Pastors, It is NOT an “Either/Or!”

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THE “EITHER/OR”:

EITHER you support marriages OR you support those going through divorce.

When Mrs. DM and I were at our former church, I proposed to offer my services in starting a divorce and separated support group to help those who had experienced or were experiencing divorce, separation, and/or were considering such.

The senior leadership looked at the curriculum I offered. They decided that they preferred to focus on classes strengthening marriages instead of supporting and promoting a group caring for the divorced, separated, or those considering such things.

The reason for declining my offer as given to me was that they wanted to teach marriage skills before supporting a group targeting the divorced. The senior pastors wanted to focus on “preventative” care first. (That said, it was suggested that maybe they would be interested in supporting such a group at some later point.)

These pastors fell prey to the false “Either/Or.”

And I doubt that they are alone in that. This is not a post to shame them in particular–hence, I use no names–but is a post to raise awareness of this grave, pastoral error.

The false “Either/Or” is a fallacy in reasoning classically called “The False Dichotomy” or “The False Dilemma.” Essentially, the idea is to force a choice between limited options when more options exist (e.g. like supporting the divorced and providing marriage enrichment events).

I have several problems with this sort of response from church leaders who support this false “Either/Or”–

  1. Focusing on supporting current marriages in the church to the exclusion of supporting those who are divorced/divorcing sends a clear message that the divorced are invisible and do not really belong in that church. The divorced do not really belong in the marriage enrichment classes as their marriage is dead. The divorced really do not belong in the single, never-married groups as they may have children from their now defunct marriage and/or are struggling with the harsh realities that come with the duel traumas of infidelity discovery and divorce. Leadership is essentially turning a blind-eye to that real pain and need by refusing to support a group aimed at meeting such important and specific needs. The blind-eye may be given because the leadership is ashamed of this group of people–exacerbating the faithful spouses’ undeserved shame issues–or the leaders are ill-prepared to give them competent care (and are unwilling to invest in becoming competent). Regardless of the interpretation, the lack of support from leadership sends a clear message of who counts at the church, and it is not the divorced/abandoned, faithful spouses.
  2. Treating marriage enrichment courses as “preventative” sends the clear message that the leadership blames all divorced individuals for getting divorced. This blame is indiscriminate. All divorced individuals are blamed–in part, at least–for their marriages ending. The divorce was caused by poor marital skills is what such classes say when presented as preventative care. Such are wrong and evil assumptions. They are another embodiment of “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” A faithful spouse is not divorced because of their poor marital skills. They are divorced because of their spouses’ poor character and sinful choices! You do not prevent sin by teaching skills–even valuable marital communication skills. One works on preventing sin by teaching character, warning the tempted, and equipping people for godliness. Such marital enrichment classes may be valuable–it depends on the content, of course–but treating these classes as the cure-all for marriage issues and preventative of divorce indicates that the pastors/elders do not have a handle on what God says causes Biblical divorce and how God addresses such issues. I would add here that the more the leadership fails to grasp God’s heart and teachings on these matters, the more people will be harmed spiritually and the greater the reproach their pastoral failures will bring on God’s Name. So, it matters to spend the time and resources to get this right.
  3. Giving into the false “Either/Or” strikes me as a fear-based choice. The choice made to support marriage enrichment over care for the divorced may come from a fear that caring for the divorced would encourage people to divorce. The church leadership does not want their church community decimated by divorce. That makes sense. However, they are naive to think not caring for the divorced will protect them from sins’ ravages–including adultery, marital abandonment, and unbiblical divorce. Refusing to care for the divorced is a choice to stick their heads in the proverbial sand. Like most decisions dictated by fear, it is a poor one. And it is not a reality based decision. Divorce has already come to their choice. Not talking about it will not make its impact go away. It will just leave hurting people hurting without the care God desires His Body to give them.

I understand that sometimes the church simply does not have the resources to specifically support this group of people. However, the church leaders can still develop a referral system to point people to competent spiritual care locations–i.e. other churches that do have groups supporting such individuals. Being a small church does not get a pastor or leaders off the hook for taking care of the sheep God sends their way.

Finally, I wonder how much money plays a role in these groups not starting. Divorced people and separated people are a drain on church resources. They take time, money, and space for their care. Plus, they are going through a time of financial loss. It is unlikely that most divorced individuals are the top church givers in other words.

If that does play a role in the decision making, I would encourage a pastor to reconsider his/her priorities. Jesus is clear that we cannot serve both God and money (e.g. Luke 16:13). Money ought not to call the shots in the church. God should.

Reject the false “Either/Or.”

Choose to care for the divorced and the married (plus the single) as all are precious children of God.

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