Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Stop Saying "God hates Divorce"

It hasn’t been that long ago that someone told me our church’s position on divorce was wrong.  We acknowledge that God permits divorce for habitual, unrepentant, hard-hearted violation of the marriage vows.  Sexual unfaithfulness, failure to love and provide for, desertion, and abuse (a kind of desertion) are, we maintain, biblical grounds for divorce.  In fact, these violations are what destroy the marriage, not the victim who files the legal paperwork.  My caller however, insisted upon her rendition of Malachi 2 – claiming that it says God hates divorce.  What she meant by this, of course, was that God hates ALL divorce and thus divorce is never permissible.  She is wrong.  Very, very wrong.  And her words do great hurt and harm to abuse victims.  Christians need to stop saying “God hates divorce.”

Why?  Because the Bible does not say this!  At least it does not say what people so often want to claim it says when they use their slogan “God hates divorce.” Have you read the English Standard Version for example (emphasis is mine) –

Malachai 2:14-16,  But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (15) Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (16) “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.“

What is lacking?  “God hates divorce.”  Why?  Because the translators realize (and this is certainly not the only Bible translation that does this) that what is obnoxious to God is not ALL divorce. Unjust, wicked, faithless treatment of one’s wife in divorcing her without cause.  That is what God hates, and that is what He describes through Malachi as a man (or woman) “covering his garment with violence.”  Sinful, hateful, treachery in divorce is the evil here, not divorce in itself.  If all divorce were hated by God, He would have to hate Himself because He would be guilty of sin in that He divorced Israel (Jer 3).
Divorce was not God’s original intention for marriage.  The destruction of a marriage is always sinful.  Always.  But that does not mean that God holds an abuse victim guilty if she divorces her abuser.  He condemns the abuser and permits her to go free.
And so, we say again to all Christians – stop saying God hates divorce.  And especially stop saying it to abuse victims.  So often, Christians who say this to victims have absolutely no idea what abuse is.  They don’t know.  And whenever we couple our ignorance with our arrogance, we do great, great harm.


I don't talk to Abusers


Some Truth from a Survivor


  1. Amy

    Amen, amen, amen!!
    This one piece of scripture was thrown in my face repeatedly for years while I was married to an abusive man, and then continued to be spat at me when, after 20 years, he walked out and I filed for divorce. I even had one elder from my former church rudely ask me, “Well, did he ever hit you???” As if only being physically abused meant anything. I actually told this man, “Yes! He hit me every day with his words and hatefulness!” And at that, this man goes on to repeat the same ol’ mantra, God hates divorce! To which I told him, “God hates a lot of things, but he cares more about His people than a marriage contract!”
    And this man actually retorted back, “God care more about marriages staying intact than what is happening within the marriage!” o.O
    Thank you for speaking the truth and helping abuse victims find freedom from not only abuse, but from the wrongful rhetoric spewed from the church.

  2. cindy burrell

    I’m pretty sure that all of us who are believers and have traveled the dark road of abuse were accustomed to hearing those frightening, damning words. I’m also pretty sure that those words kept us bound to our abusers – terrified of our spouses but even more terrified of being abandoned by God, even while the Spirit whispers of danger and the righteous need to protect ourselves and our children.
    Even in personally experiencing the powerful, loving validation of our Father God, we still feel the stinging judgment of church people. So sad. So wrong. But we must simply live our lives in the light of God’s wondrous grace and provision and stand up for His life-giving truth, to do what we can to dispel the notion that He hates divorce.

  3. No one down here

    Never in a million years would I have ever thought one day to be divorced.
    Did not grow up play pretending divorce.
    Did not ask God pretty please let me get divorced.
    Did not expect to be ravaged by continual abuse and violence. Did not expect to be demoralized day in and out. Did not know that hope could die little by little until its destruction was complete. Did not imagine the pain of the heart materializing with gut-wrenching sobs until breath itself burned up and died.
    Never thought to read the words God hates divorce and have to quench the feelings of guilt at the thought of implied freedom.
    Never expected to encounter filthy lies designed to destroy every good thing God has allowed.
    Divorce. An ugly word for an ugly time. God hates, yes. But the divorce happened long before the lawyer was ever called. The divorce happened within weeks of vowing to cherish until death this person who was already showing himself evil. In those days when I was searching my heart for the secret reasons that he claimed I had for hating him… the divorce was already complete. Just not according to the state.

  4. Debby

    Diane Langberg has such a beautifully crafted article on this. She says that the definiton of divorce means a tearing, a rendering, a wedge. She further says that the actions of an abuser are a tearing, a wedge and that an abuser causes many “mini-divorces” daily. The filing of legal paperwork is an ACKNOWLEDGEMENT that this has happened. It really helped me wrap my brain around it.

  5. Don't Lose Hope

    This is a really balanced perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  6. where2or3r

    In the same way that a death certificate does not kill someone, but rather, certifies that someone has died, a certificate of divorce does not kill the marriage, but legally certifies that the marriage is dead.
    It seems to me that to hold the “legality of a marriage bond” in greater esteem than God’s moral law is to dishonor and hold in great distain marriage as God’s design and example of Christ and His Bride.

  7. Diana

    I am comforted. I bought Unholy Charade so I can highlight and refer back to stuff, but also downloaded the Kindle version, such was my impatience.
    I was in an abusive marriage for 21 years. I finally left almost eight months ago, only to find a complete lack of support from my former church leaders. These are leaders who knew of horrendous abuse in my marriage, and yet one, when I saw him, physically backed away from me as though I were a contagious disease. The other, my lead pastor, said some separation was one thing, but boy, if I ever actially divorced, (cue ominous tone) “God is forgiving, BUT…”
    A divorce is now in the works. I am getting stronger, and I’m beginning to see the woman God has called me to be, a woman who could never have become what the Lord intended had I stayed in my abusive situation. At last I can thank God for leading me out and tenderly caring for me these past months. I have a wonderful new church. I am stepping into new ministry. The Lord is infusing courage into me. I embrace the His freedom.

  8. My husband told me yesterday that he might want a divorce because he doesn’t have feelings for me anymore. I want to fight for our relationship but he isn’t sure if he wants to. I can’t hold him hostage if he wants to leave me… I feel like I’m definitely the “victim” in this case, but I also feel it wouldn’t be right to force him to stay married to me if he’s truly unhappy and doesn’t want to. Would I be sinning if I let him go? Is he sinning if he leaves?

    • Jeff Crippen

      It is a sin to divorce your spouse simply because you “don’t have feelings” for them. Often those kind of excuses are just a cover for the real reason.
      It is not a sin to let a spouse divorce you if they refuse to continue to live together with you (see 1 Cor 7).

      • Perhaps this will provide some clarity:
        In the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 24, it says (in part), “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife…”
        The “cause clause” presumes that the husband has found some indecency in his wife. The inference is that the husband does not love his wife because there is something about her that he finds unacceptably offensive. While the School of Hillel taught that this could be “any cause at all,” i.e., she burned his breakfast, the School of Shammai taught that there should be significant cause worthy of permanent release. (Just so you know, Jesus did not buy into the “any cause at all” doctrine. See Matthew 19.)
        The bottom line is that, if your husband chooses to divorce you because he simply does not or cannot love you, the sin is his, not yours. You are free.
        It is also worth noting that the Law acknowledges the likelihood of the wife marrying again and, in the verses that follow, the procedures associated with a subsequent divorce are discussed.

  9. Stefan

    Thank you Pastor Crippen for clarifying Malachi 2. What’s so ridiculous about the Scripture-twisting that occurs when one points to the statement ‘God hates divorce’ in Malachi 2 is that they’re immediately failing to realize that Jehovah is speaking, in ALL of this passage’s context, to the hypocritical and hateful man in his abusive treatment of his wife. In fact, Malachi 2:13-17 so clearly speaks in terms of the treachery, betrayal, and hypocrisy of abuse in a marriage to the man that a simple statement of ‘God hates divorce’ puts His Word in such a weird, ungodly place that ignores all the context of what God is really addressing in that passage. I submit to any and all that EVEN IF the clause in that passage is accurately stated as ‘God hates divorce,’ the passage still carries the same weight and meaning to the hateful male abusers whom God is addressing because of the whole context and terms that God uses in Malachi 2:13-17.
    Jehovah hates the abuser in his persistent, divorce-causing behavior. That abuser is concealing his emotional/verbal/physical violence, being a faithless betrayer, and living in open hypocrisy before his family, as Malachi 2:13-17 states. That is the intent of the prophet’s words to the men he was sent to address.
    I am extremely disappointed in any (myself included) who would point to that passage as though all it is saying is ‘God hates divorce’ without diving into the meaning and force of that passage as it is directed to the hypocritical male abusers in Malachi’s (and our) time.
    God bless and prosper your ministry, Pastor Crippen.

  10. Have you heard of this book? https://www.amazon.com/Life-Saving-Divorce-Leaving-Destructive-Relationships-ebook/dp/B083XNKR13 it seems to address the concerns you are naming here

    • Jeff Crippen

      Nita- i have not read the book and I am unfamiliar with the author so I cannot give it a recommendation. However I decided to include the link to it after I read some summaries and reviews. As always, please proceed with discernment but it may be a good tool.
      Thank you Nita for letting us know about it.

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