The pastoral impulse to “save” marriages is strong.
It is flattering and exhilirating to be a part of a resurrection story where a marriage comes back from its adulterous death. I get it. Who really wants to be the divorce attorney’s pastoral equivalent encouraging only marriage funerals? I don’t. I love miracle stories and would love to be a part of God working more miracles. But I insist the miracle is a genuine miracle.
I am also realistic.
A miracle is a miracle because it does not normally happen.
Also, I realize we need godly divorce attorneys because of the reality of sin in this world. Divorce is sometimes the best of bad options available to faithful spouses. We also need godly pastors who are willing to help the victims of infidelity in such situations as well.
When I hear heartbreaking stories of marriages often ravaged multiple times by one spouse’s infidelity and copious lies, I recognize God’s merciful wisdom in allowing divorce in such cases.
Who wants to be the pastor who encourages a wife to go back into a marriage only to contract HPV from her prostitute addicted husband?
Who wants to be the pastor who encouraged the idea that the adulterous behavior was not so bad either endangering the soul of adulterous spouse?
In the case of Jordan Root, Karen Hinkley, and The Village Church, much has been made of whether or not Jordan is repentant. This seems to be beside the point here. Like counseling a wife who has discovered her husband has been leading a sexual double life with other women hidden for years, I find it crazy that the pastors think they can figure out someone’s state of repentance in a day or even a month or two then insist the faithful spouse taken him back. It is not their decision to make.
For reconciliation to take place, repentance on the part of the adulterous or sexually unfaithful spouse is necessary. But it is not sufficient. It is up to the faithful spouse to decide whether or not they want to risk their well-being on staying married to this person. They decide whether extending mercy is personally wise.
Repentance does not magically erase the damage done by the sin anymore than a murder repenting of his crime brings the victim back to life.
Part of repentance is accepting consequences for one’s sin:
The humble, repentant person says, “I do not deserve mercy, and I understand our marriage may be over because of my sin against you.”
An arrogant, unrepentant person says, “I’ve repented and now you must stay married to me.”
I am concern when I hear stories like Karen Hinkley’s as it seems the jump from “He’s repentant” to “Therefore, you must stay married” seems assumed.
Repentance is necessary for godly marriage reconciliation, but it is not sufficient! More specifically, I am concerned that the attractive resurrection story is blinding pastors to the reality of sin and how difficult heart tranformation is. One tearful “I’m sorry” is taken as enough evidence that he/she is repentant, and the pastor tells the faithful spouse he/she must taken him/her back if the faithful spouse wants to be a “good Christian.”
“See, she’s broken over her sin. Don’t you see her tears.”
“Look, he said he ended it with the other woman. And he said he was wrong. What more do you need? You sound bitter.”
Think about it. The cheater has led a campaign of adulterous lies and deception for months if not years or decades. Is it a good bet that they have suddenly changed following this confession or a better bet that those months/years of deception will continue again possibly hidden better? I am concerned a “savior complex” blinds pastors and Christian leaders in seeing the reality that the later is more likely than the former.
Furthermore, the pastor is not taking on the risks of the marriage reunion. A faithful spouse is taking on those risks. If the pastor is wrong about the repentance of the unfaithful spouse, it is not he who gets the STD or discovers the bank accounts drained or …. It is the faithful spouse who loses those things. They have to bear the cost. That is one reason why I am adament here on Divorce Minister that faithful spouses must choose and not their pastors ultimately.
Does God resurrect marriages from adulterous deaths? I believe God does.
But such are miracles and not the natural course of things.
Even a repentant adulterous spouse is not entitled to staying married (e.g. Deut 22:22, Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9). So, it really boils down to the faithful spouse’s choice after that point. Yes, repentance is necessary for marriage resurrection, but it is not sufficient.
Repentance does not erase the damage done or undo the deceptions, lies, slander, and sexual contact with the third party (or parties). Those will always remain as part of that sad marriage history. The faithful spouse has to decide whether they want to risk it all again knowing what they know about their unfaithful spouse. Even God does not condemn them if they choose not to.