Review: “What I Wish Pastors Knew About Divorce” by Laura Petherbridge


Today, I am reviewing a blog post on “Family Matters.” It is by Laura Petherbridge who happens to be a speaker appearing in the Divorce Care® materials. The title of the post under consideration today is “What I Wish Pastors Knew About Divorce” (Click on title to be directed to the actual blog post).

First, I really appreciate the article in general. She makes some excellent points about how the evangelical church and pastorate is mishandling situations involving divorce.

One point in particular, I appreciate. She writes:

“It takes two to get married, but only one to break the vow.

Just because a sin occurred, it doesn’t mean both spouses sinned.”


I appreciate her speaking this truth and thereby taking a whack at The Shared Responsibility Lie that is all so prevalent in the evangelical world, sadly.

Second, I appreciate her point to encourage pastors to seek out people qualified to speak to issues of divorce, remarriage, and blended families. She writes,

Most pastors don’t understand divorce, single parenting or remarriage. That’s a good thing. However, if we are going to be salt and light in today’s world, pastors need to surround themselves with people like me who do understand.

Like the author, I am happy to be such a resource as well. Personal experiential ignorance is good; however, willful ignorance and prideful teaching on these matters is not. A wise pastor will seek out those who have walked through these deep waters themselves before teaching or leading on such matters himself (or herself).

I think her assessment that churches only or primarily blame faithful wives but not faithful husbands when a spouse commits adultery is missing that husbands do get blamed, it just looks different. She writes,

I’ve never witnessed a church saying to a man, “You should have given her more sex, and then she wouldn’t have left you for another man.” But I’ve lost count of the women who tell me this is what a church leader said to them after a husband’s infidelity.

That’s not to say men aren’t ostracized by the church when a wife leaves. Sometimes, they are ignored or tossed aside. But they typically aren’t criticized and reprimanded for a wife’s sinful decision.

It is true that shaming a man for not giving his wife “enough sex” is not the usual religious attack against Christian husbands. The attack is more along the lines of saying he failed–in the Ephesians 5:23 sense–as the “head” or leader of his family (see post here).

While the woman is attacked about her body image or sexuality (e.g. “You must not have given him enough sex”), the man is attacked over his “strength” or competency as a leader (e.g. “You might not have cheated but you led her right to it. Don’t you see?”).

The common denominator I have found in ministering to faithful spouses here on Divorce Minister: Taking Adultery Seriously is that the faithful spouse is regularly blamed–in part, at least–by the church irregardless of gender. It just might look a little different for each.

Finally, I am bothered by how the author feels she must convince everyone that she really does hate divorce like God supposedly does. She writes,

There will be some reading this article who will label me as “soft on divorce.” Nothing could be further from the truth. They will piously site Bible verses and attempt to label me as unbiblical. Legalism is easy. Loving like Christ is much harder. It’s messy and inconvenient.

Divorce nearly killed me when my parent’s split, and then it attempted to murder me again when my husband walked out. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who hates divorce more than I do. But the truth is, I love divorced people because Jesus does.

How did we get to a place in Christianity where being “soft on adultery” is less problematic than being “soft on divorce?” (I say this as the author does not spill “ink” worrying over such a label–i.e. being “soft on adultery.”) I’m bothered that after reading a story about adultery that ended in divorce Christian culture immediately steps in with “but don’t condone divorce!” rather than “don’t condone adultery!” How many testimonies have you heard with that “necessary” caveat thrown in there? It strikes me as so backwards! 

Divorce is not always sin. Adultery is.

Wouldn’t you think the focus ought to be on avoiding something that is always sin over something that is not?

Plus, the Bible has very few references to divorce, whereas it is plum full of references to infidelity and adultery. In fact, even the oft overused and abused quotation regarding God hating divorce–i.e. Malachi 2:16–is stated in the context of God hating Jewish men committing adultery (via illegitimate divorce)!

I get that divorce is not a good thing taken by itself. It is painful and destructive. However, pastors fail to realize that no good options are really on the table when a faithful spouse is dealing with adulterous spouse and especially an unrepentant adulterer.

Why not emphasize God’s mercy in providing divorce for the victims of adultery instead of worrying that we–along with God, I suppose–are too “soft on divorce?”

I hope none of my friends or family are in the place where they need this particular mercy from God–i.e. divorce. However, I am thankful God does provide a way out for the victim of such heinous sin as adultery is. 

In closing, I want to be clear:

As long as the focus is avoiding divorce or avoiding being labelled as “soft on divorce,” the culture of unbiblical divorce shame will be allowed to flourish and adultery–plus other heinous sins–will remain tolerated. The conversation needs to shift from worry over being “soft on divorce” to worrying over being “soft on adultery” or “soft on spousal abuse.” 

It says a lot about our “Christian” culture that we worry about a sometimes-sin more than things that are an always-sin.

I would rather be considered soft on something that is not always sin–i.e. divorce–than on matters that are always sin–like adultery and spousal abuse. Sin left unaddressed leads to spiritual death–i.e. damnation. Hence, that is why I prioritize it over something that is not always sin.

But that’s just me.

I take adultery seriously here.

Yet, I am thankful for those who add their voice to the cause of understanding the divorced like Laura Petherbridge has done in this article. I just wished she had hammered home the focus on adultery, etc. better at the end.

2 thoughts on “Review: “What I Wish Pastors Knew About Divorce” by Laura Petherbridge”

  1. I like Laura Petherbridge a lot. I think that she would be supportive of what you are saying.

    1. I agree. She probably would be supportive. Her perspective was very helpful for me as I was working through my divorce and its aftermath.

      She was probably aiming those last comments at more traditional evangelicals who struggle with this issue viewing through the Law-lens (“Thou shalt not divorce.”) I just wished she had drilled down on her earlier point about how churches are not doing a good job supporting those dealing with abuse, adultery, etc.

      That said, changing the conversation on divorce and refocusing it on the actual sin like adultery/abuse will take time. I am appreciative of her efforts here even if I have few nuances I wished were expressed and/or addressed.

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