Rick Warren: Abuse is no excuse for women to seek divorce

January 2, 2009 by

Wives do not have a “right” to divorce abusive husbands, according to Rick Warren.

Warren, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to deliver the Inaugural Invocation, instructs his parishioners that the Bible says physical abuse is no excuse for getting a divorce.

Warren explains:

Having been involved as a pastor in situations of abuse, there’s something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says if they abuse you in such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.

“God,” Warren says, “hates divorce.”

This teaching is posted in the “Bible Questions and Answers” section of the Saddleback Family website (#32, “What should I do when abuse is happening in my marriage?”).

Warren’s preaching is alarming, especially in light of recently released figures on violence against women in the United States. Incidences of reported domestic violence increased by 42% from 2005 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The projected number of violent crimes committed by intimate partners against women increased from 389,100 in 2005 to 554,260 in the 2007 report. (By comparison, the number of violent crimes against men by intimate partners went down.)

Warren recommends that couples temporarily separate while they participate in counseling to repair the marriage. According to Warren, it is better to maintain an abusive relationship than seek the immediate relief of divorce.

It’s not like you can escape the pain… You don’t — you don’t escape the pain. And I’d always rather choose a short term pain and find God’s solution for a long term gain, than try and find a short term solution that’s going to involve a long term pain in life.

Warren’s views give abusive spouses one more tool to control their victims: the Bible. His teaching undermines the resolve of women who are debating ending an abusive marriage. According to Warren, a Christian who divorces another Christian will ultimately look back and say, “I told myself it was for a right reason but now I realize it was more my selfishness than anything else.”

Law enforcement and public health experts and women’s rights advocates have long agreed that many women will not leave abusive relationships without a holistic approach to support that provides for emotional, medical, legal, and financial needs. Warren’s teaching — that a wife’s ultimate priority must be saving the marriage, rather than herself — is a direct challenge to this approach.

As he puts it:

I want to tell you the advice that we give in our counseling ministries. First of all if you are in this kind of a situation, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of our lay counseling ministry. Go in and talk to someone and let them minister to you. And the advice that we give is not divorce but separation.

Warren omits mention of contacting the police, seeking medical attention, or obtaining legal assistance to secure orders of protection for yourself and your children.

Temporary separation combined with counseling is the only path he recommends, because it “has proven to provide healing in people’s lives.” Healing the marriage — avoiding divorce — is the ultimate goal.

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