What if the church treated widows like faithful divorced spouses?


Can you imagine church leaders (or simply other Christians) treating a widow/widower in the same way they treat a faithful spouse who is now divorced from the adulterous one?

And before anyone cries “Foul!” on this analogy suggesting that its too strained, I will point out this is the state Old Testament spouses would find themselves after their cheating spouse was killed for committing adultery (e.g. Deut. 22:22). The analogy is not strained.

Both being widowed and getting divorced from an adulterous spouse are losses of a spouse. And both are a result of choices or circumstances (e.g. illness) made outside of the faithful spouse even when that spouse chose divorce (i.e. the godly option of being married to a faithful spouse was murdered by the unfaithful spouse when the adultery was committed).

1. Can you imagine a church forcing a widowed pastor out of the pastorate against his wishes simply because he was widowed?

So, you just lost your wife. Well, we think it is best we take your livelihood, too. Don’t worry we will consider restoring it back to you at some time in the future when we deem you fit for service. You have issues to work through right now. We think its best for your healing and everyone that you step down from the pastorate now.

Most of us would be horrified if a church leader said this to a widowed pastor. We would deem it paternalistic, heavy handed, and downright cruel. However, this seems perfectly fine to say to faithful spouse and pastor who just lost his adulterous spouse through divorce. I know. This is almost verbatim what was told to me as standard operating procedure by an official in my former evangelical denomination. I say that not to demonize this denomination but to emphasize how this really is happening today.

2. Can you imagine a church leader insisting a widowed person owes them a demonstration of “learned lessons” regarding the widow’s own shortcomings in the last marriage?

I am not sure you have a handle on your issues in your last marriage. It sounds like to me you didn’t do everything to save your marriage. You could have tried that experimental cancer treatment but you gave up on her. Or maybe this is really an issue of a lack of faith? She died because you lacked the faith necessary to heal her. Yes, I think that is it. You need to work on your faith. I am going to forbid you from leadership positions until you convince me that you have grown in your faith.

That person sounds like a real jerk, right?! Well, how many faithful spouses have had this sort of conversation with a pastor after their marriage ended or as it headed to divorce. The infidelity/adultery is ignored. Repentance on the part of the adulterous spouse is treated as a non-issue. Instead, the pastor or Christian leader focuses upon the faithful spouse who does not have the power to stop the train wreck! They cannot stop their spouse from divorcing them anymore than they could stop their spouse from cheating on them.

And while introspection is a worthy pursuit for anyone, this sort of introspection is usually foisted upon the faithful spouse as expected of all “good” Christians. Such introspection is valuable for a widowed spouse as well. But you do not have the same expectation there. And I suspect the reason is a latent divorce prejudice that assumes some shared blame for the faithful spouse even though it is obvious the marriage was destroyed by the other’s adultery and lies.

3. Can you imagine a church demanding a widow/widower remained unmarried now until he/she dies?

I’m sorry. Marriage is forever. You can only be married once even if your spouse dies.

Usually, I see the opposite happening in Christian circles for widows and widowers. They cannot help but play matchmaker for their bereaved brother/sister. Such a contrast to how faithful spouses are treated following divorce. Even prominent church leader(s), like Pastor John Piper, will insist on this one for divorced faithful spouses–i.e. no remarriage for a divorced faithful spouse (read the link provided here for Piper’s nuances and here for my disagreement on his interpretation/application of Scripture).

What is bewildering for me is the reasoning behind such prohibitions for faithful spouses. If the divorce was legitimate and recognized by Scripture (e.g. Mt 5:32, Mt. 19:9, Deut 22:22, and Jer. 3:8), how could one suggest that it stops there with no implied possibility to remarry? The whole point for a legitimate divorce is to have the possibility to remarry. Even our secular legal system recognizes this. You can’t marry legally unless you are single. And you are not single until you are divorced (if previously married with the spouse living). It is simple logic, which is too often ignored to the detriment of divorced faithful spouses.

In writing all of this today, I am not suggesting we revert to abusing widowed spouses like divorced faithful spouses are too often. My point through this thought experiment is to expose how backwards and cruel some of the church’s response to divorce following adultery has been for faithful spouses. Seeing is the first step to change. You cannot change something you do not see.

Let’s be people who extend the same sort of empathy and care to divorced faithful spouses as we do widowed spouses. I think that would bring a smile to our Savior’s face.


5 thoughts on “What if the church treated widows like faithful divorced spouses?”

  1. I have told friends that it would be easier if my husband would have died instead of betraying me. Some are shocked when I say that, some understand exactly why I say that. One of the reasons I give to help them understand this is that widows are treated with much more care than betrayed spouses and I think I’ve been blessed with a biblical church and friends who have supported me. Still, I’ve had times where people treat me like a pariah or something and it is very painful. The other reason I give for choosing death over betrayal is because I feel with death my kids and I would still have our trust, respect and love intact for my STBXH, but not with betrayal- even our memories are forever tainted.

    1. BHB, I have this same feeling. It feels so much like a death. I’m filled with so much grief. But no one is at my door with a casserole telling me he’s in a better place, or that God has a plan, or that we’ll all be together in Heaven some day. I know it would horrible for my daughter, but she would grow up thinking her dad was the great guy everyone thinks he is, and be spared the divorce kid shuffle and stigma.

      1. Thanks for validating with similar feelings. Yes Nell, I’ve had a widow tell me death is much easier. Her first husband betrayed and left her and her second husband died. She said it was so much easier for her kids with her second husband because they had closure and lots of love. I wished these adulterers could understand the scope of their destruction.

  2. Indeed bhb and I have even had a widow say it to me unprompted . And you have the hope of meeting again in heaven. Beyond the emotional, with a bereavement you have a funeral, and you do not fear losing your home and half the savings for retirement, this is a big deal for me because of my age.

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