One in Three Americans Say Divorce Is Still a Sin in Cases of Abuse

Pastors are more understanding when adultery, spousal abuse, or abandonment occurs

A 2014 LifeWay Research survey found that domestic abuse remains a taboo subject in the pulpit. Almost two-thirds of the 1,000 Protestant pastors in that survey said they speak about domestic violence once a year or less. Earlier this year, the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, won a Pulitzer Prize for its series on domestic abuse, entitled “Till Death do Us Part.” Reporters found that churches in South Carolina struggled on how to address abuse.


About a third of Americans—and a quarter of Protestant pastors—say it is a sin to get divorced in cases of spousal abuse.

And many Americans are less forgiving than their pastors when it comes to divorce, especially in cases of adultery or abandonment.

Those are among the findings from two newly-released surveys by Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

Researchers polled 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Protestant senior pastors on five reasons why couples get divorced: no longer being in love; porn addiction; adultery; spousal abuse; and spousal abandonment.

The researchers then asked respondents if each reason for divorce was a sin.

Overall, about four in 10 (39 percent) Americans say divorce is a sin when one partner has committed adultery. A similar number says divorce is a sin, even in cases of abuse (37 percent) or abandonment (38 percent).

By contrast, about a third (32 percent) of Protestant pastors say divorce is a sin in cases of adultery. That drops to about a quarter for divorces in cases of abuse (28 percent) or abandonment (27 percent).

The abuse numbers were puzzling, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Few people, he said, would advise a spouse to stay with an abuser.

“It could be that people think divorce in cases of abuse is still a sin, even though it may be the best option,” he told CT.

Earlier, this year, CT’s Open Question feature asked, “After domestic violence, why should a Christian wife call the police, not a pastor first?”

CT asked Justin Holcomb, co-author of Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, how best to interpret the survey findings.

“It is important to be clear what we are talking about—a person battering their spouse physically, emotionally, and psychologically,” Holcomb said by email today.

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