Shaming the Abandoned

If your husband or wife isn’t a follower of the Lord and decides to divorce you, then you should agree to it. You are no longer bound to that person. After all, God chose you and wants you to live at peace. – I Corinthians 7:15, CEV


When I was going through the ecclesiastical trial to keep my minister’s license, I felt angry at the way the denomination made little to no provision for those of us abandoned by a spouse through the choice to sinfully divorce (as opposed to faithful spouses who do not sin by divorcing in the face of adultery). It did not seem to matter in the process who filed for divorce. The man was treated as always in the driver’s seat of the divorce–even though, this was not the case in my situation and probably many others’.

I will never forget the conversation I had with a denominational official about my divorce. I pointed out to this individual that I did not divorce my wife and ought not to be treated as liable for the divorce. His wicked response was simply to acknowledge that she did indeed “file the paper.”

This response irks me on multiple levels.

The divorce papers matter!

It is not just a formality. One is not divorced until the papers are signed. So, it matters who decides to force the papers through ending the marriage before the state.

While some might approach the dissolution of a marriage as happening in the heart, I maintain the marriage is not dissolved until the papers are signed. (This is why I exhort faithful spouses not to date until the papers are signs as it would be wrong to date someone other than your spouse while still married.)

Evangelical pastors know this. However, like my former denominational official, some may fail to extend this knowledge to divorce. They understand that marrying someone in “your heart” is not enough. You need to make it official. The paper matters. It means that you are truly married in the eyes of God, the church, and the state.

It is incredibly painful to be blamed for a divorce forced upon you by your spouse. This is doubly so when added to the divorce is known adultery by the divorcing party. So, you get both blamed for the divorce and subtly, for the adultery. You must have done something in part to cause this is the implication.

The talk of divorce being merely a piece of paper invalidates the real trauma and powerlessness an abandoned spouse is experiencing. And it leaves the suggestion that the abandoned spouse brought this upon themselves hanging in the air. In other words, it is a way to shame the abandoned and faithful spouse. And that is far from godly.

Looking at I Corinthians 7:15 ought to inform pastors in caring for abandoned, Christian spouses*:

1) The abandoned spouse may never have had a say in the divorce. Blaming them or shaming them over this is cruel and mean. Don’t do it.

2) If you believe the divorcing party is a non-Christian, I Corinthians 7:15 is clear what the abandoned spouse is to do: he/she is to allow the divorce to go through so as to live in peace (and he/she is free to remarry a Christian afterwards). The Apostle Paul tells us not to fight such an abandonment.

3) If you believe the divorcing spouse is sinning by divorcing (e.g. is divorcing so as to chase after an affair partner), you ought to enact church discipline (see Matthew 18). By not enacting church discipline, you are saying by your actions that the divorcing spouse is not a Christian. See point #2 then as to how you ought to respond to the abandoned, Christian spouse. Such is my opinion on the matter. If you–pastors, Christian counselors, and Christian lay leaders–are not willing to go to bat for the abandoned Christian spouse confronting the sinning Christian party, then you have no business blaming the abandoned spouse when the marriage ends and condemning them afterwards if/when they remarry.




*Note: To those of you who have chosen divorce in light of unrepentant adultery, my heart goes out to you. You have a very Biblical and legitimate reason to divorce. It is not your shame to bear. And any church trying to put you under church discipline in such a case is being spiritually abusive in my opinion. My comments above are more directed to church leaders confronting situations where adulterers/adulteresses are divorcing their spouses while maintaining that they are still “Christians.”



10 thoughts on “Shaming the Abandoned”

  1. I think the stigma you faced, Derek, has more to do with 1 Tim. 3:2, where an overseer must be “the husband of one wife.” It is unfortunate that this passage has been used to keep divorced men out of ministry for years, even when their divorces were on biblical grounds. I personally believe the Greek phrase there was idiomatic and essentially meant “must be a one-woman man,” so I prefer how looser translations (like the NIV) render this passage, “faithful to his wife.”

    The equivalent phrase, “wife of one husband,” appears as a requirement for ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9.

    1. Assuming, Bridget, that you’re addressing me, Pastor David. Yes, I think that verse is part of the stigma. Much contributes to this stigma. That said, it was not directly at play in my ecclesiastical trial as Mrs. DM was not on the horizon at that time.

      Here in this post, I am suggestinga proper reading and application of I Cor 7:15. Much more could be said about 1 Timothy 3:2. I agree with your broader interpretation for anything less would preclude people like Paul from leadership as well as widowers (which never seem to be excluded by even the most extreme fundamentalists).

  2. What is your biblical view on my situation. I have just filed after 12 months separation. I instigated his leaving our home following the discovery of a porn addiction. A week later he confessed to an affair and multiple partners over 8 years. Initially my minister and one of the elders tried to convince me that I was partly to blame for his actions, he was encouraged to enforce headship over me in the hope of saving his marriage. When I fought this they then implied that it is my unwillingness to submit and deal with my issues that has ended our marriage and my STBX uses this reason for us being apart not his continued adulatory.
    I instigated separation and I refused to be bullied into having my cheating spouse back so to him and his support crew I am the sinner. By leaving their church it is implied that I am ‘even unsaved’. I don’t care what they say of me but it is hard on my teenage son. I know things will only get worse when he is served with papers in the coming week.

    1. Thankful-

      Yikes! So, their solution to an abusive situation–i.e. years of adultery/lies–is to enourage further abuse (spiritual abuse this time) dressing it up in religious language as headship issues?! That’s wrong and wicked.

      And I might have more empathy for them if they didn’t know about the adultery. However, I suspect you had suspicions even before he confessed.. If anything, the porn addiction was the symptom…not your behavior!

      It sounds like these church leaders have really failed all of you greatly. Your husband’s affairs have NOTHING to do with you. They are the overflow of his sinful heart about which Scripture is crystal clear. You are fully within Biblical grounds to divorce over his infidelity (Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9). Triagulating the church leaders to put pressure on you is far from demonstrating true repentance over cheating on you and sinning against God by committing adultery!

      Finally, you are far from an unbeliever in taking these steps. You’re taking adultery seriously. Too bad the church leaders do not.

      Blessings and hugs!

  3. DM, I realize this post is not about the shame non-cheaters experience due to their own thoughts, but that is what I am writing about. I can’t get over the fact that I feel humiliation and shame because my husband cheated on me and abandoned me for a woman younger than my own daughter. I’m so tired of it — I’m convinced that it is keeping me from moving on and I just don’t know how to stop feeling it. It makes each day very difficult to get through. I’m trying everything I can to stop this cycle, but so far I’m not feeling any peace. Any words of wisdom?

    1. movingliquid,

      A place I would start in dealing with such a spiritual attack is to write down the lies you are hearing. What does his choice of a young OW say to you? Once those are written down, you can write the truth in response. Finding applicable Scripture verses on the truth side may help in this. Then use those truths to combat the lies whenever you feel them beating you down.

      Beauty is fleeting. Character is forever. You have things this young woman could never give him–i.e. years of shared history, being the mother of his now adult child, and decades of fidelity. Do not give a quarter to the lies that you are less than! Your cheater made a foolish choice throwing all that away–the Bible is very clear on that number. He lacks sense. Will you allow this man’s foolish choice define you or will you allow Scripture? The choice is yours. God has already spoken that He values you greatly–i.e. at the price of His only son’s blood.

      Hugs and blessings!

      Pastor David

    2. ML- shame and humiliation are solely for your cheating husband. It’s not attractive going after someone younger than your own daughter. That’s just gross, lacking in class, integrity, the list could go on. A 19 year old dating a 17 year old is one thing. “If you were x years younger I’d be a legal pedophile!” is NOT territory to venture into when there are decades between him and the AP. Ew ew ew ew ew!

    1. Thanks, Nell. I am in a far better place now. God directed me to a very sound and supportive denomination with leaders who actually care for me on a personal level all the way up to the top. I had some of those in my old denomination and remain friends with them. However, the problems are so deep that staying in that system was not best for me. Besides, all that experience is being redeemed on this blog giving me fodder to explain how evangelicals really react to adultery–good and ill.

Comments are closed.