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Posts tagged ‘unrepentant sinful behaviors’

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

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Is Pornography Considered Adultery?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sadly, many men struggle with pornography and sexual addiction these days. Satan has a foothold into men’s hearts and homes, and the church hasn’t done a very good job at validating the devastating effects this habit has on one’s mind, body, spirit and marriage.

Perhaps some church leaders are reluctant to come down hard on this problem because they fear what might happen. According to surveys conducted by Barna Research, a sizable percentage of pastors also struggle with pornography problems.

Secular research and brain science are starting to speak about the damaging effects of watching pornography. Here is a link to an article and TED talk that is sobering to watch. Every adult and ministry leader should watch this.

Jesus takes this issue of pornography very seriously. He says, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye – even your good eye – causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand – even your stronger hand – causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus says don’t mess around with this. He tells people to take decisive action if they have this problem. Gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand will not keep you from lusting, but what Jesus meant was, DO what it takes to deal with this problem NOW. Sadly, many men don’t listen.

Instead, they play with fire thinking they won’t get burned. But they’re wrong. The Bible is full of warnings about sexual immorality and the consequences of unbridled lust.

For example, Paul writes, “there should be no sexual immorality among us and that such sins have no place among God’s people.” He goes on to say, “we should not be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.” And later he tells us to “expose the worthless deeds of evil and darkness.” (See Ephesians 5).

Does this mean porn is the same as adultery? Jesus says it is, as does Peter (2 Peter 2:14). And if it’s repeated and unrepentant, it may be Biblical grounds for divorce. The question that determines what happens next is what is a man’s response to his problem with pornography and lust?

Does he hate it? Is he repentant? Is he doing everything within his power to stop and eliminate this habit, even when it costs him? For example, is he willing to be without the Internet? Is he willing to put controls on his computer? Is he going for help with his thought life? Is he honest and open with others about his struggle and is he willing to be held accountable? And, is he grateful for a wife who holds him accountable for his behaviors so that he doesn’t burn himself and his entire family down to the ground with his own foolish fantasies?

If so, then a Christian wife’s response would be to be gracious and forgiving, coupled with an uncompromising stance against allowing such evil in her home and marriage. No woman in her right mind, Christian or otherwise, would allow her husband to bring another woman into their home to have sex.

In the same way, if he is not repentant or desiring to change, no woman should turn the other way or close her eyes to knowing her husband is ogling another woman or watching pornography. It degrades her, demeans him, and demeans the women he ogles.

It’s time women draw a line in the sand for the wellbeing of their marriage, family, and their spouse and say, “No more. If that’s what you want I can’t stop you, but I won’t live like this.”

This is a tough stance but Jesus and Scripture call for tough stances. If your husband won’t, you must. If you don’t your husband will continue to behave as if he can have his cake and eat it too. He can enjoy all the perks of home, marriage, and even family but still live treacherously and lustfully. Don’t let him.

Remember, this is not just his life it’s yours too. Your strong stand may be the one thing that will get his attention and hopefully motivate him to face his issue. If he refuses, then it’s time you quit enabling his habit to destroy you and your children.

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