“I never recommend divorce, but I will say, I’ll go as far as separation.”
– Dr. David Clarke in 7/22/15 interview on Focus on the Family®
While I generally agree with Dr. Clarke’s approach to dealing with infidelity, I strongly disagree with him on this point.* Sometimes I will recommend divorce if it means protecting a spouse from repeated soul rapes. To me biblically and pastorally, this is the proper stance to take. Anything less is to tolerate and enable ongoing adultery thereby sending a message that divorce is worse than adultery. It is not. So, I am not of the camp that will treat divorce as always unacceptable.
My disagreement with Dr. Clarke does highlight a frustration of mine. Even with good counsel in the evangelical Christian world–and Dr. Clarke’s is some of the best I was able to find from a Christian psychologist–issues exist that continue to fuel divorce shame.
To help us see how this fuels the shame, I would like to make an analogy:
Say a father is not thrilled with his daughter’s choice in a husband. He would prefer she choose someone else. However, he wisely does not tear down his soon-to-be son-in-law, but he takes the stand of “I cannot recommend him.” The father sends the message that his daughter needs to discern this choice for herself with perhaps help from their pastor. But ultimately it is her choice. He then supports her when she decides to marry the ill-favored suitor.
How trustworthy is that support from the father down the line when the marriage gets rocky, do you think?
Is the father really being neutral or is he subtly trying to manipulate the outcome?
I say that he is subtly trying to manipulate the outcome. And I doubt the daughter really expects her father to support the marriage if things get rocky knowing how he reacted at the start of the relationship.
Similarly, I do not view the “I will never recommend divorce” as a neutral statement. It is a subtle hint that remaining married is preferred by the professional taking that stance. Make no mistake, the psychologist or pastor saying such things is doing a similar dance as the father in the above scenario. They have positional power. The faithful spouse is looking to them for guidance, and they are pretending to be neutral on this one.
Choosing divorce under these conditions is tinged with the hint that it is the lesser choice like marrying the ill-favored suitor. The better choice is to stay married as that is the status quo. And I have a major problem with that message. It feeds divorce prejudice. And it treats divorce as more severe an issue than ongoing infidelity.
Perhaps, if Dr. Clarke and I discussed this in person, we would find that we agree more than we disagree on these matters. I hope so. Besides, I understand I am coming at this as a pastor and not a psychologist who may feel more invested in marriage reconciliation than I do.
My concern is godliness.
Sometimes a priest of God may need to call for divorce.
Ezra did (see Ezra 10:3).
Ultimately–I agree with Dr. Clarke–the decision to stay married or divorce needs to be made by the faithful spouse alone as he or she will answer to God for such a decision (i.e. assuming that ship hasn’t already sailed via the adulterous spouse filing). That said, I think it is unfair to the faithful spouse to abdicate counsel when requested on these matters feigning (false) neutrality.
Recommending divorce is not demanding. It is giving guidance by reading the situation and applying Scripture as requested by the faithful spouse.
I do not have a problem recommending divorce in some circumstance because I actually mean Biblical grounds exist to divorce with absolutely no shame for the faithful spouse. And I am willing to take the heat from fellow pastors/Christian leaders who still seem stuck in the “we must not support divorce” mindset.
*To be fair, Dr. Clarke does go on to indicate his supportive to a faithful spouse who feels God is releasing her to divorce an unrepentant, adulterous spouse. Also, he encourages her to go to her pastor in discerning this decision. However, he ultimately respects that this is her decision to make as directed through her own relationship with God.