Survivor, at When Christians Divorce

Once upon a time, a friend told me, “When I’m struggling the most, I ask myself, ‘What part of God’s character don’t I understand?’” This question crossed my mind often during the last months of my marriage, as I realized that what I knew of God’s character didn’t line up with what the church taught on divorce. The church was telling me that there was no way out…that I had to accept being abused and cheated on for the rest of my life, because the abuse and cheating weren’t “physical”….that is, he never had a physical affair, and he never physically harmed me. Part of my heart was screaming, What’s the difference? And the rest of it was trying to live in quiet submission to what I was sure was true.

I read many articles and books, hoping somewhere along the way I’d find some ray of hope. What I didn’t want was something that told me divorce was ok, but didn’t support it with strong biblical evidence. I didn’t want circular reasoning or ear-tickling. I wanted facts that didn’t compromise my own dedication to truth. But all my looking kept leading me back to the same conclusion: I was stuck.

As you probably know quite well, there are lots of books out there on Christians and divorce. Most of them say pretty much the same thing: You can’t.  So most Christians stay in terrible marriages, even abusive ones, because they believe God gives them no way out. And this may be good and right and true in many cases where someone is just looking for “a way out” and really could, given the right help and advice, make changes that would save their marriage and family. But there are others who really do NEED a way out — some for their own personal safety, or that of their children — but don’t believe such a thing exists.

I had a really difficult time reconciling that kind of teaching with what I know of God’s character. I kept asking myself, “What part of God’s character don’t I understand?” hoping that somehow I would grasp some truth about him that would make “You’re stuck” make sense.

I know God doesn’t always make sense, and he’s much wiser than I am, and he has my best interests at heart, and all that jazz. But none of that was cutting it when it came to facing the fear and misery in my day to day life. What about God’s compassion? Mercy? Grace? What about his words about saving people from bondage? I certainly felt I was in bondage, but I had so long determined to be “in chains for the gospel” that I had come to accept it as normal. But still, part of my heart screamed. And it was getting louder all the time.

Finally, I found the website of Danni Moss, a Christian woman who had been in an abusive marriage and had gotten out. Her articles gave me hope for the first time, because she was solidly biblical in her approach to the problem of abuse within Christianity. She also introduced me to a book that was my first glimpse at a truly biblical discussion of divorce and abuse within Christianity. That book was “Not Under Bondage”.

Although the book took a long time to arrive, it was well worth the wait. Finally, someone had delved into the original meanings of the words in the original languages and made sense out of them.

The author hit on some of my nagging questions. Am I in bondage? Do I have the rights of a slave? How does a God of compassion and love allow this kind of suffering in marriage? And most of all….Do I have the right to leave?

I also was vaguely interested in whether I could remarry if I did leave, because I already had read Paul’s “out” clause, where he states that “if” a woman leaves her husband, she must remain unmarried. He basically says a woman can leave, but she remains married no matter what. I figured, like most people, that this was the only “way out” God allowed for women who are abused.

This book, however, took a very different approach. It explained so much…and gave me such hope…without ever stating that divorce was the answer to a difficult or challenging marriage, but only in serious situations which God, in his mercy, grace and love, did indeed allow.
I strongly encourage anyone who is considering divorce to read this book. If you know you’re being abused — even if it’s “only” emotional abuse — you need to read this book and understand God’s heart for you.

Anonymous survivor at When Christians Divorce

Louise McOrmond-Plummer (a non-Christian survivor of intimate partner abuse)

I will qualify my review by stating that I am not a Christian; I am a long-time feminist advocate and supporter of women experiencing domestic violence. I say this in the interest of "fair disclosure" - I am less educated about and indeed less concerned with theological issues than something that is truly helpful. All too often, those of us in the field hear appalling stories of abused women seeking help from religious leaders, who are told to "submit", "pray more" and be tolerant until the abusive partner is "saved" - to say nothing of narrow views of what is abuse, and denial of rape in marriage. Inadequate, dangerous, and often insufficiently-trained for couples counselling may be offered. The presiding value here seems to be saving marriages rather than women's safety, or making blanket statements about divorce, instead of the abuse, being sinful.

Yet it is just so important to many Christian women trapped in relationships of abuse that they find safety without sacrificing their faith, and they often ask about Christian-based resources. Most of us know that any resource needs examination before recommendation - there are books that profess to be helpful but are in fact full of blame and condescension. Ms. Roberts' work gives no such cause for caution; she has provided an excellent text that I have no hesitation in recommending to Christian survivors. Along with Rev. Marie Fortune, the work of women - and survivors - like Ms. Roberts is revolutionary and essential.

Thank you, Barbara, for promoting to abused women a God who loves them and does not want them to continue to suffer violence

Louise McOrmond-Plummer, May 2010.
Louise is a Co-author of Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners.
Louise's review was first published on Amazon USA
Louise also helps coordinate a lending library for victims of sexual assault run by Pandora's Project.

Abstract of the book Not Under Bondage - Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse

General Overview:

This extensively researched book by an Australian author is written for those religious women living in marriage to an abuser and facing the dilemma: must a woman suffer the abuse in order to maintain the sanctity of her marriage or should she divorce and be condemned to the censure of her church and her own self-imposed guilt? Roberts presents the case that divorce is permitted to end an abusive marriage and that remarriage is also allowed by scripture.


The question of whether a Christian may, in good faith, seek to end an abusive marriage continues to plague theologians and devout members of the Christian community. In search of a definitive answer, the author delves deeply into both Old and New Testament to analyse the Biblical meanings of marriage, divorce and remarriage. She finds that the Bible recognises two types of divorce, “treacherous divorce” and “disciplinary divorce”. Treacherous divorce is reviled in the Bible and occurs when the instigator of the divorce does so for little or no reason. Disciplinary divorce, however, is allowed and occurs when a spouse has demeaned the marriage contract by adultery, abandonment, neglect or abuse. In an examination of Mosaic Law, the teachings of Shammai and Hillel, both Jewish religious teachers, and the views of Jesus, she shows that the Christian dogma which has evolved does not prohibit divorce or remarriage in the case of a marriage of abuse.

Roberts presents a succinct summary of her findings in the concluding chapter. She also includes eleven appendices to present her research into certain aspects of her arguments in more detail and compiles an extensive bibliography, as well as a scripture index.

© 2009 Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse (used with permission)

Mary Magdalene

This book did wonders for helping me have peace about filing for divorce from my emotionally abusive husband. Since abusers tend to not want to leave relationships in which they have established control over another individual, most abused women will probably have to take the step for legal separation themselves, since their spouses generally will never take that step. Common belief that the ONLY divinely accepted reason to end a marriage is adultery is, in my opinion, an improper interpretation of the Word of God. The author studies meanings of original Hebrew text and proves her point, that God would not have a woman live forever in bondage to a man who is truly an abuser at heart.

Mary Magdalene’s review was first published on Amazon USA, Oct 2009

Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse

The Australian and Domestic Family Violence Clearinghouse is a Commonwealth of Australia peak body.

Click here to read an abstract and discussion of Not Under Bondage on the Clearinghouse's database.

Phil Groom, UK Christian bookseller

They’re there in every church, in every community, amongst your customers. Not aliens: abused women; but all too often they’re treated like aliens if not like animals. Most are silent: they’ve been beaten into silence, some verbally, some physically; but whether verbal or physical, it’s still abuse; and all too often, instead of becoming a place of refuge and safety for them, churches have become silent partners in their abuse, havens for their abusers.

This book by Barbara Roberts breaks that silence and helps to break down some of the barriers that much Christian teaching and thinking has placed in the way of these women, trapping them in the prisons of their abusive marriages. In the author’s own words, from her post A Hot Potato:

Not Under Bondage differs from other Christian books on divorce in that it focuses primarily on divorce for domestic abuse. It explains the scriptural dilemmas of abuse victims, carefully examines the scriptures and scholarly research, and shows how the Bible sets victims of abuse free from bondage and guilt.

Phil Groom, UK Christian Bookshops Blog, and manager of the London School of Theology bookshop

Joanne Jarlett, Victorian Baptist Witness

When research shows that one in four women in western countries who have ever been partnered experience violence from an intimate partner, we can be sure that these statistics significantly impact on our faith communities.

Traditional Biblical teaching has not always given abused women an effective way to hold the abuser accountable or given the church principles to implement appropriate church discipline to assist families. For victims the subject of divorce is often like stepping through a minefield of Christian interpretation and opinion, which often leaves them with two options - to either endure the abuse or face judgment by God and the church for disobedience to Scripture. For the Christian community the topic of permissible Biblical divorce has become an interpretive quagmire.

Not Under Bondage contains timely biblical teaching on the difficult subject of how to deal with abuse within Christian marriage. In the first two chapters the author Barbara Roberts explains what abuse is, the cycle of abuse, how perpetrators and abuse victims often present to others and what Biblical action steps the church can take to help perpetrators and victims.

The rest of the book discusses the distinction between ‘treacherous divorce’ and ‘disciplinary divorce’, defining what the Scriptures constitute as inappropriate grounds for divorce and appropriate grounds for divorce from an abusive spouse.

Throughout the book, marriage is held in high regard but Barbara also presents a tight argument derived through key Biblical texts and narratives to establish Scriptural grounds for divorce caused by abuse, adultery and desertion.

If you are a victim of marital abuse, a family member, friend or counsellor of a Christian divorcee, a pastor, chaplain or theologian who seeks to give biblical guidance on divorce and re-marriage, this book will be of great interest to you.

It will help you to discern the Scriptural exemptions from a marriage covenant that has been violated by various forms of abuse and will assist the Christian community to offer hope and freedom to victims of abuse through Scriptural principles that free them from bondage and guilt.

Joanne Jarlett is the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for the Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia. Originally published in the Victorian Baptist Witness, May 2009.

Tina Rae Collins

Best Book on the Subject I can't believe I'm saying this about a doctrinal book written by a woman. But it really is, in my opinion, the best book I've read on the subject of divorce and remarriage.

Believe me, I was skeptical. But Patsy Rae Dawson's review was so good that I had to read the book. Even so, I read with skepticism. When I began each chapter, I always thought surely I would disagree with something. But I honestly couldn't find anything to disagree with.

And more than that, the book tied together some loose ends in my own thinking on the subject of divorce and remarriage Barbara Roberts dealt with the subject from both the Old and New Testaments She considered the passages we normally look at as well as other passages that we might not have realized had any impact on the issue.

I recommend this book for everyone, particularly women who have been abused in their marriages and found themselves divorced and, consequently, feeling condemned or trapped in their situation. It is an eye opener.
(Amazon rankstar rankingstar rankingstar rankingstar rankingstar ranking)

Tina Rae Collins

P. Marson

I found the book "Not Under Bondage" immensely helpful. When my wife's friend began to reveal to us the treatment she was receiving from her husband (a serving pastor at the time), it was clear that it was abuse. The first chapter of this book "What is Abuse" was extremely helpful in confirming this, by revealing that abuse isn't just physical but emotional, spiritual, sexual and social, and giving helpful examples of each.

But questions were arising? Could our friend separate herself from her abusive husband? Would she have scriptural grounds for divorce? These and other questions were answered in a very clear and biblical way by Barbara Roberts. Issues such as constructive desertion, church discipline, scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage are dealt with thoroughly throughout the book.

I heartily recommend "Not Under Bondage" to any Christians (pastoral carers, clergy, victim/survivors) who are currently facing these issues, as well as to those who may well do so in the future. It is a book carefully written and giving a truly biblical perspective on these matters.
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P. Marson

Waneta Dawn, author of Behind the Hedge

Domestic violence is alive and well in Christian homes today, and pastors have felt helpless to know how to stop it. Traditional biblical teaching offers no "outs" for the abused women and no effective way to hold the abuser accountable--in short, no way to make him stop abusing or alternatively to free his wife and children from the prison of misery he has devised for them .. Abused women have felt re-abused as their pastors and churches offer no help, but tell them to go home and submit--especially when very little of the abuse is done because of lack of submission, and when the wife's submission and servility result in her husband escalating the abuse because of his increased sense of entitlement.

With three years of research, Barbara Roberts has put together a compelling, discussion-starting, biblically-sound study of the meanings of scriptures that deal with marital matters, including Jesus' statements about divorce and marriage, and Old Testament laws and practices around marriage, divorce and remarriage. There is indeed biblical support for holding the abuser, the adulterer, and the deserter accountable through church discipline, including disciplinary divorce. She points out that when Jesus spoke against divorce, he was talking of treacherous or frivolous divorce, not against divorce that had legitimate cause because the spouse had broken the marriage contract, (which was similar to our current "love and cherish") and refused to repent and permanently turn from that sinful behavior. If churches everywhere implemented these principles, domestic abuse, adultery and desertion in Christian families would likely experience an abrupt decline. Freeing wives and children from the abuser's tyranny would allow them to spend their energies in developing their talents and helping others instead of in just surviving.

I highly recommend "Not Under Bondage," and believe when the church implements these principles, Christianity's good name will be restored, and our signature characteristic of being known as Jesus' disciples because of our love for each other will become more apparent, especially to women and children who have been traumatized by the men in their lives.
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Waneta Dawn, author of Behind the Hedge, A novel

Kylie, Christian survivor of domestic abuse

Not Under Bondage is a very important book for victims of adultery, abuse and desertion who are considering the prospect of divorce. It is also a remarkable resource for those involved in ministry and counselling of these victims.

Roberts, a victim of abuse herself, has taken a large step back from her own experience and determined to investigate, dispassionately, what the entire scriptures have to say about the matter of divorce and its legitimacy.

She has meticulously researched each passage and seeks to provide a cohesive understanding of the scriptures in relation to abuse, adultery and desertion, where seeming contradictions occur. It is my belief that she has achieved this.

Not only that, she has related to the reader the deep conflict and pain that victims feel, how they struggle to come to an understanding of what appropriate actions they can take in these circumstances and the shame and condemnation they often experience.

This books stands as a serious theological examination and should not be easily dismissed.

Kylie, Christian survivor of domestic abuse

Danni Moss, Because it Matters

Finally, there is a book which takes an in-depth look at what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage, especially asking the question, “what about abuse?” Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion is the book I desperately wanted to find during 13 years on my face with God in my own marriage and would have written myself – but thank God He had someone else do it faster!

Barbara Roberts has written a very readable text for those who are facing their own troubled situation. She writes from a position of understanding, having walked through an abusive marriage herself. However, she also writes from a position of uncompromising scholarly detail, which the analyst in me demands. This is exactly what I wanted in a book on this subject – both understanding of the real issues of abuse and exacting theological and historical examination of Scripture.

Not Under Bondage, by Barbara Roberts, is a must-read for everyone who is in an abusive marriage, has a family member in a troubled marriage, is a Christian counselor, or a pastor. It should be in every church library.

Danni Moss, author of Because it Matters blog

Survivor of domestic abuse

I am four weeks away from my own divorce. I had a husband who was violent, verbally abusive and dangerous - and he still sends me regular emails saying I am in sin for not reconciling (though he still thinks hitting is justified). I now go to a church that is great, but our church was terrible - telling me to not tell anyone and pretend it never happened. Your list [on the website] of reasons why people don't leave is powerful. I am going to write about it and link to your PDF for one of my clients.

[name provided]

Craig Schwarze, Sydney Anglicans

Barbara Roberts book is intimately connected with her own story. She herself is the survivor of an abusive marriage, which she finally left after 10 years. Like all Christians who experience a failed marriage, she spent much time struggling with what the Bible teaches about divorce. 

This book is a result of her research during this time. That immediately sets off alarm bells – perhaps she is too close to the subject to be objective. It's a reasonable concern, so it´s comforting to see back – cover endorsements from people like Michael Hill and David Clyde Jones. 

Roberts helpfully includes a list of the book´s "key concepts" on the first page. Her basic thesis is that the Bible distinguishes between "treacherous divorce" and "disciplinary divorce". Treacherous divorce is condemned, but disciplinary divorce is permitted in instances of abuse, adultery and desertion. 

The opening chapter discusses of the nature of domestic abuse. Roberts defines abuse more broadly than just violence – it can include psychological, emotional and sexual elements, as well as others. The chapter was helpful, but was perhaps a little short given the importance of the subject. 

The bulk of the book is spent defending the aforementioned thesis by a careful consideration of the relevant biblical material, from both the Old and New Testaments. Roberts´ own position on Scripture is that it is "inspired, without error and fully sufficient to guide us in all matters of life and practice." It is clear from the book that she also respects biblical gender roles.

Her main conclusion is that the victims of domestic abuse have a scriptural warrant to divorce their spouses, as do the victims of adultery and desertion. Not everyone will be persuaded by all points of her exegesis, but she presents detailed arguments that deserve close attention. The appendices contain an interesting collection of extra-biblical material on the subject.

Domestic abuse is an issue that many pastors will have to deal with during their career. Some pastoral responses in the past have been poor, and have left vulnerable people in appalling situations. The command to love means that immediate action should always be taken to protect the victims of abuse. But what the next step should be is often less clear. Roberts´ book will be helpful to those who are attempting to work through these very difficult issues in a biblical and God-honouring manner.

Craig Schwarze SydneyAnglicans.net

Christian Woman magazine, July/Aug 2008

For those of us who began our married lives with full intent to stay committed till death us do part, only to find that phrase may have a little more relevance than first thought, this book supplies biblical research to provide reasoned arguments for those of us on the single side of marriage.

It is not an easy read. It is however very well researched and documented and is an ideal resource for anyone involved in the breakdown of Christian marriage, or anyone who is actively counselling or supporting men and women in this area.

The main premise of the book revolves around how law was created to protect those who needed protection. God set up avenues to ensure men and women didn't need to be threatened with death, endangerment or living with an unfaithful partner.

Barbara has also written an article outlining the reasons many women stay in abuse. A copy of that is available on her website and is well worth a read.

I found this book was an in depth and well researched book on what has been in the past a very contentious subject.

Rachel Goodchild, Christian Woman magazine, July/Aug 2008

Jocelyn E. Andersen, Author of "Woman Submit!"

"Filled with biblical references for the abused spouse who has exhausted all reasonable efforts to save the marriage, NOT UNDER BONDAGE, offers hope and freedom to Christians who find themselves victims of domestic abuse and/or violence.

Throughout the book, the author, Barbara Roberts, demonstrates a high regard for marriage, and in no way advocates frivolous divorce for just any reason, but she does show that the scriptures very clearly offer the alternative of separation and/or divorce and even remarriage in cases of abuse and desertion as well as in cases of adultery" (Amazon rank starsstarsstarsstarsstars)

I found this book was an in depth and well researched book on what has been in the past a very contentious subject.

Jocelyn E. Andersen, Author of "Woman Submit!" (Auburndale, FL USA)

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