Saddleback Church, Abuse and Divorce


  In an 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. 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 submissive attitudes 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 abuser'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, and 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 gives a contradictory message to wives experiencing domestic abuse. While, on the one hand, he claims 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 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 the Bible 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 be helpful in marital situations other than abuse, but in the case of domestic abuse or violence, couples counseling is not recommended. 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 abuser, 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 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 firsthand, 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 with anything less than deadly seriousness.
   And the issue of “male authority” is at the very heart of it.

Saddleback Church has since downplayed and removed the controversial audio from their website, but this writer personally listened to it directly from the SB website and attests to the veracity of this article. Fortunately, the late Danni Moss had foresight enough to make and preserve a transcript of the audio.

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Anonymous said...

On the one hand, he said that women were not required to submit to abuse, while on the other he defined abuse as being beaten regularly.

Did they change the response? What I mean is did they delete that part, or is it on a separate response? The beat regularly part seems to be removed.

Jocelyn Andersen said...

I pray I haven't misquoted! The video clip is currently not working properly on the Saddleback site. Does anyone have a link that works? If so, please send it to me.

Here is another quote about the "regular beatings" in the Associated Baptist Press . Several others have also picked up on it.

Some have attributed the "regular beatings" part to Rick Warren himself, but that is due to the original confusion over who was speaking in the audio.

Jocelyn Andersen said...


The Saddleback audio on abuse is malfunctioning (I suspect deliberately). But you can listen to the comments about being "beaten regularly" on the audio entitled, "what do I do when I am miserable in my marriage?"

Better hurry before that one malfunctions!

Anonymous said...

lol I don't doubt that! I have already started writing it down word for word!

How irresponsible can one organization GET! YESH! said...

Doesn't Rick Warren know that shoving a woman can kill her?? All it takes is for her to trip, lose her balance, fall against something, hitting her head in just the wrong place, and presto, she's dead. The men whose wives are dead from a shove tell the police (and the woman's parents and her children) "I just pushed her a little. I barely touched her, and she fell and hit her head." And then later they'll change it to "I didn't touch her at all. She tripped and fell and hit her head." But all his minimizing what he did will not bring her back to life again.

And even if that shove doesn't kill her, what about the disrespect it models for the children? And doesn't he know that the disrespect toward his wife in his own heart when he shoves her, increases with every shove, with every nasty, controlling behavior?

You are right to call them on this, Jocelyn!

And where is Saddleback's biblical reasoning for this? As Bob Deffinbaugh says in his sermon on the husband's part in Ephesians 5, "I would have expected Paul to reason in this way: Husbands are to manifest the headship of Jesus Christ over His church, and thus they are to be the spiritual leaders of their wives. If the wives are commanded to submit, then the husbands surely must be instructed to lead. But they are not. Instead of commanding husbands to lead their wives, Paul instructs them to love their wives."

But abusive husbands are neither "leading" nor loving. Instead they are taking "authority over," which is something Jesus commanded the disciples NOT to do. That is what Gentiles do, not Jesus' followers.

So when is Saddleback going to start dealing with the sin of husbands RULING OVER their wives? Did you notice Ephesians 5 does NOT say, Hubands rule your wives? Yet, Saddleback acts as if that IS what Ephesians 5 and other scripture passages say. But NONE of them say that. They say the opposite. Colossians 3:19 says "Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them." Isn't shoving being harsh? And regular beatings? I'd say those are super, super harsh. How harsh does a husband get to be before Saddleback will call it sin and step in to protect the woman and her children???

I hope God's Spirit will work mightily in Rick Warren, the leaders at Saddleback, and leaders everywhere who Satan has bound with this destructive doctrine. Think of the Christ-like growth men have been denied by their constant claim of authority rights. And the many women and children who have been damaged for life because of that doctrine. Some have physical injuries that they will have to endure, and that will continue to cause more debilitation until the day they die. Others have emotional, mental, and spiritual injuries that will negatively effect every relationship they will have for the rest of their lives. When will this butchering, this murdering of the spirits of women and children end!!!

~Waneta Dawn, author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" which Jocelyn has a picture of and link to on the right side of this blog.

Cat said...

I came to your site because I was looking for domestic violence and Christians. I grew up in an extremely abusive home - guns, knives, hitting, biting, breaking things, slapping hitting children, beating and more...but our parents were active in the church and gave money. My dad was pharmacist. My mom was the one who abusive to him and she went around talking about how abusive he was. My brother was big enough to finally hit back and they had him committed to a state hospital. It's all complicated. But today - I have no family support. They expect reality to bend to them. I've had an incredible life of faith that's gotten me to where I am - but I've had an incredible amount of heartbreak from the church expecting me to honor my parents and take my children home for holidays and embrace them when they are dangerous people. I started a blog - finally - but it had to be under psuedonym's in order to be public or I couldn't do it at all. I've thought about this for years - but I don't know if I'll ever be free from them. It amazes me that the church goes CRAZY over abortion and even miscarriages for people offering support for years - but they think domestic violence is a figment of our imaginations. My mother tried to strangle me when I was 17. I moved out a few weeks later. I tried for years to have a relationship with them. No one is ever coming to see my children. Never. Not uncles, not brothers, not my sister, not grandparents, not cousins. No one. I LOVE GOD, Jesus was cool. I've really gotta get outta church. My story is SO long and really speaks to God's awesome power - and about really awesome people...but I just finally found the strength to write...

Anonymous said...

these people teaching the false doctrine of submission will be in a lot of trouble with God. Jesus never treated women with anything but respect. He was in a very sexist world and he was good to women, unless these Baptist and other conservative pastors. Even the liberal churches have misogynist pastors hiding their hatred of women, but in their heart are the same. In church, out of church... perhaps their hearts agree with the Taliban treatment of women, children - however, they do abuse men but that they do not see!

Monique @ Montage Video Productions said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I agree and I'm glad that all of you have written this.
You go girl!

Waneta Dawn said...

You hang in there! I network with a number of women who have experienced domestic abuse and nearly every one of the 6 of us had or have (or both) difficulty finding a church home. Women who have been abused just don't seem to fit anywhere. Even in groups that don't condemn you, you may have a difficult time finding steady and close supportive friendships.

But we have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. Hang onto Him for dear life!


Your pastor's statement that a husband slapping his wife's hand is not an assault is telling. Where DOES Jerry draw the line? If slapping the hand is ok, is slapping the face ok, too? How about spanking one's wife? Shoving her? Kicking her? Carrying her against her will? Punching the wall next to her head? Choking her? Killing her dog? Forcing sex on her?

It looks like Jerry thinks a husband has the right to ENFORCE his authority--even physically. Wow! Does that also mean he does NOT think that is sin??

How much unkindness is the man's wife allowed to do? I'm sorry, but that "Jerry" awoke the rebel in me. I think all his meals would be burnt, he'd get "accidental" spills of salt in his side of the bed and black pepper in his pillow case. He'd get spit in his food and...well, you get the idea.

Put this together with John Piper's statement that a wife endures "verbal unkindness" for a season and then when her husband "smacks" her one night, she can call the pastor in the morning. It sounds to me like they are teaching men to smack their wives. Monique, you did the right thing when you reported to the police. Jerry wanted you to report to HIM, so he could turn the blame on you and excuse your hubby. The picture is getting clearer to me.

Anonymous said...

Call me Curious:

I'd like to ask Holladay this question, since he seems to be OK with women getting physically abused more than once:

So how many free shoves and beatings would you give an abusive husband if he came after you instead of his wife? If the answer is none, then what makes you more deserving of your rights than the wife he's been pounding on?

I know it's rude, but just sayin'....

Anonymous said...

My husband shoved me against a wall and caused me to miscarry. He punched me in the face when I found out he was downloading porn. I went to the ministers of the church for help. We separated and they tried talking to him, but he would not listen. The ministers repeatedly told me that, "God hates divorce." For sixteen years, there was a cycle of abuse, separation, and a try at reconciliation. One night I walked in the room when he was setting up a date on-line with another woman. He beat me up. I pressed charges and filed for divorce. He called the minister from jail. The minister bailed him out. If you are being abused, leave. Do not suffer years of abuse. The first time I went to the police, the officer told me that he has never seen a wife beater that has changed over time. God is a forgiving, loving god. Live a righteous, honorable life, but do not stay where you are being abused. God loves you more than you will ever know. Run to him and live where you will be safe.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic. The very premise of this article is off-base. A wife's submission to her husband is no more responsible for domestic abuse than marriage is responsible for divorce. There simply is no equivalency here. This is a disingenuous and dangerously unbiblical article, at best.

This line of reasoning is akin to homosexuals making the "biblical" case that they will not be held to judgment if they die in their sin without true salvation through Christ.

Spousal submission is "very" biblical. Any "teaching" to the contrary is simply false doctrine.

You all should be ashamed for hijacking the spousal abuse issue (a very real concern), in the name of God.

Shame on the lot of you.

Waneta Dawn said...

You said "Pathetic. The very premise of this article is off-base. A wife's submission to her husband is no more responsible for domestic abuse than marriage is responsible for divorce."

No one said wife submission is unbiblical. But husband authority IS unbiblical. Husband authority is a man-made doctrine that Jesus, himself taught against.

The Christian community has taken the command to husbands to love and sacrifice for their wives and changed it to the opposite--to lead and take authority over them. THAT is what is pathetic. THAT is what is causing domestic abuse and domestic violence.

Where is the verse where God or Paul, or someone besides a gentile king tells husbands to take authority over their wives, to lead them? No such verse or passage exists.

Instead Ephesians 5:21 tells all of us to submit to one another. All does include husbands submitting to their wives.

Anonymous said...

Men will not hold other men to any higher standard than what they will hold themselves. That's why I spent three years trying to convince my pastor that my husband was abusive. The outcome was that my pastor and my husband became good friends. I filed a protective order against my husband two years ago. It was the best thing that happened for both of us. I have since realized that my own thinking regarding female submission contributed to my situation. The more submissive I was, the worse his behavior became. My pastor suggested that I was causing my husband's behavior by my lack of submission. What people don't realize is that in an abusive situation, a woman is abnormally submissive.

Anonymous said...

? ? ? "Beats th' Heck out'a ME!"
I don't understand this. Nor do other people respond well (until they know us) when I tell them we've never raised a hand, never raised our voices toward each other. But I will confess, if you counted on your fingers the times we've sharpened our voices at each other you would probably have to use both hands. Our marriage isn't insipid, but intentional and strong. Neither of us is a weakling. We just remember that we love each other, why we love each other, and daily explore how to love each other better. 30 years; just getting started.
Now, I'll bet some fool out there has a harsh word for me on this, but I'm telling you it can be good.
One trick; find the best mother/father-in-law you can, and marry their kid.