Abuse and Divorce: It’s Not An Exact Science

In the Twitter wars–in which I have been quite active–the Deebs, Amy Smith, and some other fairly knowledgeable folks–are pounding on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Paige Patterson, John Piper, Matt Chandler, and other complementarian (comp) leaders over their position on divorce, particularly whether it appropriate to recommend, particularly whether the Scriptures permit it, and what the Church ought to do for one who is being abused. Most of the context is the husband abusing the wife.

My view: at the very least, the minister needs to help the abused spouse find safety, and report the abuse to authorities, encouraging the abused spouse to press charges and force him (or her) to face the justice process. The abuser must also be subject to Church discipline if indeed he (or she) is a member.

Once abuse becomes physical and/or sexual, the score gets lopsided in a hurry. Can the marriage be saved? Yes. But it would require that the abuser have a come-to-Jesus session and submit to accountability like he or she never thought possible.

But make no mistake, divorce is a possible outcome, and in fact may be a necessary evil. I don’t like that fact, but it is what it is.

On most of that, the Deebs and I–and most of the other watchbloggers–are in agreement.

OTOH, others weighed in, suggesting that emotional abuse and financial abuse are legitimate reasons for divorce.

On the financial front, what part of “for richer or poorer” don’t you understand?

As for emotional abuse, I don’t think that’s an exact science. Ame can chime in here–as she has been on the receiving end of such abuse by her late first husband, and also has seen no small number of women frivolously claim “emotional abuse” to justify leaving a marriage they simply didn’t want.

I will also chime in, as there is much talk about how we must support the victims.

I support the victims, every one of them, including the children.

And that is why I contend that “emotional abuse” isn’t an exact science, particularly when you consider the ramifications of what children experience in divorce, as well as post-divorce life.

Before you ladies start tagging me, I’m gonna tell you to shut up and read on before you pass judgment. And if you can’t do that, then GTHO.

I was one of those victims. As a kid, I went through two divorces.

In the first one, my mom claims my dad was abusive. I do not recall him being physically abusive in those days, although he definitely got loud at times. Even then, I’ll grant my mom the benefit of a doubt here, because–well–she is my mom.

What happened after that for me was, for lack of better words, a Charlie Foxtrot.

It was the early 1970s, the Sexual Revolution was on, and–after the divorce–my mom would get a boyfriend: DA.

I didn’t like DA, and the feeling was probably mutual. I say that because of an experience I had one night.

Connecting the dots, I can conclude with reasonable certainty that he drugged me with LSD.

That night, I was having what appeared to be a very bad nightmare. I was in a forest, and everything was attacking me.

I woke up, but it didn’t stop: everything was still attacking me. I remember walking, screaming, and still being attacked. I remember my mom telling me it was just a nightmare.

But I was awake…and it wouldn’t go away.

I couldn’t [expletive or ten deleted] make it stop!

Eventually, it wore off, although I had occasional flashbacks until I was 13.

A year or so after that incident, my mom sent my brother and me to live with my dad.

And while I can say that my dad was far from perfect, I can honestly say that I was materially better off with him: he provided a household that had stability, he pushed us to work hard in school, and he was supportive of my choices in life. We even became running buddies later on in life. Yes, he could be difficult; that is why I enjoyed going to college away from home. He has mellowed out over the years, though.

I’ll grant that my mom was being emotionally abused. I would also contend that what I experienced after the divorce was worse than her emotional abuse. During that period between the divorce and the time we went to live with my dad, it was hell: lots of instability on top of what I described.

Some of you might say, “Well, that was just one incident!”

Yeah…and the flashbacks were a gift that kept on giving for several years. The worst part: not being in a position to defend myself, and not having anyone to defend me, and then being powerless to stop it.

But my case was miniscule compared to B.E., a former girlfriend and running buddy of mine.

When she was young, her mom was in a bad marriage, although it wasn’t physically abusive. She left her husband, claiming emotional abuse.

B.E., however got the bad end of that stick. Her mother would go from relationship to relationship, cohabiting with various men.

Aside from enjoying her mother, those men also helped themselves to B.E.

B.E. would grow up and embrace many self-destructive practices–drinking, cutting, drugs. She wound up in a homeless shelter where she would receive Christ and get clean and sober–she and I dated during that sober period–but would then float on-and-off into self-destructive behavior (hyper-spending, bulimia, and even occasional drinking). She mercifully broke up with me during the height of her bulimia bout.

So while I would grant that emotional abuse can be really, really nasty, I can also say that the threshold at which that becomes a trigger for divorce is pretty high.

I would also contend that we should have a marginal incentive to keep marriages together, particularly given that–from the stats I’ve seen–children generally do better with both parents at home. This is because crappy husbands can still be good fathers. And children deserve fathers and mothers.

Most of all, the Church ought to be marginally predisposed to keeping marriages together, because, well, Jesus taught exactly that: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” And no, there is no pretty way to spin our way out of what Jesus said on the matter.

That’s not to say divorce can’t be necessary in cases of abuse–divorce is evil, but it can be a necessary evil–but let’s accept that we must (a) hold abusers accountable to the extent that we can (including the justice process), and (b) still combat the divorce culture that gives the Church a divorce rate that is nothing short of shameful.

Class dismissed.