Church support in marital distress

I’ve received several questions recently regarding the whole issue of marital separation.

Question: This week a woman asked if I would give the same advice I did in last week’s blog if there is a pattern of poor financial decisions of not paying bills, not paying income taxes, continued lies and broken promises, without an official mental health diagnosis?

Answer: Let me give you this general principle. When a spouse(or anyone else) is continually putting you and/or your children in harm’s way whether it is emotional harm, financial harm, sexual harm, spiritual harm, or physical harm, it’s time to take action.

Separation is usually not the first step to take, there are many other things you can do before initiating separation, however, if you allow yourself to be a victim over and over again you must begin to ask yourself what your part is. Why are you being so passive? You are equally liable for the poor financial decisions your husband is making. If you sign the tax form and you knows your husband is intentionally being deceptive, or even if you're just closing your eyes and hoping for the best, you are not being biblically wise or submissive. Rather you're intentionally or unintentionally colluding with something that is illegal, even if you're doing it because you're afraid to stand up for what’s right.

However, as a woman, standing up, especially to your husband’s wrong doing is rarely encouraged by conservative Christian church leadership and often frowned upon. I asked the woman from last week’s blog question what kind of support was she receiving from her church. Her response didn’t surprise me.

She said, “My church believes they are supportive in that I can only make the decision to stay or leave but that they don’t think it’s in the best interest for my kids and that it will be even harder for me than it already is if we don’t stay together.” She also says, “My pastor tends to coddle my spouse and not really hold him accountable.” She said her pastor told her, “If I come on too strong or discipline him, he just shuts down.”

This puts a woman in a terrible dilemma. She writes, “When I step in and take the reins, I’m judged for it. I’m told it’s not my place as a wife/woman to protect our household (it’s his).”

Okay, that’s the principle, but in practice, does that that mean that she is to be totally passive if her husband refuses to protect his household or even more so, endangers it? I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean that we get retaliatory or vengeful but we may need to help her as a church body stand up against injustice and serious sin.

Jesus challenged the Pharisee’s legalistic interpretation of Sabbath rule keeping, when he healed people, seemingly contradicting their teaching. But I believe that Jesus wasn’t negating the importance of keeping the Sabbath, but rather emphasizing that the love for one’s neighbor was a higher law to obey. (See Luke 14:1-6 for example).

In the same way, there is a higher biblical principle at work in these marital situations that might help us weed through them more biblically, and that principle is God’s hatred of injustice and the abuse of power. As I’ve said many times in my writing, being the head of a home, or an organization, or a country does not biblically entitle you to unlimited power over others nor to having your own way all of the time.

Jesus defined biblical headship as sacrificial servanthood, not getting to do whatever you want with no accountability. Therefore, when the head is regularly misusing his authority and power for destructive and selfish purposes, I believe that it is not only good for a wife to speak up and if necessary stand up, it is the right thing for her to do. She is not only standing against wrongdoing, she is also standing for her marriage, for her safety, for her children’s future, and even for her husband’s eventual well-being (James 5:19).

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” As believers, let’s not close our eyes to the sins of injustice and abuse of power while at the same time emphasizing biblical headship and submission.

Jesus warns, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23).


  1. Marquita Perrelli on August 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Very useful information. Hope to see more posts soon! I bookmarked your site.

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