Anti-Divorce Focus Is Lazy Pastoring


Let’s be honest here:

It is easier to identify people who are divorced than people who are committing adultery.

Adulterous spouses are notorious for hiding their cheating ways with various levels of success. However, with a divorce, a public stance is made. The marriage relationship is officially over in the eyes of the state. And the ending is no longer a secret. It is a matter of public record.

My former denomination has something called the “Divorce Policy Exception” (DPE) process. It was a process where divorced pastors went through an ecclesiastical trial to determine whether or not they would be defrocked as result of their divorce. It was called the”Divorce Policy Exception” because this denomination holds the default policy that no divorced person ought to have a credential as a pastor or endorsed ministry leader if they are divorced, period. I maintain that such a default stance is ungodly as it flies in the face of Scripture where God identifies as a divorcee (see Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1). Such a stance would say that even God could not be credentialed in said denomination! 

This denominational policy is in a large, reputable evangelical denomination brings me back to the point of this post. Notice the policy is not entitled, “Adultery Policy” or “Domestic Abuse Policy.” It is called the “Divorce Policy Exception” (emphasis mine). Divorce is what triggers it as opposed to actions that are always sin.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to pick on one denomination here. At least, this denomination recognizes there are some Biblical grounds (like infidelity and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse) for a divorce. That is more than some churches or denominations allow. In fact, my father’s own home church had an even stricter policy decades ago against allowing a divorced person to even teach at the church regardless of the divorce circumstances. My point here is the divorce prejudice is broad and the blindness to such prejudice stretches far in the evangelical community.

And I see the anti-divorce focus as pastoral laziness.

It is hard work to root out lies the Enemy has sown to make adultery acceptable to cheaters. It is hard work to cut through the elaborate deceptions laid by adulterous spouses. And it is hard and uncomfortable work to expose such sin to church discipline processes as we are instructed to do by our Lord (see Matthew 18). Furthermore, it is scary to realize one’s own vulnerabilities to infidelity–i.e. you don’t control whether or not your spouse cheats on you, and you yourself could end up cheating if you give into Satan’s lies.

Having an anti-divorce focus is much easier than doing such work. You don’t have to face your own marriage and personal vulnerabilities. And you don’t have to see such evil exists in the world–i.e. the evil that discards faithful partners, exposes them to STDs, abuses them, and destroys families in the name of utter prideful selfishness. Plus, you don’t have to confront the adulteress spouse identifying a “bad” guy in this mess.

Just close your eyes to the evil and tell everyone just not to get divorced, and we can pretend everything is fine in evangelical-land.

What divorce does is expose the lie that everything is fine. The hiding is over. Something has indeed happened to the point that everything is no longer fine. And I suggest that is why both parties get the full wrath of pastors and other Christians who do not want to confront the actual sin. Divorce forces their hand–they have to choose whether to continue in their fantasy of “no one is (or both parties are) to blame” or actually do the hard, biblical work of uncovering the marriage-fatal sin(s).

Personally, I think my former denomination focuses on divorce as the issue because it makes identifying people easier. They enter the fray when a decision is forced and the marriage’s death is obvious to the whole church/community. One could have the same sins in the marriage (even adultery!) and not have to go through an ecclesiastical trial just as long as one does not get divorced! If that is not pastoral laziness, I do not know what is. Plus, structurally, this enshrines a divorce prejudice where only the divorced are forced through such a process. Adulterers are free to philander as long as they do not get caught, or if they do, they can continue as long as they do not get divorced bringing such behavior to the attention of denominational officials.

Such policies against the divorced in evangelical churches send a clear message to all (and not just pastors). It says that divorce is the problem not adultery.

I hope some day such policies are changed, and we look back on these years with sadness realizing how many faithful spouses plus families we have hurt through our laziness and unwillingness to follow Scripture on these matters.

May God have mercy on us all!



8 thoughts on “Anti-Divorce Focus Is Lazy Pastoring”

  1. “What divorce does is expose the lie that everything is fine.” Very powerful words. Thanks, DM.

  2. I think I may have to send this to my minister. I have been a member of my non-denominational church for 20 years and have generally been impressed with the leadership’s courage to enforce biblical principals among our members. The elders immediately kicked my husband out of the elders group once he left our family and encouraged him to repent but since there is no proof of adultery, they haven’t done much else. (I do have proof of tracking his phone soon after he moved out and his phone stayed the night at the suspected other woman’s house on his birthday. They both swear that he was drunk and he couldn’t drive and nothing happened. Whatever.) Otherwise, my church has supported me and my kids unconditionally and are taking good care of us. I think my husband should be asked to leave the church until he is ready to repent (Matthew 18:17) but the elders do seem to be stuck in not wanting to believe the worst of my husband. I don’t want to believe it either but his behavior says otherwise. Divorce Minister, do you believe unrepentant adulterers should be kicked out of the church? (I think it cannot be enforced legally in my state.)

    1. Brokenhearted Believer,

      It sounds like you have a solid church to support you. You really cannot do much more than what it sounds like they have already done. They have removed him from leadership, which is a must in these situations Biblically. Kicking them out or formally shunning as it is called is Biblically warranted (see Mt 18). However, it is not very practical as far as implementing (You seem aware of this as well). A public statement as to why he was removed from the eldership to the entire church might be a middle ground. And I think that such is warranted due to the nature of the sin and his public face in the church. That way, if he does return, he knows that everyone else knows what he did and how he continues in said sin. My bet is that he would self-select to leave at that point. Those are my thoughts.

      In general, I have to say that I am rather impressed with what your church leaders have already been willing to do. It sounds like they not only want to do the right thing but actually back up that sentiment with actions. Bravo! -DM

  3. Thanks for opening my eyes to the fact that I’m blessed with a special church. This is a loving and friendly church yet tough without being overly legalistic. I love your idea about a public statement as to why he was removed- that is a good middle ground. I thought he would self select to not come back to church once he filed divorce papers but nope, he is still showing up. I just want peace at my church and no contact with him. I think it is just another narcisstic, entitled move on his part. Yuck.

    Happy New Year! Thank you for your blog!

  4. Thank you again for another great post. I wear the Scarlett “D” because the of the narrative that my now ex-husband was able to tell our previous long-attended church. “Adulterous spouses are notorious for hiding their cheating ways with various levels of success.” — SO TRUE! I am just now starting to speak out against the lies, where he was able to represent himself as the innocent party to my “controlling” ways (remember your control verses boundaries post spoke volumes to me?). Tomorrow, I have a blog post going live sharing my truth and my heart. I am linking back to your “Soul Rape” post… because that is exactly what I felt like when I found out. Thank you for pastoring us Christian Chumps through our healing process. In Christ, many blessings!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Homeschool Mom! A word of caution: make sure what you share in your story is either clearly opinion or can be backed up with proof. I am not a lawyer–so this is not legal advice–but I wouldn’t want you to be in danger of a libel lawsuit. Tell the truth but just be aware. I am glad you are reclaiming your voice and not giving into the false narrative!

  5. I was thinking that this post didn’t have much to do with me. As I read though, I realized that as I was deciding what my response to adultery should be and (two and a half years….) later whether to file for divorce, I realize that it has a great deal to do with me and the larger church. When I was desperately seeking counsel, the first counsel was to quietly brush it under the rug and pretend like it didn’t happen and for me to desperately try to “get back together.” After round two of the affair, the pastor wanted me to get angry and the church patiently came around me as I suffered along for the next two years. When I woke up as to how much my children were suffering by trying to stay in the same house with all kinds of things, I decided I needed to force a separation for their safety. Over that time I sought all kinds of counsel at my own expense. I was misinformed that I needed to file for divorce to make the separation happen (not true) but almost impossible to force a person to move out of their home. The elders spoke with him and he moved out. However, the pastor was against my filing for divorce and even though I assured him I was willing to give the relationship time, it was clear that he thought I was in the wrong. My husband starting coming to church all the time but within weeks was dating another woman at the church and it was OK with the pastor. I was experiencing severe “cognitive dissonance” and could not stand to be there. I went back to my previous church where most remembered me as super bible study mom and knew that I had done all that I could. They supported and loved me, but very few knew what the experience was like to go through the adultery of a spouse in a godly way. Over the years I have asked spiritual mentors and pastors to go through the verses that applied to my situation with me and never was able to find anyone to go through verse by verse and see how they applied to my situation. What a relief to find your website (after all these years) and realize that I was not alone in reading those verses and applying them. All the counselors, pastors, and book writers didn’t seem to be reading the same Bible as I was reading.

    When we moved, my children and I were never able to find a church home where it felt OK to be a single-mom or the child of a single parent. It is painful to interact with people. I am like the woman at the well, “Where is your husband?” “I have no husband.” awkward pause and turn to talk to someone else instead.

    Point: I remember when I was a super-smug Bible study woman staying at home with my kids and thinking I was doing everything right. When I saw a friend dealing with adultery or divorce, I thought it would never happen to me. All the pastors and the book writers, and most of the counselors never knew what it was like. Know that I “know what it is like” I am all over it. If we had people in leadership in the church who had been through divorce, then we could better, and more compassionately minister to families going through adultery and divorce. My children are falling away from the Lord as a result of what happened, but no one in ministry at church knows what it is like. I had pretty much written off any future ministry as a result of my divorce, but if we don’t knowledgeably support those “going through the same sufferings” then the church will lose its effectiveness to many, many people.

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