Saddleback: Domestic violence no excuse for divorce
    January 9 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press


    (Editor's note: Orginally Associated Baptist Press attributed the comments and perspective in this story to Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren. This story updates and corrects that story, issued Jan. 8, and more correctly attributes the domestic-violence comments to Saddleback teaching pastor Tom Holladay. ABP regrets the error.) 

    Comments on the Saddleback Church website that the Bible does not permit a woman to divorce a physically abusive spouse have triggered concerns among advocates for victims of domestic violence.

    Pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch is Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Warren has been in the news of late as the surprise pick to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.

    Audio clips on a "Bible Questions & Answers" section of Saddleback's website feature a speaker who says the Bible condones divorce for only two reasons: adultery and abandonment.

    The speaker is not identified on the page, but a spokesperson for Warren said it is Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at the church in Lake Forest, Calif.

    "I wish there were a third [reason for divorce] in Scripture, having been involved as a pastor with situations of abuse," Holladay said. "There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, 'If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.'"  

    Holladay said Saddleback's counseling ministry advises separation and counseling instead of divorce in abusive marriages, because it's the only path toward healing. "There's an abusive cycle that's been set up," he said. "Separation combined with counseling has been proven to provide healing in people's lives."

    Holladay said there's nothing in the Bible that says a spouse must tolerate abuse. "There's nowhere in the Bible that says it's an attitude of submission to let somebody abuse you," he said. "That is not submission. So we recommend very strongly separation."

    He defined what he meant by physical abuse.

    "When I say physical abuse, I mean literally somebody is beating you regularly," he said. "I don't mean they grab you once. I mean they've made a habit of beating you regularly. You need to separate in that situation, because that's the only thing that's going to solve that."

    Obama's invitation to Warren has been criticized from the left because of his opposition to gay marriage and from the right by Warren's fellow religious conservatives, who fear his prayer will convey approval of Obama's left-leaning social policies.

    But Saddleback's published views on domestic violence are what recently caught the attention of Because It Matters, a blog by a lifelong Baptist and abuse survivor who uses the pseudonym Danni Moss to give anonymity to her children, family and former in-laws.

    The commentary "expresses a distinct lack of understanding about the nature, heart and spiritual roots of abuse," Moss said.

    "I think he believes he is doing right and doesn't realize his ignorance or how much he is hurting people, so this is offered without personal judgment," she added. "But I also believe categorically that it is dangerous."

    A women's-rights blog named The New Agenda called the views "alarming," especially in light of recent statistics showing a 42 percent rise in reports of domestic violence from 2005 to 2007. 

    Attempts to reach Warren for his take on the controversy Jan. 8 were unsuccessful. Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for Warren who works at A. Larry Ross Communications, confirmed the voice on the website is Holladay's, but said she does not know when it was recorded.

    Holladay also fielded a question about whether a Christian spouse should remain in a "miserable" marriage.

    "God sees you as one, and the Bible says they become one, and so the answer, the Bible answer, is yes," Holladay said.

    "I often say to people when they're facing this decision, really, you're choosing your pain in this moment, because it's going to be painful either way," he said. "If you stay in the marriage there is the opportunity for reconciliation and for the loss of pain, but there is going to be short-term pain on the way there. There's no way to not have pain."

    Holladay said there is an "immediate feeling of freedom" after a divorce -- but in the long run "there is lifelong pain in divorce."

    "Does God expect me just to live with this pain?" he asked. "No, I think he expects us to ask him for wisdom to do the things that would cause the pain to begin to be solved. He says we're one and as Christians, as believers, the Bible says a husband is to sacrifice for his wife and the wife is to respect her husband."

    "So if that's not happening," he said, "I think you have not only the right but also the responsibility to keep pushing for that, to not just settle for the pain."

    EDITOR: The first comments below were written when the original story attributed the remarks to Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. I've left them up because the discussion of abuse and marital relationships is still valid and I would like to see it continue. -- Norman Jameson

    1/9/2009 6:14:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 8 comments
    Filed under: domestic abuse, Rick Warren, Saddleback Church

Dr. James Willingham
Two things are clearly laid out in Scripture: 1) the husband's sacrificial love for the wife and 2) her submission. However, even on the latter one fundamentalist type friend really hit me hard one day, when he said, "Did you know that God once told a man to do what his wife said?" He was referring to Abraham doing what Sarah said to do about Hagar. The two sided nature of the Bible is a hard proposition for man who is extremely analytical in his thinking. The woman is often more suited to take a look at both sides of the proposition. She has a part of her brain that is larger with reference to right and left hemispheres than is man. Perhaps that is the reason. Even so there are times when obedience needs to be render without question. My son called me once to get an illustration he had heard me use concerning a missionary in Africa. He once said to his son who was standing under a tree, "Drop t the ground right now and crawl toward me." The son did, and it saved his life. Hanging in the tree where he stood was a deadly viper, ready to strike. On the other hand, any violence is out of order, a violation of the whole idea of love, and, if not curbed, immediately, can lead to disaster. The problem with humans is that they are too analytical (one of the reasons why the scientific method works so well and one of the reason why it also has problems. The biblical teachings are two-sided, apparently contradictory ideas. Mr. Spurgeon said it well, "The truth does not lie in the middle between the two; it is in both." As one who has studied intellectual history most of my life, especially as it involves biblical teachings and how the apply to human life, I can say that is the nature of synthetical thinking. The secret to a balanced, flexible, and creative Christian life style lies in the both/and approach, not the either/or unless the former involves doing something that is clearly a violation of those principles of gratitude and love and devotion which the Gospel of Grace inculcate as the way to live in response to God's greatest gift.
1/13/2009 11:33:02 PM

David MacEachern
Bro. Joe Babb,
It's not about you. It's not about me. (Hope you're not too turned off by the first sentence of this reply). It's all about God's glory. Sorry...
1/13/2009 9:31:34 AM

Artist: Thanks for the alert. I hadn't noticed the update from ABP on Friday afternoon.
1/11/2009 9:14:39 AM

You need to change this post. Warren isn't the one talking on those tapes - it's one of his staff.
1/10/2009 9:52:54 PM

Joe Babb
I was turned off by Warrren's first sentence in his Purpose Driven Life: "It's not about you". Really! I took the antecedent of "It" to be the title of his book. A logical conclusion I think. I ask if it isn't about us, why did Christ come to save US? Not only that, living our life as He taught is about US and how we treat each other. Here again, Warren, displays a very shallow understanding of Chritianity. Placing emphasis only on the God - Man relationship while ignoring the man to man principles is heresy! Warren seems to premote the Pauline teaching of submission of the wife while ignoring his teaching that the husband is to sacrifice for his wife as our Lord did for us. I agree with the above writers who pointed out the dangers Warren's position allows, I too, have seen first hand the results of not only physical but psychological abuse which, by the way ,can be inflicted by either gender of a marriage! Lord have mercy on us as we give mercy to others.
1/10/2009 9:36:51 AM

Karlheinz Valentic
This is simply sad.
Blessed are the merciful. set at liberty those who are oppressed...
1/9/2009 11:05:37 PM

Tim Marsh
What was Warren thinking!? Does physical abuse not violate Eph. 5:25ff? Do we not understand that the Bible is not meant to interpreted in the Pharasaical, outward appearance matters only, methods that Jesus and Paul actually combatted in the NT?

If your spouse is abusive, get help and get out! I am tired of religious leaders who shelter absolute injustice under the letter of scripture, and miss the intent of the one who inspired it.

Warren's comments are not only embarrassing, they are potentially dangerous.

Dr. Willingham, I agree with you, but the problem here is not the Bible per se, it is the interpreter of the text that is at fault. You indicated that the abused counselee needs advice grounded in reality. I believe, interpreted correctly, the Bible provides that kind of advice grounded in reality. We do not need exhaustive lists of acceptable reasons for divorce, nor are we given those. We are given that love in marriage is held to the standards of Christ's love for the church. Anything less is SIN! Meaning we ALL fail in marriage. Subsequently, when there is any kind of abuse detrimental to one of the partners, intervention, separation and possibly divorce is necessary. We should have these conversations in the church. However, its heremeneutics like Warren's that prevent these from occuring. I appreciated your thoughts.
1/9/2009 1:39:04 PM

Dr. James Willingham
The sad part about Warren's advice is that it might get somebody killed.When I first came to Southeastern Seminary in 1972, I met a fellow student who pastored in the mountains. It seems his church had in it a couple where the husband was abusing the wife. She left the man, the pastor and the church talked the woman in to coming back. The man killed his wife. The pastor said, "Well, we will never do that again." It was a little late for tha poor wife. I have an M.A. in Marriage & Family counseling, because I had to deal with some cases of sexual abuse. I needed more training, even though I had worked as a Social Worker in the Welfare Depts. of MO & KY. When you deal with falling (I use the active verb on purpose) human beings, you need a perspective founded in reality. Our views of the Bible, even when we believe the Bible to be verbal inspired, inerrant, and infallible (and I am one who believes it is), do not guarantee that we understand the Book enough as to what it really teaches in order to know how to apply them. There is a depth to the Bible that defies human understanding. A friend was fishing on a mountain stream in VA. He decided to cross the stream to go to another spot. He looked down and said,"I saw the grains of sand rolling along the bottom of that stream. I figured it was not more than 2-3 feet deep. I steppd off into that water and liked to have drowned. It was 18-20 feet deep." He barely escaped with his life. The Bible is like that. As one who was trained in intellectual history, the history of ideas, I can say that the Bible, inspired by Omniscient Being, is another medium, one that defies human comprehension, even when the Holy Write seems so that mountain stream in which my friend nearly drowned. Far be it from me to be too critical of Mr. Warren. We all goof now and then, and so it is with the work of knowing and applying the word of God.
1/9/2009 1:06:36 PM

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