How churches should respond to allegations of abuse

Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt have put out a very helpful discussion about how churches should handle allegations of abuse. It appears on their podcast “Mortification of Spin,” and you can download it here or listen below.


Trueman and Pruitt also take up the question of whether an abused spouse has biblical grounds for divorce. Working from the assumption that the Bible permits divorce in cases of adultery and desertion, Trueman argues that abuse is a form of desertion and thus can be used as a legitimate basis for divorce. For him, desertion cannot be reduced simply to abandoning a certain space. It must also include the abandonment of duties, and an abusive spouse is certainly guilty of that.

There are many evangelicals who disagree with this particular application of 1 Corinthians 7. Nevertheless, those evangelicals would still argue that abused spouses must be protected and even removed from the threat. I can’t think of anyone who says that a spouse should submit to abuse. Abusers must be reported to authorities, and the abused must be protected. Everyone agrees on that.

In any case, it’s a good discussion, and I commend it to you.

25 Responses to How churches should respond to allegations of abuse

  1. Alan Molineaux July 29, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    ‘ I can’t think of anyone who says that a spouse should submit to abuse’

    What about John Piper’s suggestion that the wife might have to endure abuse for a season?

    Is this not because the idea of ‘submitting’ is more important than the abuse?

    • Denny Burk July 29, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      No, Piper says that she is not required to submit to abuse and that she has recourse to civil authorities.

      • Karen Cox July 29, 2013 at 10:45 am #

        He said that later, only after he was criticized for what he said in the earlier talk. Also, why delete the Patterson comment?

      • Alan Molineaux July 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

        He quite clearly said she should submit for a season – even if he tried to change it later.

      • Hannah Lewis July 29, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

        I’ve seen the video where he said women should submit to abuse “for a season”. I’ve read the blog posts that exploded because he said such a thing. He did say it. It’s one quick and easy google search away.
        He did back-pedal later though, after criticism of his comments. Which is at least something. It’s disturbing that a “submit to abuse” attitude should exist anywhere in the Church to begin with though. The Church should fight abuse wherever it’s found more strongly than any other institution in this world.

      • Angie Sanderson July 31, 2013 at 9:54 am #

        I’m curious as to why my comment from a couple of days ago has been moderated out of the discussion. The comment is not significantly different than others posted and does not breach policy, so I’m just curious.

  2. Paul Reed July 29, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    “It must also include the abandonment of duties, and an abusive spouse is certainly guilty of that.”

    If you’re going to widen cause for the case for Biblical divorce (an oxymoron) to include this, you should know then that just about every divorce is Biblical. The Bible says the husband and wife have sexual duties toward each other. If they abandon these duties, is divorce then justified? And who gets to define abuse?

    • Alan Molineaux July 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      So Paul – what would be your advice for a woman who has an abusive husband?

      • buddyglass July 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

        Most folks who take a hard line on the necessary requirements for divorce would say: 1. report him to the authorities (which may involve him spending time in prison) and/or 2. separate from him until she has credible assurance the abuse won’t continue. I can’t speak for Paul though.

    • Todd Pruitt July 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Paul, clearly we depend a bit on (hopefully) sanctified common sense. As I say in the podcast, a hermeneutic that says, “There’s not a verse that says physical abuse is grounds for divorce,” is a poor hermeneutic (the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible). I am convinced that fornication and abandonment are given as grounds for divorce precisely because they are a severing of the marriage covenant, an abandonment of spousal duties. In the case of physical abuse the abuser has, it seems to me, severed the marriage covenant. Also, if an abused wife appeals to the civil authorities and the abusive husband is removed from the home or incarcerated, would that constitute abandonment? Is she then free?

      As far as your question concerning who may define abuse we must be cautious of course. There are, I assume, some who would want to define abuse as withholding sex or being hard to get along with. If there is a husband or wife who wants to argue such nonsense then hopefully they are in a church whose elders and pastors can give them biblical counsel, assistance, and discipline. But certainly we can agree that punching, kicking, shoving, etc are abuse. I hope we can agree also that bruises, broken bones, and lacerations are signs of abuse. In the case of genuine abuse, the shepherds of the abused person are responsible before God to report the offender to the civil authorities. They are also responsible to protect and care for the abused. Returning the abused to the abuser seems to me to be a failure to shepherd well.

      I wonder if we would require our daughters to return to their abusers so long as they had not committed adultery?

  3. Tom Parker July 29, 2013 at 9:46 am #


    Why delete my comment referencing Paige Patterson?

    Surely, what he said was relevant to what you have posted her.

  4. Denny Burk July 29, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Tom, can you provide a source for that comment?

  5. Roy Fuller July 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Here is link to article about Patterson’s comments on domestic abuse, referred to in comments above. There are links in the article which take you to original material from Patterson.

    • Roy Fuller July 29, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      In listening to the recording of Patterson, he clearly says that a women who is being physically abused should submit to the abuse.

      • Tom Parker July 29, 2013 at 7:49 pm #


        What is your understanding of what Patterson had to say? and as Roy Fuller gives you the cite I did not make this up.

        • Tom Parker July 31, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

          Denny: I asked you what I believe to be a simple question about Mr. Pattersons response to this lady who ended up with two black eyes and two days later no response from you.

          I’m just going to assume you will not answer me–that is quite telling to me!

    • Brent Walker July 30, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      Patterson said upfront in the recording that there are abuse situations in which the wife should separate from the husband and seek help. To me, the point of the story was not about submitting to abuse, but rather the power of prayer.

      • Tom Parker July 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm #


        I would really like Denny to respond to my question. Brent, differ with the point of the story. This lady came to church with two black eyes after staying with her abusive husband.

  6. Don Johnson July 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Per the works of David Instone-Brewer, abuse is a Biblical reason for divorce, per Ex 21:10-11. This is how Jews interpret these verses also and they should know. A covenant has vows and when one breaks the vows, the other party can declare the covenant void.

  7. Chris Ryan July 29, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    My grandmother was born in 1906 and she married at 16, unschooled in the ways of the world because her mother had died when she was very young. Her husband’s name was Otto and he was an alcoholic and violent man. My grandmother was a devout woman and stuck with him for 20yrs until after one especially bad incident Otto’s own mother warned my grandmother that if she didn’t leave that Otto would kill her. My grandmother was so scared that she moved clear to the other side of the country only telling her very best friend what she was doing–and even swearing her to absolute secrecy. After a few years my grandfather, a widower, courted her and together they raised a large & very happy family.

    Grandma was not ashamed of her past. She told young women in the church her story & warned them that God didn’t want them to spend their marriage with a man that beat them up. Doctrinally speaking, while I understand the slippery slope argument Paul makes above, I’d point out the last of words of 1 Corinthians 7:15: “God has called us to live in Peace.” There’s nothing peaceful about domestic violence.

  8. Brett Cody July 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    How dare he even think of trying to back pedal or correct his mistakes…honestly, the clear disdain for him by unforgiving people is very telling. President Obama is allowed to ‘evolve’ on his questionable, spineless morality but someone like Piper is refused the chance to clarify his comments? Thank God for pastors like John Piper.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy July 31, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    Think of the women who endured, who were beaten. Does anyone think of them? How much is too much? Does anyone apologize, care or think of the therapy that it takes to get over a total violation of one’s will in every respect, coupled with violence, all to the recitation of Bible verses, outlined by eager ministers in the pulpit, “submit yourselves therefore.” How much violence is too much?

    John Piper and all his followers and parroters should contemplate the violence and suffering of women. They should experience some of it themselves.

    • Tom Parker July 31, 2013 at 1:12 pm #


      When will the “authorities” of the SBC step up to the plate and really do something about the abuse that continues to happen to women in the SBC?

      The violence and suffering of women in the SBC is real!!

  10. Suzanne McCarthy August 3, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    Thank you. I was never in the SBC, but our church leadership was deeply influenced by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. I wish someone would realize how intense the pain of perpetual subordination really is, in real life.

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