November 29, 2016

Enough is Enough

Gary Thomas — 

Abusive Men

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

What does it mean to “hate” someone we are elsewhere called to sacrificially love? We are told to love even our enemies, yet Jesus here tells us to hate some of our closest family members. What could that mean?

Hatred here is Semitic hyperbole. In essence, it means “love less than.” There are times when our love and allegiance to God may be at odds with human loyalties; in those cases, love for God, His light and the way of truth, must always prevail.

It’s okay (actually, commendable) for me to love the Seattle Seahawks. But if my wife needs me to take her to the hospital in the middle of a game or needs me to pay her some attention, I have to act like I hate the Seahawks and not even consider my love for them in service to my wife.

Let’s apply this principle in regards to how the church views marriage and divorce.

I recently spoke at a long-standing North American woman’s conference and was overwhelmed by the quantity and horrific nature of things wives are having to put up with in their marriages. Between sessions, I was bombarded by heartfelt inquiries: “What does a wife do when her husband does this? Or that? Or keeps doing this?” It broke my heart. I felt like I needed to take a dozen showers that weekend.

This may sound like a rant, but please hang with me, as I think this conference was a divine appointment. I can’t get this out of my mind.

One wife began our conversation with, “God hates divorce, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe He does.”

“So I’ve just got to accept what’s happening in my marriage, right?”

When she told me what was happening, I quickly corrected her. “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.”

Her husband is a persistent porn addict. He has neglected her sexually except to fulfill his own increasingly bent desires. He keeps dangling divorce over her head, which makes her feel like a failure as a Christian. He presented her with a list of five things he wanted to do that he saw done in porn, and if she wasn’t willing, he was through with the marriage. She agreed to four of them, but just couldn’t do the fifth. And she feels guilty.

God hates divorce, right?

This is monstrous and vile. This woman needs to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.

A young wife, barely in her twenties, held a baby in a blanket and looked at me with tears. Her husband has a huge temper problem. He’s made her get out of the car on a highway with her baby, twice. “But both times he came back for us,” she said in his defense when I looked absolutely appalled. They were separated and she was living with her parents. She wanted to know if she should take him back because his psychiatrist supposedly said there wasn’t anything really wrong with him. Her husband doesn’t think he has a problem that, in fact, the problem is with her “lack of forgiveness.”

They had been married only three years and she had already lived through more torment (I’m not telling the full story) than a woman should face in a lifetime. My thoughts weren’t at all about how to “save” the marriage, but to ease her conscience and help her prepare for a new life—without him.

Church, God hates it when a woman is sexually degraded and forced to do things that disgust her. It should also make us want to vomit.

When a young man is so immature he puts his wife’s and baby’s life in danger on a highway (amongst other things), the thought that we’re worried about the “appropriateness” of divorce shows that our loyalties are with human institutions, not the divine will.

As Kevin DeYoung so ably puts it, “Every divorce is the result of sin, but not every divorce is sinful.”

Another woman told me about putting up with her husband’s appalling behavior for over forty years. I was invited to look in her face, see the struggle, see the heroic perseverance, but also be reminded that counsel has consequences. So when I talk to a young woman in her third year of marriage and it’s clear she’s married to a monster, and someone wants to “save” the marriage, I want them to realize they are likely sentencing her to four decades of abuse, perhaps because of a choice she made as a teenager. When these men aren’t confronted, and aren’t repentant, they don’t change.

Jesus said what he said about divorce to protect women, not to imprison them. Divorce was a weapon foisted against women in the first century, not one they could use, and it almost always left them destitute if their family of origin couldn’t or wouldn’t step up.

How does it honor the concept of “Christian marriage” to enforce the continuance of an abusive, destructive relationship that is slowly squeezing all life and joy out of a woman’s soul? Our focus has to be on urging men to love their wives like Christ loves the church, not on telling women to put up with husbands mistreating their wives like Satan mistreats us. We should confront and stop the work of Satan, not enable it.

Look, I hate divorce as much as anyone. I have been married for 31 years and cannot fathom leaving my wife. I have prayed with couples, counselled with couples, written blog posts and articles and books, and have travelled to 49 of the 50 states and nine different countries to strengthen marriages in the church. By all accounts, I believe I’ve been an ambassador for improving and growing marriages.

The danger of what I’m saying is clear and even a little scary to me, because no marriage is easy. Every marriage must overcome hurt, pain, and sin. No husband is a saint, in the sense that every husband will need to be forgiven and will be troublesome and even hurtful at times to live with. I’m not talking about the common struggles of living with a common sinner, or every man and woman could pursue divorce. (There are many men who live with abuse and could “biblically” pursue a divorce as well.) Charging someone with “abuse” when it doesn’t truly apply is almost as evil as committing abuse, so we need to be careful we don’t bear “false witness” against a spouse to convince ourselves and others that we can legitimately pursue divorce to get out of a difficult marriage.

That’s why I love how some churches will meet with a couple and hear them out to give them some objective feedback, helping them to distinguish between normal marital friction and abusive behavior. Some women need to hear, “No, this isn’t normal. It’s abuse. You don’t have to put up with that.” Others need to hear, “We think what you’re facing are the normal difficulties of marriage and with counseling they can be overcome.” There’s no way a blog post (or even a book) can adequately anticipate all such questions.

I love marriage—even the struggles of marriage, which God can truly use to grow us and shape us—but I hate it when God’s daughters are abused. And I will never defend a marriage over a woman’s emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

I went back to my hotel room after that woman’s conference and almost felt like I had to vomit. I don’t know how God stands it, having to witness such horrific behavior leveled at his daughters.

Enough is enough!

Jesus says there are “levels” of love, and times when one loyalty must rise over another. Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.

Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, “This is over” and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.

Christians are more likely to have one-income families, making some Christian wives feel even more vulnerable. We have got to clean up our own house. We have got to say “Enough is enough.” We have got to put the fear of God in some terrible husbands’ hearts, because they sure don’t fear their wives and their lack of respect is leading to ongoing deplorable behavior.

I want a man who was abusive to have to explain to a potential second wife why his saintly first wife left him. Let men realize that behavior has consequences, and that wives are supposed to be cherished, not used, not abused, and never treated as sexual playthings. If a man wants the benefit and companionship of a good woman, let him earn it, and re-earn it, and let him know it can be lost.

Enough is enough.

I know I’m ranting. But I don’t think it was an accident that I was constantly stopped at that woman’s conference and forced to hear despicable story after despicable story (“forced” isn’t the right word. I could, of course, have walked away). I think God wanted me to see the breadth and depth of what is going on, and in this case, perhaps to be His voice.

Message received! We are called to love marriage, but when marriage enables evil, we should hate it (love it less) in comparison to a woman’s welfare.

 

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365 responses to Enough is Enough

  1. Gary,
    I found out about you Enough commentary via a link sent to my wife from her friend who has been abused by a pseudo Christian psychopath husband. It’s amazing how these guys work the church leadership system to make themselves look good. Honestly, when I encounter these stories of naive church leadership it makes me angry at first but then turns to nautiousness thinking of the abuse they enable. The guy I’m thinking of hops from church to church, it’s scary and reviling. Really impairs our gospel witness to the world. He has ruined his wife’s life. She is so damaged that she is suicidal and harms herself. She has several kids and her kids suffer now also. I have warned my daughters that I will not put up with them being abused. I will warn their future husbands once before they get married. After that I will abuse them in my own fatherly way if they harm my daughter. There will be no “turn the other cheek.” I’ve been listening to my wife describe her friend’s ordeal for 2 years. It is so sad to ponder the devastation. I really hope you run with this topic in the church realm. We get such a bad rep since we don’t really clean our own house. May God give you the resilience to persevere such a horrendous malady on society and the courage to address it head on.

  2. YES! Thank you. Divorce is not looked kindly in my family, especially by the Christian members. BUT my cousin’s first husband did drugs and wouldn’t stop, so she left. When she tried to go back and try again, bc he asked, durning an argument, he pushed her onto their front yard and waved a gun in the air and threatened her. She said she was afraid to tell me and my family she was filing for divorce. I interrupted her to say that his behavior was dangerous and NOT ok at all and that if she wanted to go back, I wouldn’t let her bc she was more valuable than that.

    I think we HAVE to be in the business of calling a spade a spade and not normalizing or making women tolerate this crap at all. Thank you for seeing and listening and responding!!!

  3. Gary, you have given those of us working with abused women such a powerful gift in these words. As a marriage advocate, pastor, and man, what you say on this topic holds great weight. I work most specifically with women whose husbands are porn/sex addicts. Spiritual crisis is such a normal part of that journey, and the church is often pouring gas on the fire: by telling women they have no right to leave (even if he offended against the children, slept with dozens of other women, was physically/sexually violent to her for years, etc.) Thank you for getting and demonstrating Christ’s heart for abused women.
    May I also repost this article (probably in 2 parts) on my blog: beyondbetrayal.community ?

  4. Gary,
    I believe there is Truth in what you said(The danger of what I’m saying is clear and even a little scary to me) I believe it was dangerous and what I’m reading in this blog scares me. I am in marriage ministry. My daughter was given the book Sacred Marriage by a personal friend of yours about seven years ago. I also read the book and refer to the saying what if marriage wasn’t meant to make you happy but holy often. You recently came to our church and spoke and gave some very good advice. This blog was forwarded to me by one of my friends who is looking for a way out of her marriage. As I told her and tell many women I believe there is a third option besides divorce and remaining a victim. To me that option would include setting firm boundaries and sticking to them while getting the help that they need for their own sickness which is usually codependency which enables the abuser to continue in their sickness. Does God ever say to us that enough is enough and do away with us once we are His? I pray this blog will open the eyes of the church and we will learn how we can best help the victims of abuse which I believe are both the husband and the wife because remember who the enemy is and that the abuser is just him as much of a victim and needs rescuing also.

  5. Love this!!!! Thank you so much for standing up for God’s daughters!! ❤

  6. Thanks so much for this article. I was bawling my eyes out as I read this and still crying as I type this. After being married for 27 years, staying at home as homeschool mom, i was devestated when my husband passed. I remarried a few years later to a widower and thought I could have a great marriage. I saw my wedding vows as a covenant between my husband, self and God. I loved my husband very much but problems surfaced on the honeymoon. With out saying things that would shame my husband, let me just say that when a man or woman never takes responisibilty for their wrong actions, blames the wife or husband for everything and claims he/she has the right to treat her/him this way, a person can be destroyed by their actions. I dont know if they dont see what they are doing , dont care what they are doing, or are just to arrogant to stop, but I thank God for the people who saw my situation and told me to get out! As a christian we feel as though we should keep trying and if we do something different , God will step in and fix it. The hardest thing I have ever done is to separate from my husband. I cry everyday for what should have been and wasn’t. I am seeing a christian counselor who says I have a biblical reason for divorce, but growing up hearing so much about how God hates divorce in the church, and how we are suppose to forgive leaves me feeling as a failure. Thank you for your words of encouragement as I continue on my journey of trying to piece my life back together.

  7. Gary, I love most of your works on marriage, but this post is not I support completely, even though it has some place to be. It contents some dangerous things. Many women may use it in wrong way. You should remember the Word: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Pro 18:17 NKJ). When women come to You with their plead, it seems she is right, but you don’t know all situation. I believe there are problems in every marriage. And I am afraid this teaching may be foundation for increasing percentage of unnecessary divorces and lot of pain in vain. It won’t bring glory to God. You won’t be happy to be the part of this process in the end. I think every marriage (even bad marriage) doesn’t need to stop its existence, it needs healing. Those couples need recovery, they need good counseling, not divorce. We need to talk with both of them to counsel them for recovery.

    • Valery,

      In the case of “difficult” marriages, I agree with you–that’s the whole point of Sacred Marriage! But when the relationship has become destructive and the husband won’t repent your perspective becomes dangerous.

  8. With tears running down my face I thank you Gary Thomas. I can’t possibly read all the comments but enough to feel validated more than once.
    I do believe God spoke through you to me and many, wirh the exact words we need to hear. I won’t go into my story, but can say I identify with the women you spoke to.
    Like others we went through many Counselor’s all Christian’s and some actual pastors in our church. Only once was my ex told he had a serious issue and if not addressed he’d lose his marriage. It was the only counselor who actually saw the bruises, because that happened only once. Because my abuse was very emotional. But not being allowed to leave a room for 6-8 hours at a time while being berated is abuse. Not being allowed to look any man in the eye, even pastors, is abuse.
    But I told myself marriage is hard. I cried out to God while locked in a closet too many times. But was convinced this was my 40 years in the desert. I also stayed because I believed my husband was sick and if he would get care and maybe even meds it would get better.
    Please note- he went to church and worshipped with abandon. But my child and I now talk about how we were always afraid driving to church and praying he’d be in a good place after. But we never knew what might set him off. He attended men’s bible study where he’d come home and say how the others were so thankful he was there because his advice comforted them and gave them hope. My child and I tried not to glance at each other fear our shock would be noticed.
    So you see, these men are often “pillars” in their communities. Hugely successful at work and the poster child for what a good neighbor looks like. So when the church doesn’t support us, and we literally haven’t worked outside the home in years, we become prisoners n our own lives. Playing a part so as not to be the cause the volcano erupts. He had all the power.
    Girlfriends encouraged me to leave and sometimes even their husbands echoed them. But when we finally escaped none of them were there to help. And the church I was so heavily involved in, who finally came to know the details after witnessing one of his sudden burst of anger, literally turned their back on me. When I walked in alone or with my child, they no longer greeted us, or even looked up.
    I’m sorry this is so long but let me just say Gary, this should be your next book. But may I suggest a few chapters?
    -speak to the abuser directly
    -speak to church leadership. They don’t all believe we should stay, they just don’t know how to help us.
    -speak to the abused
    And please don’t address this without asking for Gods guidance on how to address the question about remarriage.
    I’m in my 50’s and swore if anything ever happened I would NEVER remarry. Because biblically it says I can’t. And because I would never want to risk being controlled like that again. BUT, I have never been so lonely in my life. Most of us lose our married friends (which is the majority of them if not all) I have no living relatives and I lost a huge family when the marriage ended because they stand by him, even though they have known of our issues. They truly don’t acknowledge I ever existed. Not even to our child. And I don’t see my child as much now that he’s grown.
    God knows how much love I have to give. He designed us to need others.

    Yes I volunteer and have made a girlfriend of two. But it doesn’t replace having someone to eat dinner with, or watch tv and discuss what’s on. Unless you’re someone who loves people, and are now living alone can you imagine how many he solitude is suffucating. Until your post I thought I was being punished for finally getting out. I thought suffering in my new prison… of living in silence, was part of my punishment. I’ve been convinced i failed and although He’s a forgiving God, the Bible says this isn’t truly forgiven. If I was I wouldn’t be banned from belonging to a family. But I guess there are those who are single, married, widowed and (time to gang my head in shame) the divorced.

    What’s breaking my heart into pieces is realizing I felt better after reading your words, but after reading my own I feel sad and still alone. Marked with a D on my head as someone not worthy of being happy, as God intended. If this is true… I will pray for the young ones who get out early like the girl you spoke of left on the highway. At least I’m closer to the end of my life and will live alone for only 20-30 more years.
    … and just when I thought I couldn’t cry anymore tears… the gate is re opened.

  9. Gwendolyn Randall December 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Thank you THANK YOU for this article. I could add to your list of sickening stories, but after years of therapy, have found love! and am waiting for my “sealing” to my ex to be cancelled so I can have a forever family with a real man that I have been given. I covered up my ex’s disgusting and criminal behavior for 2 decades, and when he finally left me for another woman he continued to attend the temple and teach Gospel Doctrine classes. Talk about confusing for my children! He was given many heart-felt and charitable opportunities to repent by priesthood leaders, but I never told the full story because I was scared to, so he has not felt the full responsibility for his actions. Once a bishop told him straight up for an hour to repent or loose his priesthood. He changed for a year or so, till he went right back to his stuff. Now, I am doing awesome but my kids will always carry the scars. Oh to have every priesthood leader be as strong as the one I mentioned!

  10. Spot on. I see positive accountability through mentorship as the helpful solution. I want to see this in every church…

    • Monthly mentorship for the newly engaged couple from a committed Christian couple, married at least 30 years and vetted well—from 6 months before they marry, through the first year.

    • Quarterly mentorship/accountability after year one—for the rest of their marriage! Till they die! Even mentors need mentors!

    In each meeting, the guys break off and the girls break off. They ask HARD questions. Then they come back together and work through the hard answers. If you set this up with a couple BEFORE they get married, they will be more inclined to keep with it when they see the benefits month after month, year after year. It’s ALWAYS better to prevent, than try to fix. Of course we aren’t always fortunate to have this situation. New members, starting the program, etc. But that’s okay.

    Pastors need to be preaching this from the pulpit every 3-6 months. Women need to be empowered to get help and not be enslaved. The countless addictions beyond these big ones can also do great damage. Satan uses this tool to make our marriages ineffective to our wives and our children—and hence, to the rest of the world.

    Men, we need to be pure before the Lord and with our wives. Loving our (closest) neighbor as ourselves is not enslaving her this way. If you know you are doing these evil things, get help. If you’re not sure, get help. If you’re not struggling in this way, GIVE help. Challenge your friends. All of them. Ask them. Bring it to light. Good leaders ask great questions—ask your bride if there is anything that you are doing or saying that she struggles with and give it great thought of how to die to self and live for Christ. Take every thought captive!!! If we continue in this evil, we become ineffective for the Kingdom.

    In Christ alone…

  11. Gary~

    I’m thankful for your post and your heart. I am constantly looking for pastoral allies in the fight against domestic violence, and I can see that you’re one of them.

    In 2007, I met with a woman for the last time. She attended my church and was the 4th wife of her husband. She disappeared two months after the meeting with me where she told me that her husband had killed his 3rd wife.

    After she disappeared, I learned as much as I could (still am, actually) about domestic violence. Sadly, it exists to the same degree in churches, as out of church. It must change!

    No longer should abusers be coddled and protected, while victims are shamed and marginalized for refusing to reconcile with their deceptive and hate-filled manipulators.

    If you’re in an abusive relationship or are in ministry and want to join our efforts, go to DocumentTheAbuse.com or contact me directly.

    Peace,

    Neil Schori
    (Names have been removed for security purposes.)

  12. Rose Wild-Woods December 2, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    I have also read many of his books, he’s never condoned staying in an abusive matraige. Rather he is now more aware than ever just what abuse in the Christian home looks like (having herd from so many women at once).
    I endured 18yrs of abuse because the church as a whole has held marriage over abuse, most of us have been way too silent, have not wanted to expose our husbands, stayed for the sake of the children beleiveing children from a broken home would turn out horrible… The teachings go on and on !
    Thing is, I do not believe the church really has any idea of the level of abuse going on due to things like, porn, headship teaching, and not addressing mens pasts.
    Gary, being a front runner in marriage teachings, has now only begun to understand how pervasive and perverted these men are.
    We can not condemn him now, as he is speaking out, and he will surly receive much hate mail due to this article.

  13. Rose Wild-Woods December 2, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    I thank the Lord that finally someone is writing about this.
    I walked out of an 18yr marriage, 8 children, 7counselors in 10yrs,
    I thought I would lose everything.. It was hard but I did not lose.
    God’s peace has never felt so good !

  14. Elizabeth, I don’t believe anything in Sacred Marriage supports or condones abuse. If you can find a passage that does, please let me know as I’d want to amend it immediately. The pursuit of holiness has nothing to do with abusing or staying in an abusive relationship

  15. Servant of Christ December 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I must admit that I was angry when I first read the article and all the comments. So instead of responding right away, I had to ask myself how would Jesus want me to respond, and it is very different than how I would respond. So I waited. But first I think everyone should read Proverbs 18:17 and then come back.

    Welcome back. I know this is a complicated issue, but come on, 99% of this is male bashing. I am not saying that we males are perfect or not to blame in some (or alot of) cases,but I have yet to meet a perfect person of either gender. We are all called to love one another. But Please note: What I am NOT saying is that a woman should stay in an abusive situation and what I am NOT saying, is that men are to be followed without question.

    But I do think that we have lost our first love, Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We are all servants of Christ. (Col 3:24 It is the Lord Christ whom you serve)

    We have truly put ourselves above Christ. We have put our comfort, desires, selfishness and pride first. (Men and women)

    Men, this is where we need to stand up and be spiritual leaders in our homes, but done in the love of Christ. Get off the computer, stop watching TV (Get rid of the TV, there is NOTHING good there), if porn is an issue then get help, you know it is not right, get involved with your kids and pray for/with your wives and children. Trust me, if you don’t do these things, the world will fill the void! (oh, and one more thing, helping around the house goes a long way, you servants of Christ)

    2 Tim 3:
    But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, [a]haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of [b]godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

  16. In an abusive relationship, meeting together with a counselor is very dangerous. My ex & I met with a licensed, professional psychologist (not a well-intentioned church leader), and not only was I suicidal by the end of our first & only session, my now-ex later took everything I’d said in counseling and used it to further his abuse.

    Your intentions are good, but the idea of a couple meeting together with a third party for determining whether their relationship is abusive is naive.

  17. This is the exact idea I have worked hard to explain to my friend in an abusive marriage. That God does not remain with His child is they have turned their back on Him and are actively pursuing idolatry with the world. He turns His back until they repent and return TRULY. OTHERWISE, He cuts them off forever. God understands and clearly articulates boundaries and what He will and will not accept as love towards Him (laid out in His Law). Why are we so afraid to hold the same boundaries?

  18. Yes!!! I have walked with women in the pits of this abuse for several years only seeing the depravity increase that much further by the “righteous” abusive husband telling the truly righteous wife that she is supposed to be “obedient” to him. It disgusts my soul. I have shared this with her as we continue to pray for her strength to leave after 15 years of the same abuse, which only got worse when he got “saved.” The pain our Father feels for this abuse taking His name in vain must be unbearable, yet He does it for us that we might shine light into the darkness. Thank you for shining, Gary! It is MOST NEEDED!

  19. Thank you. I was in an abusive marriage for 22 years. Porn addiction and neglect to the point our electric, water, gas, etc… Was turned off dozens of times. We lost our home, our car, he never bought me a birthday present of Christmas present…. Just an absolute lack of care or responsibility. I didn’t believe in divorce and he knew that and exploited that. I finally fell apart and fell away from church. Church people knew about it and I got pats on the back for persevering. I needed to hear then what I just read. I never heard that.

  20. Good article! God bless the families suffering through the abuse. Thank you for articulating the need for church leadership to take action.