In a sense there is no “innocent” or “guilty” party in a marital break-up. It takes two to make a marriage and it usually takes two to make a divorce. While one partner may be the major contributor to the difficulties, it is hard for me to designate the other partner “innocent.” Did that spouse seek counsel early when the problems first began to appear? Did that spouse love unconditionally and sacrificially in such a way as to make the home and family life as pleasant as possible? If infidelity has taken place, did the “innocent” party forgive and forget? …. there is no “innocent” party in a divorce… (118)*
What strikes me about Dr. Laney’s exposition about “innocent” and “guilty” spouses+ is the absence of talk regarding adultery and repentance on the part of the adulterous spouse. The closest he comes is to blame the faithful spouse for a divorce presumably because he or she did not “forgive and forget.” And this is–also–the closest he gets to using theological categories in this section.
Besides the obvious problem in his teaching regarding forgiveness (i.e. forgiveness does not erase the damage created by the sin any more than forgiving a rapist erases the traumatic memory of the sexual assault), he greatly drops the ball in teaching on adultery. Dr. Laney does not even spill part of his ink in addressing the sin that God HIMSELF labelled evil and for which proscribed the death penalty in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Deut 22:22). Instead, Dr. Laney exemplifies much of what I encountered and have observed from other faithful spouses’ stories as very prevalent in evangelical circles today.
Dr. Laney quickly drops into psycho-babble and false equivalencies. He generally departs from Scripture eschewing theological categories and language for psychological language about the state of the relationship. The closest hint one has of Scripture is in his nod towards the abuse of Ephesians 5 when he suggests almost a scorecard about the spouse who is supposed to “love unconditionally and sacrificially in such a way as to make the home and family life as pleasant as possible.” It is as if not being loving enough–subjective criteria, by the way!–causes divorce as opposed to the decision to choose sin (either via an unbiblical divorce or adultery/abandonment). Besides, I wonder if he was truly honest if he could stand such a legalistic rubric for his own marriage.
Furthermore, does not seeking counseling early enough mean a spouse has a free pass to commit adultery or simply abandoned the other spouse through a divorce? Would Dr. Laney accept that as an excuse for a spouse to choose to just leave the marriage via divorce? I doubt it. Yet he is more than willing to damn the spouse left behind here.
By asking these questions he is making it as if doing or failing to do these things are the same as committing adultery or choosing to unbiblically abandon the faithful spouse. Those are what I mean by false equivalencies. It’s an apples to oranges comparison best not done.
Add on top to it his cruel, cruel denial over a person’s unilateral power to obtain a divorce. It is absolutely true that two people must be involved for a marriage to take place. But it is also true one person can decide to unilaterally leave the marriage and commit adultery. Those choices flow from the heart of that sinner and not the faithful spouse. It does not take two to make a divorce. To suggest or actually state that is pure wicked cruelty to the abandoned spouse. And to indict the faithful spouse for divorcing after adultery is to suggest divorce is more problematic than adultery. That is not a godly position.
It is almost as if Dr. Laney rewrote the Ten Commandments replacing “Thou shalt not commit adultery” with “Thou shalt not divorce.” Unfortunately for Dr. Laney’s position, his implied version is not what Scripture says.
*Laney, J. Carl. The Divorce Myth: A Biblical Examination of Divorce and Remarriage. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1981.
+ I do not like the terms “innocent” and “guilty” spouses. It takes the focus off the pertinent sin. I prefer “faithful” or “adulterous/faithless” for the parties. That focuses the issue with Bibilical language over the conditions for justifiable divorce or the party who is in sin through divorcing. Plus, this language helps us put the focus back on adultery. And I am all about “Taking Adultery Seriously.”