Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I've said this before here, but I think churches have often made two mistakes concerning divorce. First, they've been too easy on divorce. Homosexuality is singled out as the #1 enemy of the family. Wrong! Divorce is the #1 enemy of the family and a major contributor to poverty. Yesterday I pointed out that Barna's research indicates that one's (professed) Christian faith seems to make little difference as to whether or not marriage commitments are kept. (My guess as to why the so-called "blue states" have a lower divorce rate is that they tend to be states with more Catholics. The Catholic Church has continued to treat marriage as a big deal. I'd at least say that's probably a major factor.) My biggest concern here isn't that Christians are disobeying a specific command (as disconcerting as that is), but that the WAY OF CHRIST--a way of honesty, compassion, submission, service, love, and forgiveness--would seem to make it more likely that marriages would survive. And more than survive--actually be a mutual blessing. So even beyond marriage and divorce, the question has to be asked: Does walking with Christ make our people more gentle, more humble, more compassionate, more forgiving? Can you tell who the Christians are at the little league field? Second, they've been too hard on divorced people. We recently had a couple in our elders' meeting for a time of blessing. The husband told us that at a former church he'd been told that he could attend and sit on the back row but that he couldn't participate in communion or be a member because he was divorced. That's extreme, I know. But in how many ways have we communicated through our language and programs that divorced people are second class citizens of the community? This is delicate, I know. But my plea is that the church continue to be hard on divorce and gentle, accepting, and (when necessary) forgiving with those whose lives have suffered from broken relationships.

18 Comments:

  • Great stuff, Mike!
    Just last night, in the final project for my last class in Abilene (and it is a GREAT feeling, by the way!), we were giving the task of communicating to a group why faithfulness, in the midst of impermanence, is good news. We took our cues from Kenneson's "Life on the Vine" and tried to hammer home that lives of faithfulness- to God, to friends, to spouses, etc- are only possible because they are rooted in God's faithfulness. The biggest way our world speaks against faithfulness is by saying "It's all about me," so personal happiness supercedes commitments or faithful relationships.

    I'm not saying there should never be divorce, but I think you're right, we let people get out of commitments too easily, instead of reminding them of covenants made before God and before witnesses, and reminding them that God's people are called to be people of faithfulness, not just faith.

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 12/07/2004 06:28:00 AM  

  • My home church - where I came twenty years ago, broken by divorce and have since taught a divorce recovery class - has recently been wounded by an extramarital affair within the ministry staff and by his subsequent resignation and her withdrawal from assisting that ministry.

    Now two dear families with children are broken, at least one with divorce papers filed.

    Mike, I bring it up because I would add one word to your many listed characteristics of Christ that, when missing, lead to divorce: faithfulness.

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 12/07/2004 07:50:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    My parents divorced when I was 5 years old and I can remember the subtle actions of church members giving you the feeling of being a second class church member. However, today in my own marriage and as a minister I find myself being extremely tough on the divorce issue. I agree with your comments, but I would imagine it is quite difficult to empathize with a divorcee if you have no immediate background in that lifestyle. Also, it can be tempting to be easy on the issue if you have never seen the horrific effects it has had on a family. We must see sin and hate it, yet love those that sin unconditionally as Jesus did!

    By Blogger Michael, at 12/07/2004 09:04:00 AM  

  • Let me start with a side note. "Blue states" typically have lower marriage rates and higher cohabitation rates while "red states" have higher marriage rates and lower cohabitation rates - which make divorce rates look whacky. Again, this is a side note.

    Divorce (not gay marriage), and more importantly the antecedents of divorce, is going to bring us to our knees - which begs the question: Why aren't we on our knees already? If the church would spend its energy addressing marital needs, the gay marriage issue would be seen as small as it is.

    Rather than expend endless energies into the Black Hole of combatting gay marriage, churches should:

    1. Have a marriage policy inlcuding premartial counseling.
    2. Actively engage with other area churches to develop a commuity marriage policy.
    3. Actively promote healthy family living along the life cycle - with specific attention given to transitions. ie)The first 2 years, when children are born, when they go to school, parenting teens, "sandwich," empty-nest, and later life.
    4. Live as an intimate community in such a way that marital problems are not revealed at divorce court, but long, long before that - in community with their family of faith.
    5. Educate couples about the value of marriage mentors and make it easy for couples to identify and utilize mentor couples.
    6. Celebrate anniversaries in meaningful ways, especially landmark dates. 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years etc.
    7. Communicate consistently the value of marriage, finding fresh ways to connect marriage to Jesus and His bride.
    8. Develop a theology of marriage which transcends, "we support marriage because it is right."
    9. Develop relevant curriculum, theology, and sense of community for teenagers that paints a positive, but genuine picture of marriage. They need to learn the benefits of marriage, the goodness of marriage and the pleasure of spiritual formation in marriage - and they need to experience all of that in community. Haven't they seen enough bad relationships in their lives, on their TVs, and everywhere else in our culture with almost no response?
    10. Quit treating remarriages like they are first marriages. A remarriage (especially with children, which most are) is about 10 times more complex than a first marriage and the rules for a first marriage, in large measure, do not apply to a second marriage. A theology of remarriage must be developed.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/07/2004 10:19:00 AM  

  • Let me start with a side note. "Blue states" typically have lower marriage rates and higher cohabitation rates while "red states" have higher marriage rates and lower cohabitation rates - which make divorce rates look whacky. Again, this is a side note.

    Divorce (not gay marriage), and more importantly the antecedents of divorce, is going to bring us to our knees - which begs the question: Why aren't we on our knees already? If the church would spend its energy addressing marital needs, the gay marriage issue would be seen as small as it is.

    Rather than expend endless energies into the Black Hole of combatting gay marriage, churches should:

    1. Have a marriage policy inlcuding premartial counseling.
    2. Actively engage with other area churches to develop a commuity marriage policy.
    3. Actively promote healthy family living along the life cycle - with specific attention given to transitions. ie)The first 2 years, when children are born, when they go to school, parenting teens, "sandwich," empty-nest, and later life.
    4. Live as an intimate community in such a way that marital problems are not revealed at divorce court, but long, long before that - in community with their family of faith.
    5. Educate couples about the value of marriage mentors and make it easy for couples to identify and utilize mentor couples.
    6. Celebrate anniversaries in meaningful ways, especially landmark dates. 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years etc.
    7. Communicate consistently the value of marriage, finding fresh ways to connect marriage to Jesus and His bride.
    8. Develop a theology of marriage which transcends, "we support marriage because it is right."
    9. Develop relevant curriculum, theology, and sense of community for teenagers that paints a positive, but genuine picture of marriage. They need to learn the benefits of marriage, the goodness of marriage and the pleasure of spiritual formation in marriage - and they need to experience all of that in community. Haven't they seen enough bad relationships in their lives, on their TVs, and everywhere else in our culture with almost no response?
    10. Quit treating remarriages like they are first marriages. A remarriage (especially with children, which most are) is about 10 times more complex than a first marriage and the rules for a first marriage, in large measure, do not apply to a second marriage. A theology of remarriage must be developed.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/07/2004 10:19:00 AM  

  • Let me start with a side note. "Blue states" typically have lower marriage rates and higher cohabitation rates while "red states" have higher marriage rates and lower cohabitation rates - which make divorce rates look whacky. Again, this is a side note.

    Divorce (not gay marriage), and more importantly the antecedents of divorce, is going to bring us to our knees - which begs the question: Why aren't we on our knees already? If the church would spend its energy addressing marital needs, the gay marriage issue would be seen as small as it is.

    Rather than expend endless energies into the Black Hole of combatting gay marriage, churches should:

    1. Have a marriage policy inlcuding premartial counseling.
    2. Actively engage with other area churches to develop a commuity marriage policy.
    3. Actively promote healthy family living along the life cycle - with specific attention given to transitions. ie)The first 2 years, when children are born, when they go to school, parenting teens, "sandwich," empty-nest, and later life.
    4. Live as an intimate community in such a way that marital problems are not revealed at divorce court, but long, long before that - in community with their family of faith.
    5. Educate couples about the value of marriage mentors and make it easy for couples to identify and utilize mentor couples.
    6. Celebrate anniversaries in meaningful ways, especially landmark dates. 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years etc.
    7. Communicate consistently the value of marriage, finding fresh ways to connect marriage to Jesus and His bride.
    8. Develop a theology of marriage which transcends, "we support marriage because it is right."
    9. Develop relevant curriculum, theology, and sense of community for teenagers that paints a positive, but genuine picture of marriage. They need to learn the benefits of marriage, the goodness of marriage and the pleasure of spiritual formation in marriage - and they need to experience all of that in community. Haven't they seen enough bad relationships in their lives, on their TVs, and everywhere else in our culture with almost no response?
    10. Quit treating remarriages like they are first marriages. A remarriage (especially with children, which most are) is about 10 times more complex than a first marriage and the rules for a first marriage, in large measure, do not apply to a second marriage. A theology of remarriage must be developed.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/07/2004 10:19:00 AM  

  • Oops, sorry I posted thre times.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/07/2004 10:37:00 AM  

  • Thanks for posting on this concern. I am from a divorced family, and have always felt horrible for my parents. It is hard for them (and my sister who is divorced w/ 2 kids) to hear me talk about being a Christian. They see it as unreachable, restricted etc. It breaks my heart because I have a hard time showing them they are welcome to church, to God, and to a community who will love them. Yet their hearts are hardened when they are told they made the wrong choice. Often when people hear my parents are divorced they pity me, and ignore my parents. I am the one with hope, I am the one who is free. Focus on loving my parents, how difficult it has been for them. They need God more than I need sympathy. This is all pretty random, but I agree with you all that marriage needs a lot of things and that divorce is bad. Still Mike and those that also agree have a point. A lot of church's and christians try to fade divorce out of the picture of their perfect community.
    A few weeks ago when Mike talked about sharing our scars, this is what I thought about. I want to hear other people talk about their hardships, and how faithful God and His children were in taking them in with a loving embrace. If I was my mom, or dad or sister, I wouldnt give a second glance at a faith that was based on "peace for the perfect", I would however beg for a faith based on transforming lives, and bringing light into darkness. I think that applies here.

    By Blogger Phyllistene, at 12/07/2004 10:49:00 AM  

  • Mike, there is a common thread between your post today and the one you posted this past Friday. Find a solution for the disregard of "Bring up a child in.....",and you can forget about red vrs. blue. As one who has 20 more years than your fretful 47;(meant only as humor) I am far more concerned that parents past and present have/are allowing children to raise themselves. No faults, responsiilities, nor LOVE. Could this be a major cause in todays divorce rate?

    To your WAY OF CHRIST list, please add parenting.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/07/2004 06:13:00 PM  

  • Amen and Amen!

    By Blogger James, at 12/07/2004 07:44:00 PM  

  • I agree very much with what you've said. You began one of your questions with, "Does walking with Christ make our people more compassionate...."

    I know the question is rhetorical and I think it is key. Much of what we've identified as "walking with Christ" is really rule keeping mostly divorced from relationship. Morality (including faithfulness, etc) is pretty empty without loving God and loving our neighbor. It's pretty lonely and unfulfilling and impotent to walk with rules, facts and ideas rather than with the living Lord… and with each other. I think it's really revealing that the two greatest commands are relational in nature. Perhaps if we spent most of our energies on nurturing those relationships a lot of the dysfunction that leads to divorce and a lot of other things might be taken care of. Maybe this is too simplistic. I’ve known some couples whose relational issues are like a Gordian knot. But still….

    This is not meant to be judgmental of those who are divorced at all. I think it applies to all of us with all our "stuff". And I think that nurturing our relationship with God as well as our relationships with each other will lead to compassionate treatment of our fellow fallen brother and sister human beings, whether they’ve been through the tragedy of divorce or some other relational disaster. God has always seemed to come in and pick up the pieces when we fall apart. Gives one pause to think about what our lives should be consumed with.

    One last thing that illustrates your points… Jesus was hard on divorce. His disciples couldn’t believe he said what he said about it and they said it was too hard to put into practice. Yet, he sure showed compassion toward the Samaritan woman at the well, a five-time marital loser.

    By Blogger Owen B., at 12/07/2004 10:38:00 PM  

  • My parents divorced when I was a teenager. Life before the divorce was Hell on Earth on a daily basis. Life after the divorce presented a great relief for my 5 brothers and sisters and me. My mother has since been married 5 or 6 (or more) times. Each wedding took place in a Protestant church of one denomination or another, including one in a church of Christ. Before at least 3 of those marriages, she went through pre-marriage counseling with a minister. Each of her husbands (minus my dad) was also married multiple times. My father passed away before he married his fiance. It would be hard to predict if his second marriage would have been "until death do us part". Three of my siblings have been divorced--one sister four times before her 23rd birthday.

    I married late in life to someone who is divorced. We went through pre-marriage counseling and a standardized questionairre called "Prepare" (or something like that) We have been through three marriage classes at churches and one intense marriage retreat. Let us hope this is something that will safeguard our marriage.

    Both of us are christians, and we both ask God to help us and guide us in relating with each other. But then my parents said they were christians, too, and I heard them pray alot.

    My husband and I attended a church for 8 months when we moved to where we are now and were warmly welcomed---until it was "discovered" that this is not our "first marriage". The change in our acceptance level and invitations to serve was blatant. It hurt. It almost destroyed my desire to be in a church. The "divorcee" was judged even though he is the least sinful person in our marriage. But that is a topic for another post.

    So, yes, the church is too hard on divorced people and not hard enough on divorce itself.

    If the church were made up of people like me, no divorced person would ever need to worry about being treated unkindly. But if the church were made up of people like me, no divorced person would have a whole lot of help in learning how to not get divorced again--because I don't have any answers.

    Sorry, have to keep this anonymous b/c I'm not the only reader in my family.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/08/2004 05:50:00 AM  

  • Mike - forgive me if I seem to hijack your blog this morning, but my heart just won't let go of needing to reach out to hug the anonymous poster, to attempt to lessen the pain, if only for a moment. Multiply this call for help and inclusion by about 30% of our congregations and communities, and we have a bit of an idea how prevelant this pain is - and we simply must address and search out solutions, imo.

    Especially in the churches of Christ, I believe we have been particularly harsh with the divorced that come to us for comfort and healing. We simply have not learned what to do with the divorced, the single parent, the remarried. The strange paradox is that while we teach what we feel is Biblical reasons for divorce and permitted remarriage, the church seems to feel that the only solution to a single parent's problems IS to remarry, thereby placing a second 'parent' in the home. Wrong!

    There is a 2-5 year grieving and healing period for the divorced, especially those of us that want nothing more than to be 'right' with God and His people - but we often come up to, at best (sic), a wall of silence, to at worst, open rejection.

    Again, the stats tell us that while 76% of second marriages fail, 85% of third marriages fail. We must educate ourselves to the needs of the newly divorced, especially believers, encouraging them to SLOW IT DOWN - take time to address the three stages of divorce grief recovery - to be able to recognize where they are in that process. Also, where there are children in the home of the divorced, these litle ones urgently need our protection, education, and assistance in their grief recovery - helping them to understand they are NOT to blame for decisions their parents have made - that they are no less wonderful kids than those of a 2-parented family.

    How are we ever going to be able to address the misconceptions, avoid deeply hurting those that are in great pain if we do not openly confront these problems in our churches - openly extending our love, compassion and forgiveness (where applicable) to the divorced. We simply must educate ourselves regarding these families and how to serve them.

    Of course, the optimum solution is for the problem not to occur due to our consistent teaching, mentoring, counseling in both pre-marital and marital lives of our families, be they single- or two-parented.

    What are we going to offer to the hurt in our communities that are facing divorce? I pray we are ready - since stats tell us that by 2010, in just 5 years, 65% of all families will be single-parented families. Talk about a missional church's challenge! WE have no choice, imho, but to educate ourselves regarding our single parented families and how to help them heal in the love of our God as expressed by His family, the Church - to bring them into full inclusion of church life.

    I'd say this is an urgent outreach we should already be addressing, but then, guess you all know my passion for ministering to these families, so forgive the redundancy. ;)

    End of soap box discourse. :>)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 12/08/2004 06:42:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Tod Brown, at 12/08/2004 09:26:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    I read this post and yesterday's while in an airport traveling home from New York. I was taking a break from reading McClaren's "Generous Orthodoxy", and it hit me strangely also, but for different reasons. I shared your statistic with fellow travelers (passionate churchgoers with red-state politics to match) and their immediate reaction was to 1) deny its validity, 2) explain that it was due to the lack of marriage in blue states because people in those "liberal" states don't get married, they only live together. I wish there had been a reaction of broken hearted humility acknowledging our failure as the church to help people be better people because they are followers of Jesus and thus better husbands, wives, parents, friends, etc. Instead, there was only dismissive anger and judgment. (These logs are getting hard to see around.)

    It was only then that I read the comments to your post. I found it fascinating that one of the immediate (This is generalized, there were exceptions.) reactions was denial of Barna's observation and finger pointing at those who aren't bible belt republicans. Something is wrong with us and we won't get better until we admit that we are sick. You asked if walking with Christ makes our people good? It should. Maybe the question we should be asking is whether being with us helps people walk with Christ. On this subject at least, the answer isn't conclusive.

    Thanks for the post.

    By Blogger Tod Brown, at 12/08/2004 09:34:00 AM  

  • Well, I have a good story. After my divorce, church was where I got my comfort. The people supported me and encouraged me. Not to say that physically I was comfortable. All around me were families, husbands and wives holding hands - a very hurtful time. Church is a hard place to go by yourself sometimes but once I got there... it was my solace.

    By Blogger That Girl, at 12/08/2004 03:48:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    How IS a church hard on divorce and easy on divorcees?

    I think so many out there, including many church leaders, share your view. But they struggle with delivering a firm, consistent message on divorce because they don't want to risk hurting or scaring off people who have been through it.

    I'm beginning to think it may require constant testimonies from someone who has lived it, but can take a firm stand against it. Not sure.

    It IS very delicate.

    Glenn

    P.S. Thanks for blogging. I'm an consistent 'lurking' reader. BTW, I grew up SW Missouri (Bolivar) also. And, I was fortunate to be able to attend game 4 of the WS this year. The outcome wasn't what I had hoped for of course, but I was glad to be a part of history. Here are some photos and a couple of videos if you're intested:

    http://www.imagestation.com/album/?id=2695560093
    Username: GlennsGuest
    Password: guest

    By Blogger Glenn, at 12/09/2004 09:47:00 AM  

  • It is hard to share the "scars" of divorce without running the risk of opening up old wounds. It is hard to focus on the faithfulness of God through the divorce without being tempted to also "confess" the faults of others or having to turn again and wallow in your own mistake.

    As one of the many children of divorce out there, I know how my parents suffered on both sides of the equation. But God was there, even when the church struggled with how to deal with their decision.

    My parents were not perfect in their dealings with each other; I was not the perfect child in my dealings with them or their decision; and the Church, who is also made up of imperfect people, did not always make the perfect choice in dealing with my parents.

    And, my parents did not hold the church to a higher standard than they were capable of living themselves, because they knew that they, too, were part of that "imperfect" church. But they did want people who were involved in decisions concerning them to "hear" them.

    It is hard for us to deal with divorce in our midst, because it reminds us of the truth that, "but for the grace of God......."

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/10/2004 04:40:00 AM  

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