Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Reckoning with Divorce

 

We’ve had a pair of gay marriage posts this week on the Member Feed [Editor’s note: Curious? Join!], and there have been a few comments along the lines that Christians focus all their anger on gays, and similarly comments about the easy forgiveness of heterosexual sexual sins. These comments bothered me, but I don’t want to hijack those threads.

In the 20 years or so since I’ve been an active member of congregational churches (yes, those of you doing the math, I started when I was about 10 years old; being a voting member is a matter of salvation and understanding of the doctrine through baptism, not age), and I’ve seen sexual sins brought up a number of times. Almost always heterosexual, and almost always aimed at fornication and adultery (with the balance being about how married people should have sex more frequently).

I’ve generally attended the closest Southern Baptist Church whose website didn’t trip a heresy alert, but in college I was Assemblies of God, and I’ve also spent some time in Methodist and Presbyterian (evangelical) congregations.

I’ve seen two pastors removed for affairs, both straight. I’ve seen a third pastor step down for the (I still think bad reason) that he made a habit of meeting with women not his wife alone -but still in public. There was agreement it was a problem; the disagreement was whether the problem was scandal or impropriety, and we had to revise the bylaws after that one. Those are the only pastors I’ve ever seen forced to leave a pulpit.

I’ve seen two — maybe three — people disciplined by the church. The pastor spoke to them and asked them to change their behavior or find another church. I only know about it because I knew the people involved — well, through my parents — and in all cases these were people carrying on affairs with other church members (who I presume were also taken aside).

I have had a pastor, not removed, who made it known, in the context of a sermon about marriage, that he will only officiate a wedding ceremony if the couple is living apart. There was, in fact, debate on this point, with some in the congregation arguing that it was far better for the couple to be made honest, and with others arguing that marriage — like communion — can’t be taken while stained with unrepented sin.

The single biggest fight I’ve seen was among the Assemblies of God, on the question of whether a woman who had married young, and foolishly, and then divorced, could hypothetically remarry. The pastor said she could not, and while the congregation wasn’t thrilled with this response, they couldn’t come up with a rebuttal that the congregation could support.

On the other hand, I have had a church whose pastor was divorced and remarried, and — while there was some debate on the matter — few thought it a disqualification (though all agreed his situation was regrettable, the consensus was that his testimony and witness on the topic were good).

Divorce ministries, and questions about how to treat divorcees — whether and under what circumstances they should be encouraged to remarry — are common in the churches I’ve attended. Similarly, the question of whether and how to encourage the youth (from high school up into the late 20s or early 30s) to wait until marriage has been a puzzle. There’s no debate on waiting until marriage, but there is on whether young people should they be encouraged to marry early, within the church, or wait until after college, or something else?

One of the Bible studies I was in actually asked to dissolve and join other classes because they didn’t want to be the “singles, out of college” group, they wanted to be “adults.” And while there wasn’t much debate on the point, the question of how to treat single adults remains. Can they be deacons or elders (in some churches, the answer has been no, in others it has been merely hypothetical)?

_____________

Moreso than most organs of society, churches have been required to reckon with the wreckage of family and divorce over the last 40 years. I don’t know that they’ve always done a great job of it. It really is a hard question: how do you hold people to a high standard, correct sin, and teach righteousness in a society that legally and socially runs in the opposite direction. Divorce is, of course, the hardest one. It’s only allowed in the case of adultery (though we’ve often extended it to abuse and abandonment through some slightly creative hermeneutics), and even then preserving the marriage is considered preferable, and not every congregation agrees on remarriage afterwards. But the courts don’t care about our laws: they just print the divorce certificate, and then the congregants want to know why that isn’t enough. It spreads to everything, though.

Jim Manzi said in his book that “maybe the socons are right, and the wheels really will come off the wagon…” and, having watched the past 20 years, I am bewildered and a little infuriated at his choice of future tense. Rising numbers of frustrated young adults who can’t figure out how to be full adult members of the community that prizes marriage and parenthood, and can’t figure out how to love and marry, and speaking only for myself, unreasonably resent the attempts at help.

I’d feel better about our libertarian contingent’s mad dash to freedom if they spent more than a rhetorical minute facing up to what our society has done to itself for 40 years, and then insulting the people who actually deal with it every week by insinuating all we care about is the gays.

There are 51 comments.

  1. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    Thank you Sabrdance; You have reflected the frustration that many of us serious Christians are familiar with, regardless of whatever family of believers we are among. We, also, have seen many churches damaged, and believers wounded, over the issue of sex, although, like you, homosexuality has seldom been the issue. Mostly, fornication and adultery drive believers into sin. As with many believers, it is difficult to convince outsiders that we do not have a problem with those whose sexuality is other than heterosexual. We do, however, have a problem with fornication, gay or straight. Feelings are just that, and it is the resulting actions that show the maturity of the believer.

    America is hell bent to bring the “sexual revolution” into the church, no matter how much we resist, and the libertarian community are of little help with this problem.

    • #1
    • March 11, 2015, at 7:50 PM PST
    • Like
  2. Ward Robles Member

    I am a libertarian of sorts. More so a classical liberal, really. Anarchy is not my thing. In my community of 30-40,000, the only people who care enough about education to provide An alternative to public schools are Christian. I think that this is true in the majority of communities across America. The various lodges are still there, but are shrunken and limit their activities to small-scale charity. In times past, various religious and fraternal organizations provided schools, social welfare programs, and medical care to society. Much of the knowledge we have of pagan Greek and Roman civilization we owe to medieval Christian scholars.

    Government has marginalized churches, synagogues, fraternal societies and other voluntary organizations by providing all of these services to the public- no questions asked. Us libertarian/classical liberal types would shrink government to the point that there would be much more room in society for the Church and other voluntary organizations to provide these services, and hopefully a little wisdom and encouragement about what it means to live a good life.

    • #2
    • March 11, 2015, at 8:12 PM PST
    • Like
  3. Amy Schley Moderator

    I’m not quite sure why people who don’t go to church figure every church is Westboro Baptist on homosexuality and Episcopalian/ELCA on all other sexual issues. Any church that is going to call out homosexuality as a sin *also* will call out fornication, adultery, and divorce as a sin — and frankly, if a church winks at cohabitation and divorce, it will only be a matter of time before it starts winking at homosexuality too.

    But I suppose from the outside looking in, all the churchgoers look the same.

    • #3
    • March 11, 2015, at 8:31 PM PST
    • Like
  4. kylez Member

    The reason “all we care about is the gays” (though not true) is because that is the only sexual issue that has been organized into a national movement that is pressuring society and even the church the way it is, and denying the strictures against it. We may hear people rationalize heterosexual adultery, specifically their own, but I have yet to hear of the national “cheating on your spouse is not a sin and should be celebrated” movement. I’m sure many politicians would love to get in on that one.

    • #4
    • March 12, 2015, at 12:28 AM PST
    • Like
  5. Profile Photo Member

    I never heard that divorce was a sin. It is a solution given by God. It is true that God hates divorce and it is a result of sin but calling it a sin is like shooting the wounded.

    It seems when it comes to sin people are materialists. If there is material damage it is a greater sin. Theft and murder are in the top ten whereas “white lies” and “hidden sins” are not so bad. If the New Testament is a guide, pride and lack of compassion are terrible sins. People often forget that the sins of omission cause damage. Isn’t this what the Parable of the Talents is all about?

    We should not always think of divorce as a stigma but as a time to heal and strengthen.

    • #5
    • March 12, 2015, at 5:33 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Amy Schley Moderator

    Matthew 19

    3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

    4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

    8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

    Dime, I’m not sure how one reads that and doesn’t come away with divorce is a sin.

    • #6
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:06 AM PST
    • Like
  7. Saint Augustine Member

    C. S. Lewis: . . . the thing to notice is that Churches all agree with one another about marriage a great deal more than any of them agrees with the outside world. I mean, they all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else. 

    10 Cents:

    I never heard that divorce was a sin. It is a solution given by God. It is true that God hates divorce and it is a result of sin but calling it a sin is like shooting the wounded.

    In Lewisy terms, I think we could say that on the Christian view divorce is a radical solution like cutting up the body is a radical solution: morally permissible in the right set of drastic circumstances, but in any other circumstances a sinful mutilation of what God has put together.

    • #7
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:23 AM PST
    • Like
  8. Profile Photo Member

    Amy,

    Are you saying a person who is following Moses’ advice and dealing with sexual immorality in a marriage is sinning by getting a divorce?

    What sin is a divorce? Do you think it is adultery?

    • #8
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:24 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    First, great post.

    That said, I find it a little confusing to discuss sexual sins such as adultery and fornication as part of the same phenomena as divorce. I’m obviously not arguing that the two issues are wholly distinct, but congregants sleeping around seems like a different issue from whether or not divorce and/or remarriage should be allowed and under what circumstances.

    • #9
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:31 AM PST
    • Like
  10. Profile Photo Member

    Mark,

    I agree. It is like an amputation. It is truly sad. If that is the treatment that is needed we should never stigmatize it. Out of respect for marriage divorce must be there.

    • #10
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:35 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Amy Schley Moderator

    10 cents:Amy,

    Are you saying a person who is following Moses’ advice and dealing with sexual immorality in a marriage is sinning by getting a divorce?

    What sin is a divorce? Do you think it is adultery?

    Yes. I think that my father’s father who is married to my divorced mother’s mother is committing adultery. I think that my divorced father-in-law is committing adultery with his new divorced wife.

    Now, that’s between them and God, and so I’m not going to let it affect my feelings toward them. But sin is sin, and it doesn’t go away just because we love someone. But it is why I don’t really respect my four-times divorced yet still ordained maternal grandfather whine about how his church has lost its way by letting homosexuals be ordained as well.

    • #11
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:42 AM PST
    • Like
  12. Profile Photo Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:First, great post.

    That said, I find it a little confusing to discuss sexual sins such as adultery and fornication as part of the same phenomena as divorce. I’m obviously not arguing that the two issues are wholly distinct, but congregants sleeping around seems like a different issue from whether or not divorce and/or remarriage should be allowed and under what circumstances.

    Tom,

    Why do you think it is a different issue?

    • #12
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:42 AM PST
    • Like
  13. Profile Photo Member

    Amy Schley:

    10 cents:Amy,

    Are you saying a person who is following Moses’ advice and dealing with sexual immorality in a marriage is sinning by getting a divorce?

    What sin is a divorce? Do you think it is adultery?

    Yes. I think that my father’s father who is married to my divorced mother’s mother is committing adultery. I think that my divorced father-in-law is committing adultery with his new divorced wife.

    Now, that’s between them and God, and so I’m not going to let it affect my feelings toward them. But sin is sin, and it doesn’t go away just because we love someone. But it is why I don’t really respect my four-times divorced yet still ordained maternal grandfather whine about how his church has lost its way by letting homosexuals be ordained as well.

    Amy,

    You are talking about remarriage not divorce, right? They are separate issues.

    Are you saying that a person betrayed by a spouse must honor the broken contract?

    • #13
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:48 AM PST
    • Like
  14. Saint Augustine Member

    Amy Schley:

    But sin is sin, and it doesn’t go away just because we love someone. But it is why I don’t really respect my four-times divorced yet still ordained maternal grandfather whine about how his church has lost its way by letting homosexuals be ordained as well.

    Marvelously said. In the vernacular we use these days, epic.

    • #14
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:48 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Saint Augustine Member

    10 cents:I agree. It is like an amputation. It is truly sad. If that is the treatment that is needed we should never stigmatize it. Out of respect for marriage divorce must be there.

    Ok, gangrene warrants amputation, and adultery warrants divorce, right? And the divorce is no more a sin than the surgery, right?

    I think Amy when she referred to divorce as a sin was referring to divorce for lesser reasons–like amputation to get rid of a sprained ankle.

    • #15
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:53 AM PST
    • Like
  16. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor

    All of this sleeping around sounds to me like the very essence of what makes us human.

    Honestly, the Bible’s most accurate features are its observations about human nature, and this is its foremost feature.

    Does it say anything interesting about us (or the religions involved) that even people placed in such high places of authority see it as an opportunity for sexual gratification? I don’t think it does, actually. It does indicate to me that “power corrupts” and that the sort of people who would seek authority of that kind may be inherently driven by these sorts of desires.

    One does not become the leader of an organization of people without possessing some positive social traits which may be seductive to members of the opposite sex, after all.

    • #16
    • March 12, 2015, at 6:53 AM PST
    • Like
  17. Profile Photo Member

    Mark Boone:

    10 cents:I agree. It is like an amputation. It is truly sad. If that is the treatment that is needed we should never stigmatize it. Out of respect for marriage divorce must be there.

    Ok, gangrene warrants amputation, and adultery warrants divorce, right? And the divorce is no more a sin than the surgery, right?

    I think Amy when she referred to divorce as a sin was referring to divorce for lesser reasons–like amputation to get rid of a sprained ankle.

    Mark,

    I thought the OP had made the distinction clear. I think frivolous divorce would be off topic.

    Divorce is, of course, the hardest one. It’s only allowed in the case of adultery (though we’ve often extended it to abuse and abandonment through some slightly creative hermeneutics), and even then preserving the marriage is considered preferable, and not every congregation agrees on remarriage afterwards. But the courts don’t care about our laws: they just print the divorce certificate, and then the congregants want to know why that isn’t enough. It spreads to everything, though.

    • #17
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:04 AM PST
    • Like
  18. Dave of Barsham Member

    My Dad was a pastor so while growing up we had some interesting discussions about this and other thorny topics as they would come up in the church he was pastoring at the time. I think the difference that might be coming up in the “is it a sin or not” is the fact that different people (especially those outside a church) have different definitions as to what constitutes that extreme circumstance to break a marriage. Our culture says that you shouldn’t stay married if you’re not happy, the typical evangelical church wouldn’t likely agree with that. Conflict can arise as those two cultures interact. Now the idea that you shouldn’t get divorced unless it’s abuse or adultery is practically considered judgmental. Sometimes even the idea that after adultery you should try and save the marriage seems to get the same reaction from the general culture.

    • #18
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:05 AM PST
    • Like
  19. Profile Photo Member

    Majestyk,

    I would think that being faithful makes us human in contrast to following our animal instincts.

    Your points are well taken. I wonder through out history if some times were more moral than others. The problems have always been there but the percentages matter.

    • #19
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:08 AM PST
    • Like
  20. Amy Schley Moderator

    Dime, unless the divorce was for adultery, yes, the divorce is a sin. It’s a sin of oathbreaking. When one marries, one stands before one’s spouse, one’s friends and family, and God himself and promises to be with that person for the rest of your lives. (Of course, the popularity of writing one’s own vows means that more and more people aren’t promising to do that, so a divorce isn’t necessarily breaking that vow. It’s actually quite helpful for divorcees who wish to marry in the Catholic Church, as without the correct language in the original vows, getting the former marriage annulled isn’t too hard.)

    • #20
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:18 AM PST
    • Like
  21. Saint Augustine Member

    10 cents:

    Mark,

    I thought the OP had made the distinction clear. I think frivolous divorce would be off topic.

    Ok, good. But I thought you were disagreeing with Amy over something, and couldn’t make much sense of it other than that.

    • #21
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:22 AM PST
    • Like
  22. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    10 cents:

    Why do you think it is a different issue?

    Because adultery — to take the most obvious example — is hardly a new problem. It just strikes me that whatever is causing Sabrdance’s married fellow congregants to sleep around is likely different than what’s causing them to delay marriage.

    This may simply be my own prejudices, but violating one’s vows seems like a different category of sin than co-habitating, divorcing, or re-marrying.

    • #22
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:24 AM PST
    • Like
  23. GrannyDude Member

    Jesus’ remarks on divorce were explained to me, at least, as follows:

    Women in the Ancient Near East did not have resources available to them other than through a man— a father or a husband. If a husband divorced his wife (women did not get to divorce husbands) this meant that she was cast out, with whichever of their children he didn’t want to keep. No child support, no alimony and no employment prospects. She could go back to her father’s house and hope to be taken in, but otherwise her choices would be limited to prostitution or begging.

    Hence the part about Moses accommodating the hard-hearted.

    I agree that we are much too inclined to view divorce as the first remedy for an injured marriage rather than the last and drastic one. However, it seems to me that the spirit of Jesus’ stricture could be “you may not abandon your responsibilities and dump vulnerable family members just because they’ve become inconvenient or unattractive to you.”

    My husband’s former wife was not abandoned. She’s not even out of the family—if anything, she’s become part of my family, included on the list of people I would feel duty-bound to assist should she require it and whom I do my best to support as the mother of my step-children.

    Divorce, in our culture, might actually be described as a sort of remnant polygamy… an idea I’m not happy about (being Secunda rather than Prima) but think interesting nonetheless.

    • #23
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:29 AM PST
    • Like
  24. KC Mulville Inactive

    The Catholic view, of course, is that while divorce is a tragedy, it isn’t a sin until you marry someone else.

    Religions necessarily deal with relations between people. Christians believe the two greatest commandments are 1) Love God; 2) Love thy neighbor. How we treat one another is integrated into the notion of how we treat God. In fact, Christianity equates them: what you did to the least among you, you did to me (Matthew 25).

    That’s why marriage and family are so prominent. It’s the ultimate way in which we live with one another.

    So if marriage and family are breaking down (and I think they are), that says something important about how we treat each other in general, and how we treat God. Marriage is the coal mine’s canary.

    • #24
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:34 AM PST
    • Like
  25. Profile Photo Member

    Amy Schley:Dime, unless the divorce was for adultery, yes, the divorce is a sin. It’s a sin of oathbreaking. When one marries, one stands before one’s spouse, one’s friends and family, and God himself and promises to be with that person for the rest of your lives. (Of course, the popularity of writing one’s own vows means that more and more people aren’t promising to do that, so a divorce isn’t necessarily breaking that vow. It’s actually quite helpful for divorcees who wish to marry in the Catholic Church, as without the correct language in the original vows, getting the former marriage annulled isn’t too hard.)

    Thanks for clarifying.

    We all look at words differently by our experiences. My experience is of seeing people who have tried to save there marriages but could not. People who have had to deal with infidelity and blame themselves somehow. These people I want to encourage. I want them to recover and be restored as much as possible. I don’t consider them failures if the other party has made restoration not an option.

    • #25
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:37 AM PST
    • Like
  26. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor

    10 cents:Majestyk,

    I would think that being faithful makes us human in contrast to following our animal instincts.

    Your points are well taken. I wonder through out history if some times were more moral than others. The problems have always been there but the percentages matter.

    I think the kind of sins are different. Murder was much more common in the past than today, for instance.

    I don’t think the days of the halcyon past are as halcyon as some people believe. By many measures I think we live (relatively) in a moral golden age. Crime rates are approaching historical lows. Rather than viewing the Divorce Rate as a strictly negative thing, why wouldn’t we view that as a natural reflection of the fact that people aren’t willing to put up with a philandering, wasteful or slothful spouse?

    I think people tend to get what’s coming to them more frequently today than they did in the past.

    • #26
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
    • Like
  27. Profile Photo Member

    KC Mulville:The Catholic view, of course, is that while divorce is a tragedy, it isn’t a sin until you marry someone else.

    Religions necessarily deal with relations between people. Christians believe the two greatest commandments are 1) Love God; 2) Love thy neighbor. How we treat one another is integrated into the notion of how we treat God. In fact, Christianity equates them: what you did to the least among you, you did to me (Matthew 25).

    That’s why marriage and family are so prominent. It’s the ultimate way in which we live with one another.

    So if marriage and family are breaking down (and I think they are), that says something important about how we treat each other in general, and how we treat God. Marriage is the coal mine’s canary.

    KC Mulville,

    Has the number of annulments gone up? They seem to be more common now. Do the powerful and well connected get them easier than the average layman?

    • #27
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:45 AM PST
    • Like
  28. Profile Photo Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    10 cents:

    Why do you think it is a different issue?

    Because adultery — to take the most obvious example — is hardly a new problem. It just strikes me that whatever is causing Sabrdance’s married fellow congregants to sleep around is likely different than what’s causing them to delay marriage.

    This may simply be my own prejudices, but violating one’s vows seems like a different category of sin than co-habitating, divorcing, or re-marrying.

    How are they a different category? Do you see sin on a continuum?

    • #28
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:49 AM PST
    • Like
  29. KC Mulville Inactive

    10 cents: Has the number of annulments gone up? They seem to be more common now. Do the powerful and well connected get them easier than the average layman?

    They are starting to inch up; yes, the rich got them easier; but that’s going to change … fairly soon.

    The problem with annulments is that they used to be handled by clergy exclusively, but for a long time now they’ve been turned over to a panel or board of mixed lay and clergy. The cost of annulments has gone up because (unlike pastors who simply made up their own minds) the marriage boards actually took the thing much more seriously. They started doing investigations into whether there was a real marriage, and the investigations became costly. They also held up the process for a long time. They also became targets for abuse, etc. And when a Boston bishop intervened and granted Joe Kennedy III an annulment – when every sign pointed to his having a legitimate marriage – people rightly got disgusted.

    You all may have heard about the Synod on the Family, and that caused a furor over controversial changes proposed. But one of the proposals has been almost universally welcomed – Pope Francis and almost everyone else wants to dismantle the current system and make annulments much easier. Francis wants them to be free.

    I heartily agree.

    • #29
    • March 12, 2015, at 7:57 AM PST
    • Like
  30. Profile Photo Member

    KC Mudville,

    What was the average price for an annulment?

    Wasn’t it Joseph Kennedy II, not the III who got the annulment?

    • #30
    • March 12, 2015, at 8:07 AM PST
    • Like