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.


  • Alan Molineaux

    ‘ 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?

      • Hannah Lewis

        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

        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.

  • Paul Reed

    “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?

      • buddyglass

        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

      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?

  • Don Johnson

    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.

  • Chris Ryan

    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.

  • Brett Cody

    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.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    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


      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!!

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    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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