Thank you for your prayers. I am feeling them. There is still time to register for our CONQUER conference coming soon, next month. We have close to 400 women registered from all over the US and Canada. It will be an amazing time of seeing how important it is that women, Christian women, learn to be strong, courageous, brave, and sometimes a bit gutsy.
Traditionally the model for the good Christian woman has been to be soft, gentle, submissive, loving, compassionate, and humble. While I would never negate those attributes, I think we need to add a few more qualities to our repertoire in order to become whole and more like Christ.
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Next week I’m going to blog more about my thoughts on that very subject.
Today’s question is how much power do we give another person to make a decision for us? Whether it is our spouse, our mother, or our pastor. Please do not misunderstand me. Submission is an important discipline in the Christian life and all believers are called to practice it, not just women. However, does that always mean that women never oppose someone who thinks they know better regarding what’s best for her and her children? Let’s talk about that this week.
Question: Two years ago, after 6 years of trying to be a “good, submissive, obedient” Christian wife, I realized that my efforts were only making things worse in our family as my husband got increasingly controlling and scary.
I started setting boundaries to protect myself and the kids from inappropriate behavior, and the situation continued to escalate with increasing demands, control, rage, and physically threatening behavior until I filed a restraining order, and he was removed from our home (a year and a half ago).
He has been seeing a counselor for about 6 months and keeps telling me that he is making changes and accuses me of not seeing them. The changes he is making seem very external (not yelling, giving gifts, etc.), but he continues to display all his old tactics of control (blame-shifting, accusations, appealing to authority, wanting me to “believe the best” about him, etc.). Based on what I see and what I've learned about people with narcissistic personality disorder (which I am quite convinced he has), he is extremely unlikely to ever be someone that I could have a healthy relationship with.
I felt that I could justify, even, that he'd ended our marriage long ago by breaking his vows to love and cherish, and so I'd decided to legally declare the marriage over by filing for divorce. However, when I told my pastor, he stated that to divorce him would be going against God's will because divorce is only allowed for reasons of adultery (specifically defined as sexual relations with someone other than your spouse) and if my very life is in danger (i.e. if I've been hospitalized because of him, and the doctors thought I was going to die).
Neither of those things has happened. My pastor said that separation is acceptable, but divorce is not. I don't believe that my husband will file for divorce because his NPD would not allow for a failure like that and, additionally, it would be letting go of what little control of me he has left.
Am I to continue to stay legally married in a situation like this? I want to live for God and not for myself, but I'm having trouble knowing what God really says about this.
Answer: I’m so sad for all you’ve been through. I think your gut is right in that your husband’s entitlement attitude hasn’t changed, especially since he is accusing you of not appreciating all his “changes.” If his heart had repented, he’d be more humble, patient and grateful that you were even willing to wait to see if he could prove that he had changed (Luke 3:8). That said, your question is about what your pastor has told you.
First, I believe your pastor probably has the best of intentions. He wants to be true to how he sees Biblical teaching on marriage and divorce and some church leaders, theologians and teachers agree with his point of view. However, it’s also important for you to be informed: many conservative Biblical pastors, teachers, and scholars do not share his perspective.
And, I also think it is very unrealistic and unreasonable for your pastor to tell you that separation is Biblically acceptable whereas divorce is not. What that says is that you don’t have to live with your spouse or have sex with your spouse but that you have no legal protection against other kinds of abuse.
Separation in most States leaves you vulnerable to be financially abused and controlled. There are no clear guidelines on visitation or child support unless your State has a “legal separation document.” With this advice, what your pastor is advising you to do is to stay in legal limbo land where you are exceedingly vulnerable to continued abuse. I don’t think God asks a woman to enable her spouse to continue to abuse her without protest or legal consequences. That’s not Biblical love.
In saying this, I don’t think most pastors think through the implications of their advice. If they truly did, then I would expect these pastors who tell a woman she is not Biblically permitted to divorce to also stand behind their strong convictions. For example, if they believe no divorce, then as a church body they would reassure her, “We will be your safety net. No worries. If he drains all of your assets or refuses to pay child support or racks up a huge debt that you are partially responsible for, we will fill in the gap. We will not abandon you financially if we ask you not to divorce.” I have never heard of a church that has these strong convictions, to back a woman financially long term. She’s supposed to just “Trust God.”
Sadly the church wants to tie your legal hands but then offers no other protection or financial support if your spouse should choose to spend his retirement savings or rack up huge credit card debt or refuse to pay child support. That’s why God has implemented the civil law to protect the “innocent” from evildoers.
Therefore, it’s your job to do your homework Biblically to determine what you think the Scriptures are teaching you. It’s easy to ask a number of people – your pastor, me, other “experts” in the field what you should do but ultimately you are responsible for you and for the decisions you make. And you and your children are the ones who have to live with the consequences of your decision.
I’m not going to tell you what to do. I will say that there are compelling reasons with Biblical support to not stay in legal limbo land (Tweet That).
Some good books on this topic that present another point of view are Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts and Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities by David Instone Brewer.
So take some time to think for yourself. Of course consult with wise others from all different perspectives and then most of all, pray, pray, pray. God promises, “I will instruct you and guide you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8.
Friend, how did you make this tough decision Biblically? Especially if it went against your traditional church or pastoral teaching?
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