Escaping Abuse

The topic of divorce to escape abuse has been much in the news this week.

Over the weekend, Paige Patterson’s comments in an audio tape from 2000 resurfaced.  In that tape, Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

According to the Washington Post, Patterson pushed back this week, claiming he had been misrepresented and mischaracterized.  He went on to clarify he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”

Patterson then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

According to Christianity Today, many evangelical Christians agree with Patterson’s perspective on divorce.  Even the many recent strong statements against abuse mostly fall short of taking a strong position in favor of divorce as a godly response to abuse.

Yes, the Bible does make clear the way in which God views divorce…which is drastically different from how Patterson seems to view divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 God makes clear His intent that divorce should include an official certificate of divorce to ensure both parties are declared legally free of obligation to the covenant vows, with both parties free to marry another if they so choose.

In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus reaffirmed the words of Deuteronomy, declaring the law given to Moses made provision for just divorce, because of hardened hearts…the heart of one spouse being hardened against their covenant partner.

In Jeremiah 3:8, God boldly proclaimed He has divorced the Kingdom of Israel, issuing a Certificate of Divorce in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy, for this very reason…because Israel had continually hardened their hearts against Him, their covenant partner, in repeated abusive violations of their covenant vows.

And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul clearly states that a divorced person is free to remarry, and that marriage is preferable to undue temptation.

When the nation of Israel was enslaved by Pharaoh who abused them and issued orders for their infant sons to be killed, did God stand idly by, encouraging them to submit to their covenant partner?  Did God tell them they must remain true to their covenant no matter how abusive their partner might be?

No!  God was not idle.  He actively worked to deliver Israel from bondage.  God redeemed and delivered Israel from their covenant with an abusive partner!

When we were enslaved to Satan, did God stand idly by, encouraging us to submit to our covenant partner?

No!  Jesus redeemed and delivered us from our covenant with the kingdom of darkness, delivering us into the Kingdom of Heaven!

Yes, the Bible is very clear on the way in which God views divorce.

So…why is Patterson, like so many evangelical Christians, so confused on the topic?

Maybe it’s time to stop viewing scripture through the lense of our religious cultural perspective and pay closer attention to what it really says.  Maybe it’s time to stop treating scripture like it was a legal document to be studied and interpreted by lawyers digging for rules, loopholes, and exception clauses…and start reading scripture as a revelation of God’s character.


Your thoughts?



8 thoughts on “Escaping Abuse

  1. Thank you Joe once again for addressing this important issue! How can those in Christian leadership be more aware? I think one of the ironies attached to this subject is that, as Christians, we should be the happiest people in the world, finding peace in the perfect, complete work of Jesus on the cross. The health, wellbeing, and peace of someone being abused, however, is seen as irrelevant for the sake of marriage?! I also think that it’s quite easy for Christians who are in loving, connected, healthy marriages to shame those who aren’t quite that fortunate. They should talk to the women (and men) who have tried to endure and have risked their very lives. They should talk to the woman who’s had her head bashed against the wall, the woman who’s had acid thrown into face or set on fire. They should speak to the children of mom’s who’ve had mental breakdowns and can’t be present for their children anymore. They should speak with those who have had their very spirits crushed by destructive marriages.
    Thanks again for your book!

    • Yes…it’s all to easy for those who seem to have it all together to distance themselves from those who don’t.

      It some ways, I think your comment digs a little deeper into what is wrong with Christian church culture today. We tend to cling to beliefs that faith in Christ leads to having it all together in the here and now (great marriage, healthy family, plentiful finances, etc.). This is dangerous and false, but fairly prevalent.

      The natural outcome of clinging to such a belief system is that anyone who clearly does not have it all together is perceived as lacking in faith…and what they most need is more faith…

      Sigh…so many things wrong…

      Thank you, Marisa! 🙂
      joe recently posted…Escaping AbuseMy Profile

  2. Divorce myths seem to dominate and conservative circles tend to see divorce as a mark of a bad Christian but what about the NT section about not being unequally yoked. Abusers who are the loudest about ‘no divorce’ ‘breakdown of the family is the cause of all ills’ and other nonsense are the oppressors and enslavers who need their entrapped, abused ‘chattel’ to not get any ideas about any escaping or alternative life. There is no marriage with an abuser, merely an illusion to keep the God-fearing person entrapped, enslaved, and oppressed.

    Love your posts. Glad your blog exists.

    • Yes, the “no divorce for any reason” and “breakdown of the family is the cause of all ills” plays right into the abuser’s game plan, doesn’t it? I think it creates an atmosphere where abuse can flourish…and gives the abuser perfect excuses and cover to keep his targets under his control.

      Your comment reminded me of a post I did a while back titled “Relational Idolatry”:

      Thank you, No-Name! 🙂
      joe recently posted…Escaping AbuseMy Profile

  3. Very well said. Very true. I have known women who were in the church with their spouse and were living with mental and at times physical abuse. The marriages eventually led to divorce. They had no support through their church and ended up leaving church altogether. Very sad.

    • The lack of support from the local church is frustratingly common!

      It’s to the point I’m pleasantly surprised when I hear of a church that actually DOES do a good job of supporting an abuse target through escaping her abuser.

      Thank you, Sharon!
      joe recently posted…Escaping AbuseMy Profile

  4. Also the guy has some creepy commentary about attractive females and a teenage girl in one clip I saw, if this the same guy. He seems like a ”good ol boys club” straight up misogynist member if u ask me.

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