Rethinking the ease of divorce

Come on pastors; come on church; could we please wake up?  I have been ranting for quite a while about one of the biggest hypocrisies in the Evangelical church.  We openly condemn the idea of gay marriage while turning a blind eye to the easy, no fault divorce epidemic that plagues our nation both inside and outside the church.  Since the early 60s when no fault divorce started becoming legal in the US, divorce rates began to skyrocket.  As the years went by the church and its leaders began to cave in, like the false prophets of old, and follow the culture rather than standing against it.

Now easy divorce is an acceptable avenue for troubled couples right in the middle of the church.  Many times gutless leaders simply turn a blind eye.  If one church tries to hold the line and help couples reconcile, one spouse can easily go to another church where spineless leaders welcome and even help them divorce.   I know of a church in our area with several instances of Christians who want out of a marriage in order to pursue a new one become members.   Some of those marriages were born out of an adulterous desire towards a new spouse before they divorced their old one.   One lady specifically said that she chose that church instead of another because she didn’t want to be encouraged to reconcile to her husband.

These are the same leaders and churches who would be shocked if someone suggested that gay marriage is okay.   All the time they know the Scripture where God clearly says, “I hate divorce, says the Lord” Mal 2:16.  But after all, who are we to say something against our cultural trend, even though God’s word does?

A stirring in our culture

I say the following facetiously to church leaders and members, “we have followed our culture into this divorce mess, now maybe we can follow it back in the direction of obeying God!”   What do I mean by such a preposterous statement?

William J. Doherty a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, and director of Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, and retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Leah Ward Sears, have recently released a study, “Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce.”  In it they made some startling discoveries.  They found that, “About 40 percent of couples already deeply into the divorce process report that one or both spouses are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.”

They also found that the popular idea that divorce is the result of long-term marital strife turns out to be a false assumption.   As Dr. Doherty and Justice Sears wrote in the Washington Post: “Only a minority of divorcing couples experience high conflict and abuse during their marriages.  Most divorces occur with couples who have drifted apart and handle everyday disagreements poorly.”  In these types of situations it only takes a small bump to send one or both spouses on the road to divorce.

They cite that most research over the past decade has shown that a major share of divorces (50 to 66 percent, depending on the study) occur between couples who had average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years before the divorce. They also add something startling, “It is these ‘average’ divorces that research shows are the most harmful to children.” The state has a compelling interest in the wellbeing of children, and the state also has a compelling interest in preventing these unnecessary divorces.  (Hey church did you hear that, “compelling interest in preventing these unnecessary divorces”).

What research seems to indicate is that divorces with the greatest potential to harm children occur in marriages that have the greatest potential for reconciliation.  That’s why Doherty and Sears are proposing a change in state laws in light of their research.  Minnesota Judge Bruce Peterson’s observation that at least some of the people he was seeing in his court looked like they needed a “rest stop” on the “divorce superhighway” was also important.  “When Judge Peterson looked at his own court system, widely acknowledged as a progressive one,” Sears and Doherty write, “he saw attempts to meet nearly every need of divorcing couples—legal and financial assistance, protection orders, parenting education, and more—except for reconciliation.”

The Second Chances Act proposes new model legislation that includes a one-year waiting period for divorce, along with a requirement that parents of minor children considering divorce take a short online divorced parenting education course, which would include information on reconciliation. Spouses could trigger the one-year waiting period without actually filing for divorce by sending their mates a formal letter of notice. These requirements would be waived in cases of domestic violence.

The church shouldn’t be following we should be leading

What does all of this suggest for the church?   If we would simply uphold God’s desire regarding marriage and divorce, and seek reconciliation, there is a statistical likelihood for openness towards reconciliation.   Yet the opposite effect is true for Christians.   If leaders and churches keep silent and quickly cave into the idea of “irreconcilable differences,” couples will continue to be swept out into the sea of divorce, unopposed and unaided by God’s people who know He “hates divorce.”

Second Chances is “a modest proposal” to reduce divorce.  My question for Christians and leaders is, why wait for a new law? Do we really believe that marriage was instituted by God, He intends it to flourish, and that marriage and the family unit are the cornerstones of civilization?  Then we need to wake up and use our creativity and gifts to do everything we can to help struggling married couples stay together.

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