Syndicated columnist Geneva Overholser believes that churches will eventually approve of homosexual unions. Why? "I think in due time this thinking will change, just as most churches' opposition to divorce, for example, has changed," she writes. Overholser is not alone in this perception. But where did Overholser and others get the idea that most churches no longer oppose divorce? Maybe from the way churches, including evangelical churches, have handled the matter lately. The problem is not confined to one denomination or subgroup. The most recent high-profile example happened this spring, in the divorce of Charles Stanley, pastor of the 5,000-member First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Stanley acknowledged the gravity of divorce when he promised a few years earlier to resign if he were to divorce. But after Stanley's 44-year marriage ended, Gearl Spicer, the church's administrative pastor, told the congregation that Stanley, 67, would continue as the church's senior pastor. At this the congregation stood and applauded. Spicer added, "It is my biblical, spiritual and personal conviction that God has positioned Dr. Stanley in a place where his personal pain has validated his ability to minister to all of us."A prominent friend of Stanley's said he was "deeply sympathetic with the sorrow I know all of the Stanley family must feel over this." How the matter was handled in private, we do not know. But so nervous are we these days about being judgmental, condemning, and so on, few bothered to suggest publicly that Stanley's divorce was morally wrong. Divorce is certainly not the unforgivable sin, and when a couple divorces, it is only right that the church show compassion and understanding—especially in cases where abuse or truly irreconcilable issues have made the marriage a misery and a mockery.But there's no getting around it: whether we define sin as a transgression of Christ's commands, missing the mark, or the breaking of relationships, divorce is a sin. To be sure, divorce is sometimes the lesser of two evils, but it nonetheless nullifies God's intent. God joins people together; he doesn't pull them apart.Why emphasize the moral dimension? Partly because treating divorce as a therapeutic problem only gets us so far. We need to raise the stakes, or better, to show once again how high the stakes really are.As a recent study by George Barna showed, the percentage of born-again Christians who have been divorced (27) actually beats the national average by 2 points. "While it may be alarming to discover that born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce," says Barna, "that pattern has been in place for quite some time."Barbara Dafoe Whitehead argued in The Divorce Culture that divorce is not just a therapeutic problem but a moral one in which, to use biblical language, the commandment to love is thwarted: "Divorce has brought a steady weakening of the primary human relationships and bonds," says Whitehead. "Men's and women's relationships are becoming more fleeting and unreliable. Children are losing ties to their fathers. Even a mother's love is not forever." This is precisely why she concluded that if we are to "dismantle the culture of divorce," we need to "treat divorce as a morally as well as socially consequential event."What might this mean practically? First, we can stop using euphemisms. Divorce is more than a "tragedy," a "painful experience," a "great loss." It is the thwarting of God's will. It is something that tears at the fabric of our moral universe. As such, as Whitehead has reminded us, it creates ripples of moral and social consequences.Second, when pastors and other Christian leaders in significant teaching or preaching positions divorce, they should be held as accountable as they are for certain other sins, like adultery. At a minimum, time out for spiritual direction and healing, as well as a public service of repentance and renewal, are essential before public responsibility can be given again. If we were to make clear that divorce is also a moral issue, we would send a strong signal, stronger than we have sent for some time, that except in the most dreadful circumstances, divorce is not an acceptable alternative for Christians.
Marriage Savers offers help to couples who are preparing for marriage, strengthening a marriage, or trying to save a failing marriage.Read more about the 1999 Barna study on Divorce that found Christians more likely to divorce than non-Christians, news coverage of the study, and responses from World magazine and Richard Land .The full text of Colson's June 13 commentary on Stanley's decision not to resign his pastorate in the wake of his divorce is available at Breakpoint , Beliefnet , World , WorthyNews , and elsewhere.Other news coverage of Stanley's divorce is available from World , Baptists Today , the Associated Press and Beliefnet .Gary Burge answered whether divorcees can remarry in the October 4, 1999 issue of Christianity Today.The 1992 CT Institute on divorce and remarriage appears today at ChristianityToday.com The articles in that series include:CT Institute: Divorce and Remarriage | An introduction to our 1992 series on what divorce means for families, churches, and our country. A Marriage Counterculture | In addressing divorce, the church must adopt the strategies of the missionary. By David Seamands Sex, Marriage, and Divorce | Results from a 1992 Christianity Today reader's survey. By Haddon Robinson Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli | How Christian understanding about marriage has changed—and stayed the same—through history. By Michael Gorman Can One Become Two? | What Scripture says about Christians and divorce. By H. Wayne House Remarriage: Two Views | Two New Testament professors debate whether remarriage is acceptable for Christians. By Craig Keener and William A. Heth How Not to Fail Hurting Couples | We need a kind of shock therapy to become alert to missed opportunities. By Thomas Needham Becoming a Healing Community | How the church can develop a climate of help to the hurting.
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