Top Evangelical Misconceptions About Adultery And Divorce


What Are Top Evangelical Misconceptions About Adultery And Divorce?

When I shared my blog with a Catholic professional peer of mine, this was his question for me. He named the biggest one as he saw it for Catholic laity. He explained many think divorce is what cuts people off from good-standing in the Catholic Church. It’s not. The remarriage (without an annulment) is what does that. But I digress…

His question was very thought provoking and I have mulled on it for a little while. Here’s my top list of evangelical misconceptions of divorce when adultery is involved:

1) The divorce is either a failure in the husband to lead like Christ or a failure in the wife to submit like the Church does to Christ (or both). 

I consider this an especially heinous version of the “Shared Responsibility Lie.” And I place it as the number one misconception as have heard it way too often in both my own experience and in the experiences of other evangelical Christians (from both genders). It is especially heinous because it uses Scripture (Ephesians 5:22-33) to spiritually abuse the victims of adultery (and possibly abandonment on top of that).

I call it spiritual abuse because it uses God’s name and authority to further victimize the vulnerable who do not control the sin of their partner. Also, it is a misapplication of Scripture to view these actions–i.e. leading and submitting–as guarantees for one’s spouse either not committing adultery or abandoning you through divorce. It’s not a guarantee. Even God who is obviously the perfect husband, experienced the infidelity of His people (e.g. Jeremiah 3). By the reasoning taken from Ephesians 5:22-33, God must have failed in His husbandly leadership duties. That’s absurd. And so, I suggest such an interpretation of Ephesians 5:22-33 must go along with the false sense of safety it imbues in its followers.

2) Divorce is sin.

Divorce is not always sin. God obviously is metaphorically described as divorcing Israel (e.g. Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1). God cannot sin; so, this means divorce under some circumstances must not be sin. Furthermore, adultery is clearly one such circumstance as Jeremiah 3 makes that explicit as to the grounds of God’s divorcing Israel.

Divorce like making money is not the problem. It is how or the circumstances around making money that is important. Running a business selling goods for market price is a legitimate and godly way to make money. However, if you make money by embezzling, then you are sinning by making money.

Likewise, if you are divorcing a spouse who has chosen adultery over the covenant of marriage, then you are not sinning (see Deut 22:22, Jer 3:8, Mt 19:9, etc.). However, if you are divorcing your spouse simply because you want to have sex with someone else (or just the possibility of having sex with someone else in the future via remarriage), then you are sinning.

God is against abusing His mercy. He is not against mercy. And it is a true mercy to faithful spouses to allow them to divorce without shame.

3) God hates divorce, and therefore, no good follower of God will initiate/choose divorce.

The first part of this statement is true (see Malachi 2:16). God does hate divorce. But He hates adultery more. Furthermore, when God is talking about hating divorce in Malachi 2:16, He is addressing a situation where divorce was being abused to enable the appearance of righteousness for adulterers. It infuriates me how many times I hear this verse quoted to manipulate faithful spouses into staying married to an unrepentant adulterous spouse, and then I listen to the deafening silence about adultery from the pulpits or even mouths of those same Christian leaders.

The emphasis on not divorcing versus teaching against adultery is backwards. Adultery is and always has been the problem. God put adultery and not divorce in the Ten Commandments after all. So, are you willing to say God got the threat wrong? True, divorce is not pleasant or God’s ideal for marriage, but it is sometimes a necessary surgical response to the gangrenous sin of adultery in a marriage.

Furthermore, such teaching perpetuates an unbiblical divorce prejudice. It teaches others to treat divorcee Christians as B-class Christians for they did something God hates or acted out from a hard heart (see Mt 19:8). This leads to all sorts of craziness in evangelical culture. We will force faithful spouses to prove their worthiness to divorce as opposed Biblically address the sin of adultery:

Did you really try hard enough to reconcile? What did you do to drive your spouse away? Did you learn how to better be a “good” Christian husband or a “good” Christian wife before choosing divorce? 

This infuriates me as well! The focus is backwards once again. When we see divorce as the problem as opposed to the actual sin of adultery (plus all those accompanying lies), we do things that are unbiblical and can cause further damage to the already victimized. We put the wrong person under the microscope. They did not cause the adultery! And they cannot fix this problem. Only the sinner is capable of repenting of his or her own sin.

And restoration of the marriage is not owed to the adulterous spouse even if the faithful spouse is a Christian. The adulterous spouses get their lives (see Deut 22:22 and Lev. 20:10), and that is more mercy than they would receive in the Old Testament for just one act of adultery! The marriage is not owed to them; ergo, they ought to be working real hard to convince the faithful spouse that they have repented of their sin, and therefore, the marriage has a chance of viability.

Most importantly, if God chose divorce metaphorically under adulterous circumstances then it must be permissible–nay, even godly–to choose divorce under similar circumstances (Jer. 3:8). Plus, I would add that God does not give us permission to sin. However, God does give His people permission to divorce (e.g. Mt 19:1-10). Therefore, you can be a good follower of God and still choose divorce if faced minimally with adultery.

More misconceptions exist than these three in evangelical culture. And I sort of combined a few in my last point (hence, why it is so long). But these are the top three as misconceptions about divorce following adultery as I see and have experienced them in evangelical culture. Again they are:

1) The divorce is either a failure in the husband to lead like Christ or a failure in the wife to submit like the Church does to Christ (or both).

2) Divorce is sin.

3) God hates divorce, and therefore, no good follower of God will initiate/choose divorce.

We would do well to correct these in our communities and churches. I hope naming and rebutting them here is a start.

4 thoughts on “Top Evangelical Misconceptions About Adultery And Divorce”

  1. God did not devoice Israel in Jer like you divorced your wife. God continually seeks restoration and is faithful and gracious to lost sinners. Godly intentions are to seek restoration, as seen in Jer… Are those your intentions with your adulterous ex?

    1. It says God divorced Israel. Your dispute is with what God says and not what I have said here. Divorce is divorce.

      As far as reconciliation and restoration is concerned, are you an universalist (i.e. someone who believes everyone goes to Heaven)? Because if you are not, then you concede by that position that sometimes God allows people to reject Him–like one spouse sinfully rejecting another–and ergo, not everyone is reconciled with God.

      1. So correct. DM you rock. I don’t see Ken’s point in the first place, but thanks again for bringing clarity over attacks.

        I wish I’d had the same presence of mind during a conversation with my pastor in which he declared, “God hates divorce,” then settled back into his armchair, leaving a heavy and painful silence. It took a few months before I could receive his sermons without hurt and anger (and even then it was an act of God. 🙂

        Thank you for your reminders that God allows for rescue even when Christian leaders misrepresent Him.

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