Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Wayne Grudem isn't Sorry for the Damage He has Done to Abuse Victims

Wayne Grudem. “Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary.” Wayne Grudem, author of 22 books. Wayne Grudem of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Most of you have probably heard of Grudem. In this article, I want to talk to you about Grudem’s supposed “groundbreaking” study of 1 Corinthians 7 and his resulting announcement “Grounds for Divorce: Why I Now Believe There are More than Two” (June, 2020).

Grudem was general editor for the ESV Study Bible, in which we read the following quote from the section on biblical ethics: (boldface highlight is mine)

Are There Other Grounds for Divorce? In addition to the two grounds of sexual immorality or desertion by an unbelieving spouse, are there any other legitimate, biblical grounds for divorce? Some interpreters have argued that repeated instances of physical abuse should be seen as an additional legitimate ground for divorce. Others would respond that many other means should be used to bring the abuse to an immediate halt, including separation (for the eventual purpose of bringing restoration along with the complete cessation of the abuse), church discipline, confrontation and counseling, police action, a court order, and other kinds of intervention by church members, family, and friends. But these would stop short of adding a reason for divorce that neither Jesus nor Paul specified.

Bibles, Crossway. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 325157-325158). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Grudem, like so many other pastors, theologians, churches, etc., has taught for years that abuse is not grounds for divorce. You see the typical language of “instances of physical abuse” in this quote which we know exposes a person using such language as being ignorant of the mentality, nature, and tactics of the domestic abuser. My point here is that Grudem has denied that abuse is grounds for divorce, claiming that the Bible only allows for divorce for adultery or desertion.

Well, now we are all supposed to rejoice and give praise to the Lord because Grudem has published What the Bible Says About Divorce and Remarriage (Crossway, 2021) which is adapted from his book Christian Ethics. In this booklet, Grudemn announces that his detailed study of 1 Cor 7:15 has led him to “A New and Broader Understanding” of the phrase “in such cases.” Here is the verse:

1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Grudem now concludes that the phrase “in such cases” broadens the application of this text from just addressing desertion as a ground for divorce, but is to include, well here is how he puts it:

…when Paul uses en tois toioutois to say that ‘in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved”, he implies that divorce is a legitimate possibility not only in cases of desertion by an unbeliever, but also in other circumstances that are similar to but not necessarily exactly like desertion. A reasonable possibility is that ‘in such cases’ in 1 Cor 7:15 means ‘in this and other similarly destructive situations’ (that is, situations that destroy a marriage as much as adultery or desertion).

What the Bible Says About Divorce and Remarriage, p 42

Grudem goes on then to apply his conclusions to divorce for abuse, abuse of children, extreme, prolonged verbal and realtional cruelty, credible threats of serious physical harm or murder, or incorrigible drug or alcohol or gambling addiction. He says “Pastors, elders, and Christian counselors…need much wisdom and discernment in order to rightly evaluate the actual degree of harm in individual cases and whether there is a reasonable basis for hope that the destructive behavior has ended and the marriage can be saved.” And he continues by saying that “Churches Need to Aggressively Protect an Abused Spouse….In cases of physical abuse, something – perhaps several things – must be done quickly to prevent the abused spouse from having to endure further suffering…for the eventual purpose of bringing restoration of the marriage along with the complete cessation of abuse).”

Now, this book and Grudem’s words are so filled with error that I hardly know where to even begin. Notice his emphasis on physical abuse. Notice how he emphasizes that (page 51) “Restoration of the Marriage, if Possible, Must Remain the First Goal.” Notice how he assumes that church leaders are the ones who are going to judge these cases and give a verdict of divorce or no divorce. All of these things point to Grudem’s continuing damaging thinking on this subject of domestic abuse. His overall tone is that divorce is always a damaging thing that is to be a very last resort and which will always cause damage to children. These are fallacies. We know, for instance, that divorce from an abuser is the best thing for the victim and the children!

But what I want to point out specifically here in this article are two things:

  • Grudem seems to think that we should be “wowed” and in awe at his “groundbreaking discovery” from this little phrase “in such cases.” To this, I say – Wayne, we have been saying that abuse is grounds for divorce for years. You have been opposing our position. And now, it has supposedly taken a minute study of three little Greek words for you to be able to see it? So that now you and your academic cohorts can sit around and talk about a little tree in the forest that you should have seen a long time ago? This smacks of something we have seen before:

Mat 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (24) You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Fine, now Wayne says abuse in grounds for divorce (although make no mistake, his emphasis is on physical abuse though he lists other kinds of abuse). But he hasn’t come to this position via the route Jesus points out – identifying and seeing the weightier matters of the Law like mercy and faithfulness. No, Grudem continues to focus on the gnat.

  • But even more significantly, I want to point out that Wayne Grudemn offers no apology nor shows any remorse for or confession of the damage his erroneous teaching has caused for countless victims of abuse. He and his crowd (and its a big crowd) have for years refused to acknowledge that abuse is grounds for divorce. They have thereby put guilt and shame and condemnation on countless Christians who have gotten free from their abuser in spite of what the no divorce for abuse crowd said.

Do you see the problem here? These people like Grudem who sit in their academic vatican towers pouring over minutae and cranking out their decrees in books and lectures, seem to think that they are a cut above the rest of Christ’s people. And foolish Christians seem to agree. “What does Grudem say? Did you hear what Grudem wrote? How wonderful! Wayne now says we can divorce for abuse. How glad we are that he and his kind know the deep things of koine Greek!” The thing is sickening.

Grudem and those like him have been doing horrid and cruel damage to probably thousands of real Christians who have been horribly oppressed by wicked, false “Christian” spouses and by their churches. Where is Grudem’s repentance of this? Where is his confession of distorting God’s Word? Where is his godly sorrow for what he has done? I sure don’t see it. What I see is a sanitary, academic, covering of his posterior regions in a manner that will retain his prominence among his fellows.

What would happen if Grudem stood up and said, “Men, we have sinned. Pastors, we have sinned. Theologians, we have sinned. We have oppressed the oppressed, and God sees it all. We have distorted His Word and gutted it of His mercy.” Well what would have happened is that Grudem would have had to pay a price. And I have yet to see one of these celebrities pay the price of being thrown out of the temple.

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4 Comments

  1. wingingit

    It is THIS which must be first eliminated in the church:
    “Pastors, elders, and Christian counselors…need much wisdom and discernment in order to rightly evaluate the actual degree of harm in individual cases and whether there is a reasonable basis for hope that the destructive behavior has ended”
    Where does scripture teach that any New Testament born again Christian needs permission from these self proclaimed pastors and shepherds” to decide ANYTHING?
    As Christians, we have our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our own unimpeded mainline to God, the father.
    We don’t need permission to do anything from the church.
    Secondly, the concept that any victims of any crime should be made to reconcile to the perpetrators of the crime is ludicrous and discounts the re-traumatizing the victim will be forced to suffer, even in the unlikely event the perpetrator stops abusing.
    The church has a decided lack of wisdom regarding women and children and their care. It is especially stupid concerning trauma and abuse and real healing and empowerment .
    I don’t look for the church to ever “get it” until these men come face to face on judgement day.
    Too late for those they are hurting now.

  2. Sue

    Dear Pastor Crippen and Friends, what’s most aggravating is the financial damage caused by the wicked – leaving people in a situation, where they are unable to help themselves, or anyone else. As if the world doesn’t already have more than enough poverty.

  3. Mark

    What about private judgement? After all, isn’t it me who will give account someday and not the church pastor or counselor. Grudem’s following statement appears to keep control of your outcome with the church rather than to the individual who someday must give account.
    “Pastors, elders, and Christian counselors…need much wisdom and discernment in order to rightly evaluate the actual degree of harm in individual cases and whether there is a reasonable basis for hope that the destructive behavior has ended and the marriage can be saved.” WG.

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