here what He frequently does in the Word, and points all the way to the root of the problem. What God hates is putting away — the acts that separate the one flesh bond of marriage as He intended it. That putting away happens prior to the issuance of a divorce decree. It includes divorce, but it precedes divorce.

I would encourage you to go with God on this – and it may be necessary to stop looking at what other people in the church are teaching or doing in the name of righteousness in marriage. There is a LOT of mistaken teaching in the church on this subject. We have created a whole doctrinal system out of a partial understanding of the Word and a misunderstanding of God’s heart and nature.

All that said, you don’t say what steps you have tried as far as counseling and accountability. The Word also includes a process of accountability and church discipline in Mt. 18 which I recommend strongly, if at all possible. Most churches won’t follow it through to the conclusion, but you can follow it as thoroughly as possible. This will help assure your heart that you are indeed making every possible effort and not throwing in the towel too soon. Both in Barbara’s book and in the articles on this site we talk about what the Word says about judging a spouse to be an unbeliever (Biblically) and what the Bible says about when to stay and when you are free from an unbelieving spouse. And a person can look just like a Christian and not be a believer by Biblical standards — in fact, it happens all the time.

How Can I Trust God After Marriage to A “Christian” Abuser?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

This exchange occurred in one of the comment threads on another article, but I thought it might be beneficial for others as a stand-alone piece by itself.

Mary said:

…I have a lot of unfinished business that I need to work through regarding my relationship with God and the church… I don’t know where God is in any of this anymore. I feel paralyzed to do anything about my situation… because I don’t trust myself to hear from God. (and even if I did I don’t know if I have the strength or the courage to do anything. I feel empty) I can’t imagine God saving me from [one] abusive marriage and then leading me to do the same thing again. But that is what happened if I retrace my decisions that I was making at the time. Am I so defective that I can’t hear from God?

Danni said [amplified, as always when I think about it more]:

It is not that you are so defective that you can’t hear from God. It is a combination of the fact that our own paradigms of reality affect what we think we are hearing from God and that the church is teaching some things about God that aren’t completely accurate.

Our own paradigms are probably the biggest thing that sabotages us. Those of us who marry into abuse almost always – I’d say always but there is always the rare exception to the rule – have some underlying wrong beliefs about ourselves, marriage, relationships, and even God that are so unconscious we are not aware they influence us. If we were raised in abuse in any way – not necessarily overt abuse – we definitely have some foundation problems we are not aware of.

Then when we take that into the arena of church, one or both of two things happens. One is that we do not accurately understand the truth because our paradigms color our understanding – for instance, our understanding of God’s love. How can we understand God’s love for us when we have never experienced real love? And we may think we have experienced real love and not understand that what we think is real love is not. If we were raised in an environment where our acceptance was intrinsically tied to our performance, we will see God as having that same standard toward us – which is not true and literally twists everything else around backwards. These are just a couple examples.

The other thing that can happen in the church is that it may actively teach wrong theology about God, God’s love, the gospel, etc. — all of which will be detrimental to a greater or lesser extent as applied to the issue of abuse. Here again, if we have been raised in an abusive environment (or been in one for years), a church which teaches this type of wrong theology or is even straight-out spiritually abusive will feel right and comfortable to us. This is the type of church we are likely to instinctively choose, just as surely as we are likely to instinctively choose to marry an abuser.

But the truth is that God is none of these things. And while you may think God told you to marry that person who was an abuser, He didn’t. He couldn’t have; it would be a violation of His character and nature. But we can misunderstand. And God is bigger than that. It doesn’t mean God failed; it just means we have more to learn about God — which is an awesome thing to know! That means there are unplumbed depths to the goodness, kindness and love of God, which you have yet to explore. And it means we can still trust Him — because without that we have nothing.

Empty is a good place to start. And baby steps are just fine. Is the Word true? That’s the first thing you have to ask yourself. And God knows where you are – Ps. 103:8-14 says:

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. [Note: in fact, under the New Covenant we are not under God’s wrath. The New Testament says it is being held until the end of time for those who reject Jesus. God is not mad at you and He’s not going to get mad at you.]

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

He knows your frame; He remembers that you are but dust. He knows and understands every emotion, every fear, every hurt you are feeling. And He’s not mad.

The Holy Spirit has been promised to be our comforter and our counselor (read John 13-17). Is the Word true? Do those words actually mean what they say? Do you need comfort? Do you need guidance and direction? Is the Word true? (Yes, I know I said that three times now; it was on purpose.) God can be trusted and He will not be mad at you, remembering your frame, when you ask Him to show you unmistakeable how to truly hear His voice.

I would even recommend very specifically asking Him to expose and overturn your paradigms of belief that are hindering you from knowing Him as He really is. He will do it — that is my own testimony. He will do it. Not all in a day; not even all in a year. He is a gentle healer. So He can be trusted to deconstruct and reconstruct as carefully and as tenderly as it is possible to do with such a radical work, taking as long as necessary to do it. And all you have to trust with is this one moment at a time.

Hebrews 11:6 …he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Is the Word true?

Another thought regarding believing God led you to marry an abuser, I have to say I fully believed God led me to marry my husband, too. I was completely devoted to God and seeking God as fully as I knew to do. I prayed about it alot and specifically prayed many times that if it wasn’t God’s will, God would show me. Everything I knew about God and obedience and the Word said I was supposed to marry my husband. And God knows I was very willing to lay it down if He didn’t want me to do it.

So after the nightmare started, and then would never end, I had these thoughts, too. Eventually I came to realized that God did try to let me know – but my paradigms made it impossible for me to see and understand what He was saying. My theology, which was mistaken, said I should marry him – but God Himself did not. And He cannot and will not interfere with the authority He has delegated to us on this earth. What He will do, because His grace and mercy are everlasting and eternally long-suffering, is walk with us through what happens next and redeem us when we realize things are amiss.

If you do not see those hindsight warning signs yet, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. It just means that your inaccurate paradigms of reality haven’t been overturned yet. And God can fix that, over time.

As for where to start – well, that turned long, so I’m going to put it up as a series of separate pieces.

The New Abuse-Aware Church

There is a new trend in Christianity. It is the trend of being abuse-aware in churches. Many of the biggest marriage and family organizations have joined it, as have many large and very influential churches. They are publishing articles, making statements, removing damning statements from public view, and generally rushing about to shine up their image on an issue that is becoming more and more vocal in the church.

The problem is – the actions being taken clearly reveal that underneath the public polish, nothing has changed.

As recently as a few months ago, there was a huge stink about public transcripts posted by Saddleback Church on their website, clearly stating that their policy was to insist a victim of abuse remain in that marriage unless she was being physically beaten on a regular, ongoing basis. Their statements about divorce left NO POSSIBLE allowance for divorce for abuse.

In a move I predicted, they removed those transcripts from public view quietly and without comment. But not before I transcribed them word-for-word. And apparently, that was a wise choice because they have gone into deny-and-cover mode. This article clearly reveals they are attempting damage control. The article says Jim Wilke stated what happens is pieces are taken from the whole of their stand, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. Really? The “pieces” were the ones THEY publically published – nobody took anything out of context there!

In fact, I have communicated personally with more than one individual who received the exact destructive abuse counseling from Saddleback Church of which myself and others are trying to raise awareness.

If Saddleback really didn’t mean what they plainly said in the transcripts, why has there not been an equally public retraction and acknowledgement of error? By attempting to tell people what they clearly expect to hear (as in the case of the above linked article) and minimizing the reality of what actually has happened they are, in fact, underscoring their error.

What was plainly taught in those transcripts, and which my private and extensive communication with some counselees in that church supports as accurate, is unscriptural and literally dangerous. If that is not their policy now, there should be a statement saying they were wrong and have changed their policies in specific ways. This has not happened. Instead, those who specifically ask (obviously wanting to hear that the church isn’t locked in the Dark Ages of misunderstanding and handling the Word) are being told what they want to hear and blame is shifted to vague others who have misunderstood – what was clearly and publically stated.

Unfortunately, Saddleback is not the only highly visible church or ministry in this same boat. Family Life recently published an article which glorified and applauded remaining in an abusive marriage and “suffering for righteousness sake.” When there was a huge outcry, recorded for posterity in the comments section (which they may delete since attention is being called to it) the article was modified and editorial comments added to the beginning. In fact, this clearly revealed that they do not grasp the issues of abuse, since those familiar with abuse can plainly see an abuser and victim in the original article.

However, these adjustments made by Family Life change nothing. It is another public relations cover, as clearly indicated by the fact they also recently featured Mark Driscoll as a model of teaching godly marital values. Unfortunately, Freedom For Captives is just one of quite a few sites which chronicle, in detail, Mark Driscoll’s own abusive teachings. If you read enough, you will find quotes that describe how Driscoll teaches absolute subjugation of the wife, and an abusive “leadership” style of husbands.

You can also hear for yourself, Mark Driscoll describing his own abusive behavior toward his wife (especially the last 5 minutes). What he describes is controlling, abusive, even violent – it doesn’t matter if it was toward others! This is the way he treats his own wife, and this is what he uses as an example of “protecting” your family. No, that is not protection – it is ownership, control, violence and abuse. That is classic abuser behavior. He expresses exactly the same attitudes toward his church and even the men in his church in the above sermon to men. It is all based on control, authoritarian dictatorship, ownership, violence and abuse.

And just to clarify, verbal violence is just as significant as physical violence. Words carry the power of death and life – that is not metaphorical. God Himself does not treat us that way. Driscoll’s clearly stated theology and example cannot be justified by any teaching under the New Covenant – in fact, quite the opposite. The Word is very clear that God is not extending wrath to the world at this time because of Jesus’ sacrifice — and He certainly doesn’t extend it to those of us who are hidden with Christ in God and whose every single transgression is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice and gone from His sight “as far as the east is from the west.” (For more on this subject, see my article Does God Get Angry At Us?.)

These are just three of the very visible churches and ministries which have similar policies and have made similar “adjustments” in a public nod to abuse which changes nothing on the level where it matters most. I suspect it has recently become unfashionable to take a hard stand on abuse. So they “say” they are understanding of it, wrap it all up in a good PR package – and change nothing.

When it comes down to it, judgment of what qualifies as abuse still sits in the hands of an uneducated (about abuse) pastor or counselor, the victim is assumed to be exaggerating in an attempt to get out of their marriage, the abuser is believed because the pastor/counselor doesn’t know how to read the signs, and abuse is still “graded” with physical abuse being the “bad kind” and everything else negotiable and subjective.

I am frankly alarmed by this new trend by forefront Christian leaders to say they understand abuse and are intolerant of it, while their real treatment of the issue hasn’t changed. In reality, this puts victims in greater danger than they were under blatant ignorance and rejection. Now, the church is telling them it does understand, and in light of that “understanding” victims are still being told the same old things. There has been no new understanding of what abuse is, the roots and heart of it, what the Word actually says about it — nothing. The old stuff has just been re-wrapped in shiny new tissue, with the dangerous contents hiding behind an attractive and disarming package.

Is it the Alleged Victim’s Fault?

It is fairly standard procedure when a clergy-member is accused to sex abuse for people to blame or accuse the alleged victim. The alleged victim is either accused of lying and making up the whole thing to destroy God’s servant, or s/he is accused to seducing the clergy member and then lying about it.

Unfortunately this practice isn’t reserved for clergy sex abuse. In fact, it is a standard byproduct of denial. And, for all that, denial is a normal response to information that seems impossible. Where this becomes dangerous is when denial persists into unreasonable refusal to accept truth or to deflect responsibility from the one(s) responsible.

Sociological Images: Seeing Is Believing has a great article about how common and widespread this response is. Did you know it is the victim’s fault if her husband beats her (oh, yes – even the church will tell you that), a wife’s fault if her husband kills her children, the economy’s fault if domestic violence rates rise, girls are to blame for internet predators, and women cause sexual harrassment and male lust. This linked article has proof of this widespread problem – check it out.

The heart of this issue is that in each of these types of situation people fail to connect the action with the correct cause. Any perpetrator is fully responsible for his/her own behavior. If this were not true, all of these actions would be universal – all men would have unbridled lust, everyone would sexually harrass those around them, husbands would always kill their children when their wife upsets them, there would be no domestic violence in financially secure families, etc. No victim ever forces the perpetrator to take advantage of them. This is patently ridiculous. Still, the myth persists, adding to the pain of victims everywhere.

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

One of the accusations hurled at me regularly regarding this blog is that I am over-exaggerating the seriousness of the situation of abuse in the church. I am told that the problems of both clergy sex abuse and domestic violence in the church are rare and limited to strange, extreme, non-mainstream churches.

I have addressed the fallacy of this assumption elsewhere on my blog, but another thought occurred to me today. To give a little bit of a picture of how big this “molehill” really is, here are some facts.

Click on the link in the right sidebar for “Protestant Clergy Sex Abuse in the News.” See how many pastors and church workers appear there. Now, remember that my collection is quite incomplete — I don’t find every news story. Also, by far, most instances of clergy sex abuse are never reported. Almost all of the ones I know about personally have never been reported.

Now, looking at the number of news stories about clergy sex abuse, consider that I talk to many people experiencing domestic violence in the church to every one of those clergy abuse news stories. And again, I’m only talking to the tiniest fraction of women and men experiencing domestic abuse in the church.

And every one of those people I talk to, and every one of those news stories, literally affects many, many other lives — and the well-being of future generations.

Now, there’s one other important step to this exercise. What is God’s perspective?

For just a tiny peak, here are a couple statements by Jesus.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! — Matt. 18:6-7

The one who is giving offense is the church! Not all the church is giving offense, obviously. But it includes a large segment of mainstream Christianity, not a small set of fringe weirdos.

And God has more to say about what He thinks of this problem, in this same context…

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. — Matt. 18:10-14

So, does it matter? Am I over-exaggerating the seriousness with which God views this?

Rather than me making a mountain out of a molehill, the church is making a molehill out of a mountain. We are so busy picking the splinter out of the world’s eye, we have utterly neglected the beam blinding our own.

Fact-ional Christianese Marriage Menders

Pastors, Christian counselors, Christian friends and family members are steeped in a system that has for centuries valued the institution of marriage over the lives of the people inside it. Unfortunately, this means when someone reaches the point where they must leave an abusive marriage they invariably face a barrage of well-meaning advice from these individuals who only want to help but have no idea how very much they are hurting.

When you are the one in that place, it can be almost impossible to separate the truth from the fiction. Knowing that your own flesh could lead you astray, you don’t know if you can trust yourself to judge correctly. What if all these voices are right and you are wrong after all?

I have started compiling this document using some of the things people have sent me that they are being told or that I remember being told. I am keeping it in my articles in the left sidebar and will add to this as new things are sent to me. All items added to the list will be de-personalized – no names or personal information will be included.

PEOPLE SAY: God is a God of redemption. (Implying God wants to redeem this marriage from ruin.)

TRUTH: – yes, God is a redeemer! God redeemed me out of my abusive marriage and has given me a life of peace. He has become my husband (Isaiah 54) and provider until such time as He may choose to provide me with another human one. He is an awesome Redeemer!

PEOPLE SAY: God wants this marriage to work.

TRUTH: – but He won’t force anyone to change against their will because He made man with a free will to choose to disobey. And when Israel insisted on disobedience, God divorced her.

PEOPLE SAY: Miracles are possible.

TRUTH: – for those who believe and obey. But if one party doesn’t want to obey, no miracle will follow. And this isn’t a “miracle” case anyway. This is a case of disobedience or obedience. God is not going to reach down with a magic wand and fix it. He wants repentance and radical obedience – the hard stuff, not fairy fixes.

Pastors and churches love to believe in miracle fixes for marital discord. That’s pure bunk and emotionally manipulative sermon illustrations. When a spouse is walking in sin they don’t need a miracle. They need to repent and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

PEOPLE SAY: Your husband has realized his sin and is working on it.

TRUTH: – big secret here for the fully initiated: disobedient spouses always “realize their sin and work on it” when their spouse finally has had enough and leaves. Occasionally this is actually a genuine wake-up call and the repentance and change are true. Usually they are not. They are a manipulative gesture only. And pastors, churches, family and friends always fall for the manipulative gesture – always.

In fact, if this has been a seriously long-term issue, with many artificial repentances and returns to previous behavior, and the wife has reached the point of seeking a divorce, as I did, my answer to this was — if he is truly repentant he will correct his behavior and demonstrate his repentance in spite of our divorce because it is right, and reconciliation can take place later. There was nothing in the world to stop us from remarrying. But that would surely be a test of his sincerity. Sure enough, he stopped fighting me for custody and started pushing for our divorce to be finalized 8 or 9 months into the process because he had found someone he wanted to date (his fight was what was slowing the process down). He remarried 10 months after our divorce was finalized. He had no serious interest in, or intention of, reconciliation.

Some ways you can see through a repentance if it is fake:

Has he repented publically, telling everyone openly exactly what he has done to you and the children privately? Has he openly told people exactly how he has mistreated you? Most of the time they don’t do this; they will manage to save face and avoid actually telling the depth of what they have done because it would ruin their squeaky-clean image. Or they will only tell one or two individuals whom they know will never let it get out, but who will reveal there has been a “big confession” to go with that repentance to prove it is genuine – more image projection. This is a big sign it is not real.

Is he willing to accept all consequences for his behavior, including a lengthy separation, personal counseling for his behavior, not marriage counseling (because the problem isn’t the marriage, it is within him), even including a divorce if that is what happens, accepting that it is the consequence of his behavior? Is he willing to publically acknowledge this to family, friends and church?

Is he willing to submit to on-going accountability on a long-term basis for his private behavior, and allow you to report to his accountability partners about whether he is continuing in obedience?

Does his repentance have “cracks” in it? In other words, an insincere repentance is short-lived and generally has the purpose of manipulating the other spouse back into the relationship and manipulating the viewing audience onto his “side” of the issue. So the repentance may be one face in public and disappear in private with just you. Or it may be “sincere” until it doesn’t get what it wants and then slivers of the old person are visible when no one else can see.

PEOPLE SAY: God is about forgiveness and restoration.

TRUTH: – and He is also equally about justice, and standing up for the abused, and setting at liberty those who are bound, and hating treachery (Mal 2 – husbands who do violence to their marriage covenant), and believers judging the verbal abuser in the church and putting him out of fellowship (I Cor. 5:11), and I could go on and on. It is wrong to pick out two attributes of God to manipulate you – that is a sure indicator of condemnation and judgment that are not from God!

PEOPLE SAY: The marriage is sacred.

TRUTH: – now where exactly is that in the Bible? I don’t remember reading that translation. The verse they think they are quoting is Heb. 13:4 –

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

That verse means something entirely different than “marriage is sacred.” Marriage is honorable and fornication and adultery are not – plain and simple. The verse is a comparison – not a statement of the sacredness of marriage.

Life is sacred. God is sacred. His Word is sacred. My body is the temple of the Lord, as is yours. Surely the temple of the Lord is a sacred place.

And when an abuser constantly abuses that body with his words, he is literally killing you, the temple of God. Now that is a violation of what God holds sacred. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and science is proving that is true. I’ve had breast cancer. Do you need to wait until you come face to face with a literal, physical death? Because it will happen – the Word says so. It is only a matter of time.

PEOPLE SAY: You are one flesh. God says not to separate what He has joined together.

TRUTH: – this is one of my favorites! Yes! God said that! I wish the church would stand up and fight over this one! Because it is not the party who gets a legal document for protection who has done the separating – it is the party who has been doing violence to the marriage covenant day in and day out for years who has been tearing apart that one flesh relationship and has already thoroughly separated it. But the church wants to point the finger and lay the blame on the wrong shoulders! Mal. 2:13-17 describes this very well.

PEOPLE SAY: It takes two to make a marriage and it take two to break a marriage.

TRUTH: That’s a really cute saying but it’s a bunch of horse do-do. It takes two to make a marriage work but one person can destroy it single-handedly.

Saying it takes two people to break a marriage is as logical as saying it requires the collusion of both people for one spouse to murder the other. Proverbs says a foolish woman can tear down her house with her own hands. Surely a foolish man can do the same.

PEOPLE SAY: God hates divorce.

TRUTH: – this is from Mal. 2 and it is a mis-translation. The original language says God hates putting away and it is referring to men who abandoned their legal wives without giving them a certificate of divorce, leaving them without any provision or protection in a society where women were chattel and the property of men. These women were then not free to remarry so they were literally abandoned to be prey to the first man who came along to rape and pillage them. The statement that God hates divorce is one of the most common wrong teachings on marriage in the modern Christian church. God didn’t say that!

A possible alternate translation could be that these men did legally divorce their wives, though the word used is one which does not always mean a legal divorce, but that these divorces were without cause – treacherous divorces as the context plainly states.

In either case, God condemns the actions of these men for their treachery and for putting away. God’s focus is on their treachery and the violence they have done to their covenant relationship – not on the divorce itself, since the text does not say God hates divorce. God hates putting away – which transcends divorce, reaching back to the action of separating what God has joined; an action which far predates a legal document. Putting away reaches back to the violation of that one-flesh covenant that is inherent in abuse.

PEOPLE SAY: Think about the damage you’re doing to the kids.

TRUTH: – that’s a hard one because it strikes at the heart of any mother. Teens seem to be particularly hard, but then, I still have yet to deal with what will happen as my daughter gets old enough to truly process her parents’ divorce. But here’s what I see so far in my situation.

I have a 21-year-old son (as of 2008) who grew up as the butt of his father’s physical abuse. He was the primary target, while his younger brother was mostly protected (this is not unusual in an abuse situation – to have a primary target of violence and have one or more others protected). By the time he was 12 and had gained the ability to think abstractly, he figured out he actually hadn’t done anything to deserve to be treated this way and he started to talk and act back to his father in exactly the same way his father treated him.

This, of course, only made it worse for him because his father received this as gross disrespect (which it was). A teenager who swears and hits back is not only offensive to the father, but makes really good fodder to tell other people about when you leave out the part about how many times you have hit the kid and sworn at him first.

This son, naturally, hated church and God because, as he said in his own words, who needs another Father like that?

When I separated from his father when he was 13 he wanted me to get a divorce but I didn’t because of pressure from church – fear of man won that time. When I finally decided to get a divorce when this son was 18 his response was something along the lines of “it’s about time.”

Fortunately, he did accept Christ when he was 17, but he is going to have issues for a lifetime as a result of the abuse he experienced. He refuses to have anything to do with his dad. I had to convince him that he really could not exclude his father from his wedding. Now how’s that for damage?

Then there’s the second son. He was the protected one. He always denied the abuse; always. The next day after an incident, he would deny it had happened. In court, he testified to the judge that there had been no abuse in our home. Yes, he lied. When I asked him about it later, he said he does remember it but he believes I should not have gotten a divorce. I should have had more faith and trusted God.

So I worry about this child who is 19 now (2008). Will he be like his father and be willing to overlook this behavior in himself since he is willing to overlook it in his father? There is definitely damage here.

And lastly there’s my daughter. From the time she was an infant, she was “treated” to the sounds of her father and adult-sized brothers in screaming, swearing, fist-swinging brawls. I would leave the house with her when it happened but that doesn’t mean she didn’t still hear it.

At one point, she was standing at her father’s knees (she adores her father; he is the love of her life) while he was watching TV. Someone interrupted him with a question. He jumped to his feet and started screaming full-force, starting with the F-word. The sight of her shocked face will be forever etched in my mind.

Another vision stamped in my head happened after I had decided to get a divorce but before I left. He was bringing her in from outside and told her to go around the car one way but she went the other way (she had just turned 3). He started screaming at her for it. Not a simple redirection as might be appropriate if it even mattered. But full-on screaming at a 3-year-old for just walking one way when it was in his mind to go a different way – when it didn’t even matter.

Recently she was sick and had nightmares with the fever. In her nightmares, which now have her so terrified she will not sleep in her bed anymore, she says someone is screaming at her but she doesn’t know who it is. I wonder. But she adores her dad and asks frequently why I can’t love her daddy (this is the story he has told her, lovely man that he is). She will probably never understand.

But how much more scarred would she be if I stayed with him? By staying with her father I would also have given her the example of what type of man she should marry and how a man should treat her one day. Is that the life I want for her?

There is NO question in my mind. Not a single glimmer of a doubt. Yes, she is going to suffer because her parents are divorced. But compared to the damage of living with an abuser – no way.

And even for the boys who were adults or nearly so by the time I finally got a divorce – by getting a divorce I have taught them something, if they will choose to receive the lesson. God is a God of righteousness and all the other things I have written above. Those are all good reasons for what I have done – that’s what I want my children to learn by the fact I did get a divorce. Had I understood all this sooner I would have made the choice far sooner. But I didn’t and God gives grace for that, I have to believe.

The fact of the matter is this — the children of an abusive marriage are going to be hurt. It is up to us to choose whether we will have them see God’s truth or see us live a lie.