While I was going through my divorce and subsequent ecclesiastical trial, I looked at a variety of theologically conservative denominations searching out how they handled divorced pastors/priests. What I found in the evangelical landscape was discouraging to put it bluntly. Plus, I experienced much of the problem in my very personal and humiliating trial to keep my minister’s license with my former denomination.
I am troubled.
The way we treat the “shepherds” will effect how the “sheep” are treated. If we abuse divorced pastors or exhibit unbiblical divorce prejudice towards them, then one can be assured such prejudice will trickle down to the pews. Satan knows this and actually targets pastors as I am convinced.
This is a systemic problem.
What struck me about these policies in evangelical denominations is how they all seemed to have a “divorce policy” as opposed to an “adultery policy.”
True, most have some sort of character or holy living qualification expectation as well. So, I am sure they would argue adultery is covered in that expectation. However, I still have an issue with a separate policy for divorced pastors. The policy itself–especially put next to other policies disqualifying minister’s radical sin–suggests divorce is a sin in all cases de facto. Certainly, the best policy examples still assume guilt on the part of the divorced faithful spouse until proven innocent, which is less just than our own justice system!
This singling out divorced people could be changed rather quickly by abolishing these focused policies. Why not just put divorce under the same general character or holy living clauses most evangelical denominations already have?
I will tell you why I suspect this does not happen:
1) A real fear exists about divorce. It is almost treated like a communicable disease. Plus, Christians are really afraid to appear to condone it–even in clear, Biblical cases where it is both warranted and wise to divorce (see Mt 19:9, my pastor exchange post here, and my post here).
2) Divorce is considered a domestic failure on the part of the divorced pastor. In other words, they are blamed for the ending of the marriage in some way. This might never be said to their faces as it was to me in one case, but it is part of the hidden prejudice. And you can be sure this view extends to laity whose marriages have ended in divorce even if it adultery was involved on their ex spouses’ part. The classical way this wicked prejudice is “justified” is abusing Ephesians 5 in casting the faithful spouse as either failing to lead his wife well enough or the wife failing to respect her husband well enough (more on that here).
3) Divorce is viewed as more problematic than adultery. I spend a lot of time debunking the misuse of Malachi 2:16 in helping people see how God hates adultery more than divorce. It frustrates me how quick self-righteous religious people jump to the “God hates divorce” passage never realizing the passage is about using divorce to justify adultery. They are poor students of the Bible and have a deeply flawed practical theology in this matter causing real world harm to their divorced brothers/sisters already reeling from discovering adultery. Another part of the underlying flawed theology is that they fail to see divorce may be undertaken by a righteous person (see Jeremiah 3:8 and Mt 1:19). The threat to godliness is sin. Adultery is always sin. Divorce is not.
In some later post(s), I may share more of my thoughts about a healthy way to deal with adultery and divorce in leadership (personally, making it a matter of holy living/character is the best place to start as I suggested above). The current way it is done in evangelical circles is far from godly in my opinion. It ineffectively deals with the real issue–i.e. sin (e.g. adultery, lies, and/or unbiblical divorce)–and it effectively harms innocent parties–i.e. those divorced due to adulterous, abusive former spouses.
All of this begs the question:
How did the church get to this place?
-A place where sin–i.e. adultery–become less important than non-sin (e.g. divorce following adultery) to address.
-A place where the church is more comfortable enabling ongoing adultery than demanding repentance and supporting a merciful divorce for the faithful spouse.
-A place where divorce pastors are assumed to have done something to deserve their divorce.
For denominations who pride themselves that they follow Scripture, an update to their policies is well overdue. But in my experience, few denominational leaders actually want input from those of us who have seen the ugly side of these policies. It is too painful to take a look at their blindside. They do not want to see the bodies under the denominational bus. It is much easier just to keep these policies in place and hope they will discourage “those divorced pastors” enough that they go away.