Faith

On divorce and remarriage for Christians, part 1: Introduction and background

I’m going to take a big risk and write about divorce and remarriage among Christians.

This a touchy topic because not only because it gets at the core of our personal lives, but also because the various branches of Christianity don’t all agree on what to believe and practice here.

Wedding day of the second marriage for both of us

My Christian foundation is in churches of the Restoration Movement — the Christian Churches, the Churches of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ. I know little about Catholicism or Presbyterianism or Seventh-Day Adventism or any other Christian -ism beyond what I can research on the Internet.

If you’re not in the Restoration Movement, it might help you to understand that like evangelicals and fundamentalists, our churches look to the Bible as the sole source of Christian authority. Our churches are autonomous; there is no central organization that normalizes our beliefs. Because of our common roots most of our congregations’ beliefs align, but you’ll find some differences from congregation to congregation.

Our churches believe that divorce is a sin, and is allowed only for adultery. Some go so far as to say that God does not recognize a divorce except for adultery — you are still married in God’s eyes. Therefore, if you remarry, it is a sin and God does not recognize that marriage. On the other hand, some of our churches accept divorce and remarriage. Some even encourage and embrace remarriage.

I care about this topic because I’m divorced and remarried. Neither my first wife nor I committed adultery. Rather, abuse and addiction destroyed trust and safety in the relationship, and damaged us past our ability to stay together. After a long time I met a woman who I came to love and believed would be a wonderful partner and companion for the rest of my life, and I married her.

I’ve studied divorce and remarriage and sought out God on it over the years and my thinking on it has evolved. I remain open to learning more and changing my thinking as necessary as I continue to build my relationship with God, gain more wisdom through living, and study my Bible. But I want to talk about what I believe today, which is: God very much wants us to marry in lifelong loving relationships, sin is always involved when a marriage ends, and divorce pains him greatly. But there are allowable reasons for divorce beyond adultery, and remarriage is allowed after any divorce.

I will explain my reasoning in posts over the next two Tuesdays. Let me emphasize that this is what I believe today based on my study and prayer, within the context of my particular Christian background. If you’re a Christian from a different background, what I will share with you may sound alien and wrong. That’s okay; I’m not here to change your mind. I just want to share my position and reasoning.

I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters. I’m a sinner who tries to follow Jesus as best I can. I welcome reasonable discussion that might open my mind to arguments I have overlooked and facts I am missing. I welcome your comments on these posts especially if you have a different Christian faith background from me. I will enjoy hearing your perspective and learning from you. However, I want to remind you of my comment policy — let’s keep it pleasant, eh?

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20 thoughts on “On divorce and remarriage for Christians, part 1: Introduction and background

  1. DougD says:

    I just went back to check, you’ve been remarried for 6 years!
    Looking forward to this series, it certainly is a broken world isn’t it?
    My Finnish employer once organized a company seminar with the Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen and the thing that stuck with me is that he said in Western culture there are now few positive pressures on marriage. For instance, there’s lots of books and movies about people blowing up their marriages to find peace and freedom. Not too many books and movies about the learning and hard work to find peace and freedom together.

    • Good comments. I wonder if the storyline about divorce leading to peace and freedom comes from so many people trapped in genuinely bad marriages because of old divorce laws or churches that wouldn’t allow them to divorce.

  2. tbm3fan says:

    You know the real reason why there are so many different opinions on divorce, don’t you? Since there is only one God in your book there should be only ONE opinion but there isn’t. This tells me that all these opinions come from one mans bias towards women. With many men in religion having their own bias you get many opinions. Think men are still sexist today then just imagine back then. Heck, Matthew always seems to be quoting Jesus on divorce but what Matthew is really doing is telling you his own biased opinion. If he can have his own opinion then so can I and so can everyone else. So in the end is it religions that are biased against women or is it the men, running the religion, who are biased and therefore using that power against women?

    • There’s only one God in the Bible, that’s true. But trouble comes when people try not only to interpret what the Bible says, but decide what the Bible is for. My faith tradition looks to the Bible for all instruction on living a Christian life. Other faith traditions include the Bible but also tradition and/or discernment/experience. There are also wildly differing interpretations of many things in the Bible. It’s all a right mess, really.

  3. I’m interested to see how your research on this plays out. My mother-in-law was divorced three times in short marriages (twice from abuse and once from adultery) before she found a husband who stayed committed to her for 25 years until he died. For most of the time while my wife was growing up, her mom was single, yet was at the church with the kids any time the doors were open.

    Many women at the church knew of my mother-in-law’s financial and emotional issues as a single mother and came alongside her to encourage her and the kids. And yet, when it came time for her to marry Richard, my father-in-law who also had been divorced, her pastor refused to marry them because they believed they church would be complicit in their adultery.

    • Oooooooof, I’m pained to hear that your MIL’s pastor refused to marry them. I’ve seen that happen here and there in the church and it always puzzles me deeply.

  4. As a secular person I’d like to think, despite my lack of religious faith , that if there is a loving God then they would understand that sometimes people will make mistakes, or end up in situations that didn’t work out despite good intentions, or be taken down unfortunate paths. I’d like to think that a loving God would appreciate people using their abilities to make their lives as good as they can be and to rectify the things that didn’t work out. Most of all, that they be happy.

    • It’s all tricky stuff, isn’t it. There are so many ways for us to choose a partner poorly. I think God wants us to choose as wisely as we can, and then for both partners to commit to the personal growth necessary for the relationship to do well. But sometimes that just doesn’t happen. I’m not sure God wants us to remain trapped in a marriage where there isn’t mutual love.

  5. Jane Safford Herr says:

    Looking forward to comments from people who have been divorced. I can only look at divorce from the outside as I have never been divorced and my husband and I have been married for 45 years. I had a friend describe it as like death. In a way it is death of a relationship. It seems that if the relationship is already dead that divorce is better than staying in a dead relationship. Thoughts about this anyone????

    • If you are in a miserable relationship, or being abused, or there is adultery going on then by all means get a divorce. If a pastor has a problem with it then divorce the pastor. If the religion has a problem with it then divorce the religion. Jim talks about how God is all about love, which is how it should be, but honestly I don’t see that as the core idea of many religions of today. They seem far more smite than love.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        TBM Plus 1

        There are a lot of Christian religions in the world. Picking one that frowns on divorce in modern relationships that can be terribly abusive, is kind of regressive. I like the term “divorce the religion”. There are welcoming religious communties that don’t frown on divorce, or ostricize gays too, in case your looking.

        I held back on commenting here, because it’s just too, too subjective. But even the Catholics (in which I was raised) don’t believe the bible is anything like the exact word of God (read any history on the bible, and it’s translation from ancient Aramaic, through Greek, and somehow into understandable English, with all the correct nuances of the Amamaic?) (Really?). And in advanced religious studies class, it’s not unusual to hear Jesuits talking about things like the fact that the anti gay, anti divorce, anti birth-control stance of the bible has more to do with trying to rapidly increase the population of Christians to swell their church, than the “word of God”.

        In the end, you “pays yer money and you takes yer chance”, but I’d be very wary of religions that preach pain for you if you make some correct decisions in really everyones well being. My agnostic brother with the degree in comparitive religion, will tell you that all religions, no matter how small, are basically populated with the “community-needy”; i.e. those that feel their life isn’t complete unless “they belong”…to something. He’ll also say that most people belong to some religion they got “rasied up” in; they didn’t pick their religion in their adult lives to reflect the things they believe in. His point being, if you’re an adult, and you want the “communty”, why not pick the religious community that is loving and open and reflects your beliefs. (for some reason, altho I don’t believe in organized religion, he says I should be a Methodist, I’m going to have to investigate that).

    • I can only speak to my divorce which, as I mentioned above, was destroyed through abuse and addiction. Those are some pretty extreme things to happen in a relationship. It was absolutely like a death.

  6. Rick Bell says:

    I agree That in order to please God we must use the bible as our sole voice of authority in order to please him well. I like learning about how to please Him well and look forward to your future articles.
    Regards Rick

    • Let me clarify something for you, then: nothing about divorce, nothing about bad treatment between partners in a marriage, pleases God. There are situations where divorce is allowable, situations where remarriage is allowable. But what pleases God most is for us to choose our marriage partner well and act with love toward them, and vice versa, for a lifetime.

  7. An interesting subject, yet so relevant to so many. As someone who also has that particular T shirt, I find the attitude of others can be particularly hurtful. But if you decide not to let the failure or a relationship define you or destroy your life, there is hope!

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