The Misguided Mission of Barbara Roberts
Barbara Roberts, along with her partner at Cry for Justice, Jeff Crippen, is on a mission. A self-described survivor of domestic abuse, she wants to "awaken the evangelical church to the presence of domestic violence and abuse in its midst." No argument. The evangelical church needs to be watchful for signs of marital conflicts and especially cases of domestic abuse.
However, there is more to Barbara's mission. Barbara has written a book on divorce, Not Under Bondage, which according to her book blurb does the following:
The way that God sets victims of abuse free is through divorce. According to the blurb:
- defines domestic abuse as a pattern of coercive control (not just physical violence)
- explains the scriptural dilemmas of abuse victims
- carefully examines the scriptures and scholarly research
- shows how the Bible sets victims of abuse free from bondage and guilt.
I think this is a fair summary of an argument she would make:
- The Bible distinguishes between "treacherous divorce" and "disciplinary divorce".
- Disciplinary divorce is permitted by the Bible. This applies in cases of abuse, adultery or desertion, where a seriously mistreated spouse divorces a seriously offending spouse.
- Treacherous divorce is condemned by the Bible. It occurs when a spouse obtains divorce for reasons other than abuse, adultery or desertion.
- If the offending partner was sexually immoral, the Bible allows the non-offending partner to remarry.
- If the offending partner abused, deserted or unjustly dismissed the other, and the offender has been judged to be ‘as an unbeliever’, the Bible allows the mistreated partner to remarry.
- Domestic abuse includes a person's being mean and insulting resulting in the other partner's feeling persecuted.
- A wife (or, in rare cases, a husband) who is married to such a person has grounds for a "disciplinary divorce."
- Therefore, the cure for being married to a person who persecutes you is divorce.
Now, before I go any further, let me make clear that I do not believe any husband (or wife) should be mean. When I think of mean people, I am reminded of the saying that the only reason some people are alive is because it is illegal to kill them (and sometimes wonder if that is the reason I am yet alive).
If meanness leads to physical violence, that physical violence creates a necessary separation, which, if it cannot be remedied so as to make the non-violent party safe, is grounds for divorce. The violent person in effect deserts by making it necessary for the other person to leave in order to protect her (or his) physical well being.
Moreover, I think that people and life, in this world that is very far short of the new heavens and earth for which we look, are complicated. That includes the reality and tragedy of divorce. Life has its ways of knocking you up side the head and showing you that it is not nearly so simple as you once, without justification, thought. There is a great deal of unhappiness and misery in marriages, including Christian ones. Some people would be much better off if they had had the wisdom to see - or if someone had convinced them of what they could not see - that such was the incompatibility of the two persons that happiness was most unlikely. Sometimes, despite the fact that it is not Biblically approved, such persons divorce. Sooner or later they remarry. I do not believe such divorces mean that God does or the church should write such people off. Just as God is far more holy than liberal churches imagine, God is often more merciful than conservative churches think. God's conservative people might take a lesson from him.
But, on to Barbara Roberts....
Since Barbara had responded to my views earlier by finding me so invincibly ignorant that she would waste no further effort trying to educate me, I had not thought about her or her take on divorce until this past weekend. The Epistle lesson for Sunday, May 7, was 1 St. Peter 2:11-17, and I chose it as the text for my sermon. This required me to do a little review of St. Peter's letter so I could place my text in the book's context.
My review reminded me that St. Peter was writing in the early 60s to believers in churches in the area of modern day Turkey in a time when there was sporadic and local persecution of varying degrees of severity throughout the Empire. His readers either were being persecuted or were facing the threat of persecution. This is the historical context of and the primary reason for the letter.
- Peter reminds his readers’ “for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6).
- He encourages them that if they “must suffer for righteousness’ sake” they “will be blessed” (3:14).
- He knows some will be brought before courts, so instructs them to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15).
- He tells them…
- not to “be surprised at the fiery trial that come comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (4:12),
- that “if you are insulted for the name of Christ you are blessed” (4:14),
- and that “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (4:16).
- He lets them know “that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brethren throughout the world” (5:9).
Peter's counsel to persecuted Christians is to respond to criticism and mistreatment with good works, especially the good work of submission. He introduces this theme of submission in chapter 2, verses 13-17, where his main concern is the submission of Christian citizens to the Roman (Nero the Emperor) government:
He seems to return to the relation of Christian citizens to society and government in chapter 3, verses 8-17:
In the process of counseling persecuted Christians Peter, besides addressing Christians as members of society and citizens of the state, addresses two persecuted groups of people. In 1 Peter 2:18-25 he counsels servants who are persecuted by their masters:
1 Peter 3:1-7, he addresses wives and husbands with particular concern for who experience mistreatment from their husbands:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.Peter's message to Christians is: It's not unusual if you face mistreatment and persecution as Christians. Is it as a member of society? Don't make war on society. Do the good works of a member of society. Is it as a citizen of the Empire? Don't join a revolution. Do the good works of a citizen. Is is as a servant in relation to your master? Don't run away from your master. Do the good works of a servant. Is it as the wife of a husband? Don't divorce your husband. Do the good works of a wife.
Dr. Edmund Clowney wrote (in his exposition of 1 Peter in The Bible Speaks Today Series): "In the case of wives also there is the possibility of mistreatment. Christian wives are to remain faithful to God under pressure; they are not to deny the Lord for fear of their unbelieving husbands (3:6). But the submission wives are to yield to their husbands represents more than an opportunity to bear injustice for the sake of Christ. Peter presents this submission as an adornment of the Christian woman, the beauty of a meek and quiet spirit that is pleasing to God."
Imagine that - we as Christians are called upon to bear mistreatment and endure persecution in this world. Sometimes it occurs in marriage.
The problem with the mission of Barbara Roberts is that it plainly misguided and decidedly unbiblical. There are women (and men) who deserve our sympathy and need our support who will instead be lead astray.