Friday, January 15, 2010

"Abuse of authority does not justify divorce"

Journey is writing her story of Biblical patriarchy on the No Longer Quivering blog. I recommend it to you. You may feel that these stories of women trapped within patriarchy by the brainwashing of the word is overdone. You may think that it is sin and not the word that binds women into violence. Some women, of course, experience violence and the word as one. What is to be done about that?

Here is a good example of what I am talking about. On CBMW we can read the following,
    If a husband refuses to heed the discipline of the church, and if his conduct violates civil laws (e.g., wife or child abuse), a wife may legitimately turn to the civil authorities and ask them to intervene. As Romans 13 indicates, civil authorities are instituted by God to punish those who do wrong, and a wife may certainly turn to them in appropriate cases.

    Although these authorities may help to change a difficult marriage, there are some situations that cannot be resolved by church discipline or civil intervention (e.g., when no crime is being committed, when a husband does not attend or respect a church, or when the church refuses to get involved). In such cases, a wife may seek assistance from another person who has authority or persuasion with regard to her husband, such as an employer, a relative, or a close friend.

    When no such help is available, a wife may be stuck, for a while, with a self-centered husband who uses his authority to indulge himself. As the Bible teaches, however, abuse of authority alone does not justify divorce.4 In 1 Peter 3:1-6, Peter addresses wives who are married to difficult husbands. When he says, "Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands" (emphasis added), he is referring back to the mistreatment described in chapter 2, verses13-25. Thus, he is encouraging wives in difficult situations to follow Christ's example of reverent submission:

    To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." [i.e., he did not deserve such treatment.] When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

    This passage sets forth the foundation for godly submission, especially in difficult circumstances; that foundation is confidence in the sovereignty of God. Jesus submitted to the Father and endured unjust treatment because He trusted that God was ultimately in control of everything that would happen to Him. Jesus knew that God would eventually judge those who did wrong (v. 23; cf. Prov. 16:5; Rom. 12:19), and that He would use even painful events to advance His kingdom and bless others (see Acts 2:22-24).

    A wife living with a difficult husband can have the same kind of confidence. God promises to work everything in her life for her good, which primarily involves conforming her to the likeness of Christ (see Rom. 8:28-29). Although she may have to endure an unpleasant and disappointing relationship with her husband for a time, God will support, strengthen and encourage her in His own perfect way (see Ps. 37; 1 Cor. 10:13).

    Knowing that God is more powerful than her stubborn husband, a wife can trust that God will ultimately deal with all injustice. She can also have confidence that through her situation God will help her to grow (see Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Heb. 12:1-13; Jas. 1:2-4); to bring encouragement to others (2 Cor. 1:6); and, perhaps, to play a role in bringing about dramatic changes in her husband (see 1 Pet. 3:15-16), "for nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). Obviously, God can do the same thing for a husband who is married to a difficult wife.

First, in this passage, the sufferings that a wife is to endure is compared to the suffering of Christ on the cross in 1 Peter 2. This passage also suggests that suffering abuse in a marriage will make the character of a wife Christ-like, and, third, that enduring abuse will cause a partner to change. It is similar to preaching the efficacy of faith-healing. It is irresponsible and will inevitably be the cause of great harm to some people.

The Bible is not to be used as a instrument to keep people in miserable circumstances resigned to their unhappy state. I am of the opinion that certain abusive behaviours on the part of either husband or wife are appropriate grounds for divorce.


Lydia said...

You it is interesting to think of the converse. What if a wife is horrible? Not just physically abusive but all around contentious, dishonest, etc.

What should a believing husband do since they teach he has authority? To what extent does he "discipline" his wife if she refuses to submit to him or listen to anyone else?

I would love to hear what CBMW would teach about that for husbands since their authority would be meaningless to such a wife!

Lydia said...

" I am of the opinion that certain abusive behaviours on the part of either husband or wife are appropriate grounds for divorce."

This is the whole point. They start with the premise that divorce is unacceptable in almost ALL circumstances and then interpret other scripture accordingly.

I am quite familiar with many seeker type churches that teach that divorce is unacceptable in almost ALL situations. Including one time adultery. They are very weak on doctrine yet teach these secondary issues as primary. Divorce is always wrong.

Abused women are even counseled to stick it out with prayer..making them responsible for the abusers salvation: You did not pray enough.

I personally, think it is more about the image of the church and bragging they have few divorces.

DL said...

"I would love to hear what CBMW would teach about that for husbands since their authority would be meaningless to such a wife!"

I don't know about CBMW, but I tell husbands who complain about their wives to hush up, man up and love them like Christ loved the church. Then I tell them for the sake of their prayers, they should treat their wives like a precious vase worthy of all honor.

Suzanne, out of curiosity, not a contentious spirit, why do you think Peter prefaced his commands to wives and husbands with the word "likewise" if not to compare their situation with the difficulty of being a slave with a cruel master or a citizen with a harsh government? How can we do justice to the text without explaining it away? Maybe you've dealt with that elsewhere, but it seems pertinent here. Thanks.

Lydia said...

Darby, Would you continue to work somewhere if every day your boss gave you a beating? I doubt if you have a boss because most pastors really don't.

At what point are we enabling sin with bullies? I keep in mind Peter is talking about UNBELIEVERS in this passage. All the more to be concerned when it is professing believers who are the bullies. And the church is telling wives to submit to it more but not disciplining the abuser or even trying to SAVE the wife.

Check this out for an example:

If this turning a blind eye to sin was not so rampant in Christendom, you all might have a voice. Even Paige Patterson teaches obeying an abuser. Bruce Ware teaches that lack of submission by the wife triggers abuse in the husband. Show me where he has stated he was wrong about that?

These men have very hard hearts and are in love with their preeminance.

Let's clean up our own camp from those who twist the Word and have lots of followers who believe them.

Let's tell them that they should, as believing brothers TAKE THE BEATINGS for their sister in Christ. Not send her back in for more.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I think CBMW has some useful things to say about what to do if the other partner is abusive, getting the couple into debt and so on. However, they often suggest bringing in the elders, and from what I have seen, this is not terribly useful, since the elders always have an interest in saving a marriage that has serious problems.

Uncontrolled debt is very serious difficulty since even after the divorce, the responsibility for dealing with it continues. It is not that outlandish for a husband to cut up his wife's visa card, and I am not saying that this is wrong, but what is a wife to do in a case where her husband gets them in debt?


Dealing with 1 Peter is simple for me. What did people say during the Civil War to slaves that were being beaten? They helped those slaves escape and kidnap those of their children that they could.

That is what should happen for women in abusive situations. They should be helped to escape. The fact that 1 Peter does not teach this is neither here nor there. You should put the law of Christ above your desire to see people suffer in atrocious ways for the glory of the text. This is wrong.

I am not saying that you do this, but everyone who teaches male authority over female is contributing to greater power of the male, and greater suffering of the wife, but only in those cases where people are actually sinful. \

In the case where there is no sin involved, then one would have to look at it differently. If you know people who no longer have any sinful or selfish urges of any kind, that would be good to look at.

Otherwise, just treat a woman who is being mistreated as if she were yourself. What are you willing to put up with personally?

DL said...

"What are you willing to put up with personally?"

I am willing to put up with a lot for the sake of the gospel (though not as much as I'd like). I think others would attest to this. For instance, I've turned down opportunities for career advancement at larger churches for the sake of loving the smaller flock I planted and feel extreme devotion to. Some of those same members have wronged me immensely over nine years, and I continue to love and serve them without hesitation for the sake of the gospel.

I think the Puritan, Charles Simeon, is an example of suffering for a greater cause. I think Bible is clear that Christ suffered while on earth, even at the hands of his own friends. He calls us to the same. I'm just not so quick to recommend leaving uncomfortable situations for the sake of convenience or on a quest to have my best life now.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I understand that we all can be mistreated at some time in our life, and should not necessarily seek redress.

But being under sinful authority in the home means that one has no safe place of retreat. The violated wife has no other place to sleep, no other roof over her head. She is restricted in every dollar spent, in how long she spends in the bathroom, in how loud she coughs, in how long she talks to a sister on the phone, in how long she reads to her children at night, in how she dresses, etc. She needs permission to leave the house, to go to the corner store. She is called the f****** b**** in her own home and has no respite. This kind of treatment is life long and then she dies.

Being mistreated in one's own home is quite different from being mistreated in the workplace, although that is also bad. But you cannot compare the two.

Please notice that I am not saying that anyone should ever leave a marriage for convenience or to get the best out of life.

However, I do believe that people have basic human rights that are often violated in the home. I believe that people have the right to live with someone who has affection for them. Living without affection is bad for your health.

However, for the sake of one's children, most people will stay in a marriage without affection for a very long time. I understand that.

Donald Johnson said...

First, one should understand that either emotional or physical abuse is grounds for divorce, according to the Bible.

IF the abused person desires to keep trying, this is allowed. If they desire to divorce, this is allowed, it is simply recognition that the vows of the covenant have been broken by the other party.

1 Pet needs to be read in light of these fundamentals.

DL said...

Another elder in our church tells the story of some friends he's known for decades. When this couple was newly married, the husband got drunk and slapped his new wife during an argument. He later woke up in his bed with a trickle of blood running down his neck. His wife was on top of him with a knife and said, If you ever hit me again, don't go to sleep because you won't wake up. They've been happily married for decades since that night.

I don't counsel women to stay in abusive situations, and I don't tell wives to submit like children to their husbands. What you are describing is an aberration of Christianity, not a natural outcome of biblical Christianity.

Christopher Hitchens wants to blame religion for the world's woes and dumps Christianity into the mix. I don't think we can blame the comp position for the sinful perversions of some men any more than we can blame Christ for the killing of abortion doctors in his name.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I do not blame the comp position for men being abusive. I absolutely blame the comp position for not teaching women that attacking their husband with a knife may indeed be the ONLY thing that gets their attention. If you can find comp teaching that teaches a woman to violently take on her husband in order to set things at rights, then I will apologise for everything I have said.

I do know that most comp women are taught to "lay down personal rights." or "not demand personal rights." This is in the Manifesto, and goes against our civil authorities. No one should give up their personal rights.

There is no way that I would recommend what that woman did with a knife, but I think it is very instructive that this was the ONLY was to get the guys attention.

Should women be handed carving knives in the marriage ceremony to provide a balance of power?

Kristen said...

I think with 1 Peter, as well as with every other part of the Bible, we need to study and find out what cultural assumptions were shared by the writer and the readers, but that we are not privy to. Once we understand those assumptions, we will better understand the principle or message the writer was actually trying to convey.

Peter was writing to Christians living in Roman society, and specifically to Christians whose spouses were pagan, and slaves whose masters were pagan. The laws were different, the resources available were different. I think what Peter was saying amounted to the best practical advice in those situations-- also with a mind towards spreading the Gospel and not damaging the reputation of the Church in its infancy. But it was not intended to be a whole set of new laws for Christians to follow-- more like a set of principles to keep in mind.

In the council at Jerusalem in the Book of Acts, the apostles only gave a few basic commands for non-Jewish believers-- commands intended to separate them from pagan idol-worship-- and no more. They were not interested in putting the new converts under a yoke of bondage to law.

I am certain that the way the apostles might have counseled a specific slave or a specific wife in individual situations would take the specific situation into account, not just blanket-apply this teaching as if it were law.

DL said...

The above example about the knife is given nearly every time the subject of wife abuse is brought up in our church, from an elder. We believe strongly in spouse roles, and in discipline for abusing those roles. The home is a refuge, not a battle ground. If we would stop an assault from taking place on the sidewalk, then we should be more willing to stop it in the home. I am one hundred per cent for a woman protecting herself and will tell her as much. I do not believe this corrupts my comp. position at all.

Donald Johnson said...

Paul says if someone cannot do something in faith, it is a sin for them.

If a wife cannot obey her husband's final decision in faith, do you agree she does not need to obey?

Lydia said...

"We believe strongly in spouse roles, and in discipline for abusing those roles"

Can you give an example of this? Would you discipline a wife for working if her husband did not want her to?

I am at a loss for how the church can discipline. In most abusive situations there is little evidence except his word over hers and most abusers are extremely charming and believable.

Do you understand that in your comp church the "discipliners" are all men because they have the "authority" according to your interpretation.

Donald Johnson said...

The Bible does discuss non-equal power in marriage, a free man can marry a slave wife in the Mosaic covenant.

Why anyone would WANT this today is beyond me.

Lydia said...

Darby, Many women, married to abusers, who would put a knife to the husbands throat while in bed, would be dead within the year.

Usually the abuse escalates and just because it worked in one situation does not mean it will work. Abuse is about power and the comp position teaches the abuser he has power over the wife. It just reinforces what is already evil...even when it is not meant to.

She could find herself dead and the husband would have self defense as a defense even though he had been abusing her for years.

That is why women have to get out. The abuser has to have a victim that he can control. Note that very few abusers beat up their bosses at work. wonder why? They canot get by with it.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I do not know of any women who have taken such an action to address the wrongs of their husband.

I feel very strongly that unless such a teaching is included in comp doctrine, then comp doctrine is damaging to women. Since I have never seen or heard of the "knife in the hands of a woman" teaching, I will frankly say that I regard most comp teaching that I have been exposed to as wrong.

If you could take on CBMW and ask them to include the "knife story" the I would be very grateful.

I also have to ask you how this story accords with the notion that the wife is a delicate vase. Clearly this wife was not.

I also have to say that I don't actually agree that a wife should return violence for violence. I feel that you are simply teaching the law of the jungle. I would not be prepared to ever do such a thing. First, I would be afraid of causing serious damage. Second, I would be more afraid that the husband would wrestle the knife out of his wife's hands and kill her. And third, why bother with the Bible and civilization at all, if you think this is the oly way for a wife to live?

But, on the other hand, I enjoy immensely discussing this with you, Darby, because you have such unusual ways of dealing with things. You do not teach a rote doctrine, but you are trying to encorporate things that deal with reality.

As well, I know far too many women who do not have any refuge in the home. They are embattled. Some men too, I am sure. Some retreat into a drug induced fog.


I think that there have to be women deacons or elders in a church. It is wrong for men to give advice to women on these things unless they are trained in psychological counselling and upholding basic human rights. Elders, in my opinion, care more about reputation that individual human rights.

Gem said...

1 Peter says, in the same context at the teaching you quoted:

1 Pet 2 (KJV) 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—

Therefore, in any country with anti abuse laws, any Christian (including pastor, elder, and/or spouse) who is aware of abuse is obliged to report it to the civil authorities. If they don't, are they not failing to submit to the government ordinances thus disobeying Peter's teaching here?

Anonymous said...

" think that there have to be women deacons or elders in a church. It is wrong for men to give advice to women on these things unless they are trained in psychological counselling and upholding basic human rights. Elders, in my opinion, care more about reputation that individual human rights."

12:59 PM

Ironically, we have women deacons and one of them is a divorced woman of about 60 years old.

Her divorce came about at age 25 because her "believing" husband was horribly abusive and almst killed her. He was well known in SBC circles because his parents ran a big SBC camp.

She never remarried. but she is a wonderul resource for women in those situations and a great prayer warrior. And she has been a great behind the scenes servant of the Lord. She knows what it is like for the institution to turn against the victim and give the abuser a pass.

Gem said...

CBMW QUOTE: When he says, "Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands" (emphasis added), he is referring back to the mistreatment described in chapter 2, verses13-25. Thus, he is encouraging wives in difficult situations to follow Christ's example of reverent submission: ENDQUOTE

Indeed, the "likewise" or "in the same way" points back up to Jesus' role model. What the quote does not mention, Darby mentioned: "Likewise"/"in the same way" is also directed to the HUSBAND (see verse 7). The "LIKEWISE" instruction pointing back to Jesus in 1 Pet 2 is an equal opportunity instruction for the wife AND the husband.


So how did Jesus respond to abuse and mistreatment? He did not revile/verbally abuse in return. Nor did He cave to the mocking and abuse. He steadfastly refused to deny His identity and His authority.

While CBMW acknowledges authority of the male, they attempt to rob females of corresponding authority. We must not cave to that. Like Jesus, we must not deny our authority as co-heirs with Christ, nor our identity as God's precious daughters.

Donald Johnson said...

In the article Suzanne references the last footnote says: "4. Divorce is legitimate only in the case of adultery or abandonment (see Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:10-16). For an excellent discussion on this issue, see Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage by Jay Adams (Zondervan, 1980)."

This is dead wrong and the teaching of David Instone-Brewer shows it is wrong, as it neglects the abuse/neglect reasons for divorce found in the Bible.