“God hates divorce” (but he loves a broken jaw)

Thursday, January 8th, 2009 · 28 Comments »

Rick Warren explains it all for you.

Rick Warren explains it all for you.

Originally published at The New Agenda.

When Rick Warren was invited to preside at Obama’s Inauguration, I wrote that his selection was an insult to women everywhere. Warren is an antediluvian sexist who believes that women were put on earth to obey their husbands. His Christianity is a front for male supremacy; his biblical “literalism” a patchwork of cherry-picked verses. If his noxious doctrine were merely an intellectual exercise, it would be offensive.

But it’s not an intellectual exercise. There are real-world consequences.

As Nina M. points out, Warren doesn’t believe battered women have the right to seek a divorce. “God hates divorce,” says Warren, with the confident affability of a 250-pound man who’s never cowered in fear for his life:

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.

Actually, you can escape the pain — and the fists and the knives and the drunken rages and the loaded guns. But somehow I don’t think that’s what Warren is talking about. I suspect none of those things are quite real to him, just as women aren’t quite real to him — not as full human beings, that is.

The only thing Warren is interested in is marriage itself: the sacred union between a man and his helpmate (and notice who is the subject of that formulation and who is relegated to an adjectival subservience). In conservative Christian ideology, human marriage replicates the bond between Christ and his church, with the husband in the role of Christ (of course) and the wife playing the part of devoted church. The psychological burden this places on women is enormous. Commanded to love and obey their husbands even as the church cleaves to Christ, wives feel compelled to stay in even the most brutal of marriages.

In No Place For Abuse, their book about domestic violence in Christian communities, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark explain the conundrum:

…some religious women feel that God does not permit them to leave, that marriage is forever no matter how cruel their husband’s treatment, that this may be their cross to bear, or that perpetual forgiveness of their husband for his repeated behavior is God’s expectation. For women such as these, it is often very difficult to sort out the difference between long-suffering in honor to Christ and to their marriage vows and actively contributing to the danger of their own lives.

“The wise pastor,” they add, “will help such a woman navigate these troubled waters.”

Unfortunately, wise pastors seem to be in short supply. Contemporary Christian literature is rife with stories of ministers who counsel battered wives to stay, to submit, to obey — no matter what their husbands dish out. As one woman reports, “I went to my minister then and his reaction was ‘What’s your husband’s favorite food?’ and I said ‘Pork chops and scallop potatoes.’ ‘What’s his favorite dress?’ I told him and he said ‘I want you to go home and put on that dress and make him pork chops and scallop potatoes and honor your marriage vows.’” Another woman who had been beaten severely was told by her pastor: “Go home. He’s probably calmed down now. And come in for counseling . . . you married him, you made a commitment, so you have to work this out. Pray more. Submit more.”

Submit more.

Which brings me back to Rick Warren and his highly selective brand of biblical “literalism.” Warren claims that he certainly wishes there was “a Bible verse that says if they abuse you in such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.” Unfortunately there’s no such verse, so his hands are tied.

But this is an intellectual dodge, a fraud, a cover-up. Modern Christianity is a selective blend of old and new, and there is no church on earth that slavishly follows every word in the Bible, nor any church whose worship isn’t shaped by modern culture. As I wrote last month:

The plain fact is that each Christian denomination must choose which parts of the Bible to follow and which parts to ignore. The parts that don’t fit with a group’s modern understanding of faith are jettisoned as “not relevant” in today’s world. The parts that do fit are labeled “eternal truths.”

Some Christians take an intellectually rigorous approach to the issue. Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do not. They ignore the prohibition on gold and pearls, they allow women to minister in certain very restricted roles, and they seem downright carefree when it comes to oaths, drinking water, and hats. But wifely submission? Oh, that’s an eternal truth. Gotta keep that.

The bottom line is that men like Rick Warren insist on the doctrine of wifely submission because they want to.

And the same is true of Warren’s teaching on divorce. He believes it because he wants to believe it, because it suits his personal ideology. The broken bodies and hearts of women are barely real to him; what matters is the great spiritual drama of man and God.

The irony, of course, is that it is women who fill the pews in Warren’s churches and send the money to his coffers. Christianity has always appealed to the disadvantaged and the abused, and so it has always appealed to women.

Which reminds me: didn’t women vote for Barack Obama in huge numbers? Wasn’t it women who put him in the White House?

Isn’t it women who are now being mocked?

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28 Responses to ““God hates divorce” (but he loves a broken jaw)”

  1. Unree says:

    Why do women tolerate these teachings? It’s a truism that across cultures, women are “more religious” than men. I have no idea whether that’s really true and, if it is, whether social pressure (i.e. not to be a free-thinker) rather than faith is the explanation. But women certainly do line the pews of churches in the U.S., listening silently to a pastor who insults them. As with ev-psych, the explanations always seem strained at best.

  2. Sis says:

    I just can’t believe this man is Obama’s pick, and there is virtually no uproar. In fact, Melissa Etheridge on HuffPo says you should all make nice about this man. He’s not so bad when you get to know him, and anyway,


    You’ve got to read Arianna herself on how you are all being inaugurated, and should stand in front of a mirror and take the pledge, film and YouTube yourself doing that. Will there be wafers?

  3. Anna Belle says:

    I wish I could talk about religion like this. I’m successful about 40% of the time. The other 60% it’s just expressions of frustration, anger, and impatience that aren’t even worth publishing. Occasionally one of those slips through. I really like the approach and the tone. It’s both rational and unforgiving.

  4. yttik says:

    Good piece, Violet. How sad.

    I think if you make an abusive husband wear a linen/wool blend and feed him a plate of shellfish, all bets are off.

  5. Sandra S. says:

    I forwarded the clergy responses to domestic violence article to a guy I know who is part of the Mars Hill community (a Seattle mega-church that advocates wifely submission). He’s a really decent guy, and so I really don’t understand his politics and religion. I’ll be interested to see what he has to say about this.

  6. Lisa says:

    All I can say is Holy Smokes….We need our own Gulabi Gang in the US.

    You are such a good writer Violet.

  7. Violet says:

    The Associated Baptist Press is now running the story:


  8. sister of ye says:

    Yep, pastors like Warren are all for the man = Christ comparison.

    Except for the crucifixion part. Somehow I’d bet he’d get a bit testy if you tried that on him. Which seems a might contradictory. I mean, he’s the one who believes in biblical literalism, right?

    If crucifixion is a bit too far, maybe just a little scourging and a crown of thorns?

    And apparently Warren hasn’t read the Gospels to realize that Jesus was big on fasting. I wouldn’t criticize ordinarily; I have extra pounds myself. But he’s the one who believes in biblical literalism, right?

    Why do I get the feeling that if Warren spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, it would be in Las Vegas, not a solitary cave?

  9. Violet says:

    Yep, pastors like Warren are all for the man = Christ comparison. Except for the crucifixion part. Somehow I’d bet he’d get a bit testy if you tried that on him. Which seems a might contradictory. I mean, he’s the one who believes in biblical literalism, right?

    It’s also difficult to imagine Christ swaggering around with a bottle of JD and a loaded rifle, howling that he’s gonna beat the church’s fucking brains in if she doesn’t get him his goddamn dinner right NOW. Also hard to imagine Christ wailing away on the church with his fists or burning her with a cigarette. But obviously I’m not cut out for biblical literalism.

  10. slythwolf says:

    I was under the impression that it wasn’t supposed to be our job on earth to forgive anybody anything, that we weren’t supposed to have that power. And anyway, anyone who argues that “forgive your husband” = “let him keep beating you” fails logic forever. And in fact I’m pretty sure that the way it’s supposed to go is that even God doesn’t have to forgive you until you’re actually sorry and make an effort to stop.

  11. slythwolf says:

    …keep sending posts today and then thinking of something else I wanted to say. Curse you, ADD!

    The other thing is that I know a woman who is a Christian fundamentalist and through knowing her I have come to understand that some of these churches do believe there should be an abuse exception to the no-divorce rule. The scary part is what they define as abuse–and what they don’t. This woman actually told me that child abuse laws are too strict and that there is a difference between leaving a mark and leaving a bruise.

  12. Sis says:

    Sister of Ye. Thanks for my laff of the day. Las Vegas.

    I’m off line for awhile. Take care Alpacas.

  13. datechguy says:

    There is no question that a woman in an abusive relationship should not remain in it to be physically hurt or killed. If you tell someone to stay when their life is in danger then you are doing a disservice not only to her but to the entire family.

    That doesn’t change the fact that Divorce is frankly too quick an option in many marriages. In my 20 years of marriage I’ve had the displeasure of seeing many friends marriages fail. Its been my experience that this is do to people entering marriage with the wrong expectations. They don’t realize it is not only compromises but putting up with little things.

    The popular culture has in my opinion setup a false image of what is to be expected in marriage. When you go into a relationship with a sitcom standard of what you should expect you are going to get burned.

    Marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church, because of this we believe it should be entered into very seriously. In my particular parish you need to take classes for a year before our pastor will marry you. The idea is to let people enter it with eyes wide open.

    Marriage is a fine thing but should be entered into soberly.

    Assault is not a fine thing and should be prosecuted.

  14. polly styrene says:

    But ya know – apart from these little faults he’s not such a bad guy…

    Television is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Maybe Warren should stop appearing on it.

  15. Violet says:


  16. JeanLouise says:

    I once challenged a fundamentalist pastor on this issue. He told me, in all sincerity, that he and his church had supported an action for divorce filed by a man against his abusive wife-after she shot him.

    These churches aren’t harmful to all individuals but they’re harmful to society as a whole. It makes me so sad to see Democrats kissing up to men who fundamentally hate women.

  17. Alwaysthinking says:

    As I keep saying, if Christ were to return to Earth today, I believe he would return as a woman. He would condemn the words coming out of the mouths of self-appointed preachers and those ordained by certain other congregations, just as he condemned the hypocritical behaviors of the scribes (modern media?) and Pharisees. He spoke out for the oppressed. So much has been cherry-picked, as you say Violet, by some of these selective-thinking “Christians” that they are truly harming our society. But they collect mega-bucks for their efforts. Still, why do women keep supporting them and working hard for them? I want to rent my clothes (or at least tear my hair out!).

  18. sam says:

    “Christ swaggering around with a bottle of JD and a loaded rifle, howling that he’s gonna beat the church’s fucking brains in if she doesn’t get him his goddamn dinner right NOW.”


  19. odysseus says:

    rituals matter: if nothing else, having the president of the US give a “sacred” oath with hand upon a book suggests the power of symbolic speech; warren’s participation precludes many others from joining in the communal and sacred moment–but any choices by necessity eliminates choices not made; either Obama is tone deaf (doubtful) or he is raising his middle finger in ritualistic glee (more probable).

    Obama should remember the law of unintended and unforeseen consequences–this action will haunt his presidency; i hope it does not haunt the US

  20. angie says:

    I love this site — lurk all the time. I wanted to bring this to your attention (I also sent to some of the authors @ New Agenda). It is unbelievable & would love to hear you take this on.


  21. NJWilk says:

    I know that the slavery Bible quotes are often brought up in threads like this – “slave submit yourselves to your masters”, etc, etc. So I did a quick google search to remind myself about those passages and found a site called evilbible.com that pretty much covers everything I was thinking of saying.

    I’ve been lurking since the primaries, love this blog!

  22. Tabby Lavalamp says:

    The role of women in the Bible was one of the bigger things that helped push me toward atheism. It’s things like this that are today adding to the militancy of my atheism (in addition to the militancy of my feminism). Yet it’s the militancy of the so-called “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins that is getting all mainstream criticism.

    Almost as unbelievable as the Bible. Ha!

  23. quixote says:

    You know what else isn’t mentioned in the Bible? America. So the continent presumably doesn’t exist, North or South. Another good koan for fundies.

  24. polly styrene says:

    This is nicked from ‘political jokes’ but it’s dead funny: Just substitute Warren for Bush.

    Dear President Bush,

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from you and understand why you would propose and support a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. As you said “in the eyes of God marriage is based between a man a woman.” I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… End of debate.

    I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

    7. Lev.21:20 states that I may ! not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

    Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

  25. Annie Oakley says:

    Thank God we still have secular shelters for women so they don’t have to rely on this quasi-religion that gains power from faith-based tax allocations. (Rev., don’t forget the kickback. You owe, you know)

  26. Mar says:

    The comment from slythwolf about the woman who said “that child abuse laws are too strict and that there is a difference between leaving a mark and leaving a bruise,” saddens me.

    The child who experiences this kind of discipline is the one who will be more likely to walk around with the “bottle of JD and a loaded rifle, howling that he’s gonna beat the church’s fucking brains in if she doesn’t get him his goddamn dinner right NOW.”

    Alice Miller, a Swiss psychologist, wrote a book called “For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence.” She argues that some of the “accepted” measures for raising obedient children cause pain and hurt in them.

  27. Alderson Warm-Fork says:

    Reminds of C.S.Lewis, who said that ‘while the man in a marriage may wear a crown, women shouldn’t envy him, because it’s a crown of thorns’. Or to put it another way, women shouldn’t bitch about being subjugated, because it’s damn hard being in charge. *becomes nauseous*

  28. The History Enthusiast says:

    My dad is a minister in an Assemblies of God church, with a very conservative stance on many issues. I wouldn’t call him a feminist per se (although he advocates equal pay for equal work), but he believes divorce is an option in cases of abuse. Just wanted to say that not all Christian conservatives agree with Warren on this particular matter.