Abuse and Divorce: This is the False Teaching Wayne Grudem and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Put Upon Victims for Years!

I published an article Monday about how Wayne Grudem’s recent “discovery” that abuse is grounds for divorce, was devoid of a confession of sin for all the false teaching he and his camp have put upon abuse victims. His “no divorce for abuse” command (wrapped up as “biblical”) has caused all kinds of additional oppression to victims and provided an arsenal of ammunition for abusers. So, where is Grudem’s grief? Where is his confession of the sin of distorting God’s Word? I have yet to see it.

This article is one that I published some time ago and it shows what Grudem and friends have been teaching all along until very recently. In fact, I would not be surprised at all if many pastors and counselors still adhere to this statement. Notice, as you read it, that these kind of people equivocate. That is, they use language that is deceptive. So that you have to see what they don’t say in order to get the clear picture of what they really are teaching.

Mary Kassian (www.girlsgonewise.com) wrote about the U.N. Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on her blog, November 25th.  She is to be commended for this.  However, in her article, she said that she had emailed Wayne Grudem (editor of the ESV Study Bible; Member of the board of directors for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Professor at Phoenix Seminary) and asked him what he would like to say in regard to this U.N. day.  This is what he replied with (and Kassian agrees with it):

I strongly deplore any abuse of wives by their husbands and I believe the Bible teaches clearly against it. When pastors learn about abuse occurring in a home in their congregation, they have an obligation before God to seek to bring an immediate end to it, through direct personal conversation with the abuser, support of the abused, professional counselling, through means such as church discipline, protective personal intervention in dangerous situations, using law enforcement and other legal pressures, extensive prayer, and, if necessary, legal separation. Pastors also need to encourage their church members and attenders to tell someone in church leadership if abuse is occurring, so that appropriate means can be brought to bring an immediate end to it. Nobody in a leadership role in CBMW thinks that abuse within a marriage is justified by the biblical teachings about husbands and wives.  [Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., Research Professor, Phoenix Seminary, and co-founder and past president of CBMW].

The bold-faced words are mine.  I bolded them because they tell us that Grudem still denies that abuse is grounds for divorce.  You see the very same position in the following statement on abuse that Kassian quotes from the CBMW:

Statement on Abuse

Adopted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at its meeting in Lisle, Illinois in November, 1994.

  • We understand abuse to mean the cruel use of power or authority to harm another person emotionally, physically, or sexually.
  • We are against all forms of physical, sexual and /or verbal abuse.
  • We believe that the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women does not support, but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18; Eph. 5:25-29; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).
  • We believe that abuse is sin. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is the hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purpose of God. Abuse ought not to be tolerated in the Christian community.
  • We believe that the Christian community is responsible for the well-being of its members. It has a responsibility to lovingly confront abusers and to protect the abused.
  • We believe that both abusers and the abused are in need of emotional and spiritual healing.
  • We believe that God extends healing to those who earnestly seek him.
  • We are confident of the power of God’s healing love to restore relationships fractured by abuse, but we realize that repentance, forgiveness, wholeness, and reconciliation is a process. Both abusers and abused are in need of on-going counseling, support and accountability.
  • In instances where abusers are unrepentant and/or unwilling to make significant steps toward change, we believe that the Christian community must respond with firm discipline of the abuser and advocacy, support and protection of the abused.
  • We believe that by the power of God’s Spirit, the Christian community can be an instrument of God’s love and healing for those involved in abusive relationships and an example of wholeness in a fractured, broken world.

Notice once again the glaring absence of any affirmation that divorce is a biblical means of dealing with abuse.  Abuse victims/survivors will quickly understand that this statement dooms victims to a lifetime of working to “restore relationships”, to “involvement in a process of reconciliation,” of “ongoing counsel and support,” but divorce?  Forget it.  Remarriage?  Forget it.  Abusers love this sort of talk.  If the victim will just believe God and trust Him and keep doing all she can, God can bring her abuser to repentance and they can live happily ever after.  That is a fairy tale.  [Also notice that they tell the victims that they need counseling too.  For what?  PTSD?  That would be fine.  But I suspect this “counseling” is going to me more of the ilk of “you aren’t perfect either, you know.”]

As long as any theologian, author, or organization refuses to tell victims that they can divorce their abuser because the abuser has already treacherously divorced them by ongoing, hard-hearted violation of the marriage covenant, then my ears are deaf to everything else they have to say.  I refuse to use the ESV Study Bible for this reason.  Grudem’s notes in the back forbid divorce for abuse.

And by the way, what is this business of “legal separation”?  Where is the biblical case for that?  Is it not a limbo state of married but not married?  Doesn’t it sound a whole lot like one of those Pharisaical half-measures that inevitably are required when our interpretation of Scripture makes no sense?

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.

Incompetent to Counsel

I receive communications from pastors or other people in churches who are doing “counseling,” with some regularity. I won’t say “frequently” because most of them think that they know all they need to know and I find that they really are not teachable, so I don’t waste a lot of time dealing with them. Once in a while someone who is sincere will write and ask for help, but they are a rare breed.

Here is an example of the kind of thing I receive. Read it and then mull it over and chew on it a bit and then let me know what you think. Spoiler alert – I am also including below our friend Kelly Orr’s take on it:

Dear Pastor Crippen,

I’ve recently read your book “Unholy Charade.” It was presented to me by a spouse in my church who is undergoing marital difficulties and may consider herself to be an abuse victim. What I’m wondering, following my reading of your book is how in your view does a pastor differentiate between a difficult marriage and an abusive one? – or an unhappy marriage from an abusive one? While I see some validity to the things you say about abuse victims, the thought also occurs to me that your book has the potential for throwing the door wide open for easy divorce. All that’s needed is for a spouse to create a rationale for calling him/her an abused victim. Is it not true that some form of abuse can be found in every difficult or unhappy marriage situation? I’d appreciate your thoughts on knowing when a marriage crosses a line and how to recognize that line.

How did I respond? Well, after my blood pressure level lowered again, I simply said this: “Read the book again. And this time, really think about what it says. Your questions are answered clearly in the book. You still don’t ‘get it.'”

You see, this fellow’s questions on the surface to most people sound like, good, honest, genuine inquiries, right? But there are red flags all over the place in what he says which tell us he is incompetent to counsel an abuse victim or to deal with an abuser. Let me give you Kelly’s reaction and you will see what I mean:

Good grief! Really. Even reading the phrase “easy divorce” makes me feel irritated. When is divorce easy? He sounds like a legalist wanting an easy answer to making a judgment about someone else’s situation. He is trying to take away her perspective. Now that, in my mind, is controlling. I like your suggestion to tell him to read it again. If he can’t figure it out, he should remove himself from the privilege of giving any input into her life. He should just refer her on to an abuse professional like the domestic violence center and be quiet. He has no empathy. He doesn’t believe her and he minimized her situation. He thinks he knows better than her and that he gets to make some decision about her life. 
It makes me angry and I want to tell her to run far away from him.

What do you think? What red flags do you see in what he says? And let me know what you think about this business of the “difficult marriage”? Hmmmm…. What is that? What does this concept tell us about this pastor’s theology of salvation, of the new birth, of who a Christian is in Christ???