Redeeming the Remarried
John grew up Southern Baptist and participated in Sunday school regularly. His family attended church faithfully and was involved in many programs. After high school, John went to college and fell in love with Sharon, the woman of his dreams. But six years into the marriage, John had an affair, and his marriage crumbled. So did John. Spiritually, John walked away from God; physically, he walked away from his family. John quickly fell out of touch with God, the church, and hope.
Diane's family also regularly attended worship services throughout her childhood. Her nondenominational church taught her how to study the Bible and emphasized holy living. Diane tried to live up to that ideal. She married the son of a wealthy family in town but quickly realized that he was an abusive tyrant, driven by selfishness. His vows to love, honor, and cherish meant nothing, and he soon began to torment Diane and their children during alcohol-induced tirades of violence and intimidation. She suffered for many years, but his persistent hardheartedness eventually convinced her that divorce was the only safe course of action. After her divorce, Diane felt a great deal of spiritual shame when she attended church. The looks on people's faces, comments made behind her back, and passionate sermons on divorce all made her feel small and unworthy.
When Diane met John two years later she, too, had drifted from church. Because the pain of their past cautioned them against trust, they took their time courting one another. But once it became clear that they and their children had a future together, they joined in marriage.
Their first priority after the wedding was to get back into church. Living in a new community where no one knew their pasts, they hoped that finding a family of faith would renew their relationship with their Savior and his people.
For six months, they attended a congregation that had been recommended by friends. They quietly participated in Bible classes and worship and waited for the appropriate time to tell their story to one of the ministers. During a personal Bible study with a staff member, they finally shared their experiences of divorce and prodigal living.
"Given the nature of your divorces," the pastor said, "I'm afraid your remarriage is a problem for us. I'm sorry. We can't have you at our church. Your background and past might infect everyone else." With that, he arose from the table and excused himself from their lives.
A Mission Field
After ten years of specializing in ministry to remarried couples and stepfamilies throughout the country, I know that John and Diane's experience is not uncommon. The harshness of the pastor's words might be uncharacteristic, but the result is often the sameexclusion from the local church.
Fortunately, David Instone-Brewer's book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church and others like it are building a new consensus regarding the New Testament's teaching on divorce. Still, Christians disagree on how the church should respond to divorced men and women. When faced with the complexity of stepfamilies, pastors sometimes fall back on theological truths about God's ideal for marriage. Not knowing how to offer practical help for families trying to integrate through remarriage, some ministers zero in on the nature of the preceding divorce or divorces to determine the legitimacy of the current marriage. This is not only unhelpful, but impractical. Even if previous divorces were unbiblical, the couple should not divorce again! Nothing in Scripture suggests that two wrongs make a right.