I recently came across and read the document, When Homes are Heartless: an LC-MS Perspective on Domestic Abuse (download it here).
It’s a harrowing thing to read — and while certainly challenging when considered along with the church’s historic teaching on Confession and Absolution — an important document to consider and prayerfully wrestle with.
In it, you will read, e.g.:
- “One cannot ignore the overwhelming tendency of violence in male-female relations involving men as the perpetrators (Creator’s Tapestry ).”
- “[Because of things like abuse, marriage’s] permanent purpose — that it is intended to last for good — is also spoiled.”
- “Conflict within the home is predicted when the Lord declares that childbirth will be marred with pain, that the relationship of husband and wife will potentially involve struggles over ‘rule’…”
- “Families, despite their imperfections, are the settings in which countless children are protected and nurtured and guided to adulthood.”
- “The CTCR recognizes that Scriptures do not specifically define the character of abandonment or desertion (Divorce and Remarriage: An Exegetical Study ), noting that this may include not only total departure from the marriage by an unbelieving spouse, but other actions as well that create an enduring separation for the couple” (see I Cor. 7:15 where it talks about separation and I Cor. 7: 3-5).
- “When violence and its threats occur in a marriage, one party to the marriage actually creates a circumstance in which the other cannot remain without endangering herself, and quite often, her children.”
- “[P]articularly in cases of domestic violence, individual Christians should seek the protection of police and courts — God’s appointed servants for our good as well as His servants in the restraint of wrongdoing (Rom. 13:3-4).”
Again, give this important document a read.
At the same time, as I read it, I thought about another way that homes are heartless – and which is far less known and talked about.
How do we prevent unhappy men and women from divorcing their spouses?
I was saddened to hear the news this past week of Donald Trump Jr. and his wife splitting up. Actually, to be more precise, Donald Trump Jr.’s wife is leaving him. We don’t know the reasons for this divorce, but I have known persons close to me — very good persons who are now, thanks be to God, happily married — who were left by their spouses, and presumably for no other reason than dissatisfaction and the pursuit of happiness.
As this “When Homes are Heartless” document says:
“Hard-hearted sin leads many to refuse to uphold the promises of marriage. They put away the spouse God has given to them and destroy the unity He created. Jesus calls divorce a form of adultery, which He identifies as profoundly destructive to marriage (Matt. 19:8-9).”
I also think about some of questions that came up as I read the document as well. At one point, for example, we read the following:
“it is important to recognize that sometimes domestic violence or abuse is more verbal and emotional than it is explicitly physical. That does not mean that every example of an angry outburst or a cross word constitutes ‘abuse,’ but it is necessary to emphasize that obedience to God’s laws and expectations is never merely a matter of external conduct. Just as sin flows from the heart (Matt. 15:19), so do genuine obedience and good works. The husband who has abused his wife cannot claim that he is innocent of destroying his marriage since he ‘never caused permanent physical harm’ and, besides that, was a ‘good provider’ or ‘never cheated.’”
I found this passage a bit difficult — and even disturbing — for a few reasons. Why?
First, all of this is said in the context of a part of the document that is dealing with understandable reasons that persons might have for getting a divorce. What kind of evidence might be required to render these kinds of decisions? It seems to me that the dangers for subjectivity here are immense.
Second, I thought about how I often deserve hard words from the Lord, and there are certainly times God deals with His people with words that many might perceive to be abusive. One only need to read the Bible for a while to realize that God accuses us with stinging words, labels and names (even though I tell my kids not to do this with others, I have told them they should call me “fat” — and variations thereof — ever since I discovered I could not fit into a pair of pants the other day).
Third, I tried to imagine a husband divorcing his wife for this reason. What would we think of a man who used this as his rationale to put away his wife?
Fourth, is it just me or does it seem like we are getting very, very far away from the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (I Tim. 5:19)?
Finally, another disturbing element of the document was this: in it – albeit in very understandable circumstances – one is certainly able to get the impression that continued falls into sin after one says they are sorry are a sure indication that repentance has not been genuine.
But no good Christian would take advantage of all of this stuff above, would they? Right?
Let me share a bit about a conversation that I had with someone online about marriage and divorce that continues to haunt me.
I knew a person who claimed Christ and who was always able to give the correct theological answers. This person is very sharp and incredibly isightful, and often would point out things in the biblical text to me that I had missed.
This person, who I will call “Pat,” (and I’m changing a few insignificant details as well) had had two previous “committed” relationships, one of them being a marriage and the other being a 12 year live-in relationship. Pat told me that love is forever and that s/he would die for their previous partners and still loves them as friends. In both cases Pat left this spouse/partner because if both of them were going to be happy this, I was told, was the necessary step.
It was explained to me that Pat chose his/her partners even though Pat knew that they were only about a 75% match. Going into the relationship, Pat saw the 25% as important stuff that both partners would work on together. The problem, however, was that his/her partners did not want to work on that 25% of stuff.
Pat realized that the problem was choosing persons who were close to him/her and were “safe choices.” It was hard for Pat to really take risks, appropriately demanding what s/he wanted before the relationship would get serious. It was explained to me that the key was a lack of maturity.
Now that Pat has more maturity, things are looking up. The risk was taken – putting one’s self out there – and now a 90% match was attained, with that difference making all the difference. The arguing and bickering and ignoring was no more. Now, the happy couple was working on the remaining 10% together.
The lesson learned was that we can’t expect everyone to have good committed relationships the first time — especially when people grew up in bad homes. Therefore, instead of teaching the traditional way of marriage with its “till death do we part,” we need to teach them not to settle for the things that won’t work just for the sake of love.
Whatever I tried to say to try and to get Pat to doubt these view and to reconsider, I could not do it. I tried my best – and prayerfully – to be unfailing kind, a listener, keep Pat on the line, etc.
Now, is this a good way for any Christian to look at things? Whether they are a man or a woman?
This is a little different, to say the least, from what I heard from mother. When I was little, I knew nothing of divorce. One day, to my horror, I realized it was a thing. So, one day, when my mom and dad fight like they never have before, I, very young, ask “Are you and dad getting a divorce?”. My mom, very serious, looks me in the eye and says “Nathan, your father and I will never get a divorce. There is no plan B.”
Now, I don’t think it matters one whit whether Pat is a man or a woman. That said, however, there are some things that I and others have noticed:
- Women are more likely to initiate divorces because they are not happy in their marriages.
- Woman who are highly career oriented are more likely to divorce their husbands.
- Women who have more partners prior to marriage are much more likely to divorce their husbands (not as true for husbands).
- Woman who marry later are more likely to divorce their husbands.
- Women who do not have that many children are more likely to divorce their husbands.
I may not have time to defend the idea of why marriage is a good thing for men, who, either burned or seeing others burned, want nothing to do with it (see here). At the same time, I do think something should be done. What does this all mean? Are there answers to these questions? Should not solutions to these issues be pursued vigorously by some?
How do we prevent unhappy men and women from divorcing their spouses? I wonder if the more pressing question that we must deal with here is this:
How do we protect unhappy women from the idea that divorcing one’s husband is a good idea?