“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”
-Luke 6:31, NLT
Unbiblical divorce prejudice is insidious.
Christian leaders can think themselves completely immune, and that is when they are most dangerous. They are not able to take feedback about their blind-spots on such matters, which may result in further harm to the divorced in their circles of influence.
I dealt with one of these characters in the aftermath of my ecclesiastical trial.
This denominational official saw no problem in telling a known and publicly declared adultery victim that he normally would force a sabbatical on any local pastor who got divorced regardless of circumstance. In one breath, he was telling me that he did not blame me for my divorce, yet in the other breath he was telling me that all divorced pastors had “issues” directly related to ministry that needed addressing; ergo, they were not fit for the pulpit (as his proposed course of action suggests). As I remember, he denied my analogy with a widower pastor saying the situations were too different to even compare.
Sadly, I doubt that I am the first or last divorced pastor or Christian leader to experience the fallout of such blindness to unbiblical divorce prejudice. In part, that is a reason why I am writing this blog–i.e. to shine a light into the dark corners of the evangelical church exposing such prejudice.
When a sabbatical is forced, I become suspicious of “care” terminology being used.
-Is it care when we forced someone out of their livelihood because they were victimized?
-Is it care when we push someone out of the church spotlight suggesting we are embarrassed about their (Biblical) divorce?
-Is it care to make decisions for a Biblically divorced person about their ministry role without his/her input?
When ministry leaders in the church become divorced under Biblical circumstances, we–church leaders–have an opportunity to teach sound, practical, divorce theology.
God is not ashamed of this divorced person. Why not signal that in pulpit or other public forums if one is afraid of the congregation not understanding?
You do not even have to directly address the divorced individuals specific circumstances. Simply teach on Biblical divorce. Let the congregation know that this church or denomination does not remove individuals from leadership simply because they were sinned against and subsequently obtained a Biblical divorce. State clearly that those who are Biblically divorced will be supported by the church as if their spouse died per God’s directions.
Solidarity with faithful spouses is sorely needed.
I will continue to maintain that removing people from leadership positions simply based on the fact of their divorce is evidence of unbiblical divorce prejudice. If the church would not do this to a widow or widower, they ought not do this to a Biblically divorced individual as an adultery victim would be in that same category per Old Testament directives (e.g. Deut. 22:22).
Hiding Biblically divorced people away sends the message that you are ashamed of us (even though God is not)!
Telling us that it is about our “care” is a bold-face lie. Let’s be honest: Removing a faithful spouse from church leadership–even just for a season–serves your own agenda of avoiding discomfort–i.e. the sort of discomfort that comes with acknowledging adultery victims exist and “The Shared Responsibility Lie” is just that, a lie.*
So, I am opposed to forced sabbaticals from church leadership for faithful spouses. In my opinion, such forced sabbaticals are evidence of unbiblical divorce prejudice still alive and well within the evangelical church. This both sad and wrong!
*To the objection that sometimes we all need a sabbatical to heal, I will say that such sabbaticals ought to respect the agency of the victim. It is true that sometimes people might need time away to heal from such things; however, they are the ones who ought to have the power to decide if this is in their best interest or not. Forcing a sabbatical on a divorced individual is suggestive that the divorced individual did or may have done something wrong. Such is not a godly message for those of us with Biblically warranted divorces.