October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month, writer Louise shares her thoughts on divorce in the context of an abusive marriage.
As Christian women, we cherish the sanctity of marriage. In the letter of Paul to the Ephesians he writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church." Ephesians 5:25. However, there are times when husbands do not love their wives as Christ loved the Church and the sacred bond of marriage becomes ensnared in the web of domestic abuse. In these cases, separation and divorce are both a necessity and a blessing.
Divorce is a taboo in many Christian circles. As believers, instead of empowering young men and women to seek out and foster healthy relationships, we can become too focused on purity culture, sexuality, and premarital sex. These conversations are important, but the shame attached to them can be toxic and may lead to young people not understanding how to develop a healthy relationship. Spoiler: just because you have waited until marriage to have sex, doesn’t mean your relationship is healthy!
We need to remember that the abuse itself is what breaks the marriage covenant, not the person who leaves.
We are sometimes reminded in sermons or by Christian podcast bros about the state of society when marriage breaks down. However, this discourse can become a barrier to keeping women and children safe in an abusive relationship, because it shifts the blame from the perpetrator to the survivor. We need to remember that the abuse itself is what breaks the marriage covenant, not the person who leaves.
Unfortunately, there is a misconception that domestic abuse is not as common within a church community as among the general public, but this is false. In March 2018, a report released by Restored called "In Churches Too: Church Responses to Domestic Abuse" revealed that one in four of the study participants had experienced abuse in their current relationship. This statistic is the same as the general public. Despite this, not all pastors, vicars, or ministers understand the scale, or perhaps more importantly, the pattern, of abuse.
Read more on domestic abuse
Abuse is complex and can be hard to detect as an outsider. From a Christian point of view, it is even cloudier because our disposition is one of forgiveness and repentance. However, pastors must recognise that red flags are not minor flaws that can be compensated through outward piety. Love bombing after an incident is not the same as repentance or showing remorse.
One in four Christian people surveyed had experienced abuse in their current relationship.
Women who’ve been advised to stay with their abusive husbands even if he’s been violent have been given the wrong advice. This is not how marriage was supposed to be, and women do not need to put up and shut up for the sake of religion.
You won’t hear many Christians defending or advocating for divorce. But, in my experience, separation and divorce have been a blessing. To some cultural commentators, I might just be a statistic demonstrating the collapse of society, but statistics don’t show you how much good fruit can come from getting a divorce and leaving a toxic marriage. My children and I are in a much happier, healthier, and more stable environment now that I am a single parent. Through divorce, I have found healing and restoration.
To anyone experiencing domestic abuse, know that you are not alone. I encourage you to contact the organisations listed if it is safe to do so.
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – http://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ (run by Refuge)
- Online chat function provided by Women’s Aid.
- The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)
- Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
- Rights of Women Rights of Women - Helping Women Through The Law
- Restored UK Christian organisation aimed at helping Christians to be free from Domestic Abuse. Home - Restored (restored-uk.org)
- Premier Lifeline is a national Christian confidential helpline open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays). 0300 111 0101