“Divorce”: A Sermon From Pastor Bob

“There is no doubt that it would be better that no one divorced, that the relationships that lead to marriage are always well chosen and well nourished. We rejoice in such relationships. But not all relationships are this way, and we as a church must not abandon those people who find themselves in the process of divorce. Instead, we need to be supportive of them. When all efforts have been expended to maintain their marriage, and they are going through divorce, we must help them grieve, and assure them that they are still part of this community—and, more importantly, that they are still God’s children.”

“DIVORCE”

A sermon by Pastor Bob

October 9, 2011

Text: Matthew 21:33-46

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

As a nine-year-old child, I knew I was getting away with something as I watched the clock on the wall. It was past my bed-time, and in the dark I was watching on TV The Six Million Dollar Man. Maybe my parents wouldn’t notice me, I thought. I kept the volume of the TV down as I snuggled into my bean-bag chair and tried to concentrate on the program. But it was difficult to pay attention. My parents were in the kitchen, and I could hear them arguing. It was something they had been doing more of lately, and it seemed like every argument became louder and louder.

Then I heard a terrible sound that I have not forgotten to this day. It was the sound of my mother crying. And as I sat in the dark that night, I knew I was not getting away with anything …

Divorce. It is a word that has become commonplace in our world. And as I look out this morning I know that, as in my life, this word has touched your lives in some fashion. Maybe you have been divorced, or have experienced a divorce within your family. Maybe you have thought about divorce in the past, or maybe are contemplating it even now.

In today’s gospel text, Jesus talks about divorce. And as soon as I read this text I realized that it makes people cry. For divorce is painful. It’s an agonizing experience in which a relationship of marriage is severed, and suffers what might best be described as a kind of a death. A death where there is grieving and profound loss. A death where anger, confusion, and guilt may be felt. A death which may linger in custody battles and strained conversations. And, as we hear in the gospel this morning: a death that God does not intend.

As Jesus and his disciples made their way into the region beyond the Jordan river on their way to Jerusalem, the crowds have once again gathered around him. This time, however, there were some Pharisees who had come and were intent on discrediting Jesus. These Pharisees, who themselves were legal scholars, asked Jesus a question to which they already knew the answer: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

It was a question meant to trap Jesus. For at that time, there were two leading schools of thought based on the interpretation of law in Deuteronomy (4:1-4). This law permitted a man to divorce his wife because he has found something objectionable about her. The first school, the followers of Shammai, interpreted this verse as allowing divorce only under extreme circumstances, such as adultery by the wife. The second school, following Hillel, believed that divorce was permissible under any circumstances. In both cases, Jewish law only permitted the man to instigate a divorce.

By asking the question of divorce, the Pharisees may have been trying to force Jesus to identify with one of these two schools of thought—which would have alienated from him a whole group of people—or to go against Jewish law completely. But, Jesus who recognizes their cunning, turns the question around, and faces them with questions not about law, but about God’s will.

When Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s question by asking his own question, “What did Moses command you?” the Pharisees answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal to divorce her.” Jesus then concludes that this law was given by Moses not because it was what God intended, but because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. On the contrary, Jesus explains using Genesis, that from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female” and “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Here we see a struggle between the law, which was given in response to our hard-heartedness, and of God’s will. And it is at this point, we as Christians must be careful.

It would be easy in a world where divorce is rampant, and our culture accepts divorce almost like a natural stage in relationship, to be judgmental towards those who have divorced. But we should resist this temptation. It would benefit us not to fall into the trap of the Pharisees by making the gift of marriage into law.

For we miss the point if we think that it is God’s will that a couple stay married when their relationship, for instance, involves abuse. Or when their marriage has become a living corpse. This is to pervert God’s will into law. To be sure, marriage is a gift from God to be treasured. But it must not also obscure God’s will, a will that points us not to maintaining outward appearances, but cultivates within us humility before God and each other.

There is no doubt that it would be better that no one divorced, that the relationships that lead to marriage are always well chosen and well nourished. We rejoice in such relationships. But not all relationships are this way, and we as a church must not abandon those people who find themselves in the process of divorce. Instead, we need to be supportive of them. When all efforts have been expended to maintain their marriage, and they are going through divorce, we must help them grieve, and assure them that they are still part of this community—and, more importantly, that they are still God’s children.

I emphasize this last point from my own experience of watching my parent’s divorce. As I think back on that time, I remember how most of their friends seemed to choose sides, like the parting of the Red Sea. I watched as my parents suddenly did not fit into the social circles they had so easily moved in as a couple. Also, perhaps most sadly, because they were agnostic and did not believe in God, they did not have a God or a church to turn to in this critical point of their marriage.

And now as a pastor I have come to understand that, like experiencing the death of a loved one, people who are divorced often face a crisis of faith. And it is in such a crisis that a person may draw closer to God, or may feel themselves utterly rejected and shamed by the church, and even by God. The latter is a tragedy to be avoided at all costs, but the former brings a word of hope.

For when every attempt at reconciliation has been made, divorce can be a sign of repentance, where two people face up to their failed relationship. Divorce can be a confession that they have not succeeded in living according to God’s will. And divorce can therefore set one free to experience anew the mercy of God.

It is no accident that in this text from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and to a cross on Golgatha. As Jesus continues to encounter the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, he does not simply challenge Jewish laws and customs, but declares that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Jesus is not there to fix the law, but to restore all of creation. And he does so in the shadow of a cross.

And it is possible that in the shadow of divorce one may feel the pain of this world most profoundly, and perhaps feel too a glimmer of the pain that Jesus felt on that cross.

Estranged from the world, Jesus experienced the ultimate divorce between God and humanity, and is left utterly alone to die. And it is within the shadow of that wooden cross that we, all of us here—divorced, married, single, widowed—find ourselves surrounded by the death of our own sin. But in that darkness, by God’s mercy, we may in faith also peer out of the darkness of the empty tomb and into the light. A tomb that could not contain death, a tomb where only life is to be found—a life lived in faith towards a loving God who accepts us just as we are, in our brokenness, and who sees us as whole.

Truly, if you are broken in spirit, whether you are divorced or not—if you live in the hurt of any relationship, past or present—there is a word of hope here for you. There is a God who will not leave you in your brokenness. For God knows your pain, and God has died for you, so that you might live again. Not just in the future, but right now, in this very moment.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Debbie

    Beautiful sermon. All while reading it, I thought about my own process of divorce, what led up to it and what came after. Thanks for sharing it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Lovely. Thank you, Debbie.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    What a beautiful sermon and so encouraging to those of us who have endured the pain and difficulties that divorce brings about.

    One does mourn, I cried for nearly a year.

    One does have anger, I know I am still struggling against that anger against my former spouse who’s actions led me to ultimately choose to end my marriage.

    One does feel isolated. I may be wrong in my assessments, but I feel that my former church didn’t quite know what to do with me. In fact I was told by one in the ministry, in almost the next breath after explaining why I was making such a difficult choice, that I wasn’t free to remarry unless my spouse had cheated on me. She meant well, that mattered then and now about as much as it matters that my cats gain the ability to communicate via email.

    I almost walked away from the church and God during that year, but instead chose a different church, and am trying to rebuild my faith into something better. Reading this sermon just helped me confirm what I knew then, that my decision two years ago was the right one, that God still loves me, and that it is actually true that beauty can be made from ashes, if one chooses to be willing to make the attempt.

    Thank you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow, what a powerful statement/testimony. Thank you, SD, so much.

  • Loren Haas

    Great sermon Pastor Bob. You obviously get it. My wife and have facilitated divorce recovery groups for six years. It is amazing how little support we get from churches other than our own. They either do not want to deal with it or they want to control the message and the message is unless you fall inside some pretty narrow boundaries you are sinning and not eligible to remarry or fully participate in the life of the church. Yeah, right Christ came to earth to create even more rules than the Pharisees and to create a second tier of Christianity for divorced Christians. A narrow reading of scripture can bring you to that conclusion, but since when was Jesus narrow? Another great sermon about divorce and remarriage is by Greg Boyd. I highly recommend it as a complement to Pastor Bob’s:

    http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/divorce-remarriage-and-the-law-of-love

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks for this, Loren, very much.

  • Don Whitt

    What a great sermon. Thank you Pastor Bob.

    “well-chosen and well-nourished”. That’s the task at hand for all of us. It’s not something we get training on in our youth. At best, our parents provide a good example, but that’s seldom the case. We take their bad example and craft a better plan.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks a lot for this, Don. I know Pastor Bob will appreciate this. And I, too, appreciate this encouragement, insofar as I’ve decided to publish here every Sunday morning one of PB’s sermons. So it’s nice to know that’s … working for people. Cool! As you may know, I’ve never published a post on Sundays; now I’m glad to change that, for this.

  • Mindy

    As a divorced woman, I appreciate this so very much. It was not what we intended. It hurt like hell. I lost a good five years of my life to the funk of unhappiness I allowed to envelope me, mostly borne of the shame of failure. I had failed at the one thing in my life I’d promised would be certain.

    Looking back, I know it was inevitable, I know it couldn’t have ended differently. I know we both have done our best to keep our children the focus. Just yesterday, one of my daughter’s friends posted a picture on Facebook of my daughter, her stepmom and me, taken at a party before my daughter left for her time studying abroad. We are all three embracing, and it shows how far we’ve all come. We are an extended family now, and it’s so nice to read that not every Christian looks at us with either disdain or pity. We don’t need either.

    • Don Whitt

      Bravo. It’s about the kids at first, then its about making it normal and real. Not easy. I saw my ex-in-laws Friday at my son’s football game. They’re Born Again Christians, small town, New Englanders visiting out here in CA. I stopped by them, shook their hands (they were too shocked for hugs) and chatted with them for a bit. It’s been almost a decade since the divorce and they still have issues, though my son’s mom and I split custody 50/50, get along okay, etc. We have to be the examples. Good job, Mindy.

      • Mindy

        Thanks, Don. We get an interesting range of reactions from people who learn how well we get along. Last weekend, when it was time to pick up my daughter from dad, we met at an art fair we’ve attended every year since it started, down in our old neighborhood. Stepmom stayed home to get things done without toddlers underfoot, so my ex and I and our daughter, along with his 2- and 3-yr.-old sons, strolled around together. I pushed the stroller, daughter and her friend chased the boys. A gorgeous afternoon. Ex and I chuckled at the odd looks we got from old neighbors, etc. It just . . . works. And it’s so much less stressful than hating on each other. We just can’t be married. But we both love our daughters, so – - – we just let that guide us.

        • Don Whitt

          Sweet! That made me tear-up!

  • Barbara

    This was a good sermon. As much as life would be so much easier if divorce was never the best choice of a bad situation, trying to disallow it from happening is not the answer, and will never be.

    When I went through my own divorce, I got no support from my church. They were sympathetic that I was unhappy, offered as many prayers and supportive groups as I could handle, but in the end, it was never actually an acceptable choice, and when I decided on it, I was politely shunned.

    The phrase that has given me problems for years is “when all efforts have been expended…” How does one know “all efforts” have been expended? Many people believe that if it never is. If 3 months of therapy wasn’t enough, what about 6 months? If daily prayer hasn’t worked, maybe you weren’t praying hard enough? If sexual intimacy is a problem, well, have you tried having a holy marriage that doesn’t rely on sex? 7 years after my divorce, I am a happier, healthy, more whole person, and I believe it was the best choice for my entire family. But I -still- occasionally have doubts that “all efforts” were expended at the time. Maybe I could have tried this thing, or waiting it out longer, or encouraging him to more therapy. But would it have been worth it?

    I’d like to think that someone who actively supports life after divorce also supports the idea that sometimes it IS the best option for a couple, whether outsiders to the marriage believe it or not, and the only people who can say whether all -reasonable- efforts have been made are the two people involved in the marriage.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    In my life, I have never heard a sermon that did not focus on the wrongness of a particular action, thought, or feeling. In the churches that I grew up in, this sermon would have been, “Yes, let’s not judge them BUT!!! wrong wrong wrong never divorce EVER you make god grieve, marriage is a covenant, the end.” I have never heard a sermon about not being Pharisaical, or not judging that did not have to make sure through it all that THESE THINGS WE CAN’T JUDGE ARE STILL WRONG. (My favorite was always, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ…but there is CONVICTION. I HOPE YOU FEEL CONVICTED. blah blah blah, etc. etc.) It always seemed like there was this overwhelming fear that if a pastor has even one sermon that doesn’t continually reinforce THIS IS SIN, then everyone will consider it license to go out and do it. The pastors in my city would see this sermon and think that everyone who reads it would then be like, “Whoohoo, I can divorce!”

    Which actually, may be a good thing. My mother stayed with my abusive, cheating, alcoholic father because the pastors told her too. Because divorce is bad (abuse…well, not as bad as DIVORCE). She even told me once, “If it wasn’t for Christianity, I probably wouldn’t have stayed married as long as I had.” Like that was a good thing, that Christianity made it so that she stayed with him.

    I was apparently a radical in this, but when I was a Christian, I always thought that the “God hates divorce” meant that, since marriage was a covenant, not the piece of paper, that god hated the breaking of the covenant. That a cheating spouse had already caused the divorce before a little piece of paper ever officially said there was one. That god hates the breaking of trust and promises.

    This comment is all over the place. I stopped going to church long before I stopped being a Christian; I tried a bunch of different churches and denominations but couldn’t take any of it. The last sermon I heard was on anxiety. And how, yes, some people have legit anxiety problems and need medication and stuff BUT anxiety is wrong, a sin, why can’t you trust god. And then something about giving money to church, always got to throw that in. There was rarely a Sunday that I didn’t end up leaving church feeling like a failure, weak, broken, sinful, wrong, scum in the eyes of god who kept telling me “everything you do and are is WRONG.” Going to church was a guessing game of “in what way will I be beaten down today?” I have never heard a sermon like this. Thanks for it.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Anxiety a sin?

      You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I’m going to Hell. Brain disorders, woohoo!

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

        If anxiety is a sin, then I got a heap o overcoming to do!

        Which is why I am thankful to know that anxiety or all those other emotional aspects that can temper our lives do not meet the sin qualifications.

      • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

        From all my church experiences this is what I got:

        -anxiety is a sin

        -fear is a sin

        -being an introvert is a sin

        -not sleeping well is a sin (because apparently insomnia is always based on worrying too much; which is not trusting god, which is a sin)

        -not adhering to gender roles is a sin

        -not getting married to have children is a sin

        -depression is a sin (and I quote a pastor’s prayer for someone suffering from depression: “If we would just learn to rely on You rather than on medicine to help us…”)

        -shyness is a sin

        And the list goes on.

        Mostly, I think it’s this city. As every pastor of every church I’ve attended and visited has said, “90% of church attendance in this city is church transfer.” Conservative Christian inbreeding of thought.

        • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

          Reminds me of this link I found on TV Tropes. (I don’t normally read this webcomic, I just remembered this particular page from doing a wiki-walk).

          http://www.rhjunior.com/GH/00352.html

          Even more tragic to know that it’s based on real attitudes/real people.

          I feel like going where you live, touring the churches and scaring people by shaking my pill bottles and showing them some of my artwork to boot: http://shadsie.deviantart.com/gallery/6553783

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

          Sadly there is a school of thought in the church that is nothing but pure and unadulterated BS.

          I’ve had anxiety, fear I am quite familiar with, I test introvert, insomnia? Oh it and I are well acquainted, depression? yeah we’ve met way too often. BUT God still loves me with all that. Those things are part of me, God likes me just fine with all that, knows that they shape and mold who I am.

          Realizing that God loves me anyway I am, happy or depressed, content or overwhelmed, rested or wishing I would just for a week sleep seven hour sessions; helped to know that other’s opinions of my inner make-up pale in importance. God’s opinion trumps them all. God love me, you, all of us, as we are right this moment, as we were yesterday and as we will be tomorrow.

          I don’t know if it is denial, ignorance or simply the misunderstanding of what scripture has said about emotional issues or on some social ones. However not all Christians believe that negative emotions are sinful junk.

        • Christy

          I can affirm your experience with the Church, somaticstrength. Doubt, strong-willed women, depression, voluntary childlessness, involuntary childlessness …..it’s like a modern day Salem.

          It’s not the city. It is a fundamental disregard for science. It started (probably before Davinci, but we’ll go) with Copernicus and Galileo and got much worse with Darwin and reached its pinnacle with Freud and now you see it with Environmental Science and climate change. Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals flat out don’t believe in the field of human psychology. Don’t believe in it. Don’t trust it. Are adamantly opposed to it. This is why there exist “Christian counsellors.” Because they don’t trust the mainstream ones – because the mainstream ones will encourage a woman to leave her abusive husband, a daughter to leave her toxic family, to report her rapist and molester to the police – even if they are a deacon in their church, tell her it’s not her fault her husband hits her and it’s not the Devil and her lack of faith that caused her depression. And, you know, “we just can’t have that.” They view the field of psychology as humanist and a devil’s tool for explaining away sinful behavior. And, you know,” if whatever you are doing and whomever you interact with is not giving all power and glory to God,” then they obviously work for the other team and are anti-God or are back-slidden or aren’t in the will of God….

          A little knowledge of psychology goes a long way to see how deeply rooted in their ego they truly are and how self-protective the Fundamentalist ego has grown to protect and defend itself from the disinfecting light of psychological truth.

          It is desperately sad. And it is why you will see such profoundly dysfunctional deeply religious families. Therapy and mental illness and alcoholism and addiction are still viewed as horrific stigmas, and it is why so many who suffer from these very common problems do not get the help they need, are shunned, and suffer ever increasing damage by those who are supposed to love and support them best from the guilt and shame that are piled on top of them for remaining in their “willful, faithless, sinful behavior.”

          “You know, Martha, if Jesse would just get his heart right with God that demon of depression would leave him.” It is spiritual and emotional abuse.

          • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            I remember some of my first forays into therapy asking therapists right out if they had any intent of trying to rid me of God, because if they did, I was walking away right there. I had this sort of paranoia that “these people might think faith is crazy and try to take it away from me, even though it’s what helps me and keeps me alive.” I found out my fears were unfounded – people in the psychaitry/psychology professions tend to be about whatever will help their paitients and if praying helps, they (or at least the ones I’ve known) don’t knock it.

            And a suprirsing number of believers line the secular field. They just aren’t Fundie and are willing to help all kinds of people.

            As for how I got my touch of paranoia in the first place – I may have gotten it from church, maybe from TV preachers I watched, maybe just from the culture. You see, an unfortunate thing about our culture is that there’s the sterotype that people in the sciences are anti-faith. (It’s most prevailent in the hard sciences, like biology because of the whole Monkey Trail thing). There’s also the whole “Freud thought faith a mental illness” thing. There are people stemming the tide, but the sterotypes are still strong.

            People don’t realize that psychology has come a long way since Freud.

            Was even in a psych hospital once for the good half of a week (voluntarily, suicide prevention). A lot of the other paitients prayed and it was *encouraged,* because it helped. (Even for the schitzophrenic who was there… it apparently helped her manage the angry voices that were plauging her).

            Not in regular therapy now due to transportation issues and sometimes I don’t feel like I really need it if I have art.

            Sorry if I am in any way incoherent. Kind of woozy right now. I’ve been throwing up all weekend and am now waiting to go to a doctor’s appointment. Tip: If you’re gonna get sick, try not to make it on a weekend.

          • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

            Yeah, the only counselor’s we had were pastors or Christian counselors (which are very different from counselors who are also Christians). That may be in part why I am completely turned off from all therapy/counseling, etc. I cannot stand prescriptivism. Someone coming in and telling me, “you are going to do this thing because this thing works and if it doesn’t then you’re not doing it right because this thing works” and I just never got along. Especially with being a person whose brain interprets the world in such a wonky way. The only thing Christian therapy ever looked like to me was social control. If we can make you *look* like a happy, “real” Christian, who does and says the right things, then you will be declared “healed”. Which is why my mother thinks she is perfectly healed…just as long as she can make sure to keep me down so that I don’t ruin her facade.

          • Christy

            Dearest Somaticstrength, in any way possible with the help of any kind and compassionate soul whom you can allow yourself to trust, find a mainstream therapist – who will not tell you what to do but who will listen compassionately and guide you with insight and wisdom along the difficult but very important journey to recovery. Legitimate healthcare providers do not seek a saccharine facade but true emotional healing.

            If you have a family healthcare provider, a family doctor or nurse practitioner, a gynecologist, school counselor they could refer or recommend someone or be a starting point. NAMI is also a resource and has offices in most larger cities. They would have referral sources as well as lists of support groups and educational programs in your area. If you haven’t seen it already, there is also http://www.rainn.org/

          • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

            No insurance, no way of doing anything without my mother finding out about it, no support system in case the therapist I find is abusive (and I’ve heard a ton of horror stories) and no energy or strength to be able to bounce back from something like that right now.

          • Christy

            Are you a minor or of age?

          • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

            I’m of age, I’m 24. Just very pathetic, I guess. :-/

          • Christy

            You are not pathetic. Stuck. But certainly not pathetic. It’s a terrible feeling to be in a stuck place. You need a plan. I’ve offered some resources and others have offered ideas here too. I hope you will act on some of them as a way of moving forward. As your chosen name implies, you do have strength and power within yourself. Find it and don’t let it go. You are worth it.

    • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

      There’s a difference between the anxiety that comes from a lack of faith in God and the anxiety that comes from clinical/biochemical problems. The problem is that we use the same word for both w/o differentiating the cause.

    • Diana A.

      Boy, did you get abused by your church. And unfortunately, too few pastors in even the more liberal churches understand how badly damaged a person can be from attending an abusive church, even if nothing else happened (and in your case, I know there’s been abuse within your family as well as from the church itself.)

      I don’t blame you for not going church. I don’t blame you for eschewing Christianity. And I doubt that God (the real God, God who is Love) blames you either.

      “…when I was a Christian, I always thought that the ‘God hates divorce’ meant that, since marriage was a covenant, not the piece of paper, that god hated the breaking of the covenant. That a cheating spouse had already caused the divorce before a little piece of paper ever officially said there was one. That god hates the breaking of trust and promises.” I think that you were/are far closer to the real God than any of those who oppressed you at your church.

      SomaticStrength, I hope that you will do whatever it takes to heal, that you will not let anyone get in the way of that regardless of the consequences. That won’t be an easy thing. You may have to walk away from everything you know and start over. It’s worth it. You’ve probably read some of John’s blog entries regarding his family. I can also recommend anything by Martha Beck (not a Christian, but open to God) Her book “Leaving the Saints” might be particularly inspirational for you (though it might also be triggering.) Anyway, I may have said too much here, so if anything I’ve said makes you feel worse, just toss it out the window. Do whatever it takes to heal. Frig anyone who gets in your way.

      • Christy

        “too few pastors in even the more liberal churches understand how badly damaged a person can be from attending an abusive church,”

        So, true. They are mystified by the depth of dysfunction. They sit slack-jawed at what is laid before them. Unless they too have become one of the walking wounded who were called to ministry out of the rubble of such a life themselves.

        How can it be that this goes on in mainstream mega-churches in major U.S. cities in the year of our Lord 2011 and not relegated to dilapidated one room paint-peeled churches deep in Appalachia where snake handling quietly still goes on? How have we mainstreamed and institutionalized and continued to teach such dysfunction in some of the more well-known universities and seminaries around our country? How can it be that we let our brothers and sisters continue to suffer under such a tyrannical God? How indeed.

      • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

        I long ago decided I was walking away from this family (and getting out of this city at some point). Of course, deciding that and having the money/resources to be able to do that are two different things. I don’t go to church, I don’t have any Christian friends anymore, and the few left on facebook I’ve hidden their statuses, so at least that was easy enough to do.

        • Christy

          You do have Christian friends…..and they are here. I know it is not at all the same as IRL, not by a longshot. But know, deeply, that you are not alone and even while we do not know you, you are loved.

          I read your blog and my heart breaks….knowing the “maybe I made it up, maybe it wasn’t real, maybe I imagined it, maybe its just me” struggle you have and are going through. It’s not right what they have done to us. It wrong. It is FUBAR. And we have every right to feel betrayed and angry and indignant and confused and bewildered and livid about it. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. For us to survive, it can’t stay that way. John has written so many insightful and helpful things here because he has lived through so many painful ones. There is wisdom in his words and comfort from those who read and post here. The only thing that saved my life was finding and gloaming (John’s word) onto one healthy person who gave a damn about me and was willing to show some unconditional love.

          Diana’s words ring true. Other helpful books might be: Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott or other of her works, Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor, Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, and works by Gordon Livingston.

          The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck has also been insightful and transformative. He writes:

          “To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake….our narrower vision. In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road to spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.”

          Peck goes on to say, “There is no such thing as a good hand me down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.”

          In my own spiritual journey his words have surely fleshed out to be true.

          May we all wrestle with the Fundamentalist demons we have inherited, and emerging…..find the God who loves us beyond all imagination – whom we never knew – cheering us on and welcoming us with open arms on the other side.

          There are churches who do not teach shame and guilt and worthlessness, but you will likely have to go outside of Evangelicalism to find them. Pretty much if they are welcoming and affirming of the GLBT community they preach a message of love and inclusiveness unlike we ever heard in our upbringing: Lutheran, Episcopal, United Methodist, United Church of Christ…..etc. And it makes all the difference.

          Blessings to you and much love. ~ C

          • Christy

            And like Diana A., if anything I’ve said makes you feel worse, please throw it out too.

        • Erin D.

          Somatic, I hope you will never give up on finding a Christian community that does not warp what you (and I, and most of the world) know to be simple human facts. I don’t know what denomination it is you grew up in. I grew up in what is considered a pretty conservative religion, and even there they did not say the things that you experienced. So I hope you will keep searching. Sometimes one pastor or the culture of one church can do so much damage. I also don’t know what part of the country you are in, but you can find some very well-done services online if you want to break away from the options in your particular location and still hear the word. Nothing can replace a true church community, I know. I wish you luck in your search and if NOTHING ELSE, please hang around here and I know the people here will take good care of you and help you overcome the haunting voices in your past.

          • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

            I’m good not being a Christian. I don’t have a god, or any real spirituality anymore. I live day-by-day, without any thought of any eternity because eternal thinking made everything worse. I rejected god because he wasn’t there and allowing him a space in my life was like obsessing over someone who isn’t in your life and wants nothing to do with you. It’s much better for me, not being a Christian.

          • Don Whitt

            Okay, forget about Christianity, but learn to love Soma. She’s pretty cool, I bet!

  • Sam

    Pastor Bob nailed it.

    I identified with Somatic before landing here and in a local church unlike those I grew up in.

    Hope many others see Bob’s sermon and Loren’s link.

    Thanks again, John

  • Allie

    Forgive me for asking, but what’s the right pastoral attitude towards a man who ditches his loving wife of 25 years on Christmas day, hides all his money in the Cayman islands so she can’t legally prove his income and get support, and marries his 22 year old secretary? Is it required to help him through his grieving and let him know he’s not shunned by the congregation?

    Sorry! I do deeply believe that not all divorce is a mistake, and that sometimes there are no right answers, only the best answer. And I believe that God knows even more than we do what we face and doesn’t judge anyone harshly for doing their best. But I’m not just being facetious, the man in question was a member of my congregation. And he did in fact attend divorced men’s support groups at my church, while his wife left the congregation because she felt so ashamed. Seriously… what’s the right pastoral response to someone who really IS getting a divorce because he’s an adulterer?

    • Don Whitt

      What do you want to do? Could you, e.g., help her back to the church?

      • Don Whitt

        I mean, who cares about “the response” unless it’s loving, constructive and forgiving? What is YOUR response? More judgement to stoke the fires of shame? Gossip? What shall you do?

    • SugarMags

      Allie, I think that Pastor Bob is speaking toward people who are victims of divorce…not perpetrators of sin against innocent wives and children. The man you describe certainly has done something horrible. His wife needs to feel the forgiveness of the church and of God. Sadly, many churches would blame the wife, tell her she should have been a better wife, prayed more, etc. The victim becomes the criminal, unable to return to church and feel comfortable and safe in her relationship with God. That’s what Pastor Bob is speaking against.

      • Allie

        I apologize… but this sermon really did rub me wrong, because it’s almost exactly what was said as a justification for treating him like a hero while she felt she had to leave. She was “the one who had the problem” while he was the one who had everything he wanted, sitting in church every week with his new bride that he was living with even before his wife knew he wanted a divorce.

        The other thing is, I’ve never been to a church that had a problem with divorce. Even my mother-in-law’s strict Baptist church had support classes for divorcing people, and my husband’s stepfather was a deacon despite being divorced and remarried. My priest is on his second marriage. Divorced people are the MAJORITY every church I’ve ever been in. I have a couple of Catholic friends who had a little trouble getting annulments, but even there, socially they were okay. Maybe it’s a Bible Belt thing. Here in the Bible Belt, we have a higher rate of divorce as well as a higher rate of Evangelicals, and the two are fairly used to seeing no contradiction there.

        • Don Whitt

          Allie: what’s the issue? You seem angry that the churches are accepting of divorced members. What is going on? How do you think the church should behave? Should it, e.g., reject adulterers and only wrap itself around those who’ve suffered adultery?

  • Susan in NY

    My divorce was amicable, and yet it has taken four years to finally feel like I am over the trauma of both the marriage of 17 years, and the divorce.

    I can finally, finally see the truth and live with joy. It is truly a blessing from God.

    Susan

  • Ken

    In olden times, didn’t the church have as an alternative to divorce, an “annulment”? Not sure what the difference was, but the effect sure seemed the same. Maybe it would be less contentious among congregations if it was brought back?

  • Pastor Bob

    As I read the comments this morning, I am so deeply moved by your sharing and depth of compassion. You truly are a community and I have much to learn from you. Now, as I preach to my congregation, which has its share of conservative and liberal and whatever folks, I think of you.

    I grew up with agnostic parents who had left the church when they were adults so they left religion up to me. I had Seventh-Day Adventist daycare providers who taught me the stories of the Bible from zero to five, and then Christianity became a kind of Santa Clause experience as I went into elementary school. It was in high school I began to ask myself, how could Christians believe this stuff? They “seemed” normal. What’s up? Only later, would recognize it was Christ. Amidst my doubts and questions I suddenly asked myself in college, why do I care? Then, I knew something had changed.

    For me, Christ is fundamentally found in our questioning, our searching, our hunger. I think “the Church” often worries about where this will lead and tries to make God smaller than God actually is–trying to package God into a neat bundle. Yet, God seems to evade such fancy packaging and instead chooses to eat with the leper, the Samaritan woman, and you and I.

    I think God can handle our questions and even love us because of them. Thanks for letting me share this space with you.

  • Bayuki

    A lot of important points in the sermon, but I am left wondering whether it is supposed to speak to us as members of a body (and remind us of what our role should be vis-a-vis those going through divorce) or speak to us as married individuals (and provide guidance as to process divorce as an option in the context of an individual marriage). If the latter, I suppose I am struck by the omission of any acknowledgment of the innocent bystanders in divorce (i.e., children), instead seeing only a focus on the two marriage protagonists.

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  • http://slugcrossings.blogspot.com/ Liutgard

    Wow. That was a refreshing approach!

    I come from a very narrow church background, and even narrower family. My parents chose my husband when I was 14, and they finally had their way and I married him at 18. We limped along, with things metaphorically tied up with duct tape and string, but it was hard, and got harder as we had kids. There were economic pressures too. Through it all I got blame blame blame. I went to all of the Ladies’ Teas and weekend workshops, took all of the classes on Christian marriage and motherhood, cried in the therapist’s office when my husband wouldn’t go. Shortly before our 10th anniversary, I told him that I was going to be leaving as soon as I could find a way to support myself. His response? “Well, I guess I can’t keep you from leaving.”

    I ended up going back to school, and the next year the divorce was final. The church, including friends I’d had since elementary school, turned their backs on me. But I couldn’t take any more. I left. I was DONE. Done with the marriage, done with church, done with God.

    As a friend and former priest told me, “God wasn’t done with you!”

    That was ’93 when I left. In ’99 I started seeing an incredibly wonderful and aggravating man, and the two of us sort of found our way back together- he about five years ago, me last year. We’re active Episcopalians now. And if we can find our way around some fiscal stuff (mostly my health coverage), we plan to marry. We already have a remarkable relationship that is deeply committed, and far more a marriage than my previous one. This one is REAL. And I think that this is the sort of thing that God wants for all of us.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    John, you rock!

  • Christy Caine via Facebook

    I think it’s kinda sweet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    “My starfish.” It’s like Lady Gaga, but … more oceanic.

  • http://lisainbc.blogpost.com Lisa Salazar

    I saw John’s Facebook post for this sermon on Sunday, but since this weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving and I had volunteered to do a lot of the cooking for my large extended family, I decided to put reading Pastor Bob’s sermon on hold. But I also knew I would be opening myself up to do some heavy crying and wanted to postpone that for a bit.

    I just read it and I wish I could say I feel better. His description of divorce’s consequences and the toll it takes on all involved is absolutely, one hundred percent true, and his suggestions for how the church and individuals should respond are also on the money.

    But I am still hurting, just like many of you who have commented, the pain can last a long time.

    I wrote John a message a few days ago and shared with him how I was feeling after meeting with my wife at the Provincial Court to file a joint no-contest divorce application. At her insistence, we had been living separate lives under the same roof for over two years, but then we sold the house in August and we went our separate ways.

    Silly me, I kept hoping she just needed time to adjust to my transition and surgery—that she would somehow be able to continue in what could only be described as a celibate, committed “same sex” relationship with me.

    But if divorce is like a death, changing gender and thereby redefining the relationship is also a death. It’s a double whammy. Officially, by the time the court signs the divorce papers in the next ten to twelve weeks it normally takes, we would have been married thirty-seven years. The reality is the marriage came to an end in the Summer of 2008 when I transitioned and started living full time as a female. At that time, I was given hope the marriage would survive by comments she had made to our pastor and a marriage counselor he had introduced us to. She repeated the marriage vows we made to each other, that divorce would not be an option. The implication being we would somehow find a way, with God’s help, to make our marriage last whatever our circumstances. Those may have been lofty ideals and promises for two twenty-four year olds, but with each passing year we were together, we were confirming those vows.

    I first revealed to her my gender confusion seven years into our marriage, a few months after our second son was born. At the time, I didn’t know the extent of my “issue,” or that in fact I had a medical condition. I had always spiritualized my struggle and I hoped my revelation to her would somehow result in God finally answering my prayer to be normal. What happened instead is that my struggle became her struggle as she stood steadfastly next to me, hoping to defeat the enemy together. As time went on and it became apparent this gender thing was not going away, I just felt more and more defeated and guilt-ridden that my faith was not strong enough. To keep her from hurt and disappointment, I kept quiet about the extent of my internal turmoil. Though I appeared strong and spiritual on the outside, I was unraveling from the inside. It was an impossible situation. She had generously made allowances for me, to help me cope—I had a few female inner garments I could wear in the privacy of the bedroom. Unfortunately, this just made the conflict that much more acute and it felt like I was putting a small band-aid on a gaping wound. Nevertheless, we persevered as a couple and as parents with three sons and by God’s grace managed to live a reasonably happy life.

    Even after my diagnosis in 1999, we remained committed to the ’cause’ and convinced ourselves that as long as we kept the faith, God would help me stay on the straight and narrow path. I wanted nothing more than to be the best husband I could be and my love for her and my appreciation for her seemed to grow deeper with each passing day. But. The big “but” was I was reaching the end of my rope and secretly feared a big and ugly mental collapse. I was thinking about death all the time and how it would solve so many problems. No one, except my wife and the doctors and the gender clinic, would need to ever know my awful secret; she would get insurance money and would be spared the pain and embarrassment of people thinking she might be a lesbian if I were to transition and we stayed together. I had this irrational fear of losing control and how that would impact everyone in my life. But I was paralyzed about making any changes because I had not yet reconciled my diagnosis with my faith. The conservative evangelical in me was terrified I would be insulting God if I admitted or claimed I was trans. I yearned to somehow divine God’s “illusive” will in all of this and I begged Him to spare me, to heal me and make all of this go away, especially for my wife’s sake. I wanted God to spare her any more pain.

    I won’t go into any more details except to say that I finally reconciled things scripturally and was able to then make the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. Though I knew there was the risk our marriage would fail, it was better than the alternative. I chose life and in so doing, made decisions that have resulted in the end of my wonderful marriage, and it hurts terribly. I pray for my wife and the pain she is experiencing and all the other stuffI can not even begin to imagine she has been going through, and all I can do is trust God to be her source of comfort, joy and strength. I am sorry that I have disqualified myself as her shoulder to cry on and as her companion. I miss her and I miss not being there for her. Did I say it hurts?

    • Don Whitt

      You made a change that transcends most – you didn’t just change in the lifestyle sense, but in an astoundingly fundamental way. That was making two choices, really, and you knew that. Does that necessarily mean you can’t be a good friends? Is there no way for you both to provide support for one another?

      • http://transparently.ca Lisa Salazar

        Don, I hope and pray that one day I will be able to answer both of your questions with a resounding NO (to the first one) and YES (to the second one)

        I do want our friendship to survive. She has been, after all, my closest friend since I met her 40 years ago. But at this moment, the wounds are still too raw and the mourning process is ongoing on both sides.

        They say opposites attract each other, and in some respects, it is true in our case. I need to talk things out and have clarity, while she tends to avoid talking about difficult things. This has always been the case. Since it is next to impossible to speak openly about our relationship, I try to talk to her about other things, our two young granddaughters or our adult sons, for exmaple. So for now, and until she is comfortable with me, our converstions will remain off topic. It’s very hard to counter her remark that I am dead to her and that seeing me as Lisa just reminds her of what she has lost.

        I would be lying if I said I have no regrets. actually, I have only one–and it’s a big one–I hurt my best friend deeply. But in every other way, my life is no longer the dual existense with the overwhelming sence of discongruency and lack of hope I experienced most of my life. Was it selfish of me to make the change? Some would probably say yes. My only reponse is that I chose not become a suicide statistic. As the months go by and the distance increases from those days when I could not see how I could go on living, the sharp edge of the decision has grown dull, and this allows guilt to sneak back in.

        I need to remind myself of how utterly desperate I was and that this was not what I wnated to do, it is what I had to do to survive. Ironically, I have never felt as close to God as I have been last three years. He has been my refuge and my strenght, and not only mine, but my wife’s as well. For that, I am grateful, and perhaps in Him the two of us will find a way to be close friends once again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ashley-Cohea/100000024967834 Ashley Cohea via Facebook

    I much prefer being a starfish to a little monster. Although, technically I’m neither since I’ve never commented on your blog directly. But you get my point.

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    Starfish it is. Perfect. I love it.

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