Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Challenging the No Divorce for Abuse Fortress Which Has Been Raised Up Against the Knowledge of God

I continue to hammer on this business of abuse as grounds for divorce because frankly I see it as the non-negotiable issue in this battle against abuse and abusers hiding in the church and being enabled by pastors and Christians.  As long as anyone refuses to acknowledge that a victim of abuse has a right before God to divorce their abuser, then injustice is still going to be effected by them against victims.  They will keep right on insisting that victims remain in cruel bondage in Egypt.

Exodus 21:7-11 ESV “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV  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.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 25 years.  Although the husband had vowed to love and cherish her until death parted them, he never did.  His abuse of his wife might be called mere passivity.  He just did not care.  He was not available for a real relationship, focused himself on his own pleasures, ate the meals she cooked with unthankfulness and assumed he was as good as the next guy.

Is this abuse?  “Well, yes.”  Does this man’s wife have biblical grounds to divorce him?  “Well, no,” you say? “No adultery.  No desertion = no divorce.  It’s that simple.”

Then let me complicate it for you.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 25 years.  He too had vowed to love and cherish her until death parted them, but neither did he.  He was more active in the abuse of his beloved.  He regularly used cutting words until her sense of self had almost died.  He mocked her efforts to beautify the home and told her she was a pathetic mother (though he never lifted a hand to help with either the house or the children).  Well, at least with the unpleasant aspects of child-rearing, like discipline or helping with schooling.  He was not a drunk.  He went to work regularly, but he controlled and begrudged every dollar she spent.  And sometimes he would rage.  Throw things.  Smash a wall.  Scream and yell about how stupid she was to do….whatever.

Is this abuse?  “Well, yes, of course it is!”  Does this man’s wife have biblical grounds to divorce him?  “Hmmmm….no.  No adultery.  No desertion.  No divorce.  Still pretty simple.”  And would you be willing to explain that to her?  That GOD has bound her to this man and that if she divorces him she will be guilty of a most heinous sin?  “Boy, that wouldn’t be easy, but I would have to do it.  What God says about all of this is really very plain.”

Let me muddy up the waters for you some more then.

A Christian woman was married to a wicked man for 12 years.  He turned from his vows to love and cherish her just about the time they left the church after the wedding ceremony.  The honeymoon was actually a crime of rape.  Three months later he choked her almost unconcious in a rage over, what was it now – his beer being warm.  He told her that if she ever called the police on him he would kill her.  You could write the script of the next 11+ years of hell, after which this woman barely knew who she was and she wondered – how can God let this happen to me and my children?  Why doesn’t He send someone – a rescuer?  But, of course, her Christian friends all reminded her many times that God hates divorce and that since all of us are sinners, she needed to look closely at herself to see where her faults were that contributed to the marriage “problems.”

It was in the 12th year of this marriage that final events occurred.  Having realized that she just could not permit her children to be exposed to this evil man any longer, she resolved to leave.  She developed a plan that would involve telling her husband in a public place that she was taking the children and leaving him that day.  And so she did.  She picked a restaurant.  She and the two girls and their father ate a meal first – it had been a normal “walk on eggshells” day – after which this brave lady told him of her decision.  After staring at her with those familiar cold eyes for what seemed like forever, he got up, went outside, and she thought it was over.

It wasn’t.  He returned with a shotgun – right there in the restaurant – and without saying a word or making a sound, pumped a shotgun blast into each one of them.  Just as cooly, it seemed, he turned and walked out.  He was arrested and put in jail later that same day.  The wife alone survived, though it was months before she recovered from her physical wounds.  The other wounds, well – that is another story.

Is this abuse?  “But of course!  And of the most devilish kind!”  Does this poor lady have grounds to divorce this beast called her husband?  That is to say, what does God command her?  I’m sorry, I can’t hear you very clearly.  Could you speak up?  Does this lady have biblical grounds to divorce this ‘man?’  Didn’t God say that the slave wife could go free from the marriage if her husband failed to provide food, clothing, and marital rights?  Is murdering children and nearly killing their mother not a rather clear example of failing to provide life?  So what do you say?  What are you going to tell this lady?  Does she have a right to divorce this murderer?  And if your answer is no, then are you going to be the one to tell her so?  Are you going to tell her that if she divorces the murderer of her children that she is guilty before God and that you will be forced to announce her sin to her church?

Luke 14:3-6 ESV And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  And they could not reply to these things.


More Thoughts on Why an Abuser Cannot be a Christian


They Go too Far — Watch Out for Leaders who Have a Book or a Word for Every Aspect of Your Life


  1. Chills

    Wow! This sends chills down my spine as I can relate to every single story given. Except at the end I left before he could kill us and that was leaving on my own because my church turned their back on me. Told me I was wrong and they gave him the support to get help for his “anger” problems. I cannot thank you enough for being a voice for us, the victims and those who passed away without having the help to leave.

    • Jeff Crippen

      You’re welcome! So glad you are encouraged by these truths.

      • Rachael

        I found the strength to leave my abuser after nearly 20 years of a horrible, controlling marriage; my husband told me that the church leaders were very reassuring to him that I was wrong to be divorcing him, and that God was against me for doing it. 2 years after the divorce a friend persuaded me to talk to the safeguarding lead at the church to tell them that I had been domestically abused for years and she came with me for support in the meeting. The safeguarding person at the beginning of the session told me (though I hadn’t asked for her opinion) that want God wants is restored marriages. At the end of the session she said I was brave for having left him and she would speak to the vicar and the curate and they’d be in touch. A week or so later I got a generic sounding email with some weblinks on it to advice shelters and the elders emails copied in. They didn’t write to me themselves . I emailed back a week after to say if they’d like to meet me I would be happy to discuss with them further. They never got in touch.
        But I’m telling you this because I want you to know that through the divorce and still now, your posts and blogs have been the voice in the wilderness to me. Your church may be small but it is the only place I have found the truth about divorce spoken. My church was a large evangelical one in the UK. The elders never contacted me themselves but lurked silently in ‘cc’of the emails.
        Thank you so much for speaking the truth and helping me so much to be brave.

        • Jeff Crippen

          Rachael – Excellent news! Thank you for taking the time to encourage us. Like you, we get plenty of attacks and plenty of “christians” who won’t even listen because they don’t want to. The treatment you received at that church is inexcusable, and yet typical as you know. Essentially, most of these places just want the victims to be quiet and go away. So glad you have been encouraged through us!

  2. Debby

    It’s like there is some made up invisible line that makes the abuse “bad enough” and everyone EXCEPT the abuse target gets to say where that line is.

    But the REAL line is: is he loving, honoring, cherishing you? Is he controlling you? Is he destroying you as an individual one tiny cut at a time? Does he show true remorse for hurting you? Does he actually change his hurtful behaviors consistently over time? Being married seems to be the ONLY relationship where your right to self preservation is denied. It’s insanity.

  3. Innoscent

    Not only you cannot divorce your abuser according to today’s pharisees and their followers, but you are considered still “married in God’s eyes” even though you’ve divorced the monster. Either way you can’t win and they just want you to remain in the “sanctity” of the marriage covenant where you belong forever. You have to stay in that well where you’ve fallen, on the Sabbath day and every day for the rest of your abuser’s life. The pharisees and the lawyers said so, never mind what Jesus said. The sacrosanct traditions are more important than mercy and love toward victims. Nothing has changed for the last 2,000+ years since Christ’s rebuke to open the eyes and hearts of those who claim to be His “people”.

  4. Jacob

    That’s really sad. Now I have a question. I am pretty sure I know the answer but I am not sure how to back it up. This Lady you are describing had her children murdered and she herself was hurt. Definitely grounds for divorce. Can she remarry? I would think so. Jesus desires Mercy and I can’t think of anything being wrong with somebody wanting a spouse that will not abuse them. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Thank you!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, she can remarry. By the way, this horrible evil event actually happened only in the real scenario the wife was also killed along with the two girls. Murdered by this wicked, evil man right there in a Cracker Barrel restaurant. In Ohio, I believe. The police arrived and killed the murderer.

  5. J O

    Hi Jeff,

    Are you saying that someone with an indifferent, uninterested, spouse is free to divorce? I’m a young divorced man and I’m sure you can guess how I found your resources (thank you for all you do), but doesn’t this really muddy the waters? Say a spouse is unhappy in a marriage, would that then be grounds for divorce? Thank you, I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Indifferent. Uninterested. That sounds like a relationship devoid of love. But its more. Those qualities are actually very active and intentional if in fact they have no basis of cause outside themselves. To be indifferent to someone – ie, “could care less if you exist or not” – is quite cruel. Sounds a lot like the typical silent treatment abusers often use.

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