12 THINGS FOCUS ON THE FAMILY DOESN’T TELL YOU ABOUT DIVORCE AND CHRISTIANS

 

As Christians, we believe in God's plan for marriage, that it be loving, undefiled, and lifelong. But we also believe divorce may be necessary in some cases.

You know the kind of situations I mean. You've seen the terrible stories of children beaten, humiliated, even killed. Or husbands who torment and threaten to murder their wives. Or a husband who locks his wife in a shed with no plumbing for months. Or abused husbands who feel they have no way out but to commit suicide. Although we are generally against divorce, we believe that divorce may be the merciful, life-affirming, and godly option in these cases. 

Believe it or not, Focus on the Family does not condone divorce for domestic violence.  On their website, Focus on the Family does not offer divorce as a positive or morally right thing to do in domestic violence situations. They don't see it as God's protection of parents and children. They don't tell you about the Harvard journal article that shows that divorce saves lives. And they don't tell you 12 facts about the good side of divorce in these cases (see below for the list), even though nearly 3 in 4 Protestant pastors and nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe that divorce is morally acceptable where there is abuse. 

 

12 Facts Focus on the Family Doesn't Tell You About the Good Side of Divorce

Before I show you the positive effects of divorce on kids and parents in these horrifying situations—and the conclusions of 30 years of family research—let's talk about Focus on the Family more.

We've already determined that Focus doesn't condone divorce for physical violence, but they go one step further. They also publish incorrect articles that suggest that divorce is universally detrimental to children and parents. Here are two examples of their poor research, with claim-by-claim critiques. They omit facts and distort the findings of the very researchers they quote: Critique of "Is Divorce the Right Answer?" by Angela Bisignano and Critique of "How Could Divorce Affect My Kids?" by Amy Desai.

 

In a 2020 Focus on the Family article, by Karen Scalf Bouchard, written to abused wives they instruct readers TO AVOID anyone who has positive things to say about divorce. (Link)

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Think about this for a moment. Focus and author Bouchard don't want anyone, not even an abused wife (or husband), to talk to a friend who says anything positive about divorce! Focus's ideology is more important to them than an abuse victim's safety...or their children's safety. In my opinion, they really don't mind if you get injured, become suicidal, or get killed, as long as you don't divorce.

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But let's give Focus on the Family the benefit of the doubt:

—Perhaps they are afraid to make divorce sound attractive. 

—Perhaps they are afraid that divorcees may not take the sanctity of marriage seriously. 

—Perhaps they are afraid that one divorce might open the floodgates to divorce.

—Perhaps they are afraid their big donors will stop giving to them if they condone divorce for abuse.

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But they need not worry (at least not about the first three).

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Christian divorcees and licensed counselors are against frivolous divorces just as much as Focus is! They are against “I’m bored” divorces, and “I miss the party life” divorces, and “I feel unfulfilled" divorces. Christian divorcees have a nuanced view of divorce. They believe in the sanctity of marriage AND that God gave life-saving divorces for a pattern of domestic violence, serial adultery, child abuse, family-crushing additions, and severe neglect and indifference.

 

A high view of marriage includes an understanding that divorce might be necessary. 

 

“Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage.

Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition

that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage.”

—Rebecca VanDoodewaard

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Sadly Focus on the Family doesn't seem to understand this. Here’s the exact quote from the 2020 Focus on the Family article written specifically to abused wives in hostile marriages, emphasis mine (link)

 

Focus on the Family Quote: 

"Identify counselors and friends who are equipped to help you.

Avoid friends who think you’re overreacting,

and retreat from friends who paint an enticing picture of divorce."

 

 

Let’s look at that quote from the Focus article.

 

We can all agree with the first two pieces of advice:

1) Find a good counselor

2) Avoid friends who think you are “overreacting.”

But let’s reject this advice…

3) Retreat from friends who have a positive view of divorce.

 

 

Why Avoid Talking to Friends about Divorce?

 

Well, possibly because Focus on the Family and author Karen Scalf Bouchard do not condone divorce for domestic violence ever.  It is hard to believe: yet this is the view of an organization that claims to care about the health and wellbeing of families. It's not a fluke, or an error in one article; it is their policy. Karen Scalf Bouchard says that on a scale of 1 to 10, staying in the abuse is a "1," and divorce is a "10." That shows Karen Bouchard is well-meaning but really doesn't understand domestic violence. Murder and suicide are the "10," not divorce. And the torment or destruction or death of a child is probably an "11." Divorce is a lot better than any of those.

Focus on the Family’s official online policy explicitly condones divorce for adultery and abandonment,

but not for physical or emotional abuse.

They keep the abused spouse on the hamster wheel forever, putting the burden on the abused wife (or sometimes husband) to stop a full-grown adult's adultery, alcoholism, drug addictions, and abuse—which no one can do but the cheater, addict, or violent person themselves.

 

 

Focus Tells You About the Horrific Medical Effects of Emotional Abuse, But They Don't Want You To Divorce

 

In their article (link), Focus on the Family shows that people in “severely difficult” marriages can frequently develop serious health problems, “from auto-immune disorders, headaches, sleep problems, chronic fatigue, Hashimoto’s disease, fibromyalgia and more.”

According to the doctor quoted in their article, this is common:

“There is absolutely a connection between physical well-being or sickness and emotional functioning.”

So emotional abuse isn’t just “sticks and stones.” It has life-endangering physical effects for children and parents. Observing one parent being abused by the other is devastating for children. And it often sets them up to either marry an abuser or become one themselves. It is immoral and unethical to tell people to stay in these abusive marriages and try harder. Focus on the Family and author Bouchard state that emotional abuse causes serious medical conditions, but frankly they value their ideology more than an abuse victim's life and sanity. In other words, emotional abuse is physical abuse, but they still close the door to divorce.

 

12 Things Focus On The Family Should Tell You About Divorce (But They Don’t)

 

  1. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that 30 years of research shows that divorce is actually good for kids, on average, where there is abuse, high distress, or high conflict. http://lifesavingdivorce.com/fotfdivorce1

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that making divorce easier to obtain in the 1970s-80s saved lives. It reduced the suicide rate for wives by 8-16%, the domestic violence rate 30%, and the homicide rate for wives by 10%. (Stevenson and Wolfers, http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/divorcesaveslives)

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that divorce resulted in 10 times better wellbeing for children in very high-conflict homes compared to children whose parents stayed. (Amato, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids)

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that divorce—on average—is good for parents in highly toxic homes. Those in these miserable long marriages find their wellbeing improves on average after divorce. (Hawkins and Booth, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/happy)

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  1. Focus doesn't tell you that abuse is so destructive to kids, that living 24/7 with a father who displays 3 or more anti-social traits increases the child's likelihood of developing conduct disorders themselves. (Jaffee, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/Jaffee).

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  1. Focus doesn't tell you that children who experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or observed abuse, or lived in a home with substance abuse, mental illness, or criminality, were found to have a higher likelihood of health problems in adulthood. (Felitti, ACE Study 1998, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids).

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that 7 in 10 Christians report they are “somewhat happy” or “very happy” after divorce (Baylor Religion Survey data, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/happy).

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  1. Focus on the Family distorts Dr. Waite’s findings, and doesn’t tell you that more than 1 in 3 of couples in Waite’s study of miserable marriages did NOT get better in 5 years, specifically those in destructive marriages due to domestic violence. (http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/waite)

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  1. Focus on the Family quotes Dr. Judith Wallerstein, and doesn’t tell you that she was in favor of divorce in cases of hostile or violent marriages, and said that 7 in 10 children of divorce turned out “average” or “very well or outstanding.” She didn’t want people to "stay for the kids." (http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/wallerstein)

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that divorced Christians reported higher wellbeing than other groups, a full “9” on a 10-point scale of life satisfaction (Montenegro, see http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/happy).

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  1. Focus on the Family gives misinformation about child abuse. This misinformation results in parents believing that if they divorce, their next boyfriend/husband will likely abuse their children. This is not true. Fewer than 5 in 100 remarriages have child abuse. And while that is still horrifying, it’s still better than being in an abusive home. (If I were in an abusive marriage, I wouldn't let 5-in-100 odds stop me from getting a life-saving divorce.) (NIS4 data 2014)

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  1. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you there are two Bible verses that command divorce where there is abuse and neglect. They also don’t tell you that “God hates divorce” is NOT the traditional translation. For the first 2,100 years of Bible translation, it was never interpreted that way. Malachi 2:16 was always an anti-treachery verse, not an anti-divorce verse. And since the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments of Malachi, no new major Bible translation has used the "God hates divorce" wording, not the NIV, CSB, or ESV.

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BONUS: Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that most children in abusive homes are relieved when their nurturing parent gets away from the destruction, tension, and chaos through divorce. I don’t have a scientific study for this claim, but I did a poll in my 2,000-member private Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/lifesavingdivorce), and 8 in 10 respondents said at least one of their children was glad they got divorced. 1 in 10 were opposed to the divorce, and 1 in 10 parents said they had never asked their children.

 

 

 

So do not listen to author Karen Scalf Bouchard and Focus on the Family.

They put their ideology above your life and safety. Focus is dangerously out of touch with real research. Their message (to just try this or that technique) is unsafe. They don't remind you that the adult who commits marriage-endangering sins stands alone before God for their behavior. You were not put on this earth to cover up for your spouse so they can sin even worse.  You were not put on this earth to insure that your children were brought up in an unholy home—a home with contempt, violence, rage, swindling, trickery, deceit, criticism, irresponsibility, reckless disregard for safety, and lack of remorse. Often a single parent home is holy, loving, peaceful, and safer for the children.

If you have already gotten counseling and have learned problem-solving, communication, and conflict management skills, and you find that the abuse continues, it may be valuable to consider the option of divorce to save yourself and your kids. There are many considerations, and each person's circumstances are different. Divorce isn't the right option for everyone. Only you know what's happening behind closed doors. Only you know what you can take. Only you know when enough is enough.

 

The tide has turned. Now pastors take domestic violence seriously and condone divorce.

As of 2015, nearly 3 in 4 Protestant pastors do not consider divorce a sin for abuse, according to LifeWay, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.lifesavingdivorce.com/pastors. They consider abuse to be a form of abandonment. And according to a 2017 Gallup poll, nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe that divorce is morally acceptable. The divorce rate is at the lowest level in nearly 50 years. With a nationwide spotlight on domestic violence and rapid expansion of domestic violence hotlines (TheHotline.org) and domestic violence shelters, society is highly aware of marital abuse.

Sadly, Focus on the Family has not been able to adapt, because they chose to make divorce "a hill to die on," claiming that there is no divorce for abuse (even though other conservative Christian leaders have found justification for divorce). They publish unsafe articles like this one and this one. And worse, they write articles on children and divorce full of misleading claims that omit and distort the findings of the very researchers they quote, twisting them so that it appears the researchers agree with Focus, when in reality all those major researchers agree that divorce is likely better for children that staying, where there is abuse. 

 

Endangering Their Own Donors

There's an unintended consequence when you make divorce a culture war issue and inadvertently endanger your own donors, like this woman who gave thousands of dollars and had a bookcase full of Focus on the Family titles. People realize you and your organization are nothing like the Jesus who healed a vulnerable woman in bondage to evil, on the Sabbath and infuriated the religious leaders.

I wonder what their donors would think if they knew that domestic violence victims are being told divorce is never God's option for them. I doubt they know.

 

 

If your message exposes people to danger and doesn't protect the vulnerable, something is wrong with your theology. 


Are you considering a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25  Or eBook: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr

Also, sign up for my email list below or HERE


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