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.