Pastor Exchange on “Divorce is not sin.”

Below is an exchange between myself and another pastor on my post: “Divorce is not sin.” It is shared with permission from Bruce.

Good morning and thank you for sharing your thoughts, spoken out of your own pain and theological wrestling. I have some follow-up questions for you to ponder as you continue to think biblically about this.

First, are you painting with too broad a brush with your assertion: Divorce is not sin? Your article focuses on one basis for sin – continued adultery – for which Jesus does make allowance for divorce. But other than that, what would you label divorce in most, if not all, other circumstances if not sin?

Second, as a pastor myself, I do not counsel those who are experiencing ongoing adultery on the part of their spouse to stay away from divorce. But I also do not invite them to rush into a divorce on the grounds of Jesus’ allowance. The message of the cross is reconciliation and just because divorce is allowed doesn’t mean that reconciliation will not happen. I know enough of your situation (but certainly not all) to know that you did hold that door open for a long time; thank you. Where I get nervous is when grounds for divorce such as this becomes automatic grounds for remarriage. The fact remains that very, very little is said about remarriage and is too often taken as license for that very thing. I had one person (whom I married and who divorced her husband) ask me how long she had to wait (she had gotten involved in a relationship with another divorced man before her own divorce was final). I said that there was no time limit given in Paul’s writings so if she were to proceed (which she did) then she was the one closing the door to marital reconciliation. All that is to ask this question: Are you constructing an argument that those with similar beliefs as you and I hold offer regularly or occasionally? I find it to be the latter but you may have experienced differently.

Third, I NEVER tell divorced individuals that God hates them. Again, are you making a case based on personal experience or on broad research of many in the truly evangelical camp? I find that those whom I have worked with often FEEL that they are hated by others and God because of their own insecurity, embarrassment and the uncertainty of others to know what or how to talk with them after divorce. It is certainly awkward and I have felt that myself. But the feelings of being hated are, in my experience, often at least partially generated in the divorced person for the reasons I stated and others. I am sure you felt that but how many actively imposed that on you?

Finally, you make this statement near the end: To follow in God’s example, Christian leaders and other followers of Christ ought be more concerned about adultery than whether or not a divorce takes place. Why do you say so? Why is it a choice? We had two divorces in our church become final within two weeks of each other a couple years ago. It wasn’t one or the other (adultery or divorce) that sent we as pastors and elders into months of prayer and discussion to ask ourselves what the Bible says about marriage, divorce, reconciliation and remarriage. We did not focus on divorce alone but on the entire matter of the heart that involved marriage, divorce, reconciliation and remarriage.

My comments to you are not in any way trying to disagree or reprimand you – especially since you are a relative! What I hear is still a lot of confusion and pain and inflicted guilt. I am sorry that this has been the case. You have lived through what someone else I know who experienced divorced called an experience worse than death. She said that death was better because there was grief, a funeral, condolences and then closure. But she said that because of her husband’s unfaithfulness and the subsequent divorce that this would likely forever be an open wound. I have never forgotten that and she told that to me 15-16 years ago. So I am truly sorry for what you have had to go through. You are family in both ways – blood and faith – and I praise God for your life. I write because my desire is for you to think and reason and process biblically but with a slightly less broad brush.

I welcome your feedback.

Dear Bruce,

I, too, value our relationship very much counting you as family both natural and supernatural. Furthermore, I suspect we may see this subject differently and may not agree on every point. That is okay. It is good we are talking about this as brother ministers.

To begin my blog, I make it clear that I will not be towing the party-line, which means more explicitly that I will not be just echoing the conservative Christian view on divorce as THE PROBLEM. I say this up front. Plenty of places exist that tackle these issues with that as the focus and seeing it primarily as THE dangerous ill of society. This is not one of those venues. I see the sin of adultery as the problem NOT DIVORCE as I read Scripture. You and I may disagree on this point, but that is how I see it from my reading of Scripture.

Furthermore, I entitled this post: “Divorce is not sin” to provoke thought and challenge the opposite assumption that “divorce is sin.” Plus, I agree that binaries on this complicated subject can be confusing, but the post content is written to bring the needed nuance and clarification. As I wrote in the post, divorce is not always sin because God divorces Israel in Scripture (Jeremiah 3:8). Logically and theologically, this means divorce is not sin unless we want to say God sinned. Furthermore, I make the point very clear that obtaining a divorce can be wrong (perhaps even sinful) as seen in Malachi 2 as well as in the case of divorcing a spouse to marry another.

Initially quoting my blog, you wrote, “‘To follow in God’s example, Christian leaders and other followers of Christ ought be more concerned about adultery than whether or not a divorce takes place.’ Why do you say so? Why is it a choice? We had two divorces in our church become final within two weeks of each other a couple years ago. It wasn’t one or the other (adultery or divorce) that sent we as pastors and elders into months of prayer and discussion to ask ourselves what the Bible says about marriage, divorce, reconciliation and remarriage. We did not focus on divorce alone but on the entire matter of the heart that involved marriage, divorce, reconciliation and remarriage.”

I encourage you to reread what you wrote carefully. Do you notice that your conversation list did not include adultery as its own category? That is my point. It needs to be. Why was not the discussion primarily about how we as church leaders address the wickedness known as adultery, turn the cheater from rebellion, and protect those ravaged by adultery? Not having that as the primary discussion effectively minimizes the sin of adultery treating it as less concerning than the faithful spouse having an “automatic grounds for remarriage” (which they do according to Jesus’ own words, I might add–see Mt 19).

In my personal and pastoral experience, the evangelical world places more emphasis on divorce as THE PROBLEM rather than the adultery that has taken place. It is as if divorcing an adulterer or adulteress is more shameful than cheating on one’s spouse. Adultery is treated as a symptom rather than the disease. And this is not Biblical as I read Scripture. Jesus makes adultery the point in his response to the Pharisees concerning divorce throughout the Gospels (e.g Mt 19, Mk 10, etc). Also, Jesus makes it clear through His comments that a spouse who was wronged through adultery is no longer bound to uphold that marriage covenant. To worry about someone having an exception to divorce and remarry following adultery regardless of timeline is to worry that Jesus was too quick to provide such an allowance in Scripture. Furthermore, it misplaces the focus on the faithful spouse’s behavior and not on what actually decimated the marriage covenant as God sees it–i.e. the sin of adultery. If anything, pastors ought to protect the vulnerable (those cheated on are VERY vulnerable) and exhort the abuser (cheater) to godliness. Keeping the focus on divorce as THE PROBLEM does neither in my opinion.

I can say more, but this message is very long already. It is good that we can discuss this as brother ministers and family. I hope, too, that you will find this as a discussion that helps refine your views on the matter bringing greater Biblical and practical clarity on the matter. Much confusion does abound on this issue. But let me assure you, though, I am not confused.



14 thoughts on “Pastor Exchange on “Divorce is not sin.””

  1. Your pastor seems like many others, means well but missing the point.

    During my divorce mess, there was a lady in my church who’s husband (a known drug addict)overdosed and died. The church was so supportive of her, while I was made to feel like I was second class. What is the difference between her and me? Both of our husbands ran away from the marriage in two different ways. We are both single parents of two kids who are hurting.

    BTW the whole church witnessed my ex husband’s infidelity, most of them chose to ignore it.

    It has been five years and it still hurts the church I grew up in abandoned me during the most painful period in my life.

    1. Candy,

      I am so sorry that was your experience! Sounds very hurtful. And it is situations like yours that I am trying to address and hopefully prevent down the line.

      To clarify, Bruce and I are distant cousins who are ministers in evangelical but different denominations. He is no more my pastor than I am his. We are peers professionally.

      I am thankful that Bruce was willing to share his perspective and have a discussion. This sort of discussion is well past due in the evangelical pastorate in my opinion!

  2. Candy I am sorry to hear how you were treated by your church. The longer I live in my own situation and hear others stories I understand that how I myself was treated by my church eldership has not been unique. But after reading the letter exchange I do have a few questions.

    1) Bruce in response to David’s letter you penned the following,
    Finally, you make this statement near the end: To follow in God’s example, Christian leaders and other followers of Christ ought be more concerned about adultery than whether or not a divorce takes place. Why do you say so? Why is it a choice? Why would it not be a choice?
    If Christian leaders are Christ like within a situation such as adultery those who are abused would be cared for and those who committed the adultery would be treated in accordance with their sin. While dealing with both parties as is outlined in scripture Gods will is made clear I am not beyond accepting that God is bigger than all situations But, It is when Leaders confuse their own desired outcome with the gospel that the lines become blurred and further pain is inflicted.
    As a faithful spouse I have the right to say enough, as a faith filled spouse I have the right to lay my burden before God and ask for his guidance in the matter. I do not recall in any interpretation of the scriptures it saying that as I said my vows and become one with anther before God forsaking all others that.
    1- Should my spouse commit adultery I promise to ignore it for the sake of remaining married.
    2 – Should my spouse confess his adultery I will unconditionally forgive in the hope of eventual reconciliation no matte how long it may take.
    3- Should my spouse do all of the above and I choose to end my marriage, the Leadership of my church are then to be seen as direct headship over me as I am no longer covered as a woman so I am now required to defer all decisions unto them directly living out my days as a single woman because to do other wise is just as sinful as my spouses adultery.
    At what point in all of this did I cease to have a one on one relationship with Christ? The very relationship that lead me to salvation in the first place. Why is the spiritual needs of the unfaithful spouse of grater concern than mine? Can the unfaithful spouse even be considered as being Christian if they are so willing to sin against God by defiling the very thing that is meant to indwell the Holy Spirit, and if not then how can the faithful spouse be asked to remain willingly unevenly yoked with a non believer?

    Sammie D

  3. If I may, both of you gentlemen raise valid points. One illuminates that it is truly divorce that is discussed, not the infidelity,the treatment of a covenant as a social contract to be terminated at convenience, … That most focus on. Pain is pain. The caution I hear is valid… And it is the Holy Spirit at work here where one pastor is reminding followers to be prayerful in this extraordinarily painful journey. To not misconstrue any comments as an automatic permission as highlighted by the examples.

    Thank you both for being strong enough in your walks to share. God Bless you

  4. What I find disconcerting in Bruce’s letter is that it appears that the main thrust is what the policy of the matter should be, not responding to the individual needs.

    Where was the struggling couple during these months of discussions over what the Bible says on the topic? Where was the pastoral and spiritual support to the people who were at the battlelines, hurting and in trauma?

    And what about the question about how often divorce is advised? How is that relevant to each case? What if a specific church attracts people who suffer from the same issue, because it’s known for its compassion to those who have been traumatized by infidelity? Would a pastor end up saying, “Oops, I’ve used up my allotment of ‘get out of marriage free’ cards this month; I’m afraid you will have to come back next month, or just forgive, reconcile and move on?”

    To me, this smacks of trying seek the letter of the law, rather than the spirit.

  5. I find this statement rather disturbing:
    “It wasn’t one or the other (adultery or divorce) that sent we as pastors and elders into months of prayer and discussion to ask ourselves what the Bible says about marriage, divorce, reconciliation and remarriage.”

    DM already pointed out that he had concerns about this. My concerns are perhaps similar…that adultery and divorce are just tossed in there together in the think of the pastors and elders. I find that quite offensive, actually. To me, that is a pretty broad stroke.

    The fact that I am divorced is a *direct result* of my husband’s adultery. And in my particular case, there was no option of reconciliation because he wouldn’t consider the idea and was gone immediately, but I don’t think anyone who has been cheated on needs to consider reconciliation. The Bible doesn’t say that divorce is okay when there has been infidelity IF AND ONLY IF the cheater has been given a second chance and then does it again.

    If I was in a church and this kind of statement were made where adultery and divorce were equated as problems, I surely hope I would just get up and walk out right then. Even if it was in the middle of the sermon and even if I had to climb over half a pew to make it to the aisle in a packed church on Christmas Eve. And I say this as a person who has never walked out of any type of show or performance I have ever attended.

    This statement makes me more and more upset the more I think about it. Thank God I have a pastor and a church congregation that shows compassion and sensitivity to divorce and those who have been survivors of their spouse’s infidelty. And thank God they don’t seem uncomfortable or awkward around me as a divorced person. And thank God I have never even considered that God or others might hate me because I am divorced. What in the world?! I didn’t realize I should be so thankful for the responses of all the (many) Christians in my life (from various churches and denominations), but evidently I have been exceedingly protected. They have loved me and supported me and shown me compassion. And not one person encouraged me to stay once they heard what had happened. Thank God.

  6. It has been over 20 years since my divorce, and it is still an open wound. I agree that adultery feels like “soul rape,” but also, the reaction of the leaders in my church felt like an emotional rape.
    My husband was in an adulterous relationship for three years before I separated from him. During that time I begged for help from church leaders. They told me to keep my mouth shut and try to be more submissive.
    I did keep the pain that I was enduring a secret; only a few family members knew, and I kept it from our five children, doing my best to keep the household running normally. Every day, my husband told me that he didn’t love me, and that he couldn’t help it, that it had been a mistake to marry me, and that I was the “wrong person” for him. In time, as his affair became more evident, he told me that the other woman was the “right person” for him, and that he loved her. I was on my face before God every day, asking Him to show me what I could do to save our marriage. I begged church leaders to do church discipline, to hold my husband accountable. They refused, using the Galatians passage, “If any man is overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual should restore him gently.” They took this to mean that they should just be his friend and hope that he would repent on his own.
    However, they were not so “gentle” with me. They told me that it is always both people’s fault, and that I should confess what I had done wrong in the marriage. When I finally filed for a separation, they were furious. They told me that the fact that I had “filed” was a sin. They called me to meetings where I was surrounded by men who interrogated me and tried to get me to confess some sin that I had committed in the marriage.
    My husband left for another church with his mistress. They openly sat together in church while we were still legally married. My husband started a custody battle, and my church refused to support me through that.
    I finally won custody of my children and left for another church. I went back to school and got a degree in special education and a master’s degree in counseling psychology while teaching and raising my five children.
    All five of my children are serving the Lord, and I have nine grandchildren. My former husband did marry his mistress after the divorce, but in time she died, and he is now married to his third wife. I have remained single. Most evangelical churches in my area still believe and teach that divorce is “always both people’s fault.” I know that this is not what the Lord believes about me. He does not believe that I somehow deserved my husband’s adultery, or that I was unworthy of being loved. However, it still hurts that this is the message that I get from the church.

    1. Becky,

      I scrubbed your avatar to make you more anonymous.

      Sorry that you experienced such epic failure on the part of your church leaders to care for you and your ex-husband. What you experienced, especially after you filed for separation, was spiritual abuse. It was SO wrong and ungodly!

      It makes sense that it would hurt. Know that those men were NOT acting from God’s heart on this matter towards you. While treating your godly choice to divorce a blatant adulterer (see Jer 3:8) as sin, they were sinning against you, IMO.

      Glad you found your way here. I hope the words contained on this blog bring you some sense of encouragement and healing.


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