How the Church Contributes to the Pain of Divorce
Dena Johnson MartinDena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.
- 2019 Jul 03
I will never forget the Sunday it first happened.
I was in the midst of a painful divorce. My soon-to-be ex-husband had been the pastor of our church and had an affair with a woman in the church. After over a year of trying to save our marriage, I finally felt God’s peace in walking away.
I slipped into the church service and found an older widow to sit next to. She had been a strong supporter through it all. As the preacher began, he made a comment about how we wouldn’t go to someone who filed bankruptcy for financial advice and we certainly wouldn’t seek relationship advice from a divorced person.
The tears welled up as the dagger was stuck into my heart and twisted so deeply. The stereotypical comment was more than my bleeding heart could handle. In that moment, I contemplated never stepping foot in a church again.
I knew the comment wasn’t my Father’s heart. I knew He had set me free from the pain and dysfunction of my marriage. I knew He loved me and didn’t want me to wear the label of divorced. He wanted me to wear the label of masterpiece, chosen, child of God.
Until that day, I had never thought about how a careless comment could cause such excruciating pain and turn someone away from the church and God—the one place where true healing is available. I vowed that day to never be silent about the pain of divorce and the healing of my God.
Truth is, there are many, many divorced people who are not bad at relationships; they simply found themselves in a relationship with another individual who had a hardened heart. There are many people who filed bankruptcy that learned lessons the hard way (think Dave Ramsey) and used those lessons to help millions of people. There are former addicts who have experienced the life-changing power of God and now are better prepared to help other addicts. Just because we have suffered a devastating blow such as bankruptcy or divorce does not mean God cannot use us to help others. It does not mean we are a failure or bad at life. In fact, it’s often those who have suffered the most that God uses in the most amazing ways.
Our pain is never wasted if we let God use it for our good and His glory.
Sadly, the traditional teachings of the church have left many divorced people wounded and bleeding. Many traditional teachings have failed to take the cultural context of scripture into account when giving interpretations on divorce and remarriage. A deeper look at the context shows many of the teachings were meant to protect women and elevate them to a place of equality.
And yet, the church continues to heap shame and guilt upon so many victims of divorce.
Where, you might ask. How is the church issuing condemnation instead of hope? What is the church doing that causes untold pain?
Here’s a few areas to consider:
Divorce disqualifies you from ministry (or any type of leadership role) within the church. As a former pastor’s wife with a very clear calling on my life from God, this one was so painful. And scary. What does a divorced woman do to fulfill a calling she has known and pursued since she was 8 years old? Why should my husband’s adultery disqualify me from serving God?
These were questions I wrestled with for a number of years. Ultimately, God assured me He still had plans for me…plans that have far exceeded anything I could ever imagine.
I fully understand—and agree with—exercising caution before putting a divorced individual into a leadership role. How long has it been? Has the individual fully healed? What were the circumstances of the divorce? Was the individual a Christian at the time? Is the person now married? How long? What is the state of his/her current marriage? If children were involved, how is his/her relationship with the kids? Is he/she fulfilling all financial responsibilities to the children?
If we are honest, these are the types of questions that should be asked of every candidate for a leadership position. You see, divorce is no worse than premarital sex or a penchant for alcohol. In all reality, it might be that the divorced individual did not sin in getting a divorce. It could be they were the victim of a spouse with a hardened heart who simply walked away or was abusive.
Christ’s forgiveness is greater than every divorce and every sin. The key is full surrender to the Father.
Insisting divorce is always the result of two hardened hearts. Um… really sorry to burst your bubble, but there are many men with loving, faithful wives sitting at home while they are out running around on their wives. There are many kind, compassionate men who are trapped in marriages with hateful wives.
Proverbs 25:24 says, “It is better to live on a corner of the housetop than in a house in company with a quarrelsome wife.”
Sadly, one hardened heart intent on going against God’s will and breaking the vow is all it takes to destroy a relationship. One person determined to do his or her own thing can easily ruin a marriage of ten, fifteen, even fifty years. We are never too old to allow our hearts to become so calloused that we walk away from the gift God has given us.
One sweet friend said her pastor’s wife was a licensed counselor and made it very clear that it was impossible for divorce to be only one person’s fault. Anyone who espouses this teaching has never been in an abusive relationship. Never, ever, under any circumstances insist that divorce is always the result of the actions of both spouses. It is highly likely there was only one hardened heart that caused the demise of the marriage.
Proclaiming that divorce is never an option. I understand the sanctity of marriage and the importance of preaching perseverance. However, when there are individuals sitting in the congregation trapped in abusive relationships, this type of blanket statement contributes to keeping them trapped. You see, most of us who are divorced Christians did not take the decision lightly. It was a decision made in counsel with many others and with many, many hours of prayer. Ultimately, it was a decision made for our safety and our sanity—and for that of our children.
I believe it is essential that pastors study abuse (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual) and gain a greater understanding of what individuals in the congregation are dealing with. You must understand the brain-washing that is taking place in marriages today—often in the name of Christianity. I know how many times I was called out for failure to be submissive—which in my case meant catering to his every whim. This is not what God intended for our marriages!!
Before you preach on the sanctity of marriage, make sure you create a caveat for those who are trapped in marriages where they are suffering. Make sure you point out that the husband must love the wife as Christ loved the church before the wife has to submit. Make sure you let them know that if your spouse if insisting on you submitting to sinful practices, the spouse is absolutely wrong.
Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, has finally become a voice of reason in this argument. I am so glad to have a proponent of marriage proclaiming that God would never put an institution above the individual.
Maybe you should actually consider preaching a sermon on what verbal, mental, and emotional abuse actually looks like. Maybe you should grab some divorced people from your congregation and ask them to tell their stories. Maybe you should let those same individuals lead the discussion on abuse.
Teaching that remarriage is to live in adultery and be condemned to hell. I did not realize how prevalent this teaching was until I started writing. I was told over and over that if I remarried, I would be living in an adulterous relationship, forever condemned to hell. My only option as a divorced person was to pine away, praying for reconciliation, or to wait until my ex-husband died.
I used the example of David and Bathsheba, an adulterous couple who obviously had a marriage that was blessed by God despite its beginnings. God could have chosen any of David’s sons to take the throne, but he chose Solomon, the product of this marriage that began in adultery. I actually had pepole tell me the only reason God blessed the marriage between David and Bathsheba was because Bathsheba’s first husband was dead.
Ummm… I may not have a Bible degree, but I believe Uriah was dead because David killed him. I guess it’s ok for all of us divorced people to murder our former spouses so we can have a second marriage blessed by God.
I am being facetious, but really? How can remarriage be the unforgivable sin? Doesn’t God throw all of our sins (including divorce) as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more? Didn’t Moses allow divorce so women could remarry (Deuteronomy 24)?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul even says it is not a sin to remarry: If you are married, don’t get a divorce. If you are divorced, don’t try to find a spouse. But if you do marry, you haven’t sinned. (CEB)
Don’t take the word of just one spouse. Don’t even get me started on the number of pastors and churches that are completely fooled by abusive spouses who manage to sink their teeth in and turn everything around on the abused spouse. I know the stories I heard about myself, how I just woke up one morning and didn’t love him any more. I have been blessed to have God bring truth to light so many times, and I know He still works on my behalf.
I believe it is time for churches to change the way they handle divorce and divorced people. It is time to start ministering to them, as if they lost their spouse to death (there are many similarities). Perhaps it is time to preach a sermon on the pain of divorce and how we as Christians should minister to those who are hurting. It is time we look more deeply into scripture and see why God hates divorce (because of the pain it causes His children). It is time churches truly evaluate the traditional teachings on divorce and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any areas where we have been judgmental instead of showing the love and grace of Jesus.