Dear Dr. David,

I read your answer to  Can Church Staff Disagree with Leadership?  It reminded me of an issue in my life. I have attended the same church for many years along with many of my extended family members. I went to my pastor for advice and counseling about my long-term marriage in which my husband was abusing myself and our children. I told my pastor about the abuse, the charges against my husband for violence in the home, and unsuccessful efforts to intervene. I informed him of my decision to obtain a divorce. He told me he would support my decision, but felt divorce was wrong under any circumstances. I was devastated and decided to go back to my husband, only to have the abuse continue.

Because of my pastor’s advice and my low self esteem, I continued in this destructive marriage.  I am now divorced and my children continue to suffer the emotional effects of that relationship. I do feel that this pastor truly loves the Lord and souls have been saved because of his dedication. My family still attends this church and feels hurt that I want to go somewhere else to worship.  How can I get over the feelings of being hurt by the church and make my family understand why I feel I can’t attend this church?  I do not believe in divorce either. I realize what Jesus said about divorce. Can you help?

--Divorced and Hurt

Dear Divorced,

The Christian response to abuse and divorce remains a cloudy one, and I am not suggesting that I have the final answer on the matter. Yet you raise a number of issues that would we all would do well to consider.

First, domestic violence is not honored by God. He hates violence — emotional, mental, physical and spiritual -- as much as he hates divorce. (Malachi 2: 16) As I have said previously, violence in the home erodes safety, trust and the ability to prosper emotionally and spiritually. God designed marriage as a place where we love one another, defer to one another, care for one another and bear one another’s burdens. Men are encouraged to love their wives as Christ loved the church and as their own bodies. (Ephesians 5: 25-28) The smallest amount of fear, which certainly occurs with any form of abuse or violence, is enough to erode the fabric of a marriage.

Second, perhaps because of the longstanding violence in your marriage, you note low self-esteem. You indicate, "because of my pastor’s advice and my low self-esteem" you continued in a destructive marriage. When we are wounded, we often are susceptible to being overly dependent on others, leading to an unhealthy relationship. This could occur with a pastor, counselor, or even friends. You mention your pastor truly loves the Lord. Accept that his intentions were sincere but that he is human and will not always give perfect advice. I hope you find solid Christian counsel to help you recover from the abuse.

Third, we know that God hates divorce, and that there are long-term consequences for ending a marriage. However, the very presence of violence ends, in many ways, the sanctity and integrity of the marriage. There are many women (and men) who stay in marriage out or fear and intimidation, all the while living in a marriage that has lost much of its sacredness. This is not the picture of marriage as defined by the Apostle Paul in his discourse to the church at Corinth. (I Corinthians 13) or of marriage faithfulness given by Jesus in Matthew 5: 32. There are some who preach it is always wrong to leave a spouse, even an abusive one. But the issue isn't that simple. Domestic violence can be life-threatening to both the abused spouse and children involved. It is our responsibility as parents to, at the very least, protect our vulnerable children. You share you made attempts at intervention, without success. There are treatment programs for abusive men and women. Holding men and women accountable, with consequences, is often a powerful solution to abuse. However, change does not always occur and we must be careful to hold the standard of marriage high.