Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

More Followup on the Earlier Post about “The Sin of Forgiveness”

Recently I posted excerpts from an article on the subject of forgiveness where there is no repentance, written by Professor Barry Gritters and published in 3 sections in The Standard Bearer. Gritters is on faculty at Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. A friend who subscribes to that publication showed me Gritters’ articles and when I read the first two I was impressed his position. I also thought that Gritters articles would be an encouragement to abuse victims because they stated that it is wrong, even a sin, to extend forgiveness to someone who is unrepentant.

However, one of our readers (many thanks to them) pointed out to me that the denomination Gritters is with is not a friendly environment for abuse victims. Checking the Protestant Reformed Churches in America website I learned that their position is: “the church should, and can, oppose the evil of divorce and remarriage in her communion .” And looking into the matter further, I found that Gritters delivered a message on November 3, 2022 on the subject of “Confusion About Forgiveness,” which raised some red flags for me. He said:

Since God pursues me and is my perfect example, what attitude should I then have toward my abuser if, number one, he is not sorry and if, number two, he’s ungodly? May I desire justice or must one seek that person’s salvation? A lot of questions in that big question. What should my attitude be towards someone who hurt me if he’s not sorry? Well, your attitude always needs to be the same: love, desire for good, tenderhearted, an inclination to mercy always. That doesn’t mean that you don’t seek justice, you turn justice over to the authorities, you give justice over to God, to the elders, but you always seek their good. If they’re not sorry, the way of Matthew 18 is there. You may desire justice and you must seek that person’s salvation. Those aren’t contradictory. [See sermonaudio.com/graceprc and find the entire message delivered November 3, 2022 at Grace Protestant Reformed Church]

Now, looking into the matter further, I found more teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage by Professor Gritters. Here is what he said:

Those who remarry, while their original spouse still lives, are living in continual adultery. Repentance from that sin is to leave the new spouse and remain unmarried, or be reconciled to the original spouse (I Corinthians 7:11). Reconciliation must be prayed for, sought out, zealously, for God’s sake and the children’s.

The Family: Foundations are Shaking, http://www.prca.org/articles/family/family_12.html

And again:

Who does not grieve for and weep with the little children whose hearts are pierced with the terror of fighting and separating parents? Who knows better than they the agonizing results of failing to live in marriage as God commands? Pray for the children! Besides the care for the children, Jesus prohibits divorce because unbiblical divorce lures the divorced spouse to commit adultery by sex outside of marriage, or by remarrying (see Matthew 5:32 and the next chapter, 12, “God’s Will Concerning Remarriage”). What a misery all this causes those who live apart from God’s will!

http://www.prca.org/articles/family/family_11.html

The latter articles were written in 1998. If Professor Gritters has changed his position and has announced that change publicly somewhere, I would be glad to hear from him. However, these teachings of his are still standing in a public forum – and they are incredibly damaging. Gritters condemns all who have divorced and remarried (except for adultery) as adulterers. He insists that such people must separate from one another and remain unmarried as long as their original spouse lives.

How does such a position correlate with Gritters’ articles on “The Sin of Forgiveness” where he correctly writes that not even God forgives an unrepentant person? I certainly cannot mesh these teachings together logically. A spouse who is an abuser and who is unrepentant is not to be forgiven, yet the victim is required to remain married to them and to seek their salvation??

Furthermore, where in Scripture are we told that the Lord requires an abuse victim to seek the permission of the church/elders in order to divorce? It is nowhere to be found. No, I am not promoting divorce. Divorce for spurious, selfish reasons is a sin. But that is not what we are addressing here. We are talking about cases in which an abuser spouse walks in unrepentance, often is a sociopath or narcissist, who is a danger to the health and safety of his victim, craves power and control over her and has no conscience about using as assortment of evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control. To be free of such abuse is a good thing and it is a good thing for the children as well.

I have encountered this kind of teaching and the kind of teachers in churches who teach such things numerous times in the past. They create an environment in the church much like that of the Pharisees. They lord it over the flock. They claim to have authority that God has not given them. They mishandle Scripture and use it to support unmerciful applications of the Word that God never intends.

Each time I have had to deal with these kinds of leaders in the church, I have been blasted. The fangs come out. The accusations start to fly. Or I am simply dismissed as someone of no importance, not worthy of being given any consideration. The necessary fruit required by the Lord for all of the fig trees in His vineyard is LOVE. But I rarely ever find that fruit in church leaders who teach and enforce these notions that marriage is an unbreakable bond, that remarriage is forbidden, and in this case a particularly radical and damaging teaching that a husband and wife in a remarriage are required to separate from one another and live out their lives single. Think about that.

For example, I know people who are divorced and who have remarried many years ago. They are Christians, showing growth in Christ. They did not divorce for superficial reasons. Their ex-spouse destroyed the marriage covenant by ongoing unrepentant sin, violating the marriage vows. A husband who refuses to work and provide for his wife and children. A wife who denied the faith and embraced New Age groups and teaching and despised Christ and her husband. In all these cases and more, “no divorce, no remarriage, dissolve any subsequent marriage and remain single” is the demand of these kind of teachers. And make no mistake, such churches will ex-communicate any member who refuses to follow their demands. The Protestant Reformed Church in America is certainly not a safe place for victims of abuse and in fact I would not recommend it to anyone else.

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9 Comments

  1. Veronica Miyake

    I continually thank God for you and your ministry, Pastor, as you show the grace and mercy of our Lord to those of us who have experienced debilitating abuse at the hand of an unrepentant, evil person and at how you call out those religious people who would condemn us. May the Lord bless you a hundred fold for how you’ve supported us and been a voice for the oppressed.

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  2. Blessed

    Thank you!

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  3. Carol

    I was in an abusive marriage for 21 years and perfectly happy to be single if I could just get away. I never dated for 7-8 years just working and raising my 3 children. The PCA church we had been attending sent me letters and harassed me telling me I was going to die and go to hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. They were ruthless. After about 2 years during their “counseling” with him… they found out how he really was. Kicked him out of church, he was also told not to come back to a divorce recovery class he had been going to. I never during the entire time defended my self or said anything about him.
    After 9 years, I met a man who truly loves me and my children. I am indeed very blessed!!!

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  4. Noka

    At first I was very encouraged to hear another theologian teach that we should not forgive those who don’t repent. I looked up that sermon by professor Gritters and listened to the whole thing and for the most part it was pretty good. There was a lot in that sermon that was a whole lot better than what most people get in churches today.

    I had never heard of his seminary or blog or denomination and at first I was excited to see a reformed group teach this correctly. It’s so unfortunate that they don’t really understand domestic abuse. It’s a good thing this denomination came to our attention, so now we know to avoid it.

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  5. LB

    Thank you!

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  6. Innoscent

    Thank you to the readers who have commented about the doctrinal and ethical dissonance of Gritter’s position on forgiveness. Thank you Jeff for following up on this. All that is gold doesn’t glitter (or gritter!).

    Really, “The sin of selected forgiveness” is a more appropriate title to his sermon.

    And I wonder what position such preachers take when it so happens that their daughter is being abused by a narcissistic husband who molest their children also. It’d be interesting to know what theological version they’d pull on her then, and on the perpetrator…

    The love, tenderheartedness and mercy card nor the Matthew 18 one are suitable when it comes to dealing with abusers. They want to save the marriage, save the abuser at all cost, and where is their righteous indignation against him? and deliverance for the victims? These preachers have got their theology so mixed up and have no business leading God’s flock. Hirelings they are. Welcoming wolves in.

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  7. Susan

    Well said all of you! I believe the Holy Spirit and common sense may be closely akin to one another. Either that or the Holy Spirit has sharpened out common sense. Either way the points made are easy to digest AND right in line with Scripture! Thank you again Pastor Crippen!

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