When Divorce Is a Moral Imperative ~ Part 2

In my previous post I ended on the disheartening note that, after the failed attempt at marital counseling, I felt left on my own as to how to proceed and that the Kingdom of God was at stake. I was wrong on both counts. Help came to me surprisingly from two unexpected sources.

The first was God, whom I assumed had consigned a certain level of purgatory for pastor’s wives–the price to be paid for the salvation of others through the ministrations of their husbands. I shook my fist at God over this. Why is this all right? Why is it part of your plan that all these church people raise their hands and say hallelujah while I am dying a withering death in the pew?

The answer was: It’s not all right. You’re asking me if God spoke to me. The answer is no, God did not speak to me. But in the way a seeker seeks and (it is said) ultimately finds, so here I sought and, in response, intangible movements of light came in to my darkness and reckoned this truth to me. Call it what you want.

God helped me in another way — and this time I ask indulgence of the reader. I did hear these words, not audibly and quite clearly in what I can only conclude was the inner testimony of God’s Spirit. The point related to my assumption that, whatever I did, the Kingdom of God was at stake. God intervened and stopped me short: “You mean to tell me that the Kingdom of God depends upon you?”

So you see, contrary to popular belief among the evangelical subculture, God actually helps someone who finds herself in a seemingly intractable predicament, even if that someone is a pastor’s wife and even it means upsetting “the ministry.” God helped me in what resulted in a divorce. Do you believe it could be so? It could be, and is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I mentioned two unexpected sources from which help came to me. The second was my doctor, a GP, who was tending to my deteriorating health. She understood intuitively something was wrong and asked me questions no one had asked before.  Do you think about hurting yourself? Do you feel safe? What does a ‘bad moment’ look like? I thank her for asking. Once she understood my answers she did something that no doctor I have known, before or since, has ever done for me. She spoke to her pastor on my behalf, anonymously, asking for advice. Then she called me at home and remitted the pastoral advice. This pastor belonged to a very large church in the area where I was living and the church was a model for evangelical churches all over the country. The pastor told my doctor to tell me that I need to separate from my husband and try to find a way toward reconciliation. Do you believe that an evangelical pastor can advise an evangelical pastor’s wife to separate from her husband? Do you believe that a GP can own the unsolvable situation of a patient?  This help, along with the help of God, put me in a place of clarity.

My husband agreed to a trial separation, but only under specific terms.  These included a separation schedule of three months, geographic proximity, and resurrecting further counseling. I found these terms misguided and I refused them.  I did not feel our problems had any reasonable possibility of resolution according to a limited set of conditions imposed by his narrow terms, terms he dictated, one of which was counseling, which had already failed. For my part, I needed distance and time and neither was included in his terms.

My refusal of my husband’s stated terms was the turning point which took us from the possibility of separation into the reality of divorce. Hereafter it was my divorce and he could (and did) wash his hands of it.

A friend who is having marital problems, wrote me recently, saying, “I really don’t know what God thinks about divorce.” I told her, “I know what he thinks of it.” I said:  He hates it. But he also hates haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who sows discord among brothers. It’s all in the Bible.

In time I came to understand that what God hates, in the end, isn’t really the point. For we all do things he hates in some form or another and we probably do them more often than we choose to admit.  It is what God loves that we must attend to. God himself overruled the consequences of his own law in the case of David and Bathsheba. If his law had been upheld, Bathsheba would have been stoned for adultery and David would have been executed (he contrived the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, in order to protect himself).

God’s purposes were greater than the personal tragedies of these troubled people. In fact, God used the illicit bond between David and Bathsheba to become the blood line through which his son Jesus was born (Matthew 1:6). There are many examples of God overthrowing his own vows, others’ vows, and even his own law if they have been wrongly appropriated in a way that leads to the spiritual death of his people.  God hates horrible things. But he loves his people more than all that he hates. So while there is tragedy in my (and anyone’s) divorce, there is also something else.

When a pastor’s wife struggles with delicate and volatile matters, and more — when she acts upon them–she must be prepared: She will be judged. She will be seen as the agent of home wreckage, the one who brings calamity upon the life of a beloved pastor. (You see, people think they know.) Many will conclude that only a woman who is mad would leave such a gifted and helpful man and there’s no point in trying to explain it. She will lose friends. She will live under the shadow of the dreaded “divorce rate” statistic preached about in her church (if she still attends). Old friends she tries to visit will have other plans.

The struggles of pastors’ wives, their children, and pastors themselves are life-altering and often catastrophic. The same can be said of Christian families generally, perhaps with only a little less at stake when it comes to public impact. In either case, many churches seem simply inept at knowing how to address “the divorce problem.”  Silent tragedies persist, even as wives and their pastor-husbands, Christian leaders, neighbors and friends, are singing from the pew.

As I said in Part 1 of this post, I don’t presume to give answers. I give only what I have, the story of  a pastor’s wife in a failed marriage. I do hope that this disclosure will somehow enable pastors, churches and especially hurting wives, to allow honesty into the mandate of leadership and if a marriage is breaking down, not to turn a blind eye, cast aspersions, pass judgment, or render formulaic answers. There is no formula. There are only broken people who need help. They don’t need the pressure of hiding personal devastation for the sake of keeping up appearances, and worse, for fear of being judged by their faith communities.

I titled these posts: When Divorce Is a Moral Imperative. I believe firmly that an aggrieved party has the moral obligation to stand against abuses against her (or him) when she has exhausted all avenues of attempted restoration and has been abandoned, both by the church and the spouse. It becomes most egregious when the spouse (as in my case)  is an authority figure who preaches eternal truths from God’s pulpit, even while maintaining destructive patterns against a spouse that cause harm.  No person, especially a Christian, is obliged to cover this and worse, to live under it without hope or recourse both in the home and in the church.


Upcoming Posts on Divorce: The “Exception Clause” ~ What About the Vows? ~ Ephesians 5 ~ The “Biblical” Marriage

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About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I’m not sure who most “Christians” are following, but it doesn’t seem to be Jesus.There is a prescription for healing broken relationships in Matthew 18:15-22. I have attempted, on many occasions and with many supposedly “Christian” relationships to get witnesses and to take it to the church. All my efforts have failed. In fact, I have been the one turned out of the communities for exposing these problems and “making” others uncomfortable. I have completely given up on organized religions because of the prevalence of deification of the pastors and gurus.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Wendy Murray

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I too tried the “Matt 18″ principle in dealing with a complaint against my ex-husband and was threatened if I proceeded to bring it to the church. This is not Christianity.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I have come to the conclusion that many Christians simply don’t truly believe that Jesus is their Christ.

  • Margaret Mills

    Thank you for sharing your story, Wendy. I look forward to reading the rest of your series on this. It took me a long time to come to the revelation that it wasn’t really benefiting the Kingdom of God to stay in an abusive and dangerous relationship for the sake of appearances. How twisted is that, anyway?