Let’s Say it Again – You Don’t Need Your Church’s Permission to Divorce an Abuser

Est 1:16-18 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. (17) For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ (18) This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.

I have written on this topic before, but it has been quite a long time ago and I want to put it out there again. Most of you have probably noticed that on the home page sidebar of our unholycharade.com blog we have a standing announcement. It says that an abuse victim does not need her pastor or church’s permission to divorce her abuser. Where in Scripture are we instructed otherwise?  I can’t find it.

The church has authority. That authority comes from Christ through His Word. Churches have authority to preach the gospel – a right given by God that the world cannot override. Churches have authority to declare what is right and what is sin – as long as such declarations are what God’s Word says is righteous or unrighteous. You see it? The authority of the church rests upon God’s Word. We declare who is qualified to hold the office of pastor, elder, or deacon. We declare how the Lord is to be worshipped and how His ordinances are to be exercised. All because these things are set forth in the Bible and as long as we practice and teach what the Bible says, we as the church have the Lord’s authority for such practicing and teaching.

And the church has authority to put certain people out of her membership. Ex-communication. That authority is given by Christ clearly in Matthew 18 and other passages such as 1 Corinthians 5. And who is this disciplining authority to be exercised over? The sinning, unrepentant, professing Christian. That kind of person is to be the object of church discipline, not the victim of such a person’s sin. As regards the victim, the church has no authority to forbid divorce or to command her to take certain steps (ie, “counseling, increased patience, better submission, etc) while remaining in the marriage. Where in the Bible can we find (hint: we cannot) any statement that authorizes pastors or other church leaders to order these things?

“You are required to meet with the elders.” “You must obtain our permission to separate from or to divorce your spouse.” Really?  By what authority?

Now, why did I quote the verses above from the book of Esther? Because I think these Scriptures give a very common reason why churches and church leaders exercise this kind of unauthorized control over abuse victims. Do you see it? Men in charge (sometimes, amazingly, allied by women) are fearful that if an abused wife is allowed to divorce her abuser, lots more women in the church are going to see it and become “uncontrollable.” That really is what was going on in Esther’s day in regard to the King’s wife.

When churches and their leaders abuse their authority, they have no authority.  As Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” And God has not given churches and pastors the authority to demand abuse victims to have their permission before divorcing an abuser.


Leave a Reply