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Signposts: How Churches Can Minister to the Divorced

Russell Moore - Signposts

Published on 10/14/2016

In this episode of Signposts I discuss what the responsibility of the local church is toward members who have experienced divorce, and what the gospel means for how we bear each other's burdens through this.Listen below and subscribe to Signposts to get new episodes automatically when they publish.___________________Below is an edited transcript of the audio.I had a question that came in by e-mail from a listener who is asking about the issue of divorce; and not really a question about whether divorce is permissible, but this listener said, “I see a lot of confusion from church to church about how to minister to divorced people in their congregations. Some churches seem to pretend not to notice while others essentially treat divorced people as second-tier Christians. What can local churches do for those who have come out of or perhaps are in the middle of a divorce, and practically is there anything that churches shouldn’t do?”That’s a really good question and I’m drawn back to a study that I saw several years ago about the way that churches speak about divorce from the pulpit. What they noticed was a trajectory of churches in the early part of the twentieth century talking about divorce in almost exclusively moral terms—“divorce is wrong”-- to an increasingly therapeutic talk about divorce as time went on into the late twentieth century. I think there has been something of a correction to that. When I hear a sermon about the morality, the immorality of divorce, it is typically going to be from a millennial church planter, as opposed to a baby boomer, a suburban pastor. There are some exceptions obviously, but that’s typically the pattern. I think that is because you have a millennial generation and right before that a gen-X generation that lives through the wreckage of divorce, both in their own homes and in the lives of their friends and they just saw that the lie that was being given in the sixties, seventies, and eighties that divorce is ultimately not that big of a deal for kids and divorce can be a vehicle for self actualization and the children are better off if you divorce than they are if you are in a home where you are unhappy—those sorts of questions. I think there is a reaction to that coming from a younger generation that has lived through a divorce culture.So, what should a church do and not do? Here are some things that I think. The first thing is to explain where you as a church are on the question of divorce in its morality, and if you have exceptions to that. I believe that the Bible does give exceptions where divorce is allowable and where re-marriage after that divorce is allowable. I think it is in the case of immorality, porneia, sexual immorality as Jesus explains that in the gospels and in the case of abandonment as the apostle Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 7; that person leaves, you are not bound, and I would include in abandonment physical or sexual or some other form of abuse; if its not safe for someone to be in a home, then that is someone who has been driven from that hope, that’s someone who has been abandoned by an unrepentant spouse.Now, explain when you are talking about it--some churches think it is never morally permissible to remarry after a divorce, some churches think there are more exceptions than the ones that I have talked about, but make that clear to the people in your congregation, but also make it clear that in the Bible even where there are exceptions, that is the last phase. For instance, in the case of immorality, adultery doesn’t necessitate a divorce, unrepentant adultery would. And so, just because someone has had an affair doesn’t necessarily mean that that marriage ought to end. The first step ought to be let’s see if it’s possible to reconcile. Let’s see if we can bring this erring husband or wife to repentance and through that long process of healing that marriage. That ought to be our first inclination.

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