On divorce, remarriage, and the same old question

May 22, 2014

Several times on this blog, people who disagree with the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality (and the position of the vast majority of the universal Church) have challenged me to give an account for the church’s alleged laxity on the question of divorce and remarriage. Aren’t we straining out the gnat of homosexual practice while swallowing the camel of heterosexual divorce?

How do I respond? First, I don’t think I’m lax on the question: While couples have biblical grounds for divorcing as a gracious option of last resort, I believe, sadly, that most Christian couples don’t reach this point before calling it quits. The divorce rate among Christians bears witness to this fact. But I’ve counseled couples against divorce. I’ve preached against divorce. Obviously, however, I don’t have the authority to prevent anyone from getting divorced.

Second, even if my critics are right, it only proves we’re hypocrites, not that homosexual practice isn’t sinful. At best it’s a tu quoque argument. Besides, it’s not like any of these critics think that the church is wrong to condone divorce and remarriage in many cases, only that the church should also lighten up when it comes to homosexual practice.

Still, what should the church’s response be to people who divorce and remarry illicitly?

It should be grace-filled, more than anything. In this interview, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore puts it nicely when he says the following:

So I have dealt with this many times where I have had a couple who have come up and they have said you know we both divorced unbiblically other people. We are now married to each other. We were wrong. We were sinning when we divorced our previous spouses. We didn’t have biblical grounds to do that. So what do we do now? I had a couple who said should we divorce and then go and try to reconcile with our spouses? And I said so you are asking me if the way you repent of divorce is by divorcing each other, abandoning each other and going and splitting up the marriages that have now happened with those previous spouses. No. That is not the answer. The answer to that is to confess—If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness—and then to live faithfully from that point forward. But that means having that sense of recognizing my sin against God and repenting of that. I think that has to happen.

6 Responses to “On divorce, remarriage, and the same old question”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    “Two wrongs don’t make a right” (as far as the homosexuals pointing to divorce to justify homosexuality).

  2. Michael Hester Says:

    That seems a little overly simplistic. I can see quite a bit of similarity in the situations. In some sense, one could see each consummation of that second marriage as sinful. The pastor’s answer to the remarried couple could be to no longer consummate their second marriage. It would be the very same answer often given homosexuals. That seems the obvious answer to me if he wants to be consistent.

    • brentwhite Says:

      But that answer, aside from being harshly legalistic, would also be a breach of the marriage vows. No marriage will long survive without sex. You may as well counsel divorce in that case. Remember: one difference is that married heterosexual sex isn’t in and of itself sinful the way homosexual sex is. That’s the bottom line. I get that it doesn’t seem fair: why do these sinners get to have sex and we don’t? Well… because God’s Word condemns homosexual behavior, per se, in both Testaments.

      • Michael Hester Says:

        But your view could be viewed as pretty legalistic as well. I’m not really saying either situation is right. But what I am saying is that my hope is that you are underestimating the abundance of God’s grace.

  3. brentwhite Says:

    But God’s grace doesn’t mean that our sins don’t really matter. Repentance is essential. Which is why the main question in the debate that’s tearing apart our denomination is, “Is homosexual practice a sin?” If it is, it’s not a matter of indifference.

    And how would we know if homosexual practice is a sin except through scripture and nearly two millennia of Christian reflection on the subject? What have we learned since around 1980 that would overturn the Bible and the Church’s tradition? Nothing, as far as I can see.

    But, yeah… absolutely grace is abundant! But not without repentance. If that seems legalistic, it’s legalistic in the same way that Jesus was legalistic.


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