Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Straining a Gnat to Swallow a Camel – Marriage "Laws" in Most Churches

We all know that the Lord instructs Christians to marry Christians –

1Co 7:39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

I do not know any real Christian who does not care if they marry a Christian or non-Christian. Of course, we want a believing husband or wife.


I want to point out some inconsistencies in most churches which should be glaring and obvious, but no one seems willing to admit it. Here it is:

  • Pastors and church leaders will typically insist that a Christian who is married to an abusive spouse remain married to their oppressor.
  • At the same time, these same pastors and church leaders will insist that a Christian only marry another Christian.

What, we may rightfully ask, is wrong with this picture? It is so convoluted that it is difficult to sort out. Let me begin perhaps with this:

There is widespread unbiblical teaching in local churches about who a Christian is. That is to say, people are being pronounced “Christian” who the bible very clearly teaches are not regenerate at all. Typically, all that is required is for a person to profess to be a Christian, to claim to “believe in Jesus,” and boom! He’s a brother in Christ and it is wrong to ever question his claim.

Consequently, even though a husband might habitually abuse his wife for decades, he is still going to be regarded as a Christian. After all, you know, “we are all sinners.” And further, because of this faulty gospel of “just believe and that’s all that matters,” churches will forbid marriage to anyone who hasn’t “said the words and accepted Jesus” while they will authorize a marriage to someone who “says the words and has accepted Jesus” even if that person’s life shows no real fruit of regeneration. Do you see how twisted all of this is?

I have had several Christian women who have survived horrible abuse over many years ask me if it is ever permissible before God for them to marry a non-Christian man. The case is usually that a man who does not profess to be a Christian has come along in the course of their life and is very respectful, kind, courteous, humble – everything the “Christian” they were previously married to wasn’t. What are they to do? In many cases like this the abuse survivor has nothing. She was robbed economically. Deserted. Shunned. And now here is a man who is generous and kind.

Now, for purposes of our discussion here, let me just say that I know and most all of you know that wicked people can parade as Mr. Wonderful. That great caution needs to be exercised in these situations lest the abuse survivor get duped right into still another abuser’s evil. But the cases I am speaking of are ones in which the non-Christian man has, over quite a long time, continued to show himself as genuine. Moral. Responsible. Kind. And what I want us to think about is this – If there are no real Christian men showing kindness and care for a woman who has been sorely abused, if in fact the “Christians” in her life have cast her out for divorcing her abuser, and now here is a man who is genuinely kind toward her, is it in fact a hard and fast unbreakable Law of God that she can never marry such a man?

Do you see my point? Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel. They made the law of tithing so universally binding that it ruled out mercy toward their needy parents. And Jesus also said this:

Mat 12:1-7 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. (2) But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” (3) He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: (4) how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? (5) Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? (6) I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. (7) And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Mercy, not sacrifice. MERCY. God’s Word is to be applied faithfully, but to do so requires showing mercy. His Law was not given to enslave, but for man’s benefit. And it is my conclusion that most local churches and pastors today are showing themselves to be Pharisees who apply God’s Word in such a way that mercy is thrown out the window.


Silence as a Sign of Abuse


A Classic Abuser From the Old Testament


  1. Free

    Yes, agree, they are – and you put a very tough topic out there very clearly stated. The cycle of the Pharisees – in conjunction with their tolerance and support of the abusers, and their pretend Christianity, has caused chaos in the churches in what marriage is and is not. Having been subject to one too many mega church merry-go-rounds on this, I’ll leave it be.
    Thank you for putting this message out there.

  2. lg

    Thank you for writing this — I’ve wondered about this often. Sometimes it seems the question would be: can the non-believing spouse be respectful, patient and kind enough to support the believing spouse passion for prayer, scripture, keeping sabbaths and worship? I think there probably are. Meanwhile, there are many so call “Christians” who would not.
    I’ve come to believe we are often told the problems in marriages are about “differences,” but I do not believe this at all. Even amongst Christians, each person will be on different faith journeys and growth and their faith will evolve – I think of how much my faith has changed in the past 20 years and imagine it will continue to grow and change over the next 20.
    So many things about me have changed in the past 20 years: politics, priorities, principles – and my prayer life.
    Some people are the kind who are kind, encouraging, and respect and support the other, no matter their differences, the changes.
    I think the most important things to look for are strength of character: integrity, honesty and how one responds when times are tough and difficult:
    Do they fall apart, get angry and lash out over the unfairness and disappointments in life, lie to themselves or others?
    Or do they remain kind, gentle, steadfast and become strengthened by life’s hardships and difficulties?

  3. BeenThereDoneThatTwice

    Wow, Jeff. You said it; you actually said it.
    As one of those decades-long abuse victims who was and is shunned by many who were pleased to be involved in my ministries before I had the courage to leave my abuser, this is huge to read. So many of us have absolutely no energy to defend ourselves or to do what you do, which is to point out huge inconsistencies. As we struggle through the consequences of life by making the decision to save ourselves, you are such a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

  4. Beans

    I feel a sense of peace & vindication reading this. It makes sense. Just reading truth here feels so healing.
    Twenty five years ago, I married a man who was skeptical of Christianity. He was kind, respectful, and helped me get back on my feet, so to speak. For 7 years, an emotionally abusive fiance had been sabotaging my career, and I desperately needed emotional/professional support right then. I’d also grown up with a lot of narcissistic abuse, which is what made me vulnerable to that traitor.
    Fortunately, it turned out that I had married a good man. His skepticism was partly based family dynamics, since he had a rough childhood in a strict Southern Baptist home. But still, I thought I’d failed when I didn’t marry another spirit filled Christian. But neither my husband nor I pushed each other on any spiritual practice. But through the years, we’ve each enriched each others faith without trying.

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