For Evangelical Women, Getting a Divorce Often Means Taking All the Blame


EXCERPT: In the spring of 2013, I was 23, and I had to tell my father that my husband had decided he wasn’t in love with me anymore and was filing for divorce.[...] My father’s response was brief and to the point. I read it, shaking: What is your theology of divorce? There was no overture of support, no anger, no emotion. Just a question about my faith, my theology, as if I had a choice, as if I had made this decision based on what I believed as a Christian. I shut my computer and cried. [...] I could tell my father about how, a month after we separated, my ex called me up and told me through tears that he’d slept with someone else, and it wasn’t good, and could we still divorce but be friends with benefits? I could tell my father all these stories, but I knew it would never satisfy him, that I couldn’t win the battle for his support with evidence.

The burden of proof was on me, and at stake was my family’s support, the validity of my faith and my character. I couldn’t win. For him, and many other Christians like him, the only reason to end a marriage is when a partner has been unfaithful and is unrepentant. In my marriage, no one cheated, so there were no “valid” grounds to divorce, no matter how emotionally abusive, disrespectful and unstable our marriage had become.

[...] Now that no-fault divorce is common in America, allowing victims of intimate-partner violence to escape varying degrees of abuse without much of a social cost, it can be confusing and difficult for people outside these faith traditions to understand the theological rationale driving men like Patterson and my father.

[...] I wasn’t going to be the woman trying to prove the weight of her suffering to a male authority. I knew that even if I tried to resist the divorce and fought my husband to stay, it would only end in toxic exchanges and animosity, and that nothing I could ever do would prove to my father that I had tried hard enough to make it work.

A woman in a complementarian church can never tell enough of her suffering to prove that she didn’t deserve the treatment she receives. The woman in 2000 followed Patterson’s advice and ended up with two black eyes. She came up to him on a Sunday, showed him her bruises: “I hope you’re happy,” she said. “Yes,” he said, “I’m very happy” — because her husband had come to church with her.

I eventually stopped going to church. The effects of not knowing whom I could trust with my vulnerability were too much, and I’ve found myself much more secure without fundamentalist ideology defining how I live. It’s easier to love people and be kind to myself if empathy comes before theology....


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