Recently, “Jason”, a frequently occurring character in the Undercover Agnostic series, invited me to a viewing of an old A&E special on the history of the early church at the house that he owns with his sister “Kelly”.
Our new pastor, let’s call him “Pastor Jones”, was interesting in viewing the video himself, so Jason had let him preview it before the showing at his house. Pastor Jones’ has been a pastor in churches mostly in the south for some time (
North Carolina and Arkansas, he is originally from North Carolina himself), but his theological
background is mostly in church history, he has a seminary doctorate in church
history in fact.
Since the video was produced by the cable network A&E, it looks more at the history of Christianity from well, a historical and outsider’s perspective instead of a more rigid fundamentalist view. Pastor Jones had a few objections to some statements and assertions that were made, and he had come with a printout detailing his disputes. We were all discussing his list, and then the discussion took a different turn.
Jason spends quite a bit of time with Pastor Jones, especially when he is counseling new church members or prospective members. He had talked about an incident where he had went with Pastor Jones to speak to a man who had been attending the church for a while with his young daughter, and had wanted to convert and join the church.
The pastor asked him if there was anything that he wanted to confess to god and to him as his pastor, and the man said that he had been living with his daughter’s mother, but was not legally married to her. Pastor Jones said that before the church would accept him as a new member, he must either break off the relationship with his girlfriend, or marry her. Jason said the man never contacted either of them again, and both this man and his daughter have not been to the church since.
It started a discussion on marriage and divorce, and Kelly brought up something I never knew about the practices of the church. She said that her son wasn’t willing to join our church because he has been a member of a moderate Christian denomination (I can’t remember which one, I think it was a branch of the Lutheran denomination), and he had married his wife in a ceremony officiated by a female pastor, and the church had already told her and her son that they would not consider his marriage to be legitimate because he was married by a female minister.
I was rather shocked by this, since in over 12 years of being a part of that congregation, (although 3 of those years have been spent undercover), I had never heard of such a policy in place. I had asked the group then about what the policies on divorce were, because I had never heard of anyone being excommunicated, refused membership, or having their second marriage deemed illegitimate in the eyes of the church before. For reference, let’s look at the New Testament view of marriage, divorce and remarriage before, I discuss the group’s reaction.
3Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”4And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
5and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?” 6“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
7They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Note the text I put in bold there. Jesus is clearly stating that he felt that infidelity is the only acceptable reason to get a divorce, and he rejects the idea of remarriage after divorce.
Paul later gives one more reason a divorce to be considered acceptable:
10But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
12But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
In cases where one spouse is a Christian, but the other spouse is not (perhaps resulting from one spouse converting after they have already been married for some time), he wants the Christian to stay with their spouse unless the non-Christian in the marriage is the one who wants a divorce, then the Christian is encouraged to let them leave. Paul makes it clear that he believes that this is God’s own commands, and not his own personal marriage advice.
Once I had asked about divorce, Jason said that is a different case entirely, you never know what is actually going on in the marriage, what kind of problems are going on the marriage (abuse, addiction, etc), that they are hiding from everyone else. A woman in the group said that she had been married to an alcoholic for over 20 years, and couldn’t take it anymore, so she had gotten a divorce, and felt that there was nothing wrong with getting a divorce if your spouse is an addict or an abuser.
I had asked if the church had taken any action against people who had been divorced/re married before, and Jason said the only event that he could recall is that a well respected Sunday School teacher had been told that he couldn’t become a deacon because he was divorced, but they never threatened to excommunicate him, or end his role as a church volunteer.
Both Jason and the woman who divorced her alcoholic husband are right, you never know what is truly going on within a marriage, and in cases of abuse and addiction, divorce is the only option in the first case, and can often be necessary in the second (though strangely enough, the New Testament makes no mention of either as a legitimate reason for divorce), and the church should respect that.
My question is though, if the church can be so hostile towards people who are living with a partner, or people who have been married by a female minister, of all things, why do they not apply the same level of hostility towards divorce and remarriage? Is it because there are so many divorced/re married people within the church, and they don’t want to lose a major group within the church?
If you are going to go all New Testament on us, at least be consistent about it…..