I was being interviewed for what would be my first church pastorate, and I was nervous and unsure what to expect. The twelve deacons sat in a row in front of me and took turns asking questions, which I answered as clearly as I could. All went smoothly until they posed this question: "What is your position on divorce and remarriage? Would you remarry a divorcée or divorced man?"
I didn't know if this was a trick question or an honest one. There might have been a deep-seated pastoral need behind it, or it might have been a test of my orthodoxy. Either way, I didn't think I could summarize my view in one sentence; when I thought about it further, I couldn't decide exactly what my view was. I gave a deliberately vague reply. "Every case should be judged on its own merits."
It worked; I got the job. But I made a mental note to study the subject of divorce, and to do it quickly.
It's a good thing I did. As it turned out, I was surrounded by people who needed answers to questions raised by divorce and remarriage. My Baptist church was located near an Anglican congregation and two Catholic churches. Divorced men and women from these congregations came asking if we would conduct their weddings, having been denied in their local churches. Then I found that some of my deacons had been divorced and remarried. Should I throw them out of church leadership? If I did, I would lose people I considered some of the most spiritual in the church, people with exemplary Christian homes and marriages.
What Does the Bible Say?
The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications. Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: "Whoever divorces a wife, ...