Reducing The Divorce Rate: A Fundamental Shift In Thinking
[July 29, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
I was recently engaging via email with a friend who is trying to see clearly on the whole divorce issue (his church teaches no divorce, ever). One of his questions was if I would consider remaining single even if I believed it wasn’t required, so as to encourage other Christians to take their marriage commitments seriously. Among other ideas and questions he had (and let me re-iterate he’s a good fellow really trying to understand God’s heart), I saw the same old thinking that our mission as the church is to convince everyone that marriage is serious business and to stop being so casual about it. This is a response I sent to him, and I thought it was worth sharing:
The evangelical church has been lamenting the rise in divorces and shouting as loud as possible that the answer is we need to be more committed. I see that viewpoint echoed in your questions to me.
But what if commitment isn’t the issue? What if the issue is the church creating an environment that allows people to be abusive in marriages and garner sympathy when the other party finally bails? What if the answer to lowering the divorce rate isn’t exhorting everyone to “take it more seriously”, but rather, cracking down on those who blow up their marriages and taking a hard line against those who don’t honor their marriages with their behavior?
In short, what if the focus of the church wasn’t try harder, but live more in loving harmony with one another? Which of these two approaches seems more Christ-like? And we give lip service to the latter with our sermons and conferences. But when it comes to a point where we “take a stand”, the stand is almost always against the party who cannot endure any longer, not the party who cannot seem to behave in a way fitting for a Christian indwelt with the Holy Spirit.
So what am I driving at here? I really do think we’ve gotten the core assumption wrong about why the divorce rate is so high. The church assumes the issue is “commitment” and so it just hammers at this over and over again. Interesting to note — did either Jesus or Paul hammer on commitment to marriage? Did either of them tell us the way to prevent divorces was to think more highly of marriage and get better at enduring pain? I’d say no, neither one took that approach. Jesus specifically was zeroing in on Pharisees for treacherously divorcing their wives. He didn’t say “Wow, you guys need to get your head on straight, put your back into it, and be more committed”. No; He told them they needed to stop being sinners destroying what God had put together. And Paul — well Paul spends a lot more time telling people how to have great, God-honoring marriages than he does harping on commitment. He does correct the thinking which some Christians had that it was proper to divorce unbelievers, but for the most part I see neither of them saying, “The problem is, you don’t value marriage highly enough – you need to work harder on being more committed.” Rather, I see them saying, “Stop behaving badly toward your spouses and doing it thinking it is sanctioned by God.”
But what if divorce was seen as a legitimate consequence of egregious behavior in the marriage? What if abusers saw that they were going to be called to account for their misdeeds? What if women felt safe confiding in pastors and knew that they would be protected and helped long before things got to the violent stage? What if our church culture did not fear talking about abuse, but addressed it head on and made it known that it would not be tolerated?
Well, I’ll tell you this — Christian women and churches would stop being easy marks for abusers. And yes, I believe our divorce rate would drop dramatically, at least in the church. We are treating the symptom not the cure. We need to stop telling people that the simple way to cure the divorce epidemic is to never divorce. Instead, we need to work at holding people accountable to not engaging in the behavior that causes divorce.
[July 29, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 29, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]