I didn’t pay much attention to this topic until just a couple of years ago, when a friend I was mentoring asked me about it; he was divorced and wanted to know whether he could remarry. That set me on a journey, and I felt a great deal of responsibility: here was a guy who had approached me to disciple him, and we had spent quite a bit of time together. He was a member of the small group my wife and I led, so when he asked me this, I really did feel a pastoral concern for him. I also felt somewhat embarrassed, actually, that I didn’t have a response! I really didn’t know all the Bible had to say on the subject, nor the wide variety of opinions which Bible students and teachers have had over the years. But boy, was I to find out.
I got books on the subject, read scholarly and pastoral articles, and started asking friends and those whom I respected. Opinions were all over the map, as you can imagine if you’ve done any research on this topic. Some were super helpful, and some were just confusing. First, the latter.
One pastor, whom I greatly respected, had officiated the second marriage of a mutual friend who had been divorced. I asked him his thoughts on remarriage, and his response was, quite literally, “God has grace for that.” I didn’t know what to do with that, and still don’t. Grace for what?
One church elder told me that a second marriage was adultery, whereas another elder in the same church said a second marriage is bigamy. (Well, it can’t be both!) One senior pastor said that a marriage is permanent in God’s eyes until the death of one spouse. He told me that therefore a second marriage is adultery, but it’s only adultery the first time the new couple had sex, and after that it was a legitimate marriage and therefore sex was not adultery. So this means that in God’s eyes the man is now legitimately married to two women and only committed adultery once, I guess. It got confusing fast.
And now the good stuff. As I dug into the material, I began to realize how much material there was. Church fathers had written on this almost since the birth of the church. Books had been written, scholars have parsed Greek and Hebrew clauses, pastors have weighed in, and podcasters have produced content. I consumed as much as I could.
I actually didn’t have a dog in this fight. That is, it wasn’t I who had been divorced and wanted to remarry — it didn’t affect me personally. And the friend whom I was mentoring said he honestly wanted to know what the Bible said about it, so he could be obedient. I started the journey with as open a mind as I could have. I didn’t want to land on one side or the other, even though I started out leaning toward the “divorce is never legitimate” side.
One thing I noticed right away was the level of passion expressed by church leaders who were against divorce and remarriage of any kind. They cited statistics and told anecdotes of how divorce has ruined families, damaged children, split congregations, and how the church has been complicit in this by refusing to condemn divorce.
As I read their impassioned defense for never-divorce-never-remarry, I began to see a pattern emerge, and it was a pattern I had seen elsewhere. It goes like this:
- Form an opinion on a topic.
- Gather Bible verses on the topic.
- Use idiosyncratic or ad hoc interpretations of these verses to support your opinion.
- Provide stories and statistics of people in the church hurt by opposing opinions.
- Point out the hypocrisy in the church by people with opposing opinions.
- Claim the moral high ground and begin advocating for your opinion.
Yeah, I know my analysis isn’t very charitable. What I see, though, is that this pattern, used by conservative evangelicals to support a strong never-divorce-never-remarry position, is the exact same pattern which progressive liberals use to support positions like homosexuality. Go back to those six steps and plug in both “marriage is sacred and should never be broken” and “same-sex attraction is a God-given desire” and see how the pattern fits.
Of course, the problem is in step 1 of the process, where we form an opinion first. I was hoping not to do this. Please read these posts and see how I did.