In a recent audio teaching posted to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church website, Tom Holladay, one of their teaching pastors, stressed that the ministry at Saddleback does recommend separation in abuse cases but never divorce. He was emphatic that the Bible does not permit divorce in cases of domestic abuse.
I disagree with that opinion. The Bible Does Permit Divorce In Cases of Domestic Abuse, and I refer my readers to Barbara Roberts excellent book, Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery, and Desertion. Roberts presents a strong, articulate, and most of all biblical argument that God does indeed permit divorce in cases of domestic abuse.
Saddleback Church is dishing up typical evangelical fare on the subject of domestic abuse and domestic violence. In and of itself that is not surprising. But has it occurred to anyone to ask why a pastor who is on the extremely liberal end of the Southern Baptist spectrum, to the point of being denounced as heretical by many evangelicals, tows the traditional line, to the hilt, when it comes to domestic abuse and divorce?
Could the reason be that Saddleback Church also tows the traditional line in regards to the doctrine of male authority and female submission? Male authority which can still be maintained in a controlled separation but is seriously threatened when a woman is given leeway of any kind, for whatever reason, in ceasing to submit to an abusive husband by divorcing him? Is it any wonder then, that Holladay also inserted submission theology into his teaching on the subject of abuse by subtly reminding women of their duty to maintain a submissive attitude towards their husbands, although he tempers the inclusion by acceding that tolerating abuse is not a proper example of displaying an attitude of submission.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author and council member of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), does the same in her book, Lies Women Believe. Her advice to women in abusive marriages is to leave if they have to, but never, under any circumstances, consider divorce. If a separation must take place, counsels DeMoss, then during the separation, an abused wife is to maintain an attitude of reverence towards her abusive husband’s God-given position of authority over her—which, according to DeMoss, is not abrogated by the abuse.
Thankfully, Holladay did not go as far as Bruce Ware did in his presentation to Denton Bible Church, last year, by suggesting that women often bring abuse upon themselves by not submitting to their husbands.
No matter who is discussing abuse, either victims or church leadership, it seems the subject of submission always manages to slip into the conversation. We just cannot seem to discuss the one without discussing the other. Many victims know that abuse is the extreme end result of the doctrine of female subordination, while supporters of the doctrine acknowledge the fact that it must be carefully controlled or disaster can and often does come of it.
In the audio entitled, "What do I do if I am miserable in my marriage?" Holladay also gives a contradictory message to wives experiencing domestic abuse. While on the one hand, he clalims to believe that women are not required to submit to abuse, on the other he defines abuse as being beaten regularly (He stated that he does not consider a husband shoving his wife once as a good reason to separate). So by his own definition, he does expect wives to submit to verbal, emotional, economic, and even a certain amount of physical violence. I would ask Mr. Holladay how many beatings would have to take place in order to qualify as regularly?
Beaten regularly? What a horror of a life! Thank God that the Bible, along with the judicial powers that be, and the laws of the land, are not in agreement with the callous opinions of Tom Holladay and Saddleback church. God gives his blue print for deliverance from the evil man in Proverbs chapter two (see chapter five of Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence, for a detailed study of that blueprint). There is no loophole in that chapter excepting abusive husbands or restricting abused wives from that deliverance. And I would call Holladay’s attention to the fact that a woman may not survive even the first beating. If she does survive it, what about the second? Which regular beating would he consider to be the most life-threatening, thereby recommending a separation at that point?
Tom Holladay is wrong. Shoving a wife is abuse and should not be tolerated. Beating a wife once, is one beating too many and should not be tolerated.
Saddleback Church recommends couple’s counseling to couples experiencing domestic violence. Couple’s counseling will not prevent further abuse and can prove dangerous for the victim. Couple’s counseling may indeed be helpful in marital situations other than abuse, but in the case of domestic abuse or violence, arrest and prosecution along with counseling for the abuser, geared specifically towards the abuse, has proven to be the most effective tool in deterring future violence—with the counseling part being the least effective, as studies in Florida have shown.
Holladay made no mention of legal recourse against the criminal behavior of the husband who regularly beats his wife, only the need for “healing.” Well, healing is not going to come without acknowledgment of the sinful, abusive behavior and genuine, heartfelt, repentance. Punitive consequences, like jail, are scriptural. This is criminal behavior we are talking about, not simply bad manners. In my own case, it was my pastor—not me—who called the police and had my violent husband, an associate pastor of our church, arrested.
Women can and do die from domestic violence. With three women dying every single day, over 1000 women dying each year, from the devastating effects of domestic violence, why are our pastors and religious leaders soft soaping this critical issue? Could it be for the same reason they always have, that if they step up to the plate and truly protect women from domestic abuse and violence they know they would be putting traditional "male authority” at risk?
Besides knowing the horrors of being on the receiving end of domestic abuse and violence first hand, I am in contact with far too many women who are suffering from long term, debilitating effects from assaults they received from their abusive husbands to take this issue anything but deadly seriously.
And the issue of “male authority” is at the very heart of it.