This morning, I tweeted the following survey:
Clinical psychopaths are manipulative anti-social narcissists who are incapable of experiencing love or empathy. The condition is untreatable. If you came to believe your friend was married to a non-violent psychopath, would you support your friend divorcing that individual?
— Tentative Apologist (@RandalRauser) July 27, 2018
As of this writing (9 hours after the survey was posted), fully 87% believe that the individual would be or may be justified in divorcing the psychopathic spouse. Conversely, a mere 13% of respondents believe that a person is obliged to remain married to a clinical psychopath.
While I don’t know how many respondents are Christian, given the extreme nature of this contrast, it would seem a safe assumption that even a survey limited to Christians would result in a minority insisting that person is required to stay married.
Interestingly, when Jesus talked about grounds for divorce, he only mentioned the case of one spouse committing porneia (Matthew 19:9). Porneia is translated variously as “fornication” (KJV), “sexual immorality” (NIV, ESV, HCSB), “unfaithful” (NLT), “immorality” (NASB, NET), “terrible sexual sin” (CEV).
What it clearly doesn’t include is a case where one spouse suffers from an untreatable personal disorder that results in them being a manipulative anti-social narcissist who is incapable of experiencing love or empathy.
The important thing to recognize is that those Christians who conclude that Jesus would permit divorce (and perhaps remarriage) in cases where one spouse is married to a clinical psychopath are not thereby “liberals” who are denigrating the authority of Scripture. (To be sure, they might be that: my point is simply that taking a lenient view on divorcing a psychopath is insufficient to support that conclusion.) Rather, they may simply recognize that experience plays an important role in clarifying and articulating doctrine and the ethical life.
From that perspective, the underlying issue is not whether or not Scripture is authoritative: all parties may agree that it is. Rather, the question is this: how ought Scripture to function within the community of faith? To wit, does it provide a comprehensive rulebook for every possible moral eventuality? Or, conversely, does it rather provide general principles that the community of faith must then work out in the complexities of life? Neither view is obviously the correct one, nor will it settle the matter to cite a passage like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 since that passage completely underdetermines this question.
And for this reason, a Christian may uphold the authority of Scripture as God-breathed words to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness whilst recognizing that unforeseen circumstances — like the psychopathic spouse — may force us to bring new questions to the text, and work prayerfully to clarify what we believe the right answers to be.