Why Talk About Divorce?
On Sunday (July 11, 2010) I preached a sermon from Mark 10. A portion of that passage addresses the issue of divorce. Although preachers are often accused of being “longwinded”, there is often not enough time for the wind to fully inflate the sails! Such is the case when trying to cover the topic of divorce.
Divorce is a “hot potato” in the church for two reasons. 1) It is regarded as sin and 2) it is very common. Preachers preach on sin all the time, but divorce is different. There is no record at the courthouse for my last lie. There have been times in my life in which I did not obey my parents, but it did not result in an album of professional photographs documenting a failure with “my other set of parents.” Divorce is very public. It involves a lot of people. It is never forgotten and carries with it hurt feelings and guilt that can last a lifetime.
Because divorce is such a personal issue it is usually a topic that is immediately met with a defensive posture and a great deal of misunderstanding. I concede that the church has, at times, not had a stellar record when it comes to dealing with the victims of divorce. I will deal with this issue of how the church should respond to the divorced in a later post. Yet, for the most part when a church or a pastor takes a stand against divorce (as with most other sins) they are immediately labeled judgmental. This is ironic being that accusing someone of being judgmental is a judgment call. At the same time teaching that divorce is wrong is judgmental, but Biblical. Because divorce often brings with it hard feelings and a great deal of personal pain, it is not difficult to allow our feelings and emotions trump what is biblically truthful. This should not be so. At the same time we should be careful not to shoot the messenger. It is not necessary to believe that someone who is against divorce is necessarily heartless or calloused toward the divorced.
Even still it is impossible to talk about divorce without a sense of judgment and misunderstanding. It is nearly impossible, in the limited amount of time allowed for a sermon, to cover a topic fully and to everyone’s satisfaction. Hopefully, writing on this topic will foster a healthy conversation that helps us get a more holistic picture of what the Bible says about divorce, to the unmarried, the married, and the divorced. Yet, it is naïve to assume that there can be a conversation about divorce void of hurt, regret, fear, or a sense of guilt. So why talk about divorce at all. Why not let it go?
1. The Bible covers the issue of divorce. If the church is to be faithful to the sacred text it must preach, teach, and minister being fully aware and open about divorce. God speaks about divorce. His people should not turn a deaf ear or have a muted voice. Because a conversation may be hurtful does not mean it is not needful.
2. Preaching, teaching, and talking about divorce in a Scriptural context presents an opportunity for people to grow and heal. God’s people literally feed on God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Seeking guidance from the Bible on any topic, including divorce, is nutritional for God’s people. This should be a nutritional conversation. When the church broaches the topic of divorce from Scripture it provides people an opportunity to grow, to refine their views, to learn, and to heal. Every time (including this one) I study divorce I learn, I grow, and I refine my views. Studying the topic helps me learn how better not only to explain to couples how to stay married, but it helps me become a better minister to couples who have experienced divorce. Furthermore, for those who are divorced, a Scriptural conversation should help to soften a defensive posture and invite those hurt by divorce to find avenues of reconciliation and healing through the gospel.
3. We should preach, teach, and talk about divorce because it allows the church to clarify its position. We are not against divorced people. We are against divorce. I concede this to be a very fine line considering it is people who divorce. Yet, as is the case with other subjects, if the conversation is limited it seems like the church has only one thing to say. “We are against it.” Case in point, sex. Because talking about sex is taboo in the church most people assume that the church is against sex. Yet, attend a church meeting only a few times, hear the constant plea for nursery workers, and you will soon understand that the church is not against sex. While it is true that the Bible prohibits sex outside of marriage it greatly encourages sex within marriage. If we talked more about it, we may reflect a more Scriptural position that we are more for sex than we are against it! THE CHURCH IS NOT AS MUCH AGAINST DIVORCE AS IT IS FOR MARRIAGE. A broader conversation gives more ample opportunity to not only say why people should not divorce, it also gives an opportunity to say why people should stay married.
4. Covering the topic of divorce brings awareness to the problem. People do not try to find solutions to hidden or ignored problems. There are no decent ministries to the dirt under the rug. If divorce is a closet issue it will become a more prevalent problem. If the church is Scriptural and vocal, it will bring awareness to the world that the gospel has a great solution to the critical issues of everyday life – including divorce.