Last week on Instagram, I had a couple of people argue against Christians divorcing for abuse reasons.
I engaged with one Commenter in particular but later changed my mind and deleted the thread as it became clear the winding discourse was not helpful, especially for readers in coercive/violent marriages.
Victims and survivors already receive enough of “Christians can’t divorce for abuse reasons” from people who do not understand (deliberately or blindly) the different forms and impacts of raging, unrepentant wounding in relationships.
So I deleted the thread because my goal is to offer clarity and hope across all my platforms, not add to existing confusion and misery.
In today’s post, I’m going to expand on some of what I wrote in that thread. A bunch of things came up, but in particular, I want to highlight the Commenter’s belief, which is shared by many Christians:
- Women cannot leave a marriage for abuse reasons.
- Spouses find themselves in abusive marriages because they did not exercise good judgment when choosing a mate.
At the end of the post, I’ll share Scripture references and other helpful information for further reading.
Can Christians Divorce for Abuse? Up Close and Personal
Here’s a screenshot where the Commenter talks about infidelity as the only valid reason for divorce. (The screenshot is obscured by another image. I was watching Sheila Gregoire – Bare Marriage on YouTube when I took it!)
When people say things like “divorce is only an option when there’s infidelity,” I’m always curious how they’d respond if they themselves were taking on the soul-destroying, mind-bending, body-damaging, life-shattering effects of unrelenting hurt on their own bodies/the bodies of their children.
I always wonder how people who hold a theology that allows harm to go unchecked (or somewhat checked but mainly free to wreak havoc) would act if they were skewering in hell themselves.
It’s easy to whip out Bible verses (often out of context/not balanced by what the rest of Scripture has to say/not centered on Christ or what He modeled) when you’re speaking from a distance.
I suspect the shoulds and musts would dial down a whole lot if they shared a bed with someone committed to their obliteration through repeated acts of deception, control, manipulation, or abandonment.
Can Christians Divorce for Abuse? The Lens
I believe the answer to the question “can Christians divorce for abuse reasons?” lies in asking a critical question: What did Jesus value, people or institutions? What is more important, people or the places they inhabit?
The Christian faith instructs Christians to care about what Jesus cared about.
In Scripture, we see Jesus having boundaries (Mark 6:30-32), walking away from people who meant him harm (Luke 4:29-30), cautioning against amassing power (Luke 22:24 – 27.)
We see Christ specifically incensed when individuals claimed godliness but acted differently from their words. (Matt. 23:13, 27-28, Luke 11:43, 53). When people suffer due to life being hard or for their faith, we see Him comforting, healing, and encouraging.
In other words, Christ is not into injuring or doing nothing when people are hurt.
Claiming Christian values means valuing who Christ values: People. It means seeing Scripture through the God-who-loves-people lens. It means protecting people, not the institutions they inhabit.
It means pausing, grappling, studying, researching, and looking at the person of Christ when we come across parts of verses that paint God as mean and abusive—not promptly forming a theology around how God cannot be trusted with our hurting parts.
Would There Be No Abuse if Christians “Chose Better”?
Heads up: more callousness.
The latter part of that comment is just cold. Also, prayers don’t fix everything. But let’s talk about this “proper doctrine,” that choosing a better spouse will eliminate all abusive marriages.
What’s the #1 reason why people find themselves in abusive marriages in the first place? People find themselves in abusive marriages because their mates choose to abuse.
Harmful unions exist because individuals choose to cause harm. Abuse happens because people choose to abuse. Not because people “choose” to be abused. “Eliminate abusers, and you eliminate abusive marriages,” is how I see it.
But let’s humor the flock and go with the “simply choose better” hypothesis, which is supposed to eliminate all intimate partner violence.
In the Christian world, specific church teachings (detailed in The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better research by Gregoire, Lindenbach, and Sawatsky) have been a massive contributor to why Christian women won’t know they are marrying abusers.
The research reveals how Christian teachings actively set up systems of harm, not health. Christian bestsellers instruct women to ignore their feelings, hand over their bodies to sex-on-demand, talk less, allow men to make decisions and take the lead in all things.
Christian believers are trained to ignore red flags and embrace the power-over dynamic as godly. Red flags are baptized green flags: when a boyfriend ignores his girlfriend’s input, when he starts to tell her how to dress and how he needs to feel respected, the woman is told, “he’s just being a leader.”
When he keeps secrets and explodes in rage, she’s told men struggle with emotions and vulnerability, and she should be patient, prayerful, and understanding (by the way, men are fully capable of living in truth and being emotionally healthy.)
When he objectifies and consumes one half of humanity, the Christian woman is told all men struggle with lust and that women should be careful to protect the men around them. Read No Really, We Should Stop Telling Women to Forgive Their Cheating Husbands
These teachings are the supposed to help Christians “choose better,” and eliminate abusive marriages. I think not. Let’s call this thinking what it is: complete bananas. Like poisoning the water and blaming people when they drink it and die.
A cursory glance at abusers’ mindsets also reveals they are master deceivers. They wear veneers.
It’s why an abuser will be a beloved well-known pastor. The reason the individual with child sexual abuse material in his computer will be the kindly man serving in children’s church.
Masking will be why Christians state, “we need to choose better.” They all imagined all abusers easily stand out. That with just a little work, we’ll know who is the sheep and who is the wolf. It’s not that easy folks.
"I considered church people easy to fool...they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people." - convicted sexual offender. Source
The truth is that many abusers are great at presenting well: that’s why they get away with it. Many abuse advocates agree that covert abuse is the most widespread and most difficult type of abuse to nail and confront in the Christian circles.1 Read Why Women Don’t Know If Their Marriages Are Harmful
To The Christian Passionate About Marriage
Are you passionate about marriage? Welcome to the club. Victims and survivors who got life-saving divorces were passionate about their marriage too.
We all (advocates and survivors) are this level of loud because we value healthy marriages. Our high view of marriage is why we don’t miss a beat when calling out the deathtraps masquerading as “Christian marriages.”
If you are passionate about Christian marriage, I encourage you to read up on abuse.2 Begin to understand its drivers (power and control) and what Christ and the rest of Scripture (not just “marriage verses”) have to say about unrepentance and hardheartedness.
I encourage you to open your heart (truly open your heart, not just with words) and listen to the women trapped in horrific marriages. Think about Jesus’ words in Luke 4:16-21 and what that looks like for them.
“Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 NIV
More Scripture to consider for abusive marriages, as you keep in mind that all of Scripture speaks to the marriage relationship too: I Cor 5:9-13, Ephesians 5:3-13.
Not a Fan?
I know some Christians are completely sold to the idea of an abusive god. A post like this will not change their minds.
My goal with posts like these, as always, is to affirm victims and survivors: God loves you. God cares for you. God sees you. He has a good plan for you, one that does not involve devastation and pain.
I also hope to educate good-hearted Christians who want to learn and are committed to being a safe place for the hurting.
Notes: Can Christians divorce for abuse?
1. Post Trauma Growth comes with a season for reflection. But that season isn’t saying victims had a hand in their abuse. Please check out Sarah McDugal’s Seasons of Healing, (aff link) in which she discusses Post Traumatic Growth which includes a future season of reflection.