A while ago, while Amy Grant was going through whatever she was going through, there was a discussion on rec.music.christian that was pretty interesting. It shaped my view a lot. Anyway, some (in my view) enlightening stuff came up that I always meant to post but don’t know why I didn’t.

Basically, Christians view divorce as the second unforgiveable sin, and that can’t be right. I pretty much agree with the following article. We should make it a principle, not a law. Not that marriage should be treated casually, but there’s gotta be more love for the broken also. Just blindly accepting that divorce is in every single case wrong seems legalistic and unloving to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of divorce, and I think it should be literally a last gasp option. But I think it would do Christians some good if we stopped viewing divorcees as living in sin for the rest of their lives. That can’t be Jesus’ love.

Here’s the post of the article, from rec.music.christian:


>I sincerely believe that God hates divorce.

I’m reading William Barclay’s _Daily Study Bible_ commentary, and I recently got to his thoughts on Matthew 19:1-12, wherein the Pharisees tried to test Jesus by asking him questions about his stance on divorce. I’ll try to summarize some of what Barclay says.

Jesus was saying that what Moses said about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1 was a concession to the fallenness of human nature. Moses permmitted divorce, but that was a concession in view of a lost ideal, that of Adam and Eve in an unbreakable, perfect union.

The words of Jesus, as stated in this passage in Matthew, and in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 differ in that only Matthew adds the clause that allows divorce in the case of adultery. Barclay chooses Mark and Luke’s version of the saying, because only their versions support the “unbreakable union” ideal of Adam and Eve. However, he goes on to say that Jesus was laying down a principle, not a law, that the ideal of marriage is a union which cannot be broken.

Barclay says “What Jesus laid down was a principle and not a law. To turn this saying of Jesus into a law is gravely to misunderstand it. The Bible does not give us laws; it gives principles which we must prayerfully and intelligently apply to any given situation.”

He goes on to say “Beyond all doubt the ideal is that marriage should be an indissoluble union between two people…” “But life is not, and never can be, a completely tidy and orderly business. Into life there is bound to come sometimes the element of the unpredictable. Suppose, then, that two people enter into the marriage relationship; suppose they do so with the highest hopes and highest ideals; and then suppose that something unaccountably goes wrong, and that the relationship which should be life’s greatest joy becomes hell upon earth. Suppose all available help is called in to mend this broken and terrible situation…are then these two people to be for ever fettered together in a situation which cannot do other than bring a lifetime of misery to both?”

“It is extremely difficult to see how such reasoning can be called Christian; it is extremely hard to see Jesus legalistically condemning two people to any such situation. This is not to say that divorce should be made easy, but it is to say that when all the physical and mental and spiritual resources have been brought to bear on such a situation, and the situation remains incurable and even dangerous, then the situation should be ended; and the Church, so far from regarding people who have been involved in such a situation as being beyond the pale, should do everything it can in strength and tenderness to help them. There does not seem any other way than that in which to bring the real Spirt of Christ to bear.”

“This whole matter is one to which we might well bring more sympathy and less condemnation, for of all things the failure of a marriage must least be approached in legalism and most in love. In such a case it is not a so-called law that must be conserved; it is a human heart and soul.”


That brought up some discussion. One of the followup posts, again which I thought interesting, is here:

>> What do you think “take up your
>> cross” means, anyway? One’s cross might well be a spouse.

>Wow. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

An interesting idea. A good soundbite, even. Does it hold up to scrutiny, Biblical and intellectual? I’m not so sure.

>Regarding Jerry’s quote of Barclay, that’s pretty good stuff. Personally, I
>think it goes too far.

It goes farther than anything I’ve heard, but most everything I’ve ever heard has been “God hates divorce, and if you’re divorced, God hates you and so do I.” Barclay seems to go out of his way to say that every reasonable attempt at reconciliation must be tried and exhausted before divorce is an option.

The standard church doctrine on divorce seems to create a new “unforgivable sin,” in that if you divorce and remarry, you’re in a constant state of adultery. If every other sin can be forgiven, why not that one? And is it even a sin in the first place?

>For sure, too many in ministry just sit on their
>doctrines and fail, absent extreme marital problems of their own or of other
>loved ones close to them, to “allow” in some way, for divorces that are just
>going to happen no matter what you do or say. The problem is, who defines
>”incurable”? Who makes the judgment that “all spiritual resources have been
>brought to bear” on a situation?

I don’t know the full answer, but I do know that the partial answer is almost always “not you or me.” Certainly that’s the case in the Amy Grant divorce, and so I’m rather puzzled at these people who seem able to speak with such certainty and authority on things that they have no way of knowing about. If in fact Christianity is based on a “personal relationship with God,” an idea that is, in fact, open to a lot of misuse and abuse, at some point we just have to withdraw our noses and let people work out how they live their lives between themselves and God.

>In my ministry, I’ve never been able to
>tell somebody that divorcing would be okay. I just can’t make myself say
>those words (and believe me, I’ve counselled two situations where I had the
>uttermost amount of sympathy for the suffering spouse).

Sounds to me, like most of these conversations between you and I, that you’ve got a chicken and egg problem. Is divorce “not okay” just because you were unable to “say those words,” or is it your personal conviction on divorce (right or wrong, I can’t say) that made you unable to “say those words”? Personal convictions are great, but more often than not they’re not universal. They’re not the final word.

>I have suggested
>separation. That will at least take the person out of the day by day living
>hell. For sure, that counsel should be given in some sort of “dangerous
>situation”.

I don’t know that that sort of limbo would be a better solution, though. If the situation is never going to get any better, is it preferable to suffer the rest of your life, either up close or from a “separated” distance, or does it eventually come to a point where cutting bait is an option? That’s what Barclay seems to be driving at. What’s served, other than the satisfaction of a legalistic code, by forcing people in that situation to stay together?

A recurring theme in Barclay’s writing is the contrast between the strict legalism of the Pharisees and the comparitive freedom in the teachings of Jesus. He’s certainly not advocating licentiousness, but he is condemning the reduction of religion to a set of rules that must be blindly obeyed.


Finally, an article from Chuck Colson about divorce rates among Christians.

Following is the transcript of the BreakPoint radio commentary I was referring to. I went to http://www.breakpoint.org, did a search of the transcript archives on keyword “divorce”, found the appropriate transcript and requested it via e-mail. You can do the same if you want to verify it, but you must first sign up for a free membership before the transcript will be e-mailed to you. I assume you could delete the membership after receiving the transcript if you wish; I kept mine. This will be my final comment on this subject, as it seems clear that neither side will change the other’s mind. I am just posting this so everyone will know I was not fabricating this information, as I have been accused.

BreakPoint Commentary – February 15, 2000
We’re All Born Again Now: Exploring the Boomer Soul
By Charles W. Colson

Did you see the results of that recent Barna survey about Christians and divorce? Depressing. According to George Barna, people who call themselves “born again” Christians divorce at even higher rates than non-believers — three percent higher, to be exact.

Well, it would be depressing, and shocking, except it turns out the survey reveals less about how real Christians live their lives than it does about the confusion about what “born again” really means.

Wade Clark Roof is the author of a new book called Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. A religious studies professor, Roof says that one third of America’s 77 million Baby Boomers identify themselves as “born again Christians.” The question is, what do they mean by that?

According to Roof, it means that they’ve had a “highly personal spiritual experience that has changed their lives.” To these folks, you are born again “because of certain feelings . . . and experiences, not because you believe any particular set of doctrines.”

And Roof says only about half of those who call themselves “born again” today attend a conservative Protestant church. Twenty percent don’t belong to ANY church. Shockingly, a third of those who say they’re “born again” believe in astrology and reincarnation.

In other words, you might call yourself a born again Christian, but so do people who call the Psychic Friends Network every week. And so does the guy down the street — the one who lives with his girlfriend and smokes pot on weekends.

All of which helps explain the Barna results.

Many of those who call themselves born again have no idea what the term means. We certainly can’t expect them to lead Christ-like lives, or to know, for instance, that God says “I hate divorce” in the book of Malachi.

The good news is that divorce is much less common among serious Christians who conscientiously practice their faith. For example, research indicates that regular church attendance is linked with marital stability. And Christians who live by biblical teachings — such as remaining chaste and abstaining from sex until marriage — also enjoy much lower divorce rates.

Of course, far too many Christians do divorce, leaving behind broken hearts and broken homes – and we should do something about it.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and the best way to celebrate is by doing something other than exchanging cards with your loved ones. You can do something that will help lower America’s divorce rate by helping your church begin a Marriage Saver ministry. It’s a program begun by my friend Mike McManus.

Marriage Savers has a proven track record for helping couples solve tough marital problems.

Call us at BreakPoint, and we’ll send you information about how to bring this tremendous program to your church.

And if your unsaved neighbors refer to polls about Christians getting divorced, set them straight. The statistics are misleading because they include a lot of people who aren’t born again.

And we must lovingly tell folks, including some in our own churches, something else, as well: Christianity is more than some touchy-feely, emotional experience. Only when we accept by faith our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, and faithfully follow Him, are we truly “born again.”

Copyright (c) 2000 Prison Fellowship Ministries