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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The erosion of covenant is destroying everything

The great historian Edward Gibbon wrote a classic study “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” In it he cites five primary causes of for the dissolution of that once powerful society. The reasons, collapse of the home, especially through divorce; economic upheaval; obsession with sex and pleasure seeking; massive military buildup; and the decay of religion from spiritual vitality to empty formality were all cited as bringing history’s mightiest empire to its knees. We can look around us and see signposts that indicate we are traveling in a similar direction.

The more I look around at all the upheaval going on in the nation I see many trends that have contributed to the current meltdown. While I do not want to be too simplistic about the cause, there is one thing that tends to bleed over into many things, it is a breakdown of trust. From a Biblical perspective trust is something that flows out of the idea of covenant.

The apostle Paul describes the condition of the last days and one of the things that jumps out at me is the breakdown of covenant. Paul indicates that people will not enter into covenant, or be persuaded to enter into or uphold it. 2Ti 3:1-5 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. (2) For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) unloving, irreconcilable (KJV Trucebreakerswithout a treaty or covenant, they cannot be persuaded to enter into a covenant).

A covenant is a solemn agreement to engage in or refrain from specific actions and a pledge to walk in certain ways towards others. The word obviously has religious origins and provides the foundation of trust upon which most of human society operates.

A revealing book

There was a book recently released called “After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.”
It was written by conservative commentator Mark Steyn. I read a review of the book and while I may not agree with all the conclusions, it has some good points.

In the first chapter, Steyn penned something very revealing. He identified the source of our economic and governmental woes, “When government spends on the scale Washington’s got used to, that’s not a spending crisis, it’s a moral one. . . It’s not just about balancing the books, but about balancing the most basic impulses of society. These are structural, and ultimately, moral questions. Credit depends on trust, and trust pre-supposes responsibility (Doug “trust and responsibility are covenant ideas” ). So, if you have a credit boom in an age that has all but abolished personal responsibility (Doug  a covenant idea”), it’s not hard to figure how it’s going to end.”

Our problems point to a breakdown of the ethic of covenant

The current economic mess is really the result of a foundational problem. Obviously if things do not change, we keep spending money we don’t have, and we keep placing personal interest above the common good then we are doomed as a nation.

America’s recent credit downgrade was Standard & Poor’s opinion on the general creditworthiness (reliability to repay what is owed, again a covenant idea) of what we have agreed to pay back. What they were saying is that they don’t feel America is as reliable as it has been in the past to pay back debt. Again, covenant carries with it the idea of reliability.

This is a breakdown of trust which is the moral drifting from the idea of covenant. In every arena of our culture, covenant is breaking down. The mortgage crisis was caused by people receiving mortgages who were not creditworthy to repay them. The large number of people who simply walked away from their home obligations (covenant) is again a breakdown of the ethic of covenant. It didn’t matter to them that they signed an agreement (covenant), they simply broke the agreement and abandoned their home. It is similar to what couples do when they abandon a marriage.

This really is a moral issue. Because we have drifted farther away from God, and He is the origin of the idea of covenant, we naturally see more of a breakdown of covenant. Why is this so? Well the thing that causes people to break covenant is when their selfish desires go against their covenant responsibility. They follow their perceived self interest instead of what they agreed to. If they think it is too painful to fulfill their covenant responsibility then they break it (the reason of most divorces). Where the ethic of covenant? People today hardly give it a second thought when they choose directions of self interest that break covenant responsibilities.

When we serve the covenant keeping God, He will turn us away from self interest and turn us to the higher moral ethic of covenant. The psalmist describes people who walk with God. They will walk in covenant commitments even to the point that it may hurt them personally. The moral ethic of covenant is greater than personal hurt. This is the fabric of the Kingdom and the foundation of covenant. At the risk of sounding too simplistic, the answer to the breakdown of covenant truly is a return to the covenant keeping God.

Psa 15:1-4 O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? (2) He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. (3) He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; (4) In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change

The church should be leading the way in “salting” our society with covenant. Is the church pointing the way towards what it means to walk in covenant  or are we being swept away by the “course of this world?”   May we see reformation in the House of God in the return to the ethic of covenant.

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