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.
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.