The controversy continues within the Southern Baptist Convention surrounding Dr. Paige Patterson. I blogged about this last week. As I read various opinion pieces on the latest SBC drama, I got to thinking about one specific criticism Patterson faces: Over the fact that he would never recommend divorce.
I have made myself clear that no amount of physical abuse should be tolerated. Neither should emotional abuse, sexual abuse, adultery, addiction, or any number of behaviors that are against God and His word. At the same time, not tolerating the behaviors does not always mean one should divorce. It doesn’t even always mean separation, although safety is a priority and that often requires separation. Certainly, for anyone who comes to know of behaviors that result in one spouse being harmed by another, it’s critically important to provide helpful resources to the one that is being harmed (domestic violence shelters, counselors, support groups etc). But that doesn’t mean you have to recommend divorce.
There is much to be concerned about regarding what Dr. Patterson has said; however, I am not sure not recommending divorce is one of them. He and I likely disagree on many areas surrounding the topic of separation vs reconciliation, but I just don’t see anywhere in the Scriptures that suggest that pastors have to recommend divorce. In fact, I don’t see anywhere that says anyone has to recommend divorce.
This certainly doesn’t mean people can’t divorce. There are times, as a Christian, we might understand why someone chooses this option, even from a biblical perspective. We all know about the “divorce clause” from Matthew 19:19 wherein adultery is listed as a biblical reason for divorce. There’s also 1 Corinthians 7:15, which states, “If the unbelieving leaves, let it be so.” This has been widely interpreted, and used by many as grounds for divorce. But just because we might understand why someone chooses divorce – and even believe it’s biblical – that doesn’t mean we have to be the one to suggest it. A pastor could point to Scripture that addresses divorce, and then leave the decision up to the parishioner. Sometimes it may be that the person desiring a divorce is 100% wrong. That would be obvious by looking to the Word of God. Other times, their rationale for divorce may line up with Scripture. But, again, does that mean the Pastor must recommend divorce?
Not recommending divorce is not suggesting someone stay and be abused or mistreated. I’m certainly not a pastor, but as a Christian I cannot in good conscience recommend divorce to anyone either. Yet, I understand when a loved one files for divorce after a spouse has had an affair. I absolutely understand asking a spouse to leave the home because of abuse or addiction. The safety of not only the non offending spouse but also any children in the home is too important to not be supportive. At the same time, to me, it’s never about me encouraging divorce. I can’t say “I think you should get a divorce,” but I can say “I am grieving over this with you, and praying for you and your spouse.” I can’t say “Divorce is the answer,” but I can say “I love you no matter what you decide.” I can’t say “You will be happier after the divorce,” but I can say “No matter what, God loves you. Seek Him and His righteousness. He is there for you. I’m here for you too.” And when someone sins by getting divorced against God’s word, I can say “God longs to forgive you. He is waiting with open arms for you, His beloved.”
Divorce is serious business. So is marriage and re-marriage. I can love and support people, but I can’t make the decision (or even recommend the decision) about any of those things. If I see red flags before a friend gets married, I can lovingly let her know. When a friend says she is considering divorce because she and her husband have “fallen out of love” or “are just too different,” I can empathize with my friend, respectfully reminding her that marriage is tough, but that it doesn’t mean the towel has to be thrown in. I can suggest pre-marital and marital counseling. And when a friend has been through a divorce or is going through a divorce, I can suggest counseling for that too. I understand that people long for affirmation from their loved ones and leaders. They want to know they are making the right decision; not making a mistake they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. But ultimately the decision to divorce is up to the person making the decision. Not the pastor or a friend or anyone else. Personally, I can’t have that decision on my shoulders. But I can certainly help bear the emotional burden they are going through and will go through for a long time to come.
As Believers, we make a commitment on our wedding day not only to our spouse, but to God. There is a line that the officiant states in many of these ceremonies: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” Man means mankind. Humans. Each other. Divorce breaks the heart of God. So does getting married to someone that He has not called you to marry. And most certainly abusing your spouse in any way, shape, or form breaks His heart as well. Marriage is intended to be a symbol of Jesus and the church. He would never misuse His bride. Neither should a human groom. When this happens, we should lovingly embrace and support the person being harmed. We should help them get to safety and to resources that can help them sort through the details of the separation as well as the emotional pain they are experiencing. And while we can love them through a divorce, we do not have to recommend the divorce. And we don’t have to believe that pastors should recommend divorce either.