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!