The foundation of abusive relationships is often a liar‘s deceit. The relationship then is of continuous theft by that thief; taking through dishonest means, through false pretense, swindling. The theft might extend to financial theft, theft of dignity, theft through sexual coercion; many things. If an abused partner recognises their partner’s behaviours as unacceptable, and enforces reasonable personal boundaries even to separating or divorcing their abusive partner, it is a coward who then publicly slanders the abused partner for their own ends, a partner they abused all along for their own ends, and a partner they vowed their love for; a very feigned and false kind of declaration.
Deceit in a relationship comes through many means, such as through manipulation, projecting onto, falsely accusing, gaslighting, putting down, bullying, blame shifting, outright lying etc. Every act of deceit breaks trust, so that over time, trust may be worn away completely, to the point an abused partner can’t believe a word their abusive partner says, anymore.
If forgiveness is granted by the abused partner (though it should follow repentance(1) not mere ‘sorry’ words and a few tears) and repentance has not occurred, so that trust has not been able to be restored, it is not the abused partner whose heart is hard. The abuser has simply done nothing to restore trust, because their behaviour is still untrustworthy. It is the unrepentant abuser whose heart is hard. The onus should be on the untrustworthy abuser to add trustworthy act, to trustworthy act for as long as it takes to restore the broken trust, not on the abused partner to extend trust again where there is no evidence to warrant it. Trustworthy acts might include honesty, care when the abused partner is unwell, sharing finances equitably, respecting the abused partner’s belief that a separation is necessary for the abused partner, choosing not to intersperse emails ‘blaming the abused partner for choosing divorce’ with emails ‘demanding the divorce’, and so forth.
Is it also pastors, who accept an abuser’s ‘apparent’ remorse as a done deal, without negotiating any accountability measures, let alone having a protocol that stipulates these, that are hard-hearted toward the abused partner? the partner the abuser has just confessed to abusing?? for whom justice should be pursued according to scripture??? Is it also friends and in-laws who are hard-hearted, having witnessed and even remonstrated with the abuser regarding his (or her) inconsideration toward his (or her) incredibly patient spouse, when they allow themselves to listen later, to accusations against ‘the patient one’, by ‘the inconsiderate one’?
Loving is giving. If there is an abundance of unloving acts, of taking and using and lack of care, the sincerity of declarations of love is logically and reasonably to be questioned. If public confessions by the abuser of wrongdoing, and professions of love for the abused partner, do not yield the results the abuser was after, and are followed by slandering of the abused partner by the confessor, discerning people should be very concerned. If the hearers (Christian family, Christian friends, or pastors) of both the confessions and professions of love as well as the slandering, or those who are aware of it do nothing, they are labouring under a lack of insight and discernment at best, and hardness of heart toward the oppressed, the abused partner, at worst.
In considering two situations that come to mind [edit (add): where a concerned party might not act for an abused spouse]; one situation was already being laudably attended to by a gracious church who provided a means of accountability and mentoring to the erring spouse. In the second situation, a professional was one of many who received a mixed-message letter from an estranged spouse, which his code of conduct prevented him from responding to in any other way except to the writer, if appropriate, in session. Certainly, reassuring an abused spouse (or a one minute exonerated, next minute slandered spouse) of one’s support, and any personal perceived barriers to standing with them in a vocal way, would give a very different message to complete silence.
Isaiah 1: 17
‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’
If Christian friends and family don’t check in with the accused abused partner about the slanderous accusations against them, but rather accept them without direct enquiry of the accused, they fail to follow principles in Matthew 18:15-17 (below). If these principles are followed, the truth may be uncovered, and as a result, whether there is even any need of repentance on the part of the accused, or rather the accuser:
‘“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’
If friends and family did check in with the accused abused partner, they would understand why the accuser has not followed those principles himself (or herself) – because there are no witnesses to the abusive partner’s accusations, because the accusations are false.
If pastors fail to follow up the abused partner’s concerns about their abusive ‘professing Christian’ partner, they fail to follow principles in 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13:
‘But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”‘
They therefore fail to ensure safety for future victims, just as surely as failing to investigate allegations of paedophilia, inevitably results in further victims. The church is currently under scrutiny for their response to domestic abuse in their midst and yet pastors who don’t want to be involved and don’t investigate, and who don’t condone divorce yet find it in themselves to officiate at the abuser’s re-marriage to their next victim, are failing to meet either biblical responsibilities or current social expectations of duty of care.
Of course, we are all the Church who are believers, and a believing spouse who separates or divorces because of their spouse’s unrepentant sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander (whether behind closed doors or publicly), drunkenness (or intemperance by other means eg drugs) and/ or swindling (theft by deceit, which might include lying) may perhaps choose to do so with a clear conscience, in accordance with the 1 Corinthians 5: 13 stipulation to, “Expel the wicked person from among you”. This may be all the recourse left an abused, oppressed spouse in a community that identify as Christian, where none have either the discernment, or the heart to act on behalf of the oppressed spouse.
Even if the abuse in question is not currently criminal in their country or state, church discipline for conduct unbecoming a professing believer, at the very least may give pause to vulnerable future victims wanting to marry a Christian, and to family and friends of abusers who have some semblance of discernment, before they welcome the next victim into their unreformed family member’s or friend’s web of deception. Of course, the abuser may well accuse the church of some form of ill-treatment, and attempt to elicit more pity that way, but pastors make the abuser’s job easier, and fail to follow scripture, if they make no attempt to address the abuser’s behaviour because it is too difficult.
Accountability of pastors is higher because of their position of authority and the power base that comes with it. If they won’t get involved and won’t investigate, and instead enter the world of pretense of the alleged abuser, are they not cowards also? At best, they are still suckling ‘milk’, as they are not mature enough to chew on ‘meat’ or solid food.
Hebrews 5: 11-14
‘We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’
Such is also the case of family and friends who rate sentimentality toward an abuser over justice to those who were once their family member-in-law or mutual friend. Stand up for the oppressed, don’t turn a blind eye! Don’t pity the ‘poor soul’ whose spouse left with good reason – he (or she) should be alone until they are fit to treat their partner, or a subsequent partner, in a loving and healthy manner. Even if attempting to stay neutral, anyone who doesn’t stand for the abused partner, is complicit in support of the abuser.
Failing to address abusive behaviour of the abuser is actually a disservice to the abuser as well as to the abused, as much as to withhold discipline from a child is to fail to love the child. God disciplines us because He loves us. Isn’t the church failing to truly love abusive partners, if they fail to offer accountability measures (which for a time may include expulsion from fellowship) with an overall aim of restoration, not just in view of fellowship, but of the soul for eternal life?
Narcissistic abusers, who claim to be Christians, are constantly undermining their own goals, digging themselves a bigger and bigger proverbial hole of shame of their own making, in a series of doomed attempts at being an acclaimed success, and having all they believe they are entitled to. They do not stop short of further sinning against their innocent former spouses through slander, in order to deceive, and receive pity, and pave the way for their subsequent marriages to be deemed ‘biblical’.
If an abuser can’t come at accusing their abused partner/ former partner of adultery because there is ‘zip, zero, not-happening, nuh-uh, no’ evidence of any sexual unfaithfulness, another is to claim the abused partner was guilty of ‘desertion’ or ‘abandonment’. As indicated by comments on US divorce law, listeners to an abuser’s ‘pity me’ rhetoric, would do well to investigate what those grounds actually require, before they get sucked in by the abuser’s manipulation.
“ Abandonment means that one spouse has left the other without consent, but like adultery proving desertion means more than that a person left home without the consent of the other spouse. Most states require that the defendant or respondent left home for a year or more; that the parties failed to agree about the departure; that plaintiff or petitioner failed to pay support; and that the departure was not caused by the plaintiff or petitioner.”
“Constructive desertion happens when one partner causes the other partner to leave the marital home through misconduct. If one partner is forced to leave the home because the other’s misconduct, he or she has been constructively deserted. In this regime, the conduct of one spouse makes it impossible for the other to stay in the marriage.” (2)
So an abusive partner whose partner leaves because of the abusive partner’s misconduct, has no grounds to claim abandonment or desertion. Rather, the abuse survivor who leaves the abusive partner has grounds to claim constructive desertion against the abusive partner. As always, it depends on the jurisdiction and the judge, or the church denomination and the leadership, what would actually be judged in an individual case. At the very least, an understanding of the legal terms can aide Christian leaders, along with scripture, in wading through an abuser’s rhetoric. It can also aide the conscientious Christian to act with good conscience before their One True God.
If the abuser extends his (or her) assertions to further suggest the abused partner’s leaving constitutes behaviour that indicates the abused partner should be treated as an ‘unbeliever’, may God have mercy on that person’s soul, and on any who intentionally fail to investigate the matter beyond a self-confessed liar’s deceptive misrespresentations.
Abusers who are genuinely repentant need to sort their rubbish out and take whatever time is required by their partner/ estranged or former partner and/ or their accountability team (if they seek a subsequent relationship) to prove they are now fit to function in an interdependent relationship of mutual goodwill. This is not an easy task, and consequently thrown into the ‘too hard’ basket by many. Not however, by many of the oppressed; the abused partners/ former partners, the ones with ‘SILENCE’ figuratively taped over their mouths; the ones way back in the background being asked if they have ‘forgiven and moved on’, or perhaps who are offered pastoral care or counselling in the face of their attempts to advocate for justice for others who are abused, and future victims.
Yet, in Luke 19: 8, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” That is repentance; eager and generous restitution, not remorseful words, followed by unrepentant behaviour, followed again by slander of the innocent.
Anyone who fails to listen to the pleas of the oppressed, and does not investigate their concerns, do not do a subsequent Mr or Mrs X the III, IV or V any favours by gushing their happiness for the new couple – seriously. The liar, thief and coward routine simply starts all over again.
Proverbs 19: 19
‘A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.’
‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.’
1 Samuel 16: 7
‘But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”‘
Proverbs 17: 5
‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
the Lord detests them both.’
Following Jesus with courage, studying and following scripture diligently (to the best of one’s knowledge) leaves one with no regrets, whatever may be the choices of others.
I want to say (in case it means something to somebody) that though my separation from my abuser brought considerable relief from the day-to-day nightmare, and the divorce gave me considerably more relief through legal safety and independence (with no personal sense of obligation to ever reconcile and remarry him) his remarriage brought the fullest sense of RELIEF!! Though it was in a way the final rejection and fullest extension of his unfaithfulness, I celebrated! I found myself smiling, at moments, all that day and after!
Where the divorce did not preclude reconciliation and remarriage either legally or biblically, his remarriage to another woman did preclude any future remarriage between the two of us in biblical terms (Deuteronomy 24: 1-4) as I understand it. At any rate, ‘for the first time and forever’ no one in Christendom will ever ‘point the finger’ at me again, and say I am obligated to reconcile with a person who habitually chooses unrighteousness, who is unrepentant, and who ought to be treated as an unbeliever until he repents. YAHOO! Jesus, I’m all Yours!!
(That’s not to say there aren’t a myriad of issues that may attend a former spouse’s remarriage. The perspective shared above is just that, a perspective shared on one issue.)
(1) Jesus’ words to us in Luke 17: 3 are:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” (Bold added)
(2) Quotes retrieved at https://www.divorcesource.com/ds/divorceprocess/abandonment-and-desertion-in-divorce-309.shtml