These past few weeks I’ve been critiquing an old book by Dr. J. Carl Laney entitled The Divorce Myth: A Biblical Examination of Divorce and Remarriage. I am spending a great deal of time tackling this book not so much as I believe it is a seminal piece of literature on the matter. My point in tackling it is how it encapsulates so many of the lies and prejudices evangelicals/fundamentalists hold against divorced individuals even when adultery has taken place.
The book is written by a professor who currently teaches the Bible at Western Seminary and obtained a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. This means he is in a place of influence and his viewpoints on the matter will reverberate through the evangelical world as a result. Hence, it is worth making a critique.
In a section laying out guidelines to help counselors/pastors working with people considering divorce, Dr. Laney describes how a friend reached out to him telling Dr. Laney his wife was cheating on him and this friend was considering divorce. Dr. Laney uses that story to jump off in instructing how a “Christian” counselor ought to approach these situations. In particular, Dr. Laney wrote this about adultery/infidelity:
Is a third person intruding in the marriage? Clyde Narramore, a noted Christian counselor, has said, “When another man or woman appears on the marriage scene, it is rarely because of an overwhelming love; but rather because of an overwhelming need.” Help the couple identify the needs that are not being met and that cause a partner to look to someone else to meet those needs. (136)*
Notice Dr. Laney never names the infidelity by its Biblical name–i.e. adultery. This is especially strange considering Dr. Laney teaches Biblical Literature at seminary as well as claims this book is a “Biblical Examination.” I guess to actually take adultery seriously–like God does throughout Scripture–would detract from Dr. Laney’s actual agenda of painting divorce as always unacceptable. So, he minimizes the sinfully serious problem by calling it a matter of a “third person in the marriage.”
Besides this significant miss, Dr. Laney precedes in just three sentences to commit multiple Scriptural errors in handling adultery. He engages in blame-shifting buying into “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” Dr. Laney misdiagnoses the problem as a marriage problem as opposed to a sin problem. Thereby, he fails to appropriately apply Scripture in this situation, which is clear about calling the adulterous spouse to repentance. Finally, he takes the adultery as a cry for help as opposed to a willful choice to defy God’s commands and soul rape one’s spouse. It is actually horribly spectacular how many errors Dr. Laney bumbled into with so few words.
What makes these errors more troubling to me is how Dr. Laney is using a “noted Christian counselor” to voice thereby furthering these lies and faithful spouse abuses. This noted counselor, Dr. Clyde Narramore, was one of two founders for the Rosemead School of Psychology, which has been training Christian psychologists since 1968. It is associated with Biola University. To be fair to Dr. Narramore and these fine institutions, this quote may or may not be used in context, and institutions usually hold people with many views on such matters as well. Regardless, the quote is very troubling coming from someone who started a flagship training center for evangelical clinical psychologists.
The quote and name-dropping Dr. Clyde does is another way of saying the Christian counseling establishment supports these lies and harmful positions. Honestly, I cannot say whether this is still the case now over thirty years after this book was published. However, even if change has taken place, faithful spouses will still be experiencing the reverberations of these harmful, unbiblical teachings as individuals who went to seminary/professional school at that time are still in the pastorate or Christian counseling practice. And just from anecdotal evidence, I highly doubt we have turned the corner in correcting the many errors Dr. Laney voiced in this particularly epic fail in addressing adultery Biblically.
*Laney, J. Carl. The Divorce Myth: A Biblical Examination of Divorce and Remarriage. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1981.