The following are samples of what women in the church have been telling us over the years of our travel ministry about their abusive husbands:
My husband, who is on the church board, is always angry, yells and screams at me all the time and no matter what I do, it is never good enough for him. My husband, who is an elder in the church, hates me, calls me names, and uses the F-word. My husband, who is an usher in the church, hits me, chokes me, and has threatened to kill me on several occasions. My husband, who is a deacon in the church, is addicted to Internet porn, and forces me to have sex with him all the time. I feel like I am being raped over and over again. My husband, who is the church administrator, is an alcoholic, and tells me that I am fat, ugly, and good for nothing. My husband, who is the pastor of the church, likes to play the nice guy and hang around the young pretty girls of the church, while ignoring me and telling me that I am jealous, and that I am out to destroy his good reputation. He calls me stupid, and the B-word. My husband, who is the worship leader in the church, controls me in every area of my life. I can do nothing without his permission. I am so afraid of him. He beats me, and curses me when I do not immediately do what he says. Many times, I run and hide in the closet or the bathroom crying out for God to help me. I am terrified of this man! My husband, who loves to sit on the front row of the church, is a gambler and likes to play the big shot, squandering all our money. When I try to say something about it, he aggressively threatens to hurt me. He often calls me a whore and a loser, or doesn’t even talk to me for days. My husband, who is the youth minister of the church, stays in contact with his ex-wife, and has inappropriate talks with her, while ignoring my continuous pleas to let her go, because it really hurts me. He does not care one bit! And so the list goes on and on.
When these women muster their courage to go to the leadership of their churches to seek help from their abusive husbands, they will get to hear that regardless of what their evil unrepentant husbands do to them, they have to submit to them and stay in the marriage, citing that “God hates divorce.” (See Malachi 3:16)
But is this really so? Do these Christian women have a way out of their abusive marriages, or are they forever doomed?
We have seen many Christian women literally start looking like zombies after receiving the horrible council from their church leaders that no matter what, they needed to stay in their abusive marriage. They looked completely emotionally drained and with a glaze of hopelessness over their eyes.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about this subject of abuse, which in many churches is a deeply buried topic.
First of all, the Bible does give reasons for divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 based on marital unfaithfulness. The Greek word for “marital unfaithfulness” translates to any form of sexual immorality which includes adultery, prostitution, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, and incest.
Jesus even goes as far as to say: “Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 NLT)
Now, look at what the scriptures say about abusive behavior: “Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.” (Colossians 3:19 NLT)
Here are some of the definitions the dictionary gives for the word harshly: Rough, severely, cruel, brutally, strictly, unpleasant, and unkind.
This passage in the Bible speaks about husbands who are Christians or believers in Jesus Christ if you will. They should never treat their wives harshly! If they do treat their wives harshly, they should repent from their sinful actions. In other words, it boils down to the fact that husbands should never have a lifestyle of abusing their wives.
The Bible goes on to say that husbands must give honor to their wives. They have to treat their wives with understanding as they live together with them. Husbands must also regard their wives as their equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If the husbands do not treat their wives as they should, the consequence is that their prayers will not be answered!” (See 1. Peter 3:7)
And now, here is the important part: Not all husbands, who professes to be Christians, are true obedient followers of Jesus Christ, regardless which position they might hold in the church. Jesus clearly stated that, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” (Matthew 7:21 NLT)
Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul teach us how to deal with so-called believers, who do not want to repent from their sinful lifestyles.
To start with, Jesus said: “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NLT)
Then, Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church the following: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is ABUSIVE, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1. Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT)
To sum it up: If the believer husband is not willing to repent from abusing his wife, he needs to be considered and treated as a pagan or unbeliever!
The apostle Paul added to Jesus’ teachings when he gave his personal recommendation, saying: “I do not have a direct command of the Lord.” (1. Corinthians 7:12 NLT) According to Paul, if an unbelieving spouse leaves a believer, the believer is not bound to the marriage relationship, but is free to remarry. (See 1. Corinthians 7:15)
When a husband so abuses and brutalizes his wife that it is impossible for her to live with him any longer, she is, in reality, being deserted by her unbelieving spouse. When that happens, whether or not the person actually moves out, the situation is the equivalent of desertion, and divorce and remarriage are permissible.
So, yes! There is definitely a way out of an abusive marriage, “for God has called you to live in peace.” (1. Corinthians 7:15)