"Today in Saudi, women are either at the mercy of their husbands or at the mercy of judges who tend to side with the husbands. The only circumstance that a woman can ask for a divorce or a 'khali' is when her husband is in total agreement with her or if she comes from a very powerful family who decide to back her up." Basmah bint Saud link
This is the first day, since July 28 when Polly fell and fractured her hip, that I have had some time to think deeply about a post. I plan to share my thoughts on my experience with hospice, death and dying, and the funeral in the near future after I recover my strength. I am hoping to be able to catch up on communications as well as to post some reader submitted blogs in the coming few weeks as well. Please bear with me during this time of catch up. Thank you all for your kindness and prayers during this time. It was felt and appreciated. Special thanks go out to Deb for bearing the brunt of the blog burden as well.
We need the full counsel of Scripture, not just a verse or two.
I have been eager to write this post for quite awhile. Many years ago, when I was sorting through my faith crisis, I became aware that much of my study in the Scriptures was often limited to either a few verses at a time or focused on the story of one book in the Bible. Although there is nothing wrong with approaching Scripture in this manner, it can lead to proof texting which does not take into consideration the entire Biblical narrative.
It was during this time that I picked up a chronological Bible (here is a link to one) and read through its entirety in about 2 months. This had a profound effect on my view of Scripture. It led me to taking a long view of the Bible. When confronted with various issues of the faith and the inevitable duel of the Scriptures (my verse is better than your verse), I would opt out and spend some time thinking through how this particular issue was dealt with throughout the millennia as covered in Scripture.
I am often asked why I don't lose my faith while dealing with the horrible response of some Christians when it comes to child sex abuse, domestic violence, etc. Due to my broad view of Scripture, it is an easy answer for me. When I take a look at the Bible as a whole, I find an excellent description of the world that I see around me and the need we all have of a Savior. The Bible is replete with examples of horrific and every day sins, not only on the part of those outside of the faith, but also for those within the faith.
However, in that very Book there are examples of incredible courage, selflessness and understanding. Throughout these chronicles is the ever present and involved God who created His people and deeply loves them in spite of their sins. …for while they were sinners, Christ died for them. He promises an eventual end to the pain and sorrow of this world.
The misapplication of Scripture in the area of divorce and abuse
I have become deeply concerned about the Scriptural rhetoric that is applied to divorce within the Christian community. I am of the opinion that just about every Christian believes that it is best not to divorce. Yet it seems that many of today's leaders tend to believe that most Christians take the idea of divorce lightly. These leaders tend to downplay the seriousness of abuse and infidelity within marriage and there appears to be movements afoot to discipline those who consider divorce even in horrible situations.
John Piper believes that a person should endure physical abuse for an evening before getting help. He also believes that the abused individual who divorces the perpetrator cannever remarry because that would be adultery! Piper's opinions on this matter has affected a number of the Piperettes. Here is a statement by Watermark Church (which supported The Village Church's initial discipline and response to Karen Hinckley).
Before we ask when/if remarriage after divorce is permissible, we must first ask if reconciliation is a viable option. Even in the most heartbreaking cases of sexual immorality, the most perplexing cases of abandonment and the most gut-wrenching cases of abuse, as long as the former spouse has not remarried or is not deceased, we believe that reconciliation is a viable option. While in a season where the possibility of reconciliation exists, we believe it best honors Jesus that one should remain single or be reconciled in marriage to the ex-spouse.
Some people at The Village Church expressed to Karen Hinckley that she could not get a divorce from her child pornography viewing pedophile husband because the book of Hosea in the Old Testament demonstrates that Hosea was faithful to his adulterous wife and she needed to do the same thing. This is a naive interpretation that can lead to painful *rules* being put in place by ignorant church leaders. I speak harshly because I have seen the long-term damage done to abused spouses.
Here is a good summary of Hosea from Bible Gateway. Hosea is often used by church leaders to prevent someone from divorcing their spouse, even in cases of abuse and infidelity.
The prophet Hosea wrote it at approximately 715 B.C. It records the events from 753-715 B.C. including the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722. The key personalities are Hosea, Gomer, and their children.
Its purpose was to illustrate the spiritual adultery of Israel and God’s boundless love for His sinful people. Hosea brings God’s message to the wicked Northern Kingdom.
During this time, they are active in oppressing the poor in slavery and worshipping idols. God, because of His grace, sent another opportunity for Israel to repent and turn to Him. Shortly thereafter, the Northern Kingdom went into permanent captivity.
• In chapters 1-3, God gives Hosea instructions to marry an unfaithful woman and he obeys. His unfaithful wife Gomer leaves him and finds another man. Hosea is faithful; he finds her, redeems her and brings her back home to him. “Then I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you” (3:3).
• Chapters 4-14 Hosea describes how Israel has been unfaithful to God. God wants Israel to repent and turn from their wickedness. He wants to restore Israel however, they continue to disobey and follow their own ways, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6).
Dr Teri Stovall leads women's programs at SWBTS and is in a position to influence the thinking of women in this area.
Teri Stovall wrote Adultery, Divorce, and The Believer. This website is the online home of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Women’s Programs. Here is a bio on Teri Stovall.
Dean of Women's Programs and Associate Professor of Women's Ministries
Terri Stovall serves as the Dean of Women’s Programs as well as associate professor of Women’s Ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Church and Family Ministry where she teaches in the area of women’s ministry at the graduate and doctoral level. Training women’s ministry leaders continues to be her writing and research focus
After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Marketing from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Dr. Stovall served as Campus Evangelism Coordinator in Tyler, Texas which solidified her call to vocational ministry. She has since earned a Master of Arts in Religious Education. a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Administration. Dr. Stovall co-authored the book Women Leading Women and is a contributing author in Teaching Ministry of The Church and The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook.
…In her role at Southwestern she is actively involved in mentoring female students at Southwestern and counts it a privilege for any opportunity to invest in their lives or be blessed by them.
The background to Stovall's post.
A woman approached Dr Stovall for assistance in holding her marriage together. Her husband had committed adultery, which resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. She was deeply wounded, but she wanted to fight for her marriage. This post is important since young seminary students are being taught to think in this manner.
The following quotes in bold and italics are quoted directly from the post.
"A believer initiating divorce because of adultery paints a picture of God walking away from His faithless people."
(Marriage) was created also to be a visible representation of the relationship Jesus has with the people of God. When a man and woman stand before God and enter into a covenant relationship, it teaches us about our relationship to God like none other.
I believe we can carry this *visible representation* gambit a bit too far. The marriage covenant is not the same thing as God's covenant with His people. God is perfect and fulfills His part of the covenant perfectly. However, He did not allow the people of Israel to escape punishment when they failed to uphold their end of the bargain. He sent His disobedient people into exile and they were forced into slavery in Egypt and in Babylon.They were in Egypt for approximately 200 years.
So, why do we assume that God intends for His people to stay married to an abuser or an adulterer when God Himself punished His people by such drastic measures?
Also, given the recent brouhaha over the issue of the subordination of Jesus to the Father within the Trinity, I think we need to be very careful about proclaiming that Christian marriages clearly paint a picture of the relationship of Jesus to the church. Marriage is between two fallible, sinful human beings. Whenever any member of the Trinity is involved, one part of the covenant is upheld by a perfect, wise, reasonable and loving being.
Marriage is not the same thing. Perhaps that is why I have never heard anyone say "Hey, you know Fred and Mildred? Well now I understand how Jesus relates to the church since they so clearly reflect the love Jesus has for the church!"
"Jesus says the reason Moses provided a way for divorce was “because of the hardness of your hearts."
Let's go back to the woman whose husband is a serial adulterer and assume that she eventually decides that she wants a divorce, which is permitted by Jesus. Would she be told that she is allowed to divorce her husband because "it is permitted due to the hardness of your heart"? Why is she the one getting stuck with the label of a hard heart? Isn't the one who has the hard heart the unfaithful husband? It is his sin that is causing the divorce, and the wife should not have to bear the brunt of his cheating and hard heart.
"Adultery provides a believing spouse the opportunity to show redeeming, unconditional love."
Once again, remember that God sent His unfaithful people into captivity. They were cast out of their beloved home and forced to live in difficult circumstances. Since we know that God is redeeming and faithful in such responses, why is it not a demonstration of love to cast the unfaithful husband out of the house to bear the consequences of his actions?
"What can be guaranteed is this: If she loved, forgave, kept arms of redemption open in the midst of the pain and violation, and did nothing that closed the door for restoration, then she will stand before the Lord without regret for the choice she made."
This statement is laying it on thick. Why should she feel regret if she chooses to divorce her adulterous husband? The author appears to be suggesting that divorce in this situation should lead the woman to feel remorse and contrition. In other words, she did something wrong by not remaining married.
It is perfectly reasonable for a wife who has been consistently hurt to feel relief when a divorce occurs. I believe that some of today's churches put undue burden on those who are being harmed in their abusive marriages.
"And God will heal her hurts because she is His child. And He will completely forgive where she may have fallen."
Why won't God heal her hurt if she divorces her husband? Will He only *completely* forgive if she doesn't divorce him? Does she only get a partial forgiveness if she divorces? And is she in need of forgiveness if her husband was clearly to blame?
"We are called to remain faithful in the midst of unfaithfulness in the same way God remains faithful to us when we are faithless."
Once again, God remained faithful over the millennia. Nonetheless, His faithfulness also included sending the unfaithful away from their homeland for generations.
"We are called to remain bound to the covenant we made in the same way our covenants with God cannot be broken."
God promised His people if they obeyed him, He would send the rains so that they could grow crops. If they disobeyed Him, they would be punished. There is no question, upon viewing the Old Testament as a whole, that God's people consistently broke their covenants with Him. God does not call us to remain in a broken covenant in which the other party is abusive or an adulterer. One may choose to do so for a variety of reasons, but one is not forced to do so by Scriptural admonitions.
The misuse of Scripture in the area of divorce and remarriage
Here is my bottom line. Way too many rules have been foisted on vulnerable and hurting people by the legalistic application of parts of Scripture. Some of these rules could lead to abuse and have serious, long-term ramifications for the health of a family.
We throw around words like
- covenant of marriage
- God's faithfulness
- unconditional love
- hardness of hearts
without carefully looking at what these mean in actual practice throughout the Bible. We need to get our Scriptural ducks in a row and look at the entire Scripture, not only the verses which back up our preferences.
Here is a comment I left on Stovall's post.