(An edited version of a posting on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association discussion list, March 7, 1997)
If Jesus encourgages us to "turn the other cheek," what do we say to women whose husbands have turned violent, drunken, criminal, sexually abusing the children, and requiring abominable behavior? I deal with such cases under the category of enemies. Where the person is destroying the home and family, a woman must in these circumstances defend herself and the children.
Where such intolerable behavior occurs, the family is no longer a Christian marriage in the sense of the tenfold mutuality of 1 Cor. 7:1-16. Paul says a woman should not divorce her husband, even if he is an unbeliever, if "he consents to live with her" (1 Cor. 7:13). But consenting to live with her does not include behavior that will destroy her or her children.
As Jesus said, enemies are to be loved, but we do not allow them to walk over us. In some cases decisive action actually brings the man to repentance. A man in the local congregation down the road from us tells how his wife left him when he had become a drunk and violent. He discovered he still loved her, and was so shattered he came into the little chapel alone, poured out his heart to God, and the Spirit transformed him. He would not have been saved if she had let him walk over her.
At what point a woman decides she must bail out with her children from the stricken plane is something only she can decide. Others have no right to recommend delay. And once a woman has made that decision, I recommend immediately getting a lawyer to fight for her at law and getting a court order to restrain the man if necessary.
Whereas in Old Testament patriarchy only the man was allowed to divorce, Jesus gave women that right (Mark 10:12). The second half of this verse is I believe wrongly translated. In Old Testament patriarchy adultery was a physical act that fouled up the man's genealogy (what he did by taking other wives and concubines was not adultery). Based on the fact that Jesus gave the metaphorical meaning of heart adulteration to moichao (Matt. 5:28, 32), we could paraphrase "A woman who has had to throw out her husband, and marry another, is inevitably adulterated." That avoids making a necessary divorce a matter of guilt, but it retains the fact that the original marriage is certainly adulterated for whatever reason.
(A fuller treatment of this is given in Robert Brow & Mollie Brow, Adultery: An Exploration of Love and Marriage, which was written in Arabia when we saw the enormity of male patriarchal marriage and divorce at first hand).
As Christians we will on occasion turn our own cheek (Matthew 5:39, where a slap with the back of the hand on the opposite right cheek is an insult, not a blow to the face). But it is an enormity to counsel an abused woman to keep turning her cheek till she and the children are ravaged.