How Churches Treat Women Who Divorced for Abuse

by | Nov 1, 2023 | Abuse | 54 comments

Why divorced women leave evangelical churches

Divorced women are not finding evangelical churches to be welcoming places. 

Despite the fact that many women endured years of trying to make their marriage work even in the presence of their husband’s abuse, infidelity, or substance abuse, when the divorce is finalized, churches often ostracize these women.

As Gretchen Baskerville at the Life Saving Divorce says, more than one million God-honoring divorced women can’t find a safe church

Last week on Episode 211 of the Bare Marriage podcast, Naghmeh Panahi shared her story of being bullied by Franklin Graham to stay in an abusive marriage. Her story is all too common. 

As domestic violence awareness month has just ended, I wanted to share some stories that have come across my social media this month as I’ve been asking women for their experiences with church post-divorce. 

I know men also struggle post-divorce, and I also know that men can be treated cruelly in marriage. However, because of gendered teaching in church, women are more likely to be blamed for marriages splitting up when it’s not their fault, and men are more likely to become addicted or cheat than women are, and are more likely to commit marital rape. Men also physically harm their wives exponentially more than the other way around. So while the church also has a problem with how they treat men whose wives have treated them terribly, I’m going to focus on what women have said, because that’s where most of my audience is.  

(And check out our domestic violence awareness merchandise that’s available until the end of the week!). 

How the church treated women post-divorce

Here’s what some women told us, both in our Patreon group and on our Facebook Page. There were so many stories, and they were all heartbreaking, but I’ll leave just a few:

Judging the Divorced Woman

“I was married to an abusive pastor who has a substance abuse problem (along with a few other things). I stopped going to the last church my son and I attended because I was tired of being treated like a fourth class citizen (2nd class would have been an improvement).

I have not actively looked for another church because I find myself having to relive the trauma every time I have to explain that yes, I have a seminary degree, yes, I have a biblical divorce (by even the most legalistic standards), and yes I have about 30 years of church leadership/ministry experience, and be told (again) that I’m disqualified from this, that, or the other despite me sharing my trauma again and again.”

So she’s disqualified from ministry because she left an abusive man who was also a serial cheater. But think of all the men who are currently using porn who are still in leadership. This drives me bananas. How does this have anything to do with God’s justice?

Siding with the Abuser


 “A few years ago I went through a break up and divorce (over abuse and infidelity). I was shunned, completely, by our church and my ex husband was given support.

I was a single mum of 4. I lost not only my husband in all that, but my church and my friends also. I had no family support either.

Going through a divorce is so hard and mentally and emotionally exhausting, not to mention the stress of how you are going to provide for your kids, where are you going to live, how are you going to mentally cope. And if you have divorced over abuse or infidelity then all the pain that you need to heal from comes into play so support is crucial.

STOP JUDGING these women!

You only know what you can see, you don’t see what goes on in the home, behind closed doors.”

This is one of the most common things I hear–the church chooses the side of the abuser. Why? Because the church simply wants the marriage to stay together, so they will choose the side of the one who wants the marriage to continue, even if they’re the one who ended it through their betrayal and abuse. 

 “What the church  did wrong:

  • allowed my abusive ex to attend church
  • spoke “God hates divorce” from the pulpit
  • nobody called or checked in on me. Nobody asked to meet to pray with me. Nobody asked how they could help. ALL OF THEM told me they would pray for my husband to come back to the marriage.
  • when I asked for help keeping boundaries at church (ex who attends is not supposed to bring his gf around our son; and he did, at church) I was denied any help because “we don’t want to prevent people from hearing the Lord.”

But I was avoided like the plague, because it’s so uncomfortable to approve of a divorce publicly even when they agree divorce needed to happen.”

Not kicking out the ex and the girlfriend effectively re-traumatizes the divorced woman every Sunday. And to do so in the name of “the gospel” when there are countless other churches they could go to? That’s disgusting. 

“Not taking sides, is taking a side and it hurts. 

Having a way to hear both sides but also identify abuse, infidelity and addiction (specifically narcissistic abuse is difficult)and holding the perpetrator accountable is extremely important. There are a few cases in which both parties are toxic and equally responsible. But in many cases there is a definite perpetrator. And having the church hold the victim and the perpetrators as equal is so damaging. Having a community that held me while I grieved the loss of my marriage and recognized my victimhood would have gone a long way towards helping me heal. 

As it was by refusing to take sides I didn’t feel safe enough to express what had really been going on at home, and I was left on the outskirts of the community because I couldn’t be sure how much he shared and with whom. I never felt more alone than I did the first 6 months after my divorce.”

So well said! Even if the church doesn’t explicitly side with the abuser, by not standing with the victim, you’re essentially standing with the perpetrator.

Trying to prevent divorce at all costs


“I am stepping away from church to heal while going through a divorce due to painful things as said by Christian brothers and sisters. Telling me what God would want me to do stops me from hearing and interpreting and I needed to make the decision with God and without influence. Being told Satan is deceiving me was one of the worst things I’ve heard. A friend recently said “don’t be defensive I just want to make sure you are hearing the Lord’s will and not your will.” She wanted me to give her all the scripture I’m using. I don’t think she believes divorce is Biblical.”

I would have loved for the pastor/elders to have believed me. My x and I spent a year with the senior pastor in “biblical counseling” and the pastor finally gave up bc my x didn’t do any of his homework. Four years later, I filed for divorce. I was excommunicated and was told that I didn’t love the Lord.”

Shunning Divorced Women

“I was kicked out of church for divorcing, even though the abuse was known. I went to another church with a pastor who advocated for me in many ways, and that was so helpful. But the church people were mostly very stand-offish. In some ways, especially policy-wise, single moms were well cared for. The church sponsored a small group for us, paid for child care while we met and fed us & our kids a meal. But when there was a ladies retreat, while they paid for any single mom to go who couldn’t afford it, they put us in a room by ourselves.

In fact, for any church function, the single moms were always seated as a group, never to mix with the rest of the church. It was uncomfortable at best. There was no personal help or even conversation in church. Just “that group”. Like they thought we were contagious. 

I was never invited to a Bible Study group. Only asked to provide child care for the groups.”

Is it any wonder divorced evangelical women are shunning church? 

Yes, many still attend, but the evangelical church has a huge divorce gap that isn’t present in other denominations, as sociologist and pastor Ryan Burge shows in this article about divorce from Christianity Today


Unlike Catholics, black Protestants, or mainline churches, evangelicals flee church post-divorce. And considering that so many of these women especially are at the lowest point in their lives, after escaping abuse; dealing with trauma and their children’s trauma; barely making ends meet; dealing with family courts and the horrible stress of custody issues and continued abuse; healing from betrayal–for the church to abandon them then is beyond cruel.

Become a part of the movement

Join 40,00 others and let's change the evangelical conversation about sex

When someone divorces for abuse, infidelity, or addiction, they are not the one who ended the marriage. The abuser, the cheater, the addict did.

Yet instead of surrounding the victim with care, we often ostracize them, because we value marriage more than the people in it.

I’ll end with the same thing I said at the close of last week’s podcast: This week, as you go into church, think about the people you know who have just gone through a divorce. Welcome them. Talk to them. Ask them how they are. Invite them for dinner. Offer to help with something. Just be a neighbor!

And if you see them missing from the pews, check in on them–not to find out why they’re not coming to church, but just to make sure they’re okay and to offer to help.

Let’s not abandon our wounded.

Divorced women leaving evangelical churches

What do you think? Have you seen women who divorce leaving your church? What has your experience been? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Clay

    Try bring a man who divorces his wife for choosing to withhold sex for over a year. Despite thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of counseling. And the church refusing to even address the issue.

    Same treatment but even worse.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very, very few women choose to withhold sex for no reason, Clay.


      women frequently reach orgasm
      feel emotionally connected during sex
      have high marital satisfaction
      have no sexual dysfunction
      have no porn use in the marriage

      And when mental load and emotional labor are shared–women tend to want sex. I tend to point men to this post on 10 questions to ask if a woman doesn’t want sex (and there’s a corresponding one for wives here).

    • Grace Vernaton

      Hello Clay,
      All people, men and women, should be treated with kindness and respect in the body of Christ.
      Desiring to have regular and fulfilling sexual relations with one’s spouse is normal and good, as this is a gift from God himself.
      It can be very frustrating to have sexual relations as well as any other kind of intimacy with one’s spouse withheld for long periods of time.
      If your situation warranted intervention from church leadership, both for you sake and for your wife’s sake, the leaders should have been willing to step up and help the two of you.
      I do respectfully ask you to shed light on how exactly the church’s response toward you after your divorce is worse than what these women’s testimonies have demonstrated? Would you mind helping us see your situation a little better, please?

      • Clay

        Wow, thanks Grace. Thank you. Thanks for attempting to empathize and out yourself in the shoes of a husband who has had all sexual activity taken away for such a long time. Not saying I’m a perfect or even an ideal husband at all, but I did make a genuine measurable effort to work on myself and serve my wife during that time, but to no avail.

        To answer your question, describing my situation as “worse” was a poor choice or words on my part. My bad. As far as what the church, it all boiled down to instructing me to just wait till she’s ready. Don’t discuss sex or put pressure on her. Which was the same instruction given in month 1, 6, 9, and 12 of celibacy being unilaterally forced. The advice never evolved despite the continual passage of time. And the advice included don’t ever talk about what the Bible says about sex and marriage bc that’s legalism. But the church had no problem quoting scripture word for word about tithing 😆😆.

        Which led to the lose/lose situation of I couldn’t bring up the issue to my wife (despite how gently and carefully I tried to word it) and she never initiated. So despite all the time and “church counsel” the dry spell was never broken.

        Broke my heart. But thanks again for asking. Nice to have a Christian lady show some genuine interest and compassion for my situation versus just yelling or getting mad at me or telling me I’m dumb.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It sounds like the advice given was actually pretty good when it relates to not talking about what the Bible says about sex (because the Bible does not say anyone has to consent to feeling violated, which she would have. Sex biblically is intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both). You shouldn’t be pressuring your wife to have sex; you should be finding out why she doesn’t like it.

          Did you ever explore the WHY?

          Because sex isn’t really the issue. It’s relationship; it’s porn; it’s past trauma. I’m curious why you think your wife was just withholding for no reason.

          • Clay

            No ma’am, none of those specific issues. The “why” she gave was normal life stuff. Tired from driving the kids around, stressed from work, and in her words sex just wasn’t important to her.

            These whys typically led to her consistent conclusion that “I don’t have to have sex if I don’t feel like it”.

            Sheila, there’s not always a reason like those you listed when people choose to withhold. Sometime people choose to destroy mutuality/partnership/compromise and replace it with self absorption/self centeredness.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            So, Clay, I’m just wondering–why would you say that you left her because she didn’t have sex with you, instead of “I divorced her because we were growing apart and she wasn’t valuing the relationship?” I mean, even the way you phrased it makes it sound you valued sex over her.

            So she’s super busy and tired, and she works outside the home too. Did you also drive the kids around? Did you also care for the house? Were you as tired as she was?

            Because if you were not as tired as she was, then THAT was really the issue in the marriage. And the fact that you’re talking about the issue as if it’s sex rather than the marriage does say where your priorities lie. And honestly, that is a HUGE turnoff for most women, especially when they’re feeling really busy caring for the family.

            Do you think there was anything you could have done to help her be less exhausted? Did she feel like you were a fully engaged partner? Because very, very few women in great marriages decide not to have sex.

            Also, when you were having sex before this, was she regularly reaching orgasm as often as you were? Or was sex more about you?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Or, to put it another way, from your comments you seem to be insinuating that there was nothing wrong other than her refusal. So let’s assume you’re right–sex is super orgasmic for her and you’ve made sure she feels pleasure; you’re not watching porn and you’re staying faithful to you so she feels cherished.

            Wow, and she decided to have no sex despite this? Her life must be REALLY bad then. And you’re actually telling us it is–she’s super exhausted.

            If you were a loving husband, why didn’t you address that?

            What you’re telling us is that you were a super loving husband who gave her amazing sex and who didn’t watch porn, but then when she got so tired she didn’t even want this super amazing sex, you just up and left her? Do you see why that may be a difficult story to see you as the good partner in all of this?

          • TJ

            I completely agree with your point about not bringing up what the Bible says about sex in this situation. (“Let me use scripture as a cudgel to compel you to have sex with me; I’m sure that’ll work great!”)

            Although I will note that it can get to feel very “stuck” and hard to really explore the “why” when talking about sex is indefinitely off the table. Or at least, when the higher drive spouse initiating conversations about sex is off the table.

            I understand that’s the way it needs to be to avoid pressure and obligation. But I empathize that it can become difficult to accept when it’s been years. I speak from over a decade of experience here.

            Focusing on improving all the other aspects of the relationship may often be the best course that can lead to positive change, but it isn’t always a guarantee. Sometimes people just naturally have little to no sexual desire. Maybe they’re on the asexual spectrum, maybe they love you deeply and are emotionally attracted to you but just don’t feel a primal “spark” of physical attraction for you, maybe there are physiological or pharmaceutical reasons, who knows?

            In those cases, sometimes all the higher drive spouse can do is try to work on themselves and find a way to accept that this is the way things are.

        • Grace Vernaton

          Thank you for your honest and heartfelt response, Clay. I don’t think that there are any easy answers here. It is, indeed, heartbreaking that your marriage ended, regardless of the reasons. Your marriage, as in all marriages, was made up of two imperfect humans. I certainly do wish sex was easier, but I sincerely believe that it must also be part of the « sharpening » process that is so necessary in marriage. In any case, you and she both have your own futures ahead of you. I hope that your ex-wife finds a way forward should she re-marry. As for you, I do pray that you might find a wife who loves God and loves you. That said, should you decide to take the plunge into Sheila’s book, you just may find some real treasures of advice to help you and your future wife have a great sex life in the future.

    • Cynthia

      Are you complaining that you were not welcomed as someone who had been divorced, or are you complaining that the church didn’t tell your wife to have sex with you?

  2. Jo R

    I totally understand laws against covert recording of people. On the other hand, so many abusers are Jekyll and Hyde that an exception needs to be made for victims to record abuse, no matter what form that abuse takes.

    If a soul-saving divorce is going to boil down to he said–she said, then the victim (of either sex) needs to be able to offer proof.

    As for how we treat the divorced, I look back very sadly on how I behaved with various friends, and I gnash my teeth at myself, because I assumed the husbands were “good Christian men.” Abuse and trauma education absolutely have to be taught in society in general and in the church in particular, at least until the church corrects its view of women in society, the church, and marriage. And frankly, I doubt the church will get this right anytime soon, so it’s simply going to continue producing more victims in its women members. 😢 🤬

    I’m reminded of this and similar posts by Ngina Otiende:

    • Cynthia

      Laws on this vary from one place to another.

      I do have cases (I am a divorce lawyer) where there are recordings, but I also see abusers try to weaponize them. In one case, they filmed a toddler crying while the mom had gone downstairs to get something to try to prove she was unfit (imagine filming instead of actually comforting the child!), another case the abusive husband showed up and recorded his wife yelling at him to get away from the house so he could paint her and angry and crazy (which she isn’t and there is plenty of other evidence of his long history of extreme abuse). Recordings that are used without proper context are a problem. So are videos where kids are asked leading questions or being coached.

    • Cynthia

      My other point may be a bit controversial, but if we are talking about proving abuse to a church rather than a court of law – maybe churches can simply believe someone who says that the marriage could not continue.

      I understand that courts need proof, esp if someone is going to jail or will lose rights to children. But the process of providing proof is difficult and stressful, and IMHO there isn’t any need to make someone do it just to justify why they are no longer able to stay married.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire


      • Angharad

        I agree that if someone just turns up to your church as a divorcee then they don’t need to provide any evidence for the reason their marriage ended. The problem with just taking someone’s word for it is if both husband and wife are members of the church and they disagree over the truth. For example, accepting an accusation without investigation could result in the accused spouse being requested to stand down from a ministry role or even asked to leave the church when they had done nothing wrong. So I can see in these situations, there needs to be some attempt to work out who is telling the truth.

        • Cynthia

          I could see that if there was something about an ex-spouse that was actually dangerous to others, there might need to be an investigation. Still, I think it might be possible for a congregation to simply screen for issues, asking if there is anything that they should know about that can possibly affect the safety. There may be situations where a marriage was not good and divorce was the best option, but it doesn’t mean that one spouse was a dangerous monster.

          If there does need to be an investigation, how many congregations would actually be competent to conduct one? This is a specialized skill. Might it interfere with other legal processes going on at the same time? I could see a congregation saying, “we’ve had your ex express some concern that there have been negative interactions. We would ask you to avoid communicating with her or being too close to her at services, and giving her appropriate space and privacy. If this is a problem, we may need to recommend that you attend elsewhere.” I could also see that they may ask to see court papers if safety concerns were identified (although I have to add that having criminal charges dismissed does NOT mean that abuse didn’t happen, it could simply mean that there was a technicality or a plea deal).

        • Bernadette

          Does a church really have to bar someone from Ministry because of divorce?

          I mean, what the default was to presume innocence?

          She divorces him. Don’t bar her from Ministry for divorcing for no good reason… unless someone can prove she did it for no good reason.

          He is accused by his ex of being abusive. Don’t bar him from Ministry for abuse… unless someone can prove he abused her.

          Of course, it might be more complicated than I’m imagining.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think the difference is when both people want to keep attending the same church. In that case the church may have to step in and ask one to leave (the one doing the abuse/infidelity), and in that case it does get messy.

          • Angharad

            Bernadette, it really is complicated. What would you do in the following situations?

            An elder in the church is divorced by his wife who accuses him of being physically abusive and controlling. Do you remove him from leadership on her say-so when she could be making it up? Or do you allow him to continue in a position of pastoral authority where he may be a danger to other women if she is telling the truth?

            A man who leads the church’s ‘young adults’ group is separated following an accusation of sexual abuse. Do you remove him from his leadership role when she could be lying or do you allow him to continue leading a group which contains a large number of young women who could be at risk if she is telling the truth?

            In either case, if he is innocent, then any alteration to his ministry role is only adding distress to the trauma he is already going through. But if he is guilty, then NOT making changes could result in lifelong harm to people the church is meant to be protecting.

            Just one of many reasons I’m glad I’m not on a church leadership team!!!

          • Angharad

            (Obviously, the above examples would also apply to women who were accused – I’ve used male examples purely because they represent real-life situations that I’ve come across in the past. In both cases, the church decided to go down the route of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And in both cases, the church’s decision resulted in further people being harmed.)

          • Cynthia

            I think it could be possible to have a formal policy, especially for volunteer positions where employment laws don’t apply, that the church will ask someone to step aside in the event of ANY allegation that may impact safety or comfort of anyone in the congregation, while any investigation is ongoing. Stress that this is an automatic thing, with no assumptions to be made about the person.

            If the outcome of an investigation determines that the person may pose a risk to others, that needs to be disclosed. Otherwise, if the person simply moves on to another congregation, they could pose a risk to others.

            They should also be clear that sometimes, marriages need to end but it doesn’t mean that someone was dangerous to others.

    • Lisa Johns

      I don’t know what state you’re in, but in my state you can record just as long as you are part of the conversation. I don’t know if that helps or not, like I said, I don’t know where you are nor what the laws are for you.

  3. Angharad

    A lot of churches are more concerned with how they appear than how they really are.

    When I was in my mid 20s, I asked my church leadership about their attitude toward a particular man who had been divorced for abusing his wife and kids and who was predatory toward other young women in the church. The response was very enlightening. “He’s young, good looking, an eloquent speaker, happy to lead services and preach…if he’s challenged, he might leave the church and we can’t afford to lose men. We have dozens of women, so if a few of them leave, it doesn’t matter.”

    And there you have it, ladies. It’s a question of statistics. “Female, 18-80” is a common species in church. “Male, 18-80” is not. I wonder how many of us have to leave the church before we become rare enough for the church to care?

    But if your church is the kind of church that ‘needs’ abusive, controlling men in its membership, then your church is not the kind of church I want to belong to anyway.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Angharad! What a horrible, horrible way to look at how to handle abusive men. Yuck.

  4. Divorced mama

    I really wanted to say this on your original fb post but as it might be a little controversial, I’d rather do it anonymously. My child’s father is not involved apart from a phone call every 4-6 weeks. I really wish the church would support single divorced moms (and dads) as much as they do families that are fostering or have adopted and parents that were widowed, or even half as much. I see outreach events, respite care nights, and various other outpourings of love for these families and I definitely agree that they need it but I wish someone would see me and all the other single parents like me. There are many that are doing it alone because their “coparent” has decided not to be involved. It really hit home for me when I saw all the love and support a single friend of mine got as a foster and then adoptive mom. I asked a pastor friend about this once and he said it was because the church didn’t want to look like they were “supporting” divorce.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly. So much is about appearance. It’s so wrong.

    • Angharad

      How about they look at it as ‘supporting church family’ instead?

      Seriously, there is so much woolly thinking about divorce, it makes me mad! One of my divorced friends was told that she could get married to her new fiance in church. But when he found out that she was planning on inviting family and friends to the ceremony and having a wedding reception, he told her she couldn’t do that. Apparently, he was only happy with the wedding going ahead if no one knew about it. (Not sure how he planned on explaining away the kids they ended up having if no one knew they were married…)

      In a weird way, I actually have more respect for the churches that say outright they don’t agree with divorce so they won’t allow divorcees to remarry/become church members or whatever – at least they are consistent to what they believe is right. But churches who go “oh yes, you’re welcome as a divorced single mother…but we can’t offer you any support because we might be seen to support divorce” or “oh yes, it’s fine for you to remarry, just don’t tell anyone because we don’t want people thinking we don’t take divorce seriously” are basically not concerned with what’s right at all – they are just worrying about what other people think of them. Maybe they should read their Bibles occasionally. Jesus had quite a lot to say about people who were keen to look good outwardly while not caring about their hearts…

  5. Jo R

    “I wonder how many of us have to leave the church before we become rare enough for the church to care?”

    I’d like to think a permanent “Strike at Putney” would have an effect. Women could meet as a group with their friends and “have church” in different homes, and even at the local park when the weather’s nice.

    After all, house churches, where several people share a word from the Lord at each gathering, are actually depicted in the New Testament. Hour-long monologues with no congregational interactions are not described at all.

    • Jo R

      (Should have been a reply to Angharad, but using the Reply button did not put it in the correct place.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Strike at Putney is awesome.

    • Lisa Johns

      I will AMEN all of that! The hour-long monologue every Sunday is especially irksome. So boring, mostly, and nothing being said that really teaches us anything new. (Sorry, church, but it’s not how we were designed! We are designed to interact, not sit while one person does all the talking!)

      • Willow

        I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this here, but I want to welcome everyone to attend our church. It is hybrid, so you can attend online from anywhere (I often do!). We have a diverse congregation from many different walks of life and Christian backgrounds. Our service consists of participatory praise, guided discussion/Bible study, and community prayer (where we individually and collectively pray for each other). We don’t pass an offering plate even, but everyone’s needs are cared for. It is a very open and welcoming little community. We meet on Sundays at 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern and you are all more than welcome! Women lead frequently and are important voices in our discussions. We are a non-denominational community church that deeply studies the Bible and focuses (in our lead elder’s words) on “other-centered, co-suffering love.” Sheila, I think you know our lead elder because you’ve quoted him favorably here.
        You can learn more about us at I hope you can join us!!

  6. Anonymous

    A friend tried a church years ago when she moved to the area and the pastor came by that same week to her house to introduce himself. He then asked if she had ever been divorced. She said,”No,” and he replied, “Good. I wouldn’t allow you to attend my church if you had. But now I know, you can come to my church.”
    Right, guess which church she never set foot in again? I suppose the bright side is at least that church identified itself as toxic from the beginning.
    That church also ran a preschool where a different friend’s kid attended, and he was getting beaten up by a bully with no real action taken. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. If it’s toxic in one area, it’s probably toxic elsewhere.

    • Grace Vernaton

      I am very uncomfortable when a pastor refers to the church where he serves God as being «  his church ». I want to support my pastor, but I do not wish to venerate or worship him.
      I find this pastor to be creepy from the start.

      • Anonymous

        Absolutely agree! That part was also incredibly troubling when she told me.

  7. Jen

    We had a friend who was abusing his first wife and then his second wife. It was obvious. My husband and I used to argue about whether or not it was abuse. He was not dismissing the wives or children and he saw their pain, but he was trying to show “mercy” toward the husband and explain his behavior, get him support, etc. He did not want to label the abuse and he did not want the women to leave. I was absolutely mystified as to why my husband refused to call our friend out on his treatment of his family.

    Fast forward to my husband confessing that he’d been a serial cheater and liar our entire relationship, and his response to our friend’s abusive behavior becomes clear. He was seeing our friend’s behavior through his own behavior and his own fear of losing everything. He was not able to label his own behavior as abusive, so how then could he name our friend’s behavior as abusive? Telling the truth about our friend would have required him to name his own behavior. That’s log vs speck in the eye level stuff as well as major cognitive dissonance and self defense playing out.

    I wonder how often this happens in the church. Men who are hiding behavior in the dark are frightened when that behavior comes to the light in other men’s lives. They see the turmoil, the consequences, the destruction of the women and children, and they simply cannot face it. So they defend the other man. They try to find a way to solve the abuser’s problem so that the marriage doesn’t end as a way of safeguarding their own marriage. It’s immensely sad because men like my husband are blinding themselves to hide their own sin, and who loses? The wives and the children. That is not justice – it is whitewashed tombs.

    For my husband to speak the truth about our friend would have been to name his own sin, and he couldn’t face the truth about himself. However, if my husband had faced the truth and talked to this man who was abusing his first two wives, I am pretty sure that nothing would have changed. The abuser would not have listened (he’s on to wife three- God help her). And that is key — the focus needs to be on the oppressed first. Get them to safety. Then, when the whole community is surrounding the oppressed, maybe the heart of the oppressor will soften. When everyone says, “Hey! You’re doing marriage wrong!” maybe abusive people will see the need to change.

    There was no way for me to talk to our friend simply because he doesn’t respect women. So I helped his second wife escape while he was out of town – literally.

    If the rates of porn use in the church are true, I think a big part of the church’s response to abuse is shame. If the abuser is found guilty and loses everything, that cuts way too close to home. When many of these men are defending abusers, they are really trying to cover their own sins. And women who actually divorce abusive men? Well, they have to be treated as pariah. To not do so would be to admit how terrible and common abuse is.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is excellent, Jen, and, yes, a huge part of the problem. They see themselves in the abusers, especially if they’re using porn (and half are).

  8. Nessie

    With the last quoted reader, I can see where a church feels it’s being attentive by placing the moms of a similar life circumstance together, but it’s rather like the Mother’s day discussion from a while ago. Has the church actually asked the women if they would like to be together or mixed in?

    I don’t know of anyone at my current church who has been divorced but we are fairly new and they’ve been very welcoming and healing. Of course, there are often a few outliers as with anything.

    I know a few people who left a previous church though who found the courage to divorce their abusive husbands once they were out from under the church’s spiritual abuse. I don’t know their experiences after that.

    It shouldn’t be so difficult to find a safe, accepting church for various issues.

  9. Lisa Johns

    “You only know what you can see. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.” Never a truer word.

  10. Laura

    When I divorced my ex-husband 21 years ago, I left the megachurch that we attended together and had sought marriage counseling. Since it was a large church, we didn’t know many people well so I was not treated poorly for getting a divorce. I left that church mainly so I could get a fresh start as a single-again woman. I went to another megachurch (I lived in a large city at that time) and found an awesome support group for domestic violence survivors. I felt welcome at that church and met other divorced people, so I never felt shame there. Then I moved out of state two years later and lived in smaller towns.

    It was some of the women’s Bible studies where I began to feel the shame of being a divorced woman. One pastor’s wife had said to me that if my husband and I had received “godly” counseling our marriage could have survived. “Hello, lady!” I so wanted to shout to her. I had already mentioned that my ex sexually assaulted me throughout the last year of our marriage, so why would I want to go to church for marriage counseling when these teachings about male entitlement existed? Whenever I heard testimonies from women who had been in abusive marriages that survived because they prayed and obeyed God. Then their abusive husbands changed. I felt such guilt heaped upon me, but I have to realize these women’s experiences are not the norm. I believe that abusive spouses can change through the help of God, but I do not think that those being abused should stick around and endure abuse like John Piper suggests.

    Recently, I had attended a Southern Baptist church where the pastor said that if a marriage is abusive, he encourages the abused to seek safety with the hope of reconciliation. I was not comfortable with that response. This same pastor also says that women should not be pastors or deacons. Well, I decided I would never attend that church again.

    I think churches need to stop living like white-washed tombs and get real. People get divorced and usually not for frivolous reasons. People fall into addiction. People struggle with life and the church needs to be a healing body.

    • Lisa Johns

      I got to listen to a woman talk about how her marriage was so bad, “BUT GOD…” several weeks ago… I wanted to go throw up. I had one of those “but God” moments in my marriage about a year and a half ago, and it wasn’t more than a month later that I realized that nothing had changed and nothing was ever GOING to change. I had to acknowledge that unless I was willing to settle for a “marriage” in which there was only the most superficial of connections between us and this was never going to change, I needed to get out.
      But, back to the topic about how things change because the wife “prays and obeys God,” this stuff just makes me so angry. This trope is used to condemn, not encourage, and it just needs to go away.

      And incidentally, this women still had that kind of downtrodden look that people who are struggling always seem to have. I would guess that her marriage is not something to be envied even now.

  11. Shoshana

    My mom left my dad when I was six, and we mysteriously stopped going to church. I didn’t go back to church until adulthood and heard enough horror stories about how divorced people were treated. I asked my mom if this is why she left the church, but she said no one even knew she was getting one as my father never went to church much anyway. Maybe she knew the status quo and got out of dodge fast? Who knows as she said it was so long ago she couldn’t remember and going to church as just “another thing on the to do list” so she quit church as an overwhelmed single mom. Whatever it was, we never went back. After my first marriage ended in divorce, I decided to try a new church. They asked me my marital status, and I said divorced. They wanted to come to my house for a “home study” whatever that was? Did they want to see if I was living in sin, or did they want to see how much money I had? I don’t know, but I declined their home study and never went back. Never knew what that was about.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      A “Home study”? That is so creepy and controlling! I’m so sorry.

  12. Micah

    So the husband refused to do any counseling homework for four years, yet the church excommunicated the wife after the divorce? Where’s the logic in that?

    Incidentally, this brought to mind the story of my cousin’s step-father’s divorce. As I understand it, he and his first wife were having trouble in their marriage, so they went to a friend for counseling. She ended up sleeping with his friend, the counselor, and the result was a divorce. My aunt (his second wife) and he ended up switching to a non-denominational church, largely because the denomination they attended wouldn’t allow him to be involved in ministry as a divorced man, despite the fact that his grounds for divorce were entirely biblical.

    So yeah, it can happen to men too.

  13. Abigail

    While not yet going through a divorce, I’d like to share where I am currently at with churches. I started seeing a counselor. This counselor was tapped into many church communities. In the beginning, the relationship we had was functional or so I thought. Long story short, she encouraged me to speak with my current church pastor. She knows him personally and they are good friends. She also knew how two previous other churches in my area after learning about EVERYTHING in my marriage – the emotional and verbal abuse, adultery, and substance abuse – sent me back home time and again with the instructions “Pray harder, offer more sex, cook meals he loves, do not leave him because you can’t. If you do we cannot help you.” There was never any intervention to hold him accountable for his continued abusive behaviors and forceful solicitations of sick favors he expected from me. What there WAS was a continual acceptance and warm reception of him each time we attended church together. My counselor assured me, repeatedly, that my current pastor would not do the same thing to me. He would help. I trusted her and I took a leap of faith – told him everything – every sordid ugly detail. There were questions and some discussion on options but the options did not include my husband or any accountability or church action against him. Instead, as a parting gift for being transparent with him, he asked, “If I may, are you two having relations?” I said no. He asked, “Can you tell me the last time you did?” I said that I was not comfortable answering his question. He then said, “I understand but here’s the thing. This difficulty in your marriage is not on you alone. If you can just see Jesus standing there as you and your husband are at your most vulnerable, provide him the release he needs as you make it a sacrificial offering to Jesus, God will honor your commitment as you care for your husband in this difficult time he may be having in the marriage, too.” I was done.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Abigail, I’m so sorry. That is such a betrayal. What did your counselor say when you reported what the pastor said?

    • Jo R

      Why do so many counselors and pastors assume the wife isn’t ALREADY doing more, praying harder, having more sex (than she wants), and generally making the husband’s life as easy as possible, and has been doing all of those things for literally years if not much, much longer?

      Those “tips” are what ALL the books, women’s Bible studies, sermons, podcasts, Sunday school classes, and women’s retreats have been saying for DECADES.

      Women know the song sheet.

      Where are the instructions to a husband to make sure his wife is having at least as many orgasms as he is having, that he pulls his weight in daily, weekly, and monthly household tasks and child-rearing activities, that the man treat his wife as his romantic partner instead of as a combination personal assistant, maid, accountant, cook, and on-demand porn star? You know, why isn’t he treating her like he did while they were “just dating”?

      And by the way, Abigail, that counselor and pastor both are a$$holes.

      • Jo R

        And frankly, I am suspicious that the counselor revealed things to the pastor, which is of course grounds for the counselor to have his license revoked by the state.

    • Nessie

      I would RUN from that pastor! Trying to convince you to have sex with your husband while imagining Jesus standing over you two watching is majorly creepy to me!!!

      I’m kind of surprised the counselor didn’t recuse herself when she knew the pastor so well in your case… maybe that isn’t necessary legally though? I just don’t know.

      I’m so sorry. This sounds terrible.

  14. Jenn

    I don’t have much faith left. I have felt abandoned by God and others. I’ve been married a long time. The controlling started almost right away. If we were watching TV together and he had to use the restroom, he would take it in there with him so that I couldn’t watch anything! Plus, he wanted full control of it later too when he returned to the couch. Later, our marriage became destructive. Through lies and hypocrisy. I didn’t know I was being abused until year 13. Last year I finally worked up the courage to see an attorney. As I was getting ready to file for divorce, he lost his job. Months later, he still doesn’t have anything steady. It’s been hard in so many ways. The only Christians I feel comfortable talking with are counselors. They understand unlike most people. If a woman stays in a toxic marriage, she will be ridiculed. And if she leaves, they will tell her that she is destroying her children’s lives and that she isn’t perfect either. There is no winning!

    • Shari Smith

      I am so sorry to hear all of this. You deserve so much better, both in your marriage and from the church. I hope you find a community that feels safe for you.


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