To stay or not to stay in an abusive marriage? - Daily Nation

Church and divorce: To stay or not to stay in an abusive marriage?

Sunday September 2 2018

While the Bible advocates for lasting relationships, sometimes this may not be possible.

While the Bible advocates for lasting relationships, sometimes this may not be possible. PHOTO| FOTOSEARCH 

By TOM OSANJO
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“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Many Christian couples who have gone through church counselling say that verse from the 16th verse of the second chapter of the Biblical book of Malachi is normally used by pastors and counsellors to prevail upon them not to walk out of their marriages but rather stay put and look for solutions.

With the increasing cases of domestic violence, especially of husbands battering their wives, the spotlight falls on men and women of the cloth and the counsellors working in churches and some para-church organisations, and how they handle this delicate, at times fatal, issue.

Available evidence shows that this worrying trend is not confined to Kenya. In May, more than 2,000 women members of the influential Southern Baptist Convention in the United States of America signed an open letter calling for the resignation of Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, following news that he once advised abused women to pray for their husbands.

SITTING OUT THE STORM

Patterson put up a vigorous defence but this never helped much for by the end of May the board of trustees fired him after unearthing earlier cases of misconduct.

Talking to victims, one gets the impression that most of Kenyan church leaders counsel for a “sitting tight and riding out the storm” approach in abusive marriages.

Pastor Linda Odhiambo of Shiloh Family Church admits that there are cases where some church leaders counsel the warring couple to stay together as they try to resolve their marital problems, a stand she says is wrong.

Herself a victim of an abusive spouse before she walked out, Pastor Odhiambo says that her method is different.

“I am well aware that God changes people and the woman in such a relationship can pray for the husband and indeed change can occur. However, your safety comes first and what I tell such people is that they move to a place of safety — be it back to the parents or at a relative’s and pray for the man from there. Sometimes these abuses lead to unnecessary deaths.”

Giving her own testimony, Pastor Odhiambo says that it started as a “come we stay” relationship (she was not yet born-again). Even before moving in, the man had already shown his violent side. She moved in with him thinking that he would change but instead things worsened.

VICTIM OF ABUSE

Then came the day she was beaten to near death. “So he comes home one night, at 11pm, drunk. I have barely woken up from the sound of the door being kicked in, he kicks me in the face, I am still drowsy, I spit and a tooth falls out with the blood. I cannot detail the sequence of the beatings, my mind refuses to remember that, but what I know is that he beats me non-stop for six hours, my babies crying on the floor. At one point he slaps my elder girl who was about four years then for trying to help me. I am helpless, weak and scared, that night was the night I was going to die if the devil had his way.”

The next day she fled with her children and 24 years later she is not regretting her action.

To George Yogo, who serves at Breakthrough International Ministries in Nairobi, the whole issue of marriage is premised on the command God gave that “the two shall become one”.
“Marriage makes us one. Beating your wife implies that you are beating yourself. That is the highest level of insanity.” According to Yogo, someone who abuses their spouse acts as a non-believer and the Bible frees such a victim to walk out of the union.

“In such cases, God and the Bible frees the believer from the yolk of the unbeliever. You don't have to die in a relationship with one who goes against the will of God. Any departure from any relationship not initially joined by God is never considered a divorce. It is a departure from sinful ways,” he argues.

Nairobi lawyer Phanice Kwega is of the opinion that those counselling the abused to stay put do not have a good understanding of the scripture.

“I think the church has failed remarkably in its role. It’s an institution looked upon to not only preach and advocate for love and sanctity of marriage but to also be truthful and make itself alive to the realities on the ground. It’s retarded thinking to tell a party to a marriage to stay in it just because God hates divorce. It is written that God hates divorce, the act, but not the parties divorcing,” she says.

Ms Kwega lists the legal grounds for divorce as: adultery, desertion, cruelty, extreme depravity. “It’s wrong to tell one to stay in and continue to be unhappy just because God hates divorce. Our God is a God of love and if love ceases to exist why not exit?” she poses.

Pastor Linda Odhiambo of Shiloh Family Church.

Pastor Linda Odhiambo of Shiloh Family Church. PHOTO| COURTESY

Asked why she never quit earlier than she did, Pastor Odhiambo says many cannot understand the fact that she stayed in it for the sake of her children.

Others have asked her why she never fought back while the sarcastic ones insist that she must have been doing something wrong or that the man’s way of expressing his love was through beatings.

Apostle Kathy Kageni-Oganga of the Sozo Church of God says she has heard for the umpteenth time the excuse of children making women stay in abusive marriages, and she says this must never be the case.

“Women stay and say they stay for their children when I tell them this. However, children from abusive homes very often grow up to be abusive themselves or just really messed up even though a few extraordinary ones take another path and go on to do well socially. God never intended for anyone to die in the hands of their spouse.”

Basing her argument on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35, Apostle Kageni-Oganga, a HR practitioner turned preacher, says that even when one spouse is being battered, God would not expect the victim to harbour unforgiveness which poses the question, “how do you forgive someone who is going to keep hitting you?” she says.

Bringing the hereafter to the debate, Kageni-Oganga warns that one final blow will most likely send the victim to eternal damnation “because you will be found bitter when it happens and if you don’t forgive you cannot be forgiven and if you are not forgiven then you will go to hell.”

REDEMPTION

“My view is there will be no marriage in heaven and an abusive marriage may make you miss heaven. It’s best to enter heaven without a spouse than go to hell because of a marriage or spouse or both. Divorce will not make you go to hell much as God hates it. Separation does not mean divorce either. Separate for a time and let the abuser get help, God will redeem your marriage if you trust Him, after all marriage is His idea,” she concludes.

But while many Protestant churches are more tolerant to divorce, the Catholic Church doctrine is still conservative on the dissolution of a marriage. Apart from death, the church provides little room for any other factor that can do apart a marriage.

The church’s catechism, available on the Vatican website, does not include violence in its discussion of offences against the dignity of marriage. It only discusses adultery.

On divorce, the Catholic guidelines say: “The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.”

It adds that a marriage between two persons baptised in the Catholic Church cannot be dissolved for any other reason but death. But there are exceptions.

“The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by Canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offence,” says the Catholic document.

It adds: “Divorce is a grave offence against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign.”

Church sees separation as temporal, despite rifts

In the laws that guide the Catholic Church, a marriage that is valid cannot be dissolved under any circumstances except by death. Writer Elvis Ondieki spoke with Father Sahaya Selvan, a Nairobi-based priest and lecturer, on the position of the Church on divorce in the face of violence.

“If a woman comes to me saying she wants out of a marriage because of violence, I will seek to listen to both parties. It could be just a misunderstanding. We need to find solutions to that first. Separation is not the immediate solution."

“But if somebody’s well-being is in danger, it would be imprudent to tell them to continue to live together. And I don’t think the Church is saying that. But divorce is not a solution, because we need to consider other factors: children at stake, their own emotional status, and all those things. In the laws of the Church, divorce is not possible. But pastorally, separation is possible. But that has to be resorted to after exhausting other means. And even when there is separation, they need to be supported pastorally: through prayer, counselling, therapy, all that."

“In the Church laws, divorce is not anticipated unless death separates couples because if all the requirements of a valid marriage were met, then they are a couple forever. When a marriage is licit and valid, it cannot be broken. That is what the catechism of the Catholic Church says. But we are not talking about the separation aspect. Separation is always seen as something temporary for the good of the individual. Separation is not the same as a legal divorce, what we call an annulment in the Church context. It might be possible that they can come together to live. If not, it might take years to understand the situation and to apply therapy."

“The Church will not readily give Holy Communion to separated or divorced individuals because, if they did a civil divorce, for instance, then they have gone beyond the Church law and, in a sense, the normal members of the faith community. Holy Communion is not just between the individual and God. It is your part as a community that professes a common faith and lives by a common ethical code. By the very fact that you have isolated yourself from the community, sharing the Holy Communion does not make sense."

“But looking at it from a pastoral point of view, individual cChurch sees separation as temporal, despite rifts

In the laws that guide the Catholic Church, a marriage that is valid cannot be dissolved under any circumstances except by death. Writer Elvis Ondieki spoke with Father Sahaya Selvan, a Nairobi-based priest and lecturer, on the position of the Church on divorce in the face of violence.

“If a woman comes to me saying she wants out of a marriage because of violence, I will seek to listen to both parties. It could be just a misunderstanding. We need to find solutions to that first. Separation is not the immediate solution."

“But if somebody’s well-being is in danger, it would be imprudent to tell them to continue to live together. And I don’t think the Church is saying that. But divorce is not a solution, because we need to consider other factors: children at stake, their own emotional status, and all those things. In the laws of the Church, divorce is not possible. But pastorally, separation is possible. But that has to be resorted to after exhausting other means. And even when there is separation, they need to be supported pastorally: through prayer, counselling, therapy, all that."

“In the Church laws, divorce is not anticipated unless death separates couples because if all the requirements of a valid marriage were met, then they are a couple forever. When a marriage is licit and valid, it cannot be broken. That is what the catechism of the Catholic Church says. But we are not talking about the separation aspect. Separation is always seen as something temporary for the good of the individual. Separation is not the same as a legal divorce, what we call an annulment in the Church context. It might be possible that they can come together to live. If not, it might take years to understand the situation and to apply therapy."

“The Church will not readily give Holy Communion to separated or divorced individuals because, if they did a civil divorce, for instance, then they have gone beyond the Church law and, in a sense, the normal members of the faith community. Holy Communion is not just between the individual and God. It is your part as a community that professes a common faith and lives by a common ethical code. By the very fact that you have isolated yourself from the community, sharing the Holy Communion does not make sense."

“But looking at it from a pastoral point of view, individual cases have to be considered. Let us say there is a woman in her 60s or 70s who has been separated from the husband who is living with somebody else. In this case, pastorally, the woman could be allowed to receive communion because she is not at fault. So, Church rules have to be interpreted with this sort of an approach. That is what Pope Francis is telling us today; but not everybody is in agreement because some people would still want only the Church laws."

The Catholic Church cannot preside over a second wedding of a divorcee. If the first marriage was valid within the Catholic structures, and even if they are divorced civilly, one cannot marry again.ases have to be considered. Let us say there is a woman in her 60s or 70s who has been separated from the husband who is living with somebody else. In this case, pastorally, the woman could be allowed to receive communion because she is not at fault. So, Church rules have to be interpreted with this sort of an approach. That is what Pope Francis is telling us today; but not everybody is in agreement because some people would still want only the Church laws."

The Catholic Church cannot preside over a second wedding of a divorcee. If the first marriage was valid within the Catholic structures, and even if they are divorced civilly, one cannot marry again.

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