Abuse, Divorce and the Church

cropped-12523879_10209247405206058_3651820469200974904_n.jpgIt wasn’t a triumph. It wasn’t a victory. Nobody wins here. Ever. But I walked out knowing I had honored God’s plan for my life, and done so according to his word.

In the Spring of 2014 I sat for over two hours with the top leaders of my church detailing what had happened to my marriage and how divorce was now imminent. It was an arduous and tragic discussion. Minds were already made up, no matter the scriptural text, context, or even my personal study of the translation from the Greek itself. Nothing I said justified my decisions. It was simply pointless.

Recently, I was contacted by a friend who shared how abuse within their marriage had become so destructive they just couldn’t take anymore. I was shocked, heartbroken and saddened, to say the least. I understand, though. I truly do, because there are so many more of you out there going through something like this than we all realize.

My therapist once told me divorce is like experiencing a death, and I think it’s the best example I can provide. If you haven’t been divorced, you truly don’t understand. I say this because I had no clue for so many years. To claim you understand is egotistical at minimum. Sure, you can practice empathy, and for years I ministered to and tried to empathize with men going through divorce, but I never understood how tragically painful it could be. I should have tried harder. I should have listened more and preached less.

I want to be very clear about something. If you are being abused, you need to get away from the person abusing you asap. Whether it is physical, emotional, or verbal, Jesus does not want you to sit there and take it. He doesn’t want you to “turn the other cheek” and to let this continue. In fact, the lack of contextual understanding of ministers today misusing this scripture and countless others is confounding. If your spouse is so far gone in your marriage to depart from you as a human being, to the point of trying to destroy you, you need to run for the hills and get help. God absolutely does not want you to submit to any type of abuse at any point in your marriage. Ever.

I have heard countless arguments, and studied the papers of John Piper and read through the opinions and doctrine of so many other Christian leaders. I have listened and watched as Matt Chandler and The Village Church quite publicly put Karen Hinckley (formerly Root) under church discipline a few tears ago for divorcing her child porn addicted husband. Yes, they apologized and tried to address the situation, but the damage was done, and Karen was long gone. She went to a church who would support her and love her as Jesus would. Instead of being quick to listen and quick to love, the elders of Village Church were quick to speak and quick to condemn.

I love Matt Chandler. He actually had the strength and guts to apologize for his actions, and not only to Karen, but to his entire congregation. It was a beautiful thing. Yes, there was a whirlwind of criticism surrounding their decision to discipline Ms. Hinckley, and it’s incredibly sad if this was the main mitigating factor in the apology. We shouldn’t have to hear from a larger group that scares us to do the right thing. We should stand up for love, justice and the gospel of Jesus the first chance we get.

There are many popular catch phrases out there alive and well in the Christian community, but don’t drink the catch phrase Kool Aid. Study the scriptures themselves, and see the love and embrace of God himself if you endure such a horrible thing as abuse within a marriage. Ignore those who overwhelm you with their preaching and attempts to coerce and manipulate you into doing what makes them the most comfortable. Too often, those people already have a legacy of destruction of lives in their wake. Sadly, this has been my experience, too.

I want to be incredibly clear – if you are being abused and divorcing your spouse, you need the church of Jesus to love you, not to tear you down and add to the chaos and brokenness you have experienced. This decision is a decision first between you and God, and then you can look to others who love Jesus for support and encouragement. In many cases, divorce is not the answer at all. But when your life is in danger, and you are out of money and need protection, like so many do, then pray and ask God to help lead you down His best path for you. He will not fail you!

One more thing, the one piece of counsel I could honestly share with my friend was about my journaling. I survived much of the early days in my divorce by creating a Forty Days of Thankfulness Journal. Every day I found one thing to be thankful for and praised God for it. Sometimes it was a sentence or two about the wind, and three paragraphs on my frustrations. Regardless of what I faced, every day I discovered something to be thankful for. I still read those journals, and they encourage me even today. God has a way of using our toughest days and finding the beauty and grace within them. He is a good God. He loves you, and he created you for a special love from him. I hope you know that. And I  hope you are filled with courage and God’s peace no matter what you are facing. You are loved.

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