Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dem Bones Dialogue Series: Marriage and Domestic Violence II

Kent H is a conservative evangelical and biblical literalist. He has a M.A. in Religion and is currently completing his M.Div degree at Liberty University. He is also an ordained minister.
The biblical literalist's point of view is clear: If it is a part of the biblical revelation then it is true and accurate. What we know from the text concerning marriage is that "God hates divorce" (Mal 2:16) . It is true (as I understand it) that God (for the hardness of men's hearts) has allowed for divorce in instances of irreconcilable adultery or abandonment (1 Cor 7; Matt 5:31 - 32). And yes, it is true that in the structure of the family, the wife is to be submissive to her husband (Eph 5:22), with a biblical view of submission. But that is not all the Scripture has to say to the family. Both the wife and husband are given the command to "submit to one another" (Eph 5:21). The husband is told in fact to "love thy wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her" (Eph 5: 25). A pretty high mark of commitment!

I would take all that I gather from Scripture and say this: God hates divorce but He loves both members of the marriage. He has given both commands that are intended to strengthen a marriage and relationship of mutual trust and love. If either of the spouses violates the Word of God in reference to their relationship with the other, then a different part of the text takes over. Submission on her part is not the preeminent and end-all command. What about his "love" part.

My response to the article was first anger and embarrassment, that someone (claiming to be a man of God, etc.) could take his particular pet Bible verses and accept the texts he likes (ala carte) and make it say that a wife is to submit to an abusive husband. In an instance of abuse, the wife should have the husband arrested for breaking the law (the text calls us to honor the code of law also - Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-15). If the abuser can be helped, the wife can be slowly reintroduced to the marriage (there are a number of very good ministries specializing in this). If the pattern shows its head again, the wife should separate immediately. Her safety cannot be compromised because her husband is an abuser.

Bottom line: God hates divorce and has set VERY limited grounds for biblical divorce. God has called us to peace (1 Cor 7:15). Divorce should never be a hastily entered decision by anyone - even if that person is a victim of abuse. Divorce is not her only option. The abused wife should, however, separate from an abusive husband to insure the safety of her and her children - and hopefully facilitate needed rehabilitation, repentance, and counseling for the man she once loved as her husband. But the husband who has abused his wife and demanded such an unbiblical brand of "submission" that he can ignore biblical commands for his life, has forfeited his right to expect the wife to submit to his leadership. If the woman does assume this role, and separates from her abusive husband - and he refuses the needed change, she should assume that her separation is permanent. If the husband then divorces his wife, he has fully abandoned the marriage and the believing wife should move forward - as the Word would tell her: "a sister is not in bondage in such cases" (1 Cor 7:15).

I believe this view takes ALL the Bible literally and not just a few verses.

4 comments:

aznew said...

Kent, a question. I don't really know too much about biblical literalism, but you state, "[T]he husband who has abused his wife and demanded such an unbiblical brand of "submission" that he can ignore biblical commands for his life, has forfeited his right to expect the wife to submit to his leadership."

If the biblical commands are as you say, don't they apply regardless of the actions of the spouses involved? It would seem to me that the duty of "submission" (however defined), or the prohibition against divorce, are duties we owe to G-d, and of which we may be the beneficiaries, but they are not rights conferred upon us which we may retain or forfiet as a consequence of our own behavior.

At least, that is one way I have come to see my own religious beliefs and how they inform my life. My covenant, at least insofar as my spiritual life is concerned, is with G-d; civil authorities can legitimately govern much else.

Render unto Ceaser, and all that.

Kent H said...

Aznew,
Outstanding Question -- As I read my own writing, I realize that clarity is called for.
The wife's submission (rightly defined) is not dependent upon the husband's obedience to the Scripture. But the husband who would abuse his wife has redefined "submission" apart from the biblical definition and has therefore forfeited the right to have the marriage he demands.
The wife has her first commitment to God and His commands. And an abusive husband has no right to expect God to leave that wife in the abusive home.
And again, the prohibition against divorce is the wife's commitment to God first -- and as I stated in my response, that is not her only available response to the abuse she has suffered.
Your definition of faith as it pertains to rights and behavior is spot on. We are to obey regardless of what others may do. But I would say, many of God's promises in Scripture are conditional upon obedience.

Darren Staley said...

You said: "If the woman does assume this role, and separates from her abusive husband - and he refuses the needed change, she should assume that her separation is permanent. If the husband then divorces his wife, he has fully abandoned the marriage and the believing wife should move forward - as the Word would tell her..."

My questions are, what if the abusive spouse refuses to initiate divorce, out of spite or a belief in his version of submission. May the wife initiate the divorce? That wasn't quite clear.

Also, a divorce requires separation of at least a year in most states. My assumption is that you would advise the wife to steer clear from "moving on" during that period. But what about a divorce that is dragged out in a lengthy proceeding through no fault of the wife? In a way, the wife is still being held "hostage" to the abuser.

Kent H said...

The biblical literalist can never presume to make allowances where the text has made none. Scripture does not make abuse a biblical grounds for divorce.
In the scenario that I have laid out, the abused believing wife has taken the position of fulfilling her commitment to God and her husband even though the husband has obviously violated his. She would do this to help facilitate repentance and reconciliation for her marriage.
If her husband refuses biblical counseling, repentance, reconciliation, then the wife should assume her separation is permanent without initiating divorce (this obvious speaks nothing of what the husband should have done all along). But if the husband then proceeds to commit adultery (biblical grounds) or initiate divorce, the wife can move forward knowing that she has fulfilled her commitment fully.
As for the separation and lengthy divorce, I'm not sure if falls into the realm of this discussion. Such divorces are common without the issues of biblical divorce and are an unfortunate feature of marriages gone bad. The wife can again take solace in the fact that she has been faithful to God and her husband. God is so faithful to heal and award that kind of obedience.
Thanks again for the good questions.