I get emails. This is from a divorced and remarried couple who are being treated as second-class Christians in their home church.
We attend a [conservative, non-Church of Christ] church. My husband and I have been married for 27 years. We were both abandoned by our previous spouses. We have felt for years that God brought us together. But when we studied the Bible, its teaching on MDR seemed confusing and harsh. But then we discovered David Instone-Brewer’s book on Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. It explained everything so that Bible is practical, loving and just.
We felt vindicated by God. Not that we were perfect, but we were faithful to our former spouses. So we couldn’t understand why we were treated as second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. Of course, we have now been set free from feeling like second-class citizens in God’s kingdom — but not in His church on earth.
We were excited about what we discovered. We mistakenly thought our friends and leaders at our church would be excited also. But we feel like outsiders now at our church. None of our friends will even take a fresh look with us at MDR. The leaders read our paper and said it was hard to follow and emotional. The head pastor is talking to us. But we feel so alone.
Of course, we are not promoting divorce. We just want the church to see that divorce is not the sin; the sin lies with whoever broke their marriage vows to the point that it destroyed the marriage. If one gets a divorce and has Biblical grounds, then we ought to be seen as holy as any other Christian — even those who have never been divorced.
We have not found one person in a church of [thousands] to stand with us or even consider the matter. Our head pastor believes there are 3 grounds for divorce — adultery, emotional and physical neglect and abuse. But he will not preach on it and is adamant that no divorced person will ever be considered for the leadership role of deacon or elder.
We went to church on Sunday and felt shunned by some of our friends. Perhaps this is real — perhaps not. But since we cannot find anyone to even talk to us about this. We have had one talk with our pastor. There is supposed to be more, but we have no idea where this will go.
Do you have any advice? Do you know anyone in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who would be willing to talk to us? We read some of your articles; they were practical, loving and caring.
It is very hard to find anyone who is practical when it comes to divorce and the Bible. There seems to be 2 extremes — churches who do not care what the Bible teaches on MDR therefore they welcome the divorced or churches who do care but restrict the divorced in some way by denying membership or leadership in some manner. Most people at our church want to make us guilty in some way.
We have tried for over a year to find someone at our church to stand with us. What are we doing wrong? We looked long and hard before we found the church we are now attending. They are strong on the Bible and grace. They feel like they are strong on grace by allowing the divorced membership and strong on the Bible by denying us leadership roles as a deacon or an elder. Frankly, we don’t care to be a deacon or an elder. It is the principle that bothers us.
Lonely in God’s kingdom on earth
I’m not familiar with your denomination, but what you say sounds very familiar. The same thing could certainly happen to a divorced and remarried couple in many Churches of Christ, as well as in many other denominations. Our struggles with divorce and remarriage are shared by many faith traditions.
You’ve probably already found my materials on the subject, but I have an online book on MDR that’s targeted to a Church of Christ audience, but would speak equally well to many conservative denominations. Of course, you’ve found the most significant work on the subject in David Instone-Brewer’s book.
It’s not surprising that your church has this inconsistency in their theology — strong on grace but refusing to allow remarried elders or deacons. There’s a strong tradition among many churches that “husband of one wife” denies the position to a divorced and remarried man. I think that’s clearly a mistake, but the tradition is so strong that in many very grace-centered churches, even if the church leaders understand the Bible as I do, there’d be so many members with the traditional understanding that appointing a divorced and remarried man to an office could well lead to a church split or the loss of many members. I mean, people hold to that interpretation very tenaciously.
And so, I really understand where you’re coming from. What I don’t understand is the lack of support. I mean, we must extend to one another the same grace we receive. Grace defines not only our relationship with God, but with each other. And we certainly should be willing to learn from each other.
I can’t tell you whether to leave or stay. There are far too many things to consider than what you address in your letter. And so I don’t want to be read as encouraging you to leave. You may well need to stay for any number of reasons, perhaps so you can teach the church how to treat its divorced members. Who knows?
But if you decide to leave, you are fortunate to live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, as I’m sure many Churches of Christ would share a view similar to my own. Hopefully, other readers will pitch in here, as some have much better knowledge of area congregations than I do. I’m sure there are readers who can answer that question.