Dear Divorce Minister, Why are Christians so bad at responding to adultery?

Dear Divorce Minister,

My D-Day (I’ve found you via Chump Lady) was back in 2001, and much time and healing has happened since my husband left me for his AP. I have changed my career (bank manager to priest in the Church of England), I travel (we had no children), and I write fantasy novels in my spare time.

What concerns me is how my fellow Christian ministers seem so accepting of adultery. Some examples:

A fellow ordinand, although he knew my marriage ended because of my husband’s adultery, asking me, ‘And you have repented of the ways in which you contributed to the breakdown of your marriage?’

A retired priest friend, who told me recently, ‘I never accept someone saying that they were the “innocent party” in a divorce. There is no innocent party in the breakdown of a marriage.’

Another minister, who has been approached by a couple about getting married in her church, who was considering letting them do so even though the bride admitted that she had been the cause of the breakdown of the groom’s previous marriage. ‘Well,’ my friend said to me, ‘anyone can make a mistake.’

Sadly, I’ve often found that it’s my non religious friends who are more likely to condemn unfaithfulness than my Christian friends. Any idea why this would be? Have we Christians become too hung up on forgiveness rather than judgement?

I’d be interested in reading a post on this on your blog, if you feel so moved.

Yours in Christ,

CT

Dear CT,

Well, your observed phenomenon of Christians victim-blaming and going soft on adulterous parties is why this blog exists. That seems to be the accepted “wisdom” in many Christian circles.

I think several dynamics are involved for why Christians do not take adultery as seriously as God or even non-believers.

1. Many Christians and pastors believe “The Shared Responsibility Lie.

That lie states that we share responsibility for the sins of our spouses. It is properly labelled as a lie, because we are only responsible for our own sins, not another’s (see 2 Cor. 5:10).

For some reason(s), Christians believe that marriage (and divorce) magically erases the boundaries of personal responsibility for sins one chooses to commit.

This has happened as a way to pretend we have control over protecting our marriages from such grisly ends (which we don’t). You see, we don’t do well facing our own finite limits and vulnerability as humans.

And, I believe, this lie makes us look “smart” as it is what people expect to hear from their pastors and other Christians having accepted mainstream psycho-babble that reinforces the lie on this matter.

2. Christians and pastors are confused about what biblical forgiveness looks like in these situations.

I think you are right when you link the difference between Christians and non-Christian responses to adultery with this concept. We–Christians–are properly taught that we God expects us to forgive wrong-doers. It is in the Lord’s Prayer, after all!

Forgiveness is not an expectation of someone who is outside of the Christian faith, necessarily.

I want to be clear. The expectation to forgive wrongdoers is not the problme here, though. The problem comes from working out what that actually means.

The devil is in the details as the saying goes, though. Christians wrongfully assume forgiveness means removing all consequences regarding the infidelity. That is impossible.

I can forgive you for breaking my vase. That does not magically bring back the broken vase. It is still broken.

The same thing goes for marriages ravaged by adultery. We can forgive our adulterous partner AND still divorce them. The forgiveness does not magically restore the shattered trust.

Another thing Christians miss on the topic of forgiveness is how God expects confession of sin and repentance as a pre-condition for godly forgiveness (see Luke 17:3).

You cannot really forgive someone if they are continuing to sin against you, which cheaters are doing as long as they maintain their lies, deceptions, and infidelities. That would be like trying to fill a hole you make in the ocean. It is impossible and a fool’s errand.

3. As to the squeamishness over calling a divorcing party “innocent,” I think that is a failure to understand what “innocent” means in these situations.

I was in the place, too, even while I was going through my divorce. What has helped is reading and learning through my experience that we are not talking about “without sin” when we say, “innocent.”

The question is whether one party is “innocent” of what God considers marriage-ending sin or not? It is true that we all sin (Romans 3:23), but it is false that we all commit marriage-ending sin. 

4. Christians have a cheap grace mentality.

This is tied to our confusion over what forgiveness means or demands. Your last example of a minister about to perform a marriage for a cheater exemplifies this.

There’s probably more going on for the minister–like wanting avoid conflict–but I suspect this minimally is the old saw of how God forgives all sin idea. It is religious baggage that non-Christians would not have.

The minister fails to link God’s forgiveness with repentance. That failure allows them to marry someone who clearly is not repenting of their sins.

Once again, this is another lie laced with a little truth at work:

The truth is that we all sin or make ‘mistakes’ (a “nice” minimization, by the way). However, we are then instructed to repent or turn from that sin. God does not give us permission to double-down on the ‘mistake.’

I agree that non-Christians often take adultery or cheating more seriously than Christians. They are not burdened with a twisted case of the “oughts” as it comes to a distorted teaching on “forgiveness,” “reconciliation,” and “grace.”

However, I do believe the tools to deal with adultery seriously are present within Christianity for those who really love the truth. Yet the way, as Jesus said, is narrow, and many prefer taking the broad path even–or maybe especially–in our churches.

Blessings,

DM

 

1 thought on “Dear Divorce Minister, Why are Christians so bad at responding to adultery?”

  1. You are really correct on these points!

    I also honestly believe that Christians just can’t imagine another believer doing this without some sort of fault on the spouse. When that spouse had no idea because the one they loved and trusted was putting on such a good act!

    I actually shared with a friend that I honestly had No Idea! Things were really good with us.

    She then went on to do a blog post about being clueless in a marriage when your spouse is having an affair and how this can happen and what was done wrong.

    I was so pissed!

    Although she said in her post she had been talking to a middle aged man about this. Honestly…. the nerve!

    Sometimes people just can’t fathom the depravity but it’s still no excuse!

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