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.