UPDATE and CORRECTION
(Editor's note: Orginally Associated Baptist Press attributed the comments and perspective in this story to Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren. This story updates and corrects that story, issued Jan. 8, and more correctly attributes the domestic-violence comments to Saddleback teaching pastor Tom Holladay. ABP regrets the error.)
Comments on the Saddleback Church website that the Bible does not permit a woman to divorce a physically abusive spouse have triggered concerns among advocates for victims of domestic violence.
Pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch is Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Warren has been in the news of late as the surprise pick to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.
Audio clips on a "Bible Questions & Answers" section of Saddleback's website feature a speaker who says the Bible condones divorce for only two reasons: adultery and abandonment.
The speaker is not identified on the page, but a spokesperson for Warren said it is Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at the church in Lake Forest, Calif.
"I wish there were a third [reason for divorce] in Scripture, having been involved as a pastor with situations of abuse," Holladay said. "There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, 'If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.'"
Holladay said Saddleback's counseling ministry advises separation and counseling instead of divorce in abusive marriages, because it's the only path toward healing. "There's an abusive cycle that's been set up," he said. "Separation combined with counseling has been proven to provide healing in people's lives."
Holladay said there's nothing in the Bible that says a spouse must tolerate abuse. "There's nowhere in the Bible that says it's an attitude of submission to let somebody abuse you," he said. "That is not submission. So we recommend very strongly separation."
He defined what he meant by physical abuse.
"When I say physical abuse, I mean literally somebody is beating you regularly," he said. "I don't mean they grab you once. I mean they've made a habit of beating you regularly. You need to separate in that situation, because that's the only thing that's going to solve that."
Obama's invitation to Warren has been criticized from the left because of his opposition to gay marriage and from the right by Warren's fellow religious conservatives, who fear his prayer will convey approval of Obama's left-leaning social policies.
But Saddleback's published views on domestic violence are what recently caught the attention of Because It Matters, a blog by a lifelong Baptist and abuse survivor who uses the pseudonym Danni Moss to give anonymity to her children, family and former in-laws.
The commentary "expresses a distinct lack of understanding about the nature, heart and spiritual roots of abuse," Moss said.
"I think he believes he is doing right and doesn't realize his ignorance or how much he is hurting people, so this is offered without personal judgment," she added. "But I also believe categorically that it is dangerous."
A women's-rights blog named The New Agenda called the views "alarming," especially in light of recent statistics showing a 42 percent rise in reports of domestic violence from 2005 to 2007.
Attempts to reach Warren for his take on the controversy Jan. 8 were unsuccessful. Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for Warren who works at A. Larry Ross Communications, confirmed the voice on the website is Holladay's, but said she does not know when it was recorded.
Holladay also fielded a question about whether a Christian spouse should remain in a "miserable" marriage.
"God sees you as one, and the Bible says they become one, and so the answer, the Bible answer, is yes," Holladay said.
"I often say to people when they're facing this decision, really, you're choosing your pain in this moment, because it's going to be painful either way," he said. "If you stay in the marriage there is the opportunity for reconciliation and for the loss of pain, but there is going to be short-term pain on the way there. There's no way to not have pain."
Holladay said there is an "immediate feeling of freedom" after a divorce — but in the long run "there is lifelong pain in divorce."
"Does God expect me just to live with this pain?" he asked. "No, I think he expects us to ask him for wisdom to do the things that would cause the pain to begin to be solved. He says we're one and as Christians, as believers, the Bible says a husband is to sacrifice for his wife and the wife is to respect her husband."
"So if that's not happening," he said, "I think you have not only the right but also the responsibility to keep pushing for that, to not just settle for the pain."
EDITOR: The first comments below were written when the original story attributed the remarks to Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. I've left them up because the discussion of abuse and marital relationships is still valid and I would like to see it continue. — Norman Jameson