Why the Church Won’t Condemn The Wickedness that Leads to Divorce (Plus an Abuser’s Chain of Reaction)

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Why does the church fail to condemn the wickedness that leads to divorce?

A few months ago, I shared a post on Facebook, pleading with churches to address the real issues that lead to divorce instead of constantly denouncing the often life-saving act of divorce.

“Instead of denouncing divorce, why don’t we (the body of Christ) condemn the wickedness that LEADS to divorce? Like the abuse? Unrepentant sin and harmful addictions? Chronic adultery? Hard-core neglect of a spouse? Rather than ask couples to commit to a no-divorce policy, why don’t we ask them to commit to zero abuse, zero adultery, zero neglect, zero abandonment, zero harm?” Facebook.

My online friend, MaryEllen, who has a passion for speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, shared the post and added some excellent insights.

What's the wickedness that leads to divorce? How can churches help? By understanding these fundmental things

I asked her if she could share her insights with us and she graciously agreed to write me a guest post.

Here’s MaryEllen

I recently saw this quote on the Intentional Today Facebook page, and I heartily agreed with it.

I frequently see divorce being spoken of as if it’s the ultimate sin that one could commit toward their spouse. The body of Christ must stop treating divorce as if it is the great wickedness and condemn the actual wickedness of an abusive or adulterous spouse, which leads their victim to seek a life-saving divorce.

At the same time, I realize that most people would agree that abuse and adultery are wicked. When it comes to verbal assent, pretty much everyone would concur with the statement that we must condemn the wickedness that leads to divorce.

But when it comes to practical application, so often, it truly does end up being the divorce that is condemned rather than the wickedness which led to it.

How and why does this happen? I believe there are two primary reasons why the divorce-seeking spouse is so often condemned, and the one who committed the actual wickedness is let off the hook.

Why the Church Fails to Condemn The Wickedness that Leads to Divorce? 2Reasons

1. They believe myths about abuse and divorce.

So many times when a woman has left her husband, I’ve heard the whispers:,

“Phsshh. She says she’s being ’emotionally abused’, whatever that is. Women these days will get their feelings hurt over any little thing and call it abuse. Then they use it as an excuse to walk out on their husband.”

Friends, can I tell you that this is straight-up propaganda? It begins with talking points spoken by prominent speakers and printed in popular books.

Talking points such as:

-Women are overly emotional
-Women have a tendency to be bitter
-Women get their feelings hurt too easily
-Divorce is what lazy, selfish people do

Those talking points are picked up by pastors and teachers and are repeated from the pulpit. The ideas trickle down into the consciousness of the listeners and become ingrained into their worldview.

They become ubiquitous in everyday conversation as if they are just facts of life. When people hear rumors of a woman leaving her husband, their minds can only see through the preconceived notions they’ve always thought true.

They don’t understand that emotional abuse isn’t just some hurt feelings; it’s a means for the abuser to maintain a soul-crushing, life-threatening level of power and control over the victim. They don’t understand that abuse isn’t about specific hurtful incidents; it’s how those incidents are used as part of a bigger pattern of control.

They don’t realize that pursuing a divorce isn’t something one does just for the thrill of it.

No one wants to see the death of their dream of a loving marriage and happy family. No one wants to risk losing custody of their children. No one wants to parent alone while juggling all the financial responsibilities, often with no prior career experience.

No one wants to spend all their money on divorce lawyers and court costs. No one wants to throw themselves into a frightening future full of uncertainty.

Yet, for those who haven’t experienced abuse, their minds have no frame of reference to understand the victim’s reality; they can only comprehend what they’ve heard, much of which is a myth.

2. Manipulation by the abuser

When the bystander already has incorrect assumptions about abuse and divorce, it is easy for the abuser to leverage these to further his agenda.

An abuser’s chain of reaction after his spouse seeks help from the church and/or separates from him might look something like this:

a.” No one’s perfect; both people in a marriage are responsible for marriage problems.”

This throws the spotlight off himself and assigns equal responsibility to the victim for her role in the “marriage problems.”

The reality, though, is that abuse is not a marriage problem; it’s a choice that the abuser makes to abuse his power. A victim cannot fix this by going to marriage counseling and working on “her part.”

b. Sorrow and repentance

This is another clever use of the “no one’s perfect” myth. It not only assigns equal responsibility to the victim, but it minimizes the seriousness of the abuser’s own sin.

When his abuse is perceived as marital annoyances anyone might do because we all sin, the solution is as simple as saying, “I’m sorry; I promise I’ll never do it again.”

c. “I did my part; now I’m waiting for her to be willing to work this out together.”

When the seriousness of abuse is minimized to a relationship problem that just needs apology and forgiveness, the abuser gets to do his part (apologize) while the victim is also expected to do her part (forgive and reconcile.)

If the victim, due to her own intimate knowledge of the abuser’s manipulation and her lack of safety, refuses to reconcile with the abuser, she is perceived as the one in the wrong.

It appears that the abuser did his part to heal the marriage, but she is unwilling to do hers.

What's the wickedness that leads to divorce? How can churches help? By understanding these fundmental things

d. “Poor me; I’m in shock that my wife would abandon me like this.”

When the victim sees that the abuser persists with his manipulation, which is prime evidence of his lack of true repentance, and decides it is best for her well-being to pursue a divorce, the abuser, not the victim, will receive the sympathy of the onlookers.

To those with a pre-conceived, false understanding of abuse and divorce, it appears that the wife got her feelings hurt too easily and was too stubborn and bitter to forgive her husband.

Now, when she initiates a divorce, it is obvious that this sinful woman is clearly abandoning her marriage vows, and there may even be strong suspicion it’s because she wishes to go find a more exciting man somewhere else.

The poor “victim” of her abandonment is lovingly supported, and the church can honestly say, “We don’t believe in shunning divorced people. We condemn the sin of abandonment (and suspected adultery) that led to this poor man’s unwanted divorce.”

In the end, although the church does not realize this is the case, what has just happened was the opposite of what they believed they were doing.

They believe they don’t condemn the divorce and only condemn the wickedness that leads to it.

But due to being misled and manipulated, they have in fact condemned the one who initiated the divorce (the actual victim) while overlooking the wickedness that led to the divorce (the abuse and deception of the perpetrator.)

The Wickedness that Leads to Divorce: The Education

My friend, the book of Proverbs gives us many warnings about the importance of knowing our own limitations of understanding and of seeking wisdom and discernment.

For instance:

  • It is not wise to believe everything you hear (Proverbs 14:15)
  • It is foolish to make judgments on things before you understand all the facts (Proverbs 18:13) -To move ahead blindly without taking precautions can place you (and those you wish to help) in danger (Proverbs 22:3)
  • It is foolish to trust your own wisdom and insight (Proverbs 28:26)

Instead of trusting your own limited knowledge to help others well, I ask that you would seek the Lord’s wisdom.

Often God’s promise to provide wisdom is answered in the form of resources and information that are already available to you.

You need only avail yourself of them. I ask that you acknowledge the limitations of your own judgments and seek the help of someone who has the training to understand an abuser’s manipulation for what it is.

I’ve compiled a page full of resources that will help you gain a deeper understanding about how to recognize abuse and respond in a way that supports the victim and not the perpetrator. You can view the complete list here.


Thanks MaryEllen! Everyone, follow MaryEllen on her blog, Instagram and Facebook for more life-giving insights!

Bio: MaryEllen Bream is a follower of Jesus with a passion to speak out on behalf of the oppressed. She writes at hopeforhurtingwives.com where she sheds light on the epidemic of hidden domestic abuse in the church and offers hope to women who are suffering from destructive marriages.

3 Comments

  1. DeeCeePee says:

    Being very aware that, for the most part it is male on female physical abuse, we must also seek balance in blame and realize that, for the most part, women use WORDS in abusive ways as well. It is well known that men are not particularly verbose, but women make words an art form. We have to acknowledge a woman’s part in verbally “pushing” her husband away and causing a rift which will lead to divorce. It’s disappointing to see the article and viewpoints be so one sided. Hopefully this topic can be further explored, and a balanced article can be written to show both possibilities of wickedness which leads to divorce on the part of each spouse.

  2. I love this, and I needed to read it today. Tomorrow it will be a year since I discovered my husband was cheating on me with anyone he could have sex with, women, men, a married couple we knew, inviting another man to join them. I left immediately and only went back to get my stuff, and moved back to NY from Tennessee. I almost got sucked back in by his “repentance” and “apologies” but discovered when he came to NY to see me that his words were the only thing different. He was still lying every time he opened his mouth. Drinking alcohol daily and went out drinking (supposedly- he may have been drinking and having sex with someone) when we were supposed to spent the afternoon with my grandchildren, came to my house highly intoxicated, lied about where he was and who he was with and that was it for me. I told him I was worth so much more than how he treated me in God’s eyes and that he should go back to bottom feeding if that’s how he wants to live. He, of course, continues to try to manipulate me and make me feel bad and sends me random love songs out of the blue, when he’s not calling me a whore and telling me “you’ll struggle financially” like that’s somehow scarier than the night he choked me, almost punched me in the face and told me he would kill me and get rid of my body. I am healing, and doing fine. My credit score has gone up, I’ve gone deeper in my relationship with God, and my children and grandchildren are so happy I’m back home. I am blessed to have had God show me what I was married to, and there is no way I’m going back! If you would like I would be happy to guest write for you.

  3. Podcasts by Chris Moles and his book and website (Peaceworks university) are all really good. He can be found on YouTube.

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