Emotional Abuse, Faith, Guilt, Pain and suffering, Surviving Adultery and Divorce, Uncategorized

How the Church Contributes to the Pain of Divorce

I will never forget the Sunday it first happened.

I was in the midst of a painful divorce. My soon-to-be ex-husband had been the pastor of our church and had an affair with a woman in the church. After over a year of trying to save our marriage, I finally felt God’s peace in walking away.

I slipped into the church service and found an older widow to sit next to. She had been a strong supporter through it all. As the preacher began, he made a comment about how we wouldn’t go to someone who filed bankruptcy for financial advice and we certainly wouldn’t seek relationship advice from a divorced person.

The tears welled up as the dagger was stuck into my heart and twisted so deeply. The stereotypical comment was more than my bleeding heart could handle. In that moment, I contemplated never stepping foot in a church again.

But God…

I knew the comment wasn’t my Father’s heart. I knew He had set me free from the pain and dysfunction of my marriage. I knew He loved me and didn’t want me to wear the label of divorced. He wanted me to wear the label of masterpiece, chosen, child of God.

Until that day, I had never thought about how a careless comment could cause such excruciating pain and turn someone away from the church and God—the one place where true healing is available. I vowed that day to never be silent about the pain of divorce and the healing of my God.

Truth is, there are many, many divorced people who are not bad at relationships; they simply found themselves in a relationship with another individual who had a hardened heart. There are many people who filed bankruptcy that learned lessons the hard way (think Dave Ramsey) and used those lessons to help millions of people. There are former addicts who have experienced the life-changing power of God and now are better prepared to help other addicts. Just because we have suffered a devastating blow such as bankruptcy or divorce does not mean God cannot use us to help others. It does not mean we are a failure or bad at life. In fact, it’s often those who have suffered the most that God uses in the most amazing ways.

Our pain is never wasted if we let God use it for our good and His glory.

Sadly, the traditional teachings of the church have left many divorced people wounded and bleeding. Many traditional teachings have failed to take the cultural context of scripture into account when giving interpretations on divorce and remarriage. A deeper look at the context shows many of the teachings were meant to protect women and elevate them to a place of equality.

And yet, the church continues to heap shame and guilt upon so many victims of divorce.

Where, you might ask. How is the church issuing condemnation instead of hope? What is the church doing that causes untold pain?

Here’s a few areas to consider:

Divorce disqualifies you from ministry (or any type of leadership role) within the church. As a former pastor’s wife with a very clear calling on my life from God, this one was so painful. And scary. What does a divorced woman do to fulfill a calling she has known and pursued since she was 8 years old? Why should my husband’s adultery disqualify me from serving God?

These were questions I wrestled with for a number of years. Ultimately, God assured me He still had plans for me…plans that have far exceeded anything I could ever imagine.

I fully understand—and agree with—exercising caution before putting a divorced individual into a leadership role. How long has it been? Has the individual fully healed? What were the circumstances of the divorce? Was the individual a Christian at the time? Is the person now married? How long? What is the state of his/her current marriage? If children were involved, how is his/her relationship with the kids? Is he/she fulfilling all financial responsibilities to the children?

If we are honest, these are the types of questions that should be asked of every candidate for a leadership position. You see, divorce is no worse than premarital sex or a penchant for alcohol. In all reality, it might be that the divorced individual did not sin in getting a divorce. It could be they were the victim of a spouse with a hardened heart who simply walked away or was abusive.

Christ’s forgiveness is greater than every divorce and every sin. The key is full surrender to the Father.

Insisting divorce is always the result of two hardened hearts. Um… really sorry to burst your bubble, but there are many men with loving, faithful wives sitting at home while they are out running around on their wives. There are many kind, compassionate men who are trapped in marriages with hateful wives.

Proverbs 25:24 says, “It is better to live on a corner of the housetop than in a house in company with a quarrelsome wife.”

Sadly, one hardened heart intent on going against God’s will and breaking the vow is all it takes to destroy a relationship. One person determined to do his or her own thing can easily ruin a marriage of ten, fifteen, even fifty years. We are never too old to allow our hearts to become so calloused that we walk away from the gift God has given us.

One sweet friend said her pastor’s wife was a licensed counselor and made it very clear that it was impossible for divorce to be only one person’s fault. Anyone who espouses this teaching has never been in an abusive relationship. Never, ever, under any circumstances insist that divorce is always the result of the actions of both spouses. It is highly likely there was only one hardened heart that caused the demise of the marriage.

Proclaiming that divorce is never an option. I understand the sanctity of marriage and the importance of preaching perseverance. However, when there are individuals sitting in the congregation trapped in abusive relationships, this type of blanket statement contributes to keeping them trapped. You see, most of us who are divorced Christians did not take the decision lightly. It was a decision made in counsel with many others and with many, many hours of prayer. Ultimately, it was a decision made for our safety and our sanity—and for that of our children.

I believe it is essential that pastors study abuse (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual) and gain a greater understanding of what individuals in the congregation are dealing with. You must understand the brain-washing that is taking place in marriages today—often in the name of Christianity. I know how many times I was called out for failure to be submissive—which in my case meant catering to his every whim. This is not what God intended for our marriages!!

Before you preach on the sanctity of marriage, make sure you create a caveat for those who are trapped in marriages where they are suffering. Make sure you point out that the husband must love the wife as Christ loved the church before the wife has to submit. Make sure you let them know that if your spouse if insisting on you submitting to sinful practices, the spouse is absolutely wrong.

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, has finally become a voice of reason in this argument. I am so glad to have a proponent of marriage proclaiming that God would never put an institution above the individual.

Maybe you should actually consider preaching a sermon on what verbal, mental, and emotional abuse actually looks like. Maybe you should grab some divorced people from your congregation and ask them to tell their stories. Maybe you should let those same individuals lead the discussion on abuse.

Teaching that remarriage is to live in adultery and be condemned to hell. I did not realize how prevalent this teaching was until I started writing. I was told over and over that if I remarried, I would be living in an adulterous relationship, forever condemned to hell. My only option as a divorced person was to pine away, praying for reconciliation, or to wait until my ex-husband died.

I used the example of David and Bathsheba, an adulterous couple who obviously had a marriage that was blessed by God despite its beginnings. God could have chosen any of David’s sons to take the throne, but he chose Solomon, the product of this marriage that began in adultery. I actually had pepole tell me the only reason God blessed the marriage between David and Bathsheba was because Bathsheba’s first husband was dead.

Ummm… I may not have a Bible degree, but I believe Uriah was dead because David killed him. I guess it’s ok for all of us divorced people to murder our former spouses so we can have a second marriage blessed by God.

I am being facetious, but really? How can remarriage be the unforgivable sin? Doesn’t God throw all of our sins (including divorce) as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more? Didn’t Moses allow divorce so women could remarry (Deuteronomy 24)?

In 1 Corinthians, Paul even says it is not a sin to remarry: If you are married, don’t get a divorce. If you are divorced, don’t try to find a spouse. But if you do marry, you haven’t sinned. (CEB)

Don’t take the word of just one spouse. Don’t even get me started on the number of pastors and churches that are completely fooled by abusive spouses who manage to sink their teeth in and turn everything around on the abused spouse. I know the stories I heard about myself, how I just woke up one morning and didn’t love him any more. I have been blessed to have God bring truth to light so many times, and I know He still works on my behalf.

I believe it is time for churches to change the way they handle divorce and divorced people. It is time to start ministering to them, as if they lost their spouse to death (there are many similarities). Perhaps it is time to preach a sermon on the pain of divorce and how we as Christians should minister to those who are hurting. It is time we look more deeply into scripture and see why God hates divorce (because of the pain it causes His children). It is time churches truly evaluate the traditional teachings on divorce and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any areas where we have been judgmental instead of showing the love and grace of Jesus.

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18 thoughts on “How the Church Contributes to the Pain of Divorce”

  1. I like that you’re bringing this to the forefront, there is a lot about religous relationships that many do not understand and it really blocks a person’s sense of god during those times. That connection to god is needed more during those times and no one should be left feeling shamed into feeling ‘less’ of god in thier lives. for any reason

    1. Insisting divorce is always the result of two hardened hearts…. so, what was God’s fault in HIS marriage to Israel,… are believers going to say HIS heart was heardened when HE issued a bill of divorcement? And we can’t say that one must stay in a marriage if a HOLY and Perfect God set the example for marriage and divorce—when a divorce should take place—-adultery, abandonment, abuse. Church abuse needs to end.

      1. I’ve never thought about it like that, but gosh, you’re right- god did not abadon israel. Y should any of us abandon each other? abandonment is neglect. Church abuses are deep these days- but I’m grateful that they’re coming out and being resolved, and people are finally getting help and recovery through the church instead of feeling rejected, unsafe, and abused.

  2. Well stated Dena! Several books have and are recently being published on topics the Church needs to speak up about such as sexuality and sexual abuse. I think you have here the start of a book addressed to the church on divorce.

    1. I’m in an emotional abusive marriage. My husband puts on a great show when he goes to the church to be a Decon. I’m not as good of an actor so they don’t like me as much as they love him. We have a 7 year old daughter and I’m SO scared to go through with this divorce especially because I have been brainwashed by my emotionally abusing husband for 33 years. I’m addicted to him. The church had an intervention meeting when he told them I had filed for a divorce. They had my daughter already hooked up with a sitter in the next room and three other couples started their guilt trip on me. God HATES divorce. The Sunday school teacher threw his Bible in my lap and demanded I tell him to look up the scripture that says it’s ok to get a divorce because of abuse. I’m just sitting there with disbelief!
      The other wife tells me my body language was very rude and disrespectful… the other wife starts crying .
      I ask her why & she says because I’m being rude to her husband that’s telling me that I’m listening to Satan and that I’m calling God a liar because I believe God said it’s ok for me to get a divorce.
      I finally walked out of the meeting & told them all I don’t need to take this…and got my daughter out of the next room & we went home. I told them never to contact me again .
      I quit going to that church. My soon to be ex husband still goes there . He is best friends in a daily basis with all of these people. He also was at this meeting. He never said a word while they were attacking me with their theology & criticizing words. I have never been treated this way in my life. This is a small town & my husband loves it here. I do not. I am still getting texts from these people telling me marriage advice. I blocked them off my phone. I’m also receiving mail with marriage advice books. How to love him through it -Very judge-mental!!!
      I am in the process of finding a different attorney because the one I hired says I have to start all over again after paying him $2,225.00 for 8 hours -I went to him the day after the church intervention meeting & cancelled the divorce because of the SHAME & REGRET it made me feel. I went back because this all has done nothing but made my husband WORSE. It gave him a green light to emotional abuse behind closed doors. These people have No idea….

      1. I’m so sorry. These are the stories that break my heart. No one knows what happens behind closed doors. No one has a right to judge. There may be no single scripture that says divorce is ok in the case of abuse, but every scripture that discusses divorce IS about protecting women from mistreatment. Scripture as a whole is about protecting the oppressed. Hang in there and know it’s not God speaking. There are churches that will love and support you. There’s an army of us who have walked this path and have beautiful lives. Don’t give up!!

  3. Reblogged this on Notes and commented:
    Divorces and breakups are one of my most favorite topics and subjects. However, I don’t look at them through any religious point of view. Dena Johnson said some interesting things provided you can “minus” all of her references to God, Bible, Christianity, Church etc. I don’t agree to most what she wrote but still, there are some good talking points that she raised which I will handle here.

    I am, btw, anti-divorce, anti-breakup unlike her.

  4. Right On Dena. Thank You. I went thru a similar experience and couldn’t agree more. God doesn’t want His children to be a doormat for abuse. You did the right thing and protected your children too. No one in a marriage should be subjected to abuse, lying and adultery as you were. And you did everything possible to try and preserve your marriage before the divorce and did not simply use it as an excuse to leave him. It’s unfortunate that your ex-husband was hardened in his heart and did not repent and humble himself which would have changed everything. God is using your experience in a great way and I pray the church and others will wake up to the pain that they contribute.

  5. My husband of 47 yrs passed away around the same time my daughter was going through a divorce. I can definitely say everything about divorce is much worse than death.

  6. Hello. I am sorry for the pain and heartache that you have gone through. I pray that God would heal your heart mind and emotions as you move forward. God knows the circumstance. People don’t. God will lead you and show you the truth. Just read his word and fight the good fight. No one else is going to be responsible for your decisions so make those decisions based on what you know God is teaching you in his word. If you read God’s word the Holy Spirit will teach you what’s true and give you discernment when people tell you things based on scripture. Cultivating that relationship will help you. The enemy is a liar and the father of lies. He will try to hit you where it hurts most. I am married to a good man. That man was married twice before me. He had his faults and but remained faithful. His passed two wives did not however and decided they did not want to be married anymore.
    What I’ve come to understand is that every situation is not black and white. He had biblical grounds for divorce and tried to fight for both marriages. Now, me being a virgin which I don’t boast in, never being married Christian girl, I believe God lead me to this man specifically. I had my reservations and it scared me that He was married twice before. However when the time was right we dated, asking the hard questions because we BOTH had baggage, and we got to know each other. God lead me each day and I have never doubted Gods sovereignty in our marriage. I hope this encourages you.

  7. Thanks ma’am, this write up is simply made for me and it has encouraged me.
    Currently I am in an emotional abusive marriage.
    My marriage is close to 8 years with 3 beautiful kids and that’s my only achievement in the marriage.
    This marriage has cost me a lot and at a time I drifted away,but thank God for his Grace.
    He is unrepentantly still cheating and looking holy, everyone including my local pastor and his family didn’t see anything wrong they keep blaming me,that I don’t treat him right etc, I got angry because I have done so many things to make this work,
    I went to a lawyer to file a divorce but got discouraged BC of my kids,but still no change and I don’t want to drift away again I want to serve God with everything in me.
    This time around am not looking back,am not gonna look at my financial status BC am just a Teacher,but I have been asking God to see me through.
    Thank you once more I wish the church will look at this again.

    1. Trust God to bring truth to light. That will be my prayer for you. Walking away isn’t easy, but it is oh so wonderful to see God’s faithfulness! Please let me know how you are doing.

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