Review | Something Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After: A Biblical View of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage
Dr. Walston wrote this book [*Affiliate link] in 2006 and through his examination of the scriptures, coupled with real-world scenarios, he arrives at the same place that Barb Roberts, Jeff Crippen, and Instone-Brewer have in their work. It is always a blessing to hear various believers displaying the unity of the mind of Christ; that is, total harmony with both the Word of God, and God’s revealed character. There is no cognitive dissonance here — Hallelujah!
While this book does not go in depth on all of the scriptures that are relevant in cases of abuse (for that you can always refer to Barb’s book, Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link]), it does provide solace for survivors. There is discussion of everything from King James language to the misuse of Matthew 18, and it seems too much to cover in one review. So I want to post a couple of quotes in the hope that it will whet your appetite to add this book to your list of resources (and a note from Dr. Walston regarding the official doctrines of the AoG church at the bottom).
From the introduction:
“In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that there should never be divorce and remarriage for any reason. Then, as a graduate student, I set out to write a thesis which would substantiate my preconceived beliefs. I was astounded by what I discovered. . . . I am a theologian. When I find evidence that what I believe is wrong, I am just as excited as when I find evidence that what I believe is right.”
Walston does address Malachi 2:16, but he goes about it in a slightly different way from Barb. He argues more from logic and context of the passage, without directly confronting the grammatical error that makes the context less critical (in my opinion). In Chapter 9, he discusses the case of a woman whose husband was repeatedly unfaithful. When the pastor confronted the man, he cried and carried on and the pastor said she had to take him back because he was “repentant”. (Those reading this will not need to imagine — we’ve probably all lived this scenario.) But here is Walston’s commentary on this:
“Instead of her pastor and her church standing behind her as they should have, their fault theology made them turn the entire situation upside down, and Betty was made to feel like the one who broke her marriage covenant. In reality, it was her manipulative and adulterous husband who had broken the marriage covenant.”
Let’s all take a moment to gape in wonder at this. Another theologian who points out manipulative abusers? Praise God. 🙂
Now let’s skip all the way to Chapter 12: Spousal Abuse. Walston uses Malachi 2:14-15 as the starting point: can a man break faith with his wife through abuse? He believes the answer is yes. He defines abuse as “the deliberate attempt to control or intimidate his or her partner”. He then actually defines physical, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse! He gives very compelling analysis from scripture that abuse is grounds for divorce because it is destruction of the covenant. Walston boils down the arguments among Christians to the underlying real question on people’s minds: “How bad does the abuse have to be before a woman has grounds for divorce?”
Walston states that no one can draw up standards for “how much is too much”, and that a qualified counselor would be able to determine what is truly abuse and what is not. When I read that section I think I had a triggering moment, because I blasted him with a 3 paragraph email asking if he was putting victims under the requirement of a counselor “signing off” on someone’s divorce for abuse. He replied to me (very calmly 🙂 ) that he was not putting any such burden on victims.
I have only one quibble with Walston in this chapter. He very clearly defines abuse as the “deliberate attempt to control and intimidate” — and then later discusses the problem of husbands and wives having moments in their relationships where they behave like jerks or say abusive things. In trying to delineate the two, I feel it got a little soggy because abuse is clearly “different” than normal marital spats. In normal marriages does one partner repeatedly, deliberately set up false conflicts in order to dominate and destroy the other? The line seems clear to me, but perhaps that is only because I lived it?
Walston did specifically mention the fear that pastors may have, that if they openly acknowledge abuse then 80% of the flock are going to suddenly discover they are being abused and stampede to divorce court (paraphrasing). (He did not validate this fear, to be clear. He seemed to be addressing nervous church leaders. I have been pondering this fear-belief among the shepherds, that the only way to keep the sheep clean, pretty, and on the correct pasture is to tie them up in chains.)
Lastly, I asked Dr. Walston this question: Is your book representative of the Assemblies of God position on this subject? Are there any major points of divergence? Regular readers will know why I asked that question. We have been discussing the various denominations’ statements on domestic abuse and divorce, and the AoG was one that I had not studied. While every denomination is riddled with the problem of abuse (and improper responses to it), we also know that just because a board may have a doctrine in place does not mean that all of the churches follow it — many choose their own favorite celebrity pastor as their authority, instead.
Here is his reply:
That’s an interesting question. The reason that it is interesting is that I wrote my master’s thesis on the Assemblies of God position on Divorce and Remarriage. The AG actually published my thesis as a book in 1991: Divorce and Remarriage [Internet Archive link]. Then, I wrote a second book on this topic, the one you just ordered, which came out in 2006.
And, yes, I do disagree with the AG on a couple of major points.
Point 1: The AG teaches that if a spouse commits adultery only once and then repents, then the other spouse does not have grounds for divorce. I disagree with that. Certainly a spouse may forgive her spouse for the one-time adultery, but she does have grounds for divorce if she cannot get beyond the betrayal. (There is a lot more to it than just that, but I won’t type it all here. You can see my position in my book).
Point 2: The AG says that those who are D&R cannot be ministers. I disagree with that blanket statement.
So, the short answer to your Q is that, I do have divergent views from the AG on various issues within the topics of D&R.
I have been blessed by this book and we will add it to the list of resources here! Thanks so much for Dr. Walston’s time in answering my really long emails and being so gracious and understanding. He is an ally of the sheep. 🙂