Divorce: Under No Circumstances? -- By: Susan Ives Spieth

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 24:0 (NA 1992)
Article: Divorce: Under No Circumstances?
Author: Susan Ives Spieth

Under No Circumstances?

Susan Ives Spieth

Susan Ives Spieth is an M.Div. (PC) student at ATS.

In his book, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, James Hurley states that a wife should stay and submit to her husband — even if he is abusive. According to Hurley, “she is to continue to live a godly life even with an abusive pagan husband who can in no way be considered to demonstrate Christ’s love for the church.”1 Here, Hurley is talking about the marriage between a Christian woman and a non-Christian man. But since he advises her to remain with her abusive pagan husband, I can imagine that he would even more emphatically advise her to remain with her abusive Christian husband. Yet I believe that the Bible supports a woman’s decision to leave her abusive husband. Specifically, I believe Saint Paul’s teachings support my contention. My purpose here is to show why Hurley’s answer is unsatisfactory and how we should support and counsel the battered woman in light of several Pauline statements.

Like Hurley, many pastors would hold that the marriage commitment takes precedence over the sanctity of a woman’s life.2 These Christian leaders have used the Scriptures prohibiting divorce to support their beliefs that “marriage” is more important than the individuals in the marriage — even though the quality of that marriage may be anything but holy. “Maintain the marriage at all costs” seems to be the belief among many Christian pastors.

In James and Phyllis Alsdurf’s Battered Into Submission, a group of pastors were asked to rate just how intense marital violence would have to be in order to justify a Christian woman leaving the home. “One-third of the respondents felt that the abuse would have to be life threatening. Almost one-fifth believed that no amount would justify a woman leaving.”3 Abused women have been told over and over again that “God hates divorce,” and “unless there is adultery or desertion, there is no biblical basis for divorce.” “Such attitudes make it very difficult for a woman to end even a violent relationship.”4

First, it is important to understand some of the problems involved with advocating a “stay at all costs” attitude for abusive marriages. The facts are that many women live with some kind of abuse from their spouses. In 1981, the United Methodist Church conducted a survey on violence against women. The results indicated that “one in every thirteen had been physically abused by her husband, one in every four had been verba...

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