Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary


  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery Whiteis the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • Updated Apr 19, 2012

I was stunned.

A survey by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) found that 1 out of every 4 women surveyed say they were violently attacked by their husbands or boyfriends.

But I wasn’t just stunned.

I was – am – angry.

Any man who hits or hurts a woman isn’t a man. He’s a cowardly punk who deserves to have some real men kick his...

(Sorry. But between you and me, I mean it. Don’t you hate wimpy, limp-wristed pastors? I’ll take Jesus clearing out the temple any day. On that first Palm Sunday, He rode in on an ass, and then went to the temple and kicked some. Just saying…)

But let’s keep going. 

Where is the church when it comes to the physical abuse of women? 

The women themselves (and I’ve sadly had to come to the side of many as a pastor) feel guilty – as if what is happening is somehow their fault. It’s not, of course. Never, ever, does any woman deserve to have their husband or boyfriend physically harm them in any form whatsoever.

Then there are those who feel locked in. They feel they can’t leave. Somehow they feel that would not only make their husband angry and even more violent, but Jesus too. 

And then they say, “Isn’t that what the Bible says?”

Okay, time for some pastoral intervention.


You should not feel guilty, and you can leave. I’m really sick of the lame, misogynistic exegesis floating around out there that leaves women victims of physical abuse in the name of marital fidelity. It’s one of the most egregious areas of spiritual malpractice.

When it comes to marriage, the Bible gives two situations when separation and, if it reaches that point, divorce is allowed: 

The first is marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 5). I know, the words “marital unfaithfulness” seem pretty broad. You can pin almost anything on marital unfaithfulness.

“My wife is emotionally unfaithful – she doesn’t love me or cherish me or care for my emotional needs.”

“My husband is financially unfaithful. He doesn’t provide enough money to live at the level I need.”

“My spouse is spiritually unfaithful. They won’t come with me to church.”

What Jesus said wasn’t that general.

The actual Greek word Jesus used that we translate “unfaithful” was not concerned with being unfaithful in a general sense, but in a very specific sense. It was the Greek word "porneia," which refers to flagrant and habitual sexual immorality devoid of any desire to repent and be faithful.

Jesus made it clear that sexual intimacy is to be reserved for men and women who have entered into the commitment of marriage. Sex is more than just “skin on skin.” It was designed by God for marriage as part of the intimacy required for two people to become one. No other human activity has the same power as sexual intimacy. It is the supreme expression of a relationship. It is ultimate emotional unity. 

And because of that, it is reserved for marriage.

But when the marriage is defiled by that oneness being violated through sexual activity with someone outside of the marriage, then it so destroys the very fabric of the relationship that Jesus says divorce is allowed. That's how serious sex is, and how tied it is to intimacy and trust. If it's violated, the marriage is violated; it's torn apart.   

The other situation where separation and possible eventual divorce is allowed is when there is physical abandonment (I Corinthians). This is when someone leaves you and/or refuses to stay married to you, making it physically impossible to stay married.

Now this is important, please read carefully.

It follows from this that if their behavior is of such a nature that it forces separation, they are – in essence – making it physically impossible for you to remain with them and stay married.

For example, if a spouse engages in an illegal behavior such as drug use. You are not called to be subject to that or to expose yourself and/or your children to that, much less its potential legal penalties.

Another example is, without a doubt, physical abuse. When that occurs, you have to separate yourself for the purpose of personal safety or the safety of your children.

In such situations your spouse is forcing you to leave, or to separate. 

That is physical abandonment.

So let’s not put too fine a point on it. It doesn’t deserve it. If you are being physically abused by a boyfriend, end the relationship.


He is not worthy of your affection. He is a reprehensible person living and acting outside of the will of God that doesn’t deserve your heart. Let’s go all the way: He is not God’s man for your life.  

And if you are married to such an abuser, you are biblically afforded the opportunity to leave. 

And I would.

James Emery White



“1 in 4 U.S. women victims of severe violence,” Janice Lloyd, USA Today. Read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press).To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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