A crisp clear blue sky, temperature in the 70’s, low humidity and a slight breeze all frame the day where two young people will exchange the vows that sever the bonds of one nuclear family and form the basis for a new one. A botanists dream kaleidoscope of flowers and greenery, rented tuxedos and custom made dresses in colors that render them useless the next day, an embarrassing group of incompatible friends and relatives, and a nervous father of the bride with a bank account sometimes tens of thousands of dollars lighter complete the backdrop. No one gives a thought to the disposable opulence, for after all, this is marriage, an event that happens once. It is a “till death do us part” spiritual and contractual arrangement.
There is only one small problem. Many of these will break this contract and jettison the vows with the wilted flowers and thrown rice sweepings. And for those whose wedding day setting included a preacher at their home church, the likelihood of the contract being broken is even higher. The family that prays together stays together…until they break up. Why does this problem exist in the church where presumably a vow before God holds more value?
Bible believing Christians must recognize that divorce is sin. God even says He hates divorce, though I’m not citing that with its usual pedestrianism. Jesus made allowances under duress. He clearly did not endorse modern no fault laws. But mention of divorce being sin is frowned upon and followed by qualifiers about forgiveness and circumstantial provocations. We just can’t bring ourselves to be judgmental about divorce. Contrast the churches treatment of homosexuality, which God declares an abomination, to that of divorce, which He hates. It is little wonder consistent Christian is considered an oxymoron by many. If you accept that divorce is sin, it is the only sin I can think of that the church will actually help you commit. Regardless of reason or fault, most churches embrace everyone experiencing the pain of divorce and deliver comfort and assistance. Some go so far as to organize meals, carpools, childcare, etc. How many churches have a program to assist adulterers and their struggles while they are committing adultery? Imagine asking, “Could someone drive me to the hotel where I will meet my mistress?” Absurd.
If you are not a church member, and you are involved in divorce, your support network is limited to friends and family, and is usually smaller and lacking structure. There isn’t a free group therapy session like the churches “Divorce Care Workshop” waiting for you to join. This partially accounts for the statistical difference in divorce rate in and out of the church. There are myriad other factors beyond blog scope. So what can we Christians who believe the marriage contract should not be unilaterally cancelable do?
Most divorces are filed as no fault due to irreconcilable differences. This represents the unilateral breaking of the most significant contract we will ever enter, often against the wishes of the other party for usually self-centered reasons. Statements like, “I just don’t feel loved”, “I need some space” “We’ve grown apart and no longer are in love” are the touchy feely norm. The law has turned the other way and greased the skids for the continuance of this tragedy. Imagine telling the lender that you and your car have grown apart and therefore you intend to stop making payments.
The myth of children’s resiliency has been shattered in the past decade as collateral damage manifests in the adult children from the initial 1970’s wave of no fault divorcees. But the church is not the law, and therefore must work on the margins to lower the divorce rate.
Returning the stigma to divorce is a good starting point. Being honest in the church about what is happening and why can begin the cultural transformation that must occur. The church expends countless resources on the symptoms of family break up, like alcoholism and depression, while looking the other way and accommodating what is the root cause of many of societies biggest problems. A reduction in church divorces would lead to a reduction in the need for church programs for other hurts. And while the church cannot change the law, the church can make it policy that marriages performed in the church by the pastor are taken more seriously.
Arkansas and a few other states have written Covenant Marriage into family law.
This covenant type of marriage is a prepackaged prenuptial agreement that spells out a very difficult path to achieve divorce, a long waiting period, and places immediate and long term consequences on both parties. Not all states have covenant marriage laws. In that case, prenuptial agreements can accomplish the same thing. Rather then being a vehicle for a wealthy spouse to protect assets from the other, the church can develop an acceptable template that, when incorporated in the premarital counseling, can have the effect of discouraging the filing of unwarranted divorces. No one wants victims to be trapped in abuse etc. But in the case of one spouse discarding another who wishes to preserve the family, the church must recognize victims there too in the persons of the unwilling spouse and the children. A sound Biblically developed prenuptial agreement will preserve families in the church. The decision to file a divorce should be more than well considered. It should be prayed about, counseled, and prayed about some more. When it is finally taken, the decision should demonstrate that the person wishing to divorce sees immediate negative consequences worth enduring to end up divorced.
Where once prenuptial agreements seemed like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the church could make lemonade from the lemons available and start to turn the tables on the deterioration of the American family.