October 18, 2017

Al Mohler Is Right. Now What?

By Chaplain Mike

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, icon of the conservative and Calvinistic resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, and public voice of the Christian right in America’s culture war, is not someone with whom I normally identify.

However, this time I think he got it exactly right.

In Mohler’s article, “Divorce—The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,” he lays bare one of the most obvious and egregious examples of Christian hypocrisy in the last forty to fifty years. Commenting on studies by political science professor Mark A. Smith, Mohler concludes:

Evangelical Christians are gravely concerned about the family, and this is good and necessary. But our credibility on the issue of marriage is significantly discounted by our acceptance of divorce. To our shame, the culture war is not the only place that an honest confrontation with the divorce culture is missing.

Divorce is now the scandal of the evangelical conscience. (emphasis mine)

The sad part of Mohler’s analysis is the word, “now.” Divorce has been a scandal that should have been troubling the evangelical conscience for half a century. The fact that it hasn’t reveals a great deal about why the culture war approach is deficient, ineffective, and not the approach Jesus would condone.

Instead of confronting what may be the most central issue with regard to the family—divorce—the evangelical church has instead focused its energies on matters like abortion and homosexuality. Why? In my opinion, it is because these kinds of issues allow us to remain detached from actual people and use our energies to demonize faceless opponents along with the “secular humanism” and sinful practices they represent.

Many conservative Christians have little close, personal interaction with women who are considering or pressured to have abortions or people who vigorously support a right to choose them, or members of the “liberal media elite” that we think promote their position. Few of us are closely connected with gay individuals or couples. They are not part of our churches. They have no place in our personal networks of friendship. It is easy for us to rail on them when we spout our opinions to one another. It is a simple matter to support organizations that take public stands against “them.”

But people who have struggled in marriage and who have experienced the pain of divorce are not “them.” They are “us.” They are you and me. They are our friends. Our fellow parishioners. Our neighbors. It’s relatively easy to get out the vote and organize a picket line to fight alternate worldviews, anonymous “enemies,” and cultural forces.  It is not so simple to deal with sin in my own home or to confront signs of impending failure in the family life of my brother or sister.

So we didn’t. We don’t.

I am not saying we would be “successful”—if success means “turning the tide” and changing the course of our culture. However, the plain fact remains that we did not even put divorce on the list of issues of concern with regard to the family! As Mohler comments,

…you would expect to find evangelical Christians demanding the inclusion of divorce on a list of central concerns and aims. But this seldom happened. Evangelical Christians rightly demanded laws that would defend the sanctity of human life. Not so for marriage. Smith explains that the inclusion of divorce on the agenda of the Christian right would have risked a massive alienation of members. In summary, evangelicals allowed culture to trump Scripture.

Here is a striking example of evangelicalism’s shallow impact. Cut off from history and tradition which could have provided wisdom and guidance, lacking in theological depth, deficient in practices of spiritual, character, and relationship formation, having a thoroughly inadequate ecclesiology—one incapable of providing genuine community, accountability, order and discipline—the church easily capitulated to forces that hit the family where it hurt the most, and now we rarely even talk about it.

We “focused on the family,” but missed the central focus!

Now what?

The rocket has left the launch pad, and there is no going back. Our congregations are now filled with people who have suffered the heartbreak of divorce, children who have grown up in broken homes, folks who have taken “lifetime” vows multiple times, and young adults so skittish about marriage that they prefer to cohabit rather than risk the inevitable failure of marital promises.

Many have come to Christ out of this brokenness that has overwhelmed our culture, and for this we praise God and his triumphant grace. But what shall we say about the fact that a great deal of this has happened and continues to occur within the church herself?

Grace, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and restoration—this is obviously the work of the church in such circumstances. Like Jesus, we offer radical hospitality to sinners, welcoming them to the table, telling them good news of a kingdom where all is made new.

But…

  • Will they see this kingdom in us, the ones telling them about it?
  • Will they find a church ready to offer spiritual direction, providing clear pathways of grace and transformation in which they can walk?
  • Will they find a church of Word, Sacrament, and Discipline—a truly reformed and reforming church that has learned from its failure to look in the mirror and into its neighbors’ eyes in order to speak the truth in love?
  • Will they find a community of people who are unwilling to take the easy way out by demonizing the enemy and separating ourselves from true involvement with people in the messy situations of real life?

If marriage is going to be what it should be, then the Church must be what she should be. She will do this, not by offering a continual series of marriage seminars, or “focusing on the family” using the inadequate strategies of the culture war, but by welcoming people into a life in Christ and the Kingdom in which all relationships are sanctified and transformed by his grace, truth, and love.

Comments

  1. Rob Burke says:

    The hypocrisy is believing that our natural beings will get better and believing that we do not sin.
    We are sinners (in word, thought, and deed) who sin until death. The church (the people) is confusing who is good. Christ is good, I am not. That is the reality. I am sanctified by the growing trust that Christ is my only hope and I am not.

    Sanctification by following these 4,5, or 6 steps, “knowing Gods will” (outside of His will that we should trust in Christ), being “obedient”. Its a game that we love to play to be self-righteous, “see God I know I deserved you, I know I made the right decision for you”. I (we) have nothing to do with it, it is His pure mercy and grace for me. How can we not then just love our fellow sinner (Church member or not)?

    I’m a little worked up as I just listened to Rick Warren’s Desiring God lecture on making disciples. It is the biggest confusion of law/gospel I’ve yet heard. Lots about the Christian and what we must do and nothing about Christ and what he has done for us.

    The cross is not a stepping stool, it is the means and the end, not a means to the end. When we treat the cross as something to “get us in the door” rather then the entire life of the Christian we are doomed from the start. Making sanctification and not sinning the focus is why I burned out on evangelicalism twice.

    • Shouldn’t we all strive for sanctification? And we sanctify ourselves through Christ. This is not to say we should strive for perfection, because that is impossible, but, that we do our best. Sin is inevitable, but the key is to not let it bog us down in pride and pity. Repent, trust in God’s mercy and move on.

      Begin and begin again.

    • “The cross is not a stepping stool, it is the means and the end, not a means to the end.”

      This may be one of the best statements I have heard/read in a long time. Excellent. I need to ponder this. Thanks.

      • I agree. It’s John14:6 all over again. Not, “Is that the way, or the truth or the life?” or “Is this the means to the way, truth and life?” but Jesus is the way, truth and the life. Means and end.

      • CHRIST The Sum of All Spiritual Things, a short (96 pp.) book by Watchman Nee.

    • Believers are not sinners. Sorry Luther. If believers are sinners, then what you do determines who you are, and therefore none of us will ever love God or be his children. I am whoever God says I am, not the sum of my works. That’s the good news. New creation. The old has gone, the new has come. You cannot have two natures.

      Not to say I claim to be without sin. I sin all the time! But that’s not where my identity is. I suffer from indwelling sin, not a sin nature. I am a sinning saint, not a sinner saint.

      Is it any surprise we keep telling believers that they’re dirty rotten no good for nuttin sinners and then they go out and act like it?

      • Rob Burke says:

        Luther has much more to say on the issue than you have summarized.

      • Rob Burke says:

        Miguel-
        Your comment does reflect current teaching in many churches today. I have definitely heard that teaching before. Did not Paul talk about the 2 natures?

        “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:18-20, NIV)

        • Well, you certainly are quoting Paul’s words. What I hear him describing in that passage is behavior. Even then, he says “if I do what I do not want to, it is no longer I…” i.e. though he commits the act, it is not his identity. He says nothing in that passage about nature.
          Didn’t Paul also write “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold, the old has gone and all things have become new.” or something similar to that. Paul certainly acknowledges struggling with sin. But I dont’ know that he EVER talks about having two natures.
          Be aware that some places that the NIV translates as “sinful nature” are greek words that are almost always translated as “the flesh” in other passages. If you do not think there is a difference between “sinful nature” and the flesh, then it would make sense why you think you’re still a sinner. If what you do determines who you are, then there is no good news for anybody. Anywhere, anytime. Christ’s perfect behavior is imputed to us, and His very Spirit fills us, and regenerates our hearts which were DEAD. But now we are DEAD to SIN, and alive to Christ Jesus.

          • Rob Burke says:

            “If what you do determines who you are, then there is no good news for anybody.” Correct. Then Christ and his body and blood for me (the gospel). That is the good news.

            I believe the distinction that separates us the the idea of 2 natures versus 1. Does the holy spirit change our heart or point us to Christ and his righteousness away from our sinfulness? Maybe I’m splitting hairs. But if my “natural heart” still easily commits sins, especially in thought, even with Christ imputed to me does that make his actions in my heart incomplete?

            Good stuff my friend.

          • Ok, now this is getting a little above my pay grade. 😛
            I wrestle with that. But I think the common ground we are both seeking is the monergistic notion that our salvation is “not by works lest any man should boast”.
            I don’t think you’re splitting hairs at all. But I’m also not sure it has to be an either/or. It could be two ways of describing the same thing.

            I know it feels natural for me to sin. I desire things at times that I objectively know are not holy. But for me the resolution is in not taking ownership of those impure desires. As soon as they are mine, then I’m already in trouble and bound to fail. But as I turn to Christ, and trust His promise, I experience His strength in my weakness. And the strength he provides, for those of us who are in Christ, is who we really are. We have become partakers in His divine nature. Our Promise is that Christ gives us Himself, and in so doing unites us to him.

            It doesn’t seem to make sense that if we’ve been made righteous, then why do we sin? The answer is that sin is still “living in me” as Paul says. But it is distinct, separate from me, and not my identity. My identity is being in Christ. Christ is all in all.

          • Rob Burke says:

            Well said

      • Note the present tense.

        1 Timothy 1:15
        The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

    • “The cross is not a stepping stool, it is the means and the end, not a means to the end. When we treat the cross as something to “get us in the door” rather then the entire life of the Christian we are doomed from the start. Making sanctification and not sinning the focus is why I burned out on evangelicalism twice.”

      Loved this quote. The thought that occured to me after reading this post is that maybe more gay individuals and couples and those choosing abortion would become a part of the church if the church wasn’t “railing” against them. The perception of Christianity in our culture is overwhelmingly that Christianity is all about doing the right things to be accepted. Grace, redemption, healing and restoration are washed away in a flood of enthusiasm to promote changed lives. I don’t think real change, in and out of the church, happens until this changes first.

  2. Looking at what I see on the other side of the coin: perhaps divorce is a symptom of the vastly unrealistic visions, teachings, and expectations we have put on marriage. Maybe marriage isn’t what it should be.

    • Bingo. We accept the culture’s definition of what makes a good marriage without considering what Christian marriage should look like, at least until the premarital counseling — by then it’s almost too late. Better to start with preteens; once the hormones kick in, it’s almost hopeless. 🙂

      • DebD, I’m wondering if we should re-think the Church’s definition of what makes a good marriage.

        • Buford Hollis says:

          Countries that have banned divorce usually have a correspondingly high rate of loveless marriages. Religion is not going to solve this problem.

          And…is Mohler thinking there should be *laws* restricting divorce? (A few years back some evangelicals were touting “covenant marriage” which would be tougher to legally dissolve.) If so, this strikes me as a profoundly bad idea.

          • I got the same impression (re: divorce law). In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes an argument against trying to force Christian views of divorce on society at large via legal measures. Lewis’ logic seems pretty reasonable to me.

          • OK but isn’t that part of the problem: How do we define and then live out love in marriage?

            Is it a feeling of good-will towards our spouse coupled with sexual desire?

            Or is it something much more (and also much more work): a genuine desire for the good of our spouse, a sincere attempt to understand them and their needs and history and an attempt to serve them by making the way as smooth for them as we can.

            These two definitions will take us very different places.

  3. david carlson says:

    Chaplain Mike, I really like how you structure your consectutive posts

    A jab with What he said to them, and how she answered, then the Haymaker of Al Mohlers Right, Now What?

    Not the first time you have done that either you sneaky rascal

  4. Rob, though you do make valid points, I just want you to know that sanctification is not only a non-optional experience for those who are justified but also a necessary means to eternal life.

    • Rob Burke says:

      Mark, Absolutely agreed but we have confused sanctification with the means.

      Sanctification as I have been taught and understand is my growing realization of Christs righteousness, not mine and this is most evident when we recognize our sinfulness (not just acts of sin) and Christ’s righteousness. From this growing realization come the fruits from sanctification, however the fruits are not the sanctification. That is a confusion. We chase after the fruits and sanctification as if we can develop them. We cannot. They are a unilateral gift like justification and realized when we don’t confuse Christs righteousness with ours.

      I would rephrase your last comment a little differently. Sanctification is a mark of those given new life by the gospel rather than those who sanctify themselves will receive eternal life. It all boils down to who you believe is doing the sanctifying, you, you+Christ, or just Christ. I vote just Christ, for both justification and sanctification. Bondage of the Will or Luther vs. Erasmus debate (1525) highlight the scriptures in this regard well.

      • “Sanctification is a mark of those given new life by the gospel rather than those who sanctify themselves will receive eternal life.”

        Okay, that is the better way to put it. Just wanted to emphasize that sanctification is the necessary experiential mark of all those who have been forgiven, justified, and given new life.

  5. My limited experience with this is that the culture of the Church is such that people feel like they have to “fake it to make it”. So, couples who are struggling put on their happy Sunday morning faces and very few people if any ever know they are struggling. Then one day when they can’t keep up the act anymore, it all falls apart and they dissapear from the Church.

  6. I read with interest Mohler’s essay on this point. I have to echo the thought raised by Justin. Mohler himself has gone on record regarding marriage – and the push for our younger people to seek marriage – that was a little dust up a few years back. Being involved in a divorce recovery ministry for the past decade I can’t tell you how wrong thinking we Christians are regarding marriage – that was a major focus of my blogging for a while. You are so right on – it isn’t a topic that is discussed out loud in the church – other than to urge it as a great institution all the while ignoring the implicit message that we are not wholly adults until we find that state of wedded bliss. I loved this line from a recent Hauerwas essay, “How could you ever know what you were doing when you promised life-long monogamous fidelity? That is why the church insists that your vows be witnessed by the church, because the church believes it has the duty to hold you responsible to promises you made when you did not know what you were doing.” And then drops the ball.

  7. ahumanoid says:

    Great post on an important topic. The hypocrisy of Evangelicals on this issue is absolutely amazing.

    One guy at a church I attended previously would constantly make deragatory remarks about “queers,” yet he was on his third marriage (due to divorces). One time the pastor of that church stated that he believed that divorced individuals should not hold the positon of lead pastor/elder. The guy responded by saying that divorce isn’t an issue anymore, because everybody is divorced. That guy is the epitome of the typical Evangelical approach to divorce.

  8. DreamingWings says:

    Part of the reason that conservative ministers likely don’t talk much about divorce is that a lot of them should really keep their mouths shut on the topic. And have had to be forcebly informed of this fact. A couple of examples.

    1) When I was younger a close friend’s parents got divorced. Their minister threatened the father that hed’ get up in front of the congregation and go after him as an evil person, oh I’m sorry, ‘exercise church discipline’. And do this in front of the man’s children who would likely also be at church when this pulpit ambush was pulled.

    2) My step-mother was previously married to a violently abusive man. She went for a divorce. Her pastor tried repeatedly to browbeat her into staying married. Really nasty religous guilt-trip stuff from what I understand. He finally had to be called out on his nonsense by other respected church members.

    Not every minister is evil and abusive. I know that. But plenty are from what I’ve seen and heard. And I know in from my experiences, I would rarely ever trust a pastor or priest to advise me on marriage.

    • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

      I work with victims of domestic violence and we see that A LOT – churches badgering/bullying victims of abuse into staying with the abuser. But, then, they do nothing to yank a knot in the tail of the abuser.

  9. Quote:If marriage is going to be what it should be, then the Church must be what she should be. She will do this, not by offering a continual series of marriage seminars, or “focusing on the family” using the inadequate strategies of the culture war, but by welcoming people into a life in Christ and the Kingdom in which all relationships are sanctified and transformed by his grace, truth, and love.

    I agree less marrige seminars and etc. How about this defination of Christians getting divorced.
    They are both practicing unforgivness. This is the root of the problem, unless they married in lust.

  10. I read Mr. Mohler’s article a few days ago. It struck me as very true.

    I have a bit of insight into the question that has been asked…

    “Will they find a church ready to offer spiritual direction, providing clear pathways of grace and transformation in which they can walk?”

    Sadly, in most cases the answer to Chaplain Mike’s question is, in my opinion, no.

    As a client advocate at a local, free, Pregnancy Resource and Parenting Center (formerly called a crisis pregnancy center), I speak to men (and women) about this subject (divorce) almost daily.

    The center is able to provide a variety of free services because of the support of local believers. We have no restraints (yet) when it comes to sharing God’s Word because we will never take money from the government.

    Just today I spent 2 hours with one of the godliest men you’d ever want to meet whose wife left him, putting a 4 year old in the middle.

    Why is it that the majority of folks who tell me their problems haven’t shared them with a pastor, priest, reverend, or whatever their church leader is called?

    I can think of many reasons, but the most obvious seems to be that church leaders aren’t connecting with the people.

    The other side of the story is the unwillingness of many to truly seek spiritual direction.

    Forgetting the large group that desires no spiritual help; most churches seem ill-equipped to deal with issues like divorce.

    It takes time to deal with such things. Sometimes a long time. Unfortunately, the investment in time and effort needed to help in many of these cases is something a great many churches aren’t willing to give.

  11. Chaplain Mike, I’m convinced that you’re writing yourself out of your day job. But never mind that:

    The number of divorced/remarried in our churches isn’t nearly the problem as our hypocritical condemnation of the other sins that we’ve identified as enemies to the faith/our American way of life. You said,

    “The fact that [divorce hasn’t been troubling the evangelical concience] reveals a great deal about why the culture war approach is deficient, ineffective, and not the approach Jesus would condone.”

    Exactly. And you’re also right about the nameless, faceless sins that we do condemn, such as abortion and homosexuality, “because these kinds of issues allow us to remain detached from actual people and use our energies to demonize faceless opponents along with the “secular humanism” and sinful practices they represent.”

    The problem is, we know too many divorced people—they are us, or our family members and friends—in fact, many of our churches couldn’t field a diaconate without soliciting divorced church members for the board. So why do we go after abortion and homosexuality so vehemently, even against those not in our churches or in any church?

    I think you’re right that it’s because we are able to detach ourselves more from these sins. De-humanizing, detaching, and demonizing always make the job of condemnation much easier. But it requires that the sinners be nameless and faceless, not our family members or the people next door.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      We reserve our greatest Moral Indignation and Righteous Wrath for those sins (like Homosexuality) we are least likely to commit.

      While keeping our own options and escape routes (divorce) open. Never know when we might need them…

      • Greg Boyd makes this exact argument in his book, Repenting From Religion. Homosexuality is an easy target for many Evangelicals because they have never struggled with it, and they honestly can’t imagine struggling with it. On the other hand, I think that some of the bashing is a form of people who do struggle with it projecting their own self-hatred on other people.

      • “While keeping our own options and escape routes (divorce) open.”
        Good point.

  12. Buford Hollis says:

    There’s a new book out “Sex at Dawn” which argues that marriage is actually relatively recent human behavior (contemporary with towns and mass agriculture). As evidence he points to the different sexual responses of men and women, which to him suggest that for most of our evolutonary history we lived in tribal groups, and had multiple sex partners. Paternity would not have mattered the way it does now (and still does not to members of matrilineal societies such as the Mosuo of Yunnan).

    If he’s right, then monogamy is not really natural to us, and we ought to be more tolerant (of our partners as well as outsiders) who are unable to make it work.

    Can Christianity contemplate the possibility of courtship / childrearing behavior changing in radical ways, or is it only true for societies who order their social relations in certain ways? (Imagine evangelical nomads trying to persuade sedentary people that they have to live in tents in order to be saved.) If Christianity can/should adapt, then why not accept members of our own society who follow different lifestyles? Because that’s what we’re looking at–radical changes in social behavior, whether religious people like it or not.

    • I agree that monogamy is highly unnatural behavior, as are celibacy, temperance and forgiveness. There’s nothing natural about the Christian life.

    • “If Christianity can/should adapt, then why not accept members of our own society who follow different lifestyles? Because that’s what we’re looking at–radical changes in social behavior, whether religious people like it or not.”

      If by “accept”, you mean interact, love, care for, be friends with, then absolutely. But Christians are called to live (humbly) to a high standard. None of us achieve it, but we’re called to it–with God’s help–nonetheless.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean that the law necessarily needs to reflect the standard. That is a different issue. But the high divorce rate (and especially the widespread easy acceptance of it) among Christians is itself a scandal, I think.

  13. ahumanoid says:

    There’s one question about divorce/remarriage for which I haven’t received a clear answer. There has been much controversy in conservative, Evangelical circles during the last few years regarding whether gay individuals in relationships could be Christians. What I wonder is what about remarried individuals who divorced for reasons other than sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9)? Is that marriage acceptable to God? And why hasn’t there been any controversy concerning the authenticity of the faith of remarried individuals?

    • “What I wonder is what about remarried individuals who divorced for reasons other than sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9)? Is that marriage acceptable to God? ”

      I struggle w/ this question as well. My only answer is we all sin. But the hippocracy of the Church on these sexual sins – is the kind of hippocracy Jesus condemned the hardest.
      let us take the blanks from our own eyes.
      peace

  14. Scott Miller says:

    Unfortunately Mohler will declare war on divorce and ostracize (sp?) people who get divorced.

    Didn’t Michael Spencer have a posting about what to do about cohabiting couples and their kids coming to church?

    • Derek Smith says:

      Yes he did. Somewhere.

      But when someone raised the rather important issue of ‘does this person even have the right to re-marry?’ and quoted a relevant scripture, I believe Michael shut that line of debate with a single comment along the line of ‘we are not going there’.

      People, we need to go there.

  15. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I think Mohler’s observation regarding our cultural and religious hypocrisy. That said, I really don’t want to see divorce become a culture ware issue. The way we deal with the things that are on the radar suggests that we need to rethink a lot of things, not just divorce.

    I certainly think we need to address the issue of divorce and the prevalence of divorcees within the Church, but I think it ought to be done in a similar spirit to how Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery. Too often so-called church discipline is an excuse to be self-righteous or at least other-condemning. Rather our goal in dealing with any of this ought to be redemption, healing, etc.

    And we do need to really deal with issues of marriage, vocation, etc. We’ve got some issues with balance in Evangelicalism.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      That first sentence should have been “I think Mohler’s observation regarding our cultural and religious hypocrisy are spot on.”

  16. C’mon Mike,

    Whats not to like about Big Al?

  17. we need to realize that Divorce is not just about Culture & lazy selfish people. divorce is a break down in our community as a church. When divorce becomes as open & common as it has – it shows that we as a church community have failed. It is not just the couple’s fault & its not just outside forces faults It’s ours! –we have to own it!

    Question:
    are Pastors still having pre-martital counseling – they need to & better add post-wedding counseling as well. – but it not just pastors – experienced spouses need to be there for new couples & old couples as well.

    How do we deal with re-marriage???? I’ve struggled w/ this one for awhile. still not sure the answer it but when in doubt, I usually lean towards forgive & never be the Judge.

    also keep the blue laws away from divorce – it sounds like Al Mohler is looking to have a social conservative political fight about divorce laws – Just what we need 🙁
    peace

  18. Good article and quite true. Haven’t read all the comments so sorry if this repeats. Only one thing I’d nitpick a bit. I think abortion and homosexuality were and are among evangelicals also, although probably to a lesser extent than divorce. The difference is that abortion and homosexuality can and do mostly remain hidden, tucked away, out of view within evangelicalism. That’s much harder to do with divorce. Possibly one of the reasons abortion and homosexuality remain hidden is because the focus on them has been an approach that does not much foster repentance and so does not often lead to healing and restoration.

    • Debbie W. says:

      This is so true. After my experiences counseling in a Pregnancy Resource Center for many years, the number of “good” Christian mothers, who bring in their teen daughters to have abortions because they don’t want it to get out that they failed as a parent is mind-boggling. It is so sad. Scary really.

  19. I don’t usually make a stand-alone comment, but I think I will this time. I think a really big factor in Christian divorces is what I call “soul-mate-ism”. It’s the widespread stupid idea that if God has brought two together, then everything will be great (emotions of “love” will always be present, no serious problems, etc.). Of course, that’s nuts, but I happen to think lots of people believe it, especially superstitious evangelicals who believe that there is only “one person out there that God wants me to marry”.

    And when the marriage doesn’t work out so easily (and I’m not talking about abuse or other extremes), I think people then assume they have missed God’s will, and so they’re primed and ready to find their “real” soul mate when the opportunity arises (makes me think of what happened with Amy Grant in the 90’s). In reality, this soul-mate-ism is probably just a baptized version of secular ideas, but I think certain types of Christians just eat it up.

    • Salsapinkkat says:

      I completely agree…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’ve got a grudge against the word “Soulmate”. In my experience:

      1) Nothing triggers the “OOOOO! MY SOULMATE!” reaction in a woman like a User & Abuser. (That was how I lost the closest thing I ever had to a girlfriend, some 25 years ago. Unfortunately, I was the one who pair-bonded for life.)

      2) I have NEVER heard the word “Soulmate” mean “the one I’m married to.” Usually your “Soulmate (TM)” is the one you’re screwing on the side.

      Of course, that’s nuts, but I happen to think lots of people believe it, especially superstitious evangelicals who believe that there is only “one person out there that God wants me to marry”.

      You’ve never heard those Christian (TM) Testimonies about “How I Met My Wife/Husband”, have you?

      • “You’ve never heard those Christian (TM) Testimonies about “How I Met My Wife/Husband”, have you?”

        I’ve heard some. They seem analogous to the way that a lot of Christians think the Bible came together, i.e., God just dropped it out of the sky. Of course, I don’t have that sort of “everything worked out just perfectly” sort of testimony about how I got married, so I don’t even begin to try to relate to that way of thinking. My wife and I eloped two weeks before our wedding was scheduled to avoid disruption by an interfering in-law who didn’t want us engaged in the first place, and who two years after our wedding did her best to deceptively and secretly ruin my wife’s birthing plans while she was in labor with our first.

        So I don’t get to stand up in church and tell that story. 🙂

        HUG, I think we had this discussion once before.

  20. Debbie W. says:

    The western church has dropped the ball big time. Not just w/ the ease at which we seek and get divorces, but the lack of clear teaching about what marriage is and isn’t. We have allowed society to define a good marriage.

    People get married expecting their spouse to make them happy. When the spouse inevitably fails at this, they fall “out of love” and the next step is divorce. “God wouldn’t want me to stay in a loveless marriage!” There are of course the obvious exceptions, abuse, infidelity, etc. I’m speaking here about a spouse who claims they are “unfulfilled” in their marriage.

    One reason this phenomenon has become so prevalent in recent history is the societal move away from community. We lived among our neighbors, rather than about them as we now do. Women used to have quilting bees and canning parties, while men had barn-raisings and, and, men-things where they received needed interaction and affirmation. This isn’t easy to come by now-a-days, so we expect our spouse to fill this void and one person alone isn’t capable of it.

    People need to understand that God provides for our needs and offers this fulfillment we yearn for. Some needs he can provide through our spouse, but certainly not all and certainly not exclusively. If we expect a spouse to do for us what only our God can do, our marriage is screwed.

    • Debbie,

      Another thing about the community activities with others is that it provided time to share and learn from each other. The younger women how to survive the rough times in marriage, and the older women respect and honor. (Same with the men, but probably not as open.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “God wouldn’t want me to stay in a loveless marriage!” There are of course the obvious exceptions, abuse, infidelity, etc. I’m speaking here about a spouse who claims they are “unfulfilled” in their marriage.

      Heard once about a wife who went Bible-dipping, hit upon the verse “Put on the New Man,”, and took it as a “God Saith” to divorce her husband and go after someone else…

  21. Perhaps when we make marriage a Christian institution, we invite trouble.

    I was the furthest thing from a Christian when I got married, and although a preacher did the ceremony, the thought of it being some kind of institution ordained by God or a vow in front of him never entered my mind. What entered my mind was the lifetime commitment I was making to another human being.

    I wasn’t looking to God for anything. I was looking at my soon-to-be wife. If we have problems, God isn’t going to drop down from heaven and fix them. He’s not going to make the paychecks last all month. He’s not going to decide whose in-laws we spend Christmas with. He’s not going to wash the dishes. No, that’s up to she and I.

    Marriage is hard. It needs to be approached almost as an atheist would approach it. No focus on the unseen, but only on the here-and-now, the practical, the real issues involved with living with another person for life and raising a family.

    • You make marriage sound so gloomy.

      There are times when marriage is hard, but there should be times when it is very easy. In fact, I think most of the time it should be that way.

      Yes, God gives you that grey matter to help you do those things described in your third paragraph. At the same time, Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

      He gives you the strength to wash the dishes.

      • I agree with you here. I’ve been married for 11 years, and I wouldn’t claim to be an expert or anything. But I always feel bad when I talk to people who start off talking about their marriage by saying, “marriage is hard”. I have honestly never felt that way. Sure there are time when I get frustrated with things my does or whatever, but I guess that happens with any relationship. Most of the time, though, I feel like my wife and I just click. I feel like we’re each others’ best friend.

        I have seen couples for whom Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” should be their theme song, though. I’ve seen people who had to go to couple’s counseling (not just the pre-marriage kind, but the actual psychotherapist kind) before they got married. I’ve always wondered what drives these people to get married to each other after that.

        • You guys are right. “Marriage is hard” does make it sound pretty gloomy. I didn’t mean it to be that dark.

          • Perhaps a bit gloomy, but I agree with your premise. Couples that make like minded theology the highest priority in a marriage often gloss over the other compatibility factors that really make a marriage work. If belief in God and holding to similar theology is the most important factor in finding a marriage partner, why do Christian marriages have a higher divorce rate than atheists?

  22. I would even go further. I think many evangelicals, myself included, should do more to emphasize the social justice aspects of Christian ethics. We should speak against the sin of homosexuality, illegitimate divorce, abortion, the secular entertainment industry, and all the rest, but if we don’t speak out against socio-economic sins like racism, ignoring the poor and helpless, and refusing protection for widows and orphans then we are still basically law-breakers before God’s eyes. James 2 is quite clear about those people who profess Christianity but refuse to care and help the lowly and defenseless. James is also quite clear that people who focus only on “conservative-concerned” sins but not social injustice sins are law-breakers (James 1:27; 2:11).

  23. A Christian marriage is part of disciplehip to Christ. If people have accepted Jesus as their “personal savior” but have not been taught to follow him as their teacher and Lord in all of life, then we will default to following the ways of the “world, flesh and devil”. Until the Gospel Story forms our understanding of marriage as part of the lifelong vocation in how we are learning to love, be faithful, forgive, serve, etc. our marriages will not stand out as part of our witness to the world. Yancy once said, “everytime a Christian marriage ends, a flag from another kingdom falls to the ground”. Sad but true.

  24. Dan Allison says:

    Sorry, but Dr. Mohler is, in my view, wrong as usual. To force anyone to remain married to a chronic adulterer, or to force a woman to remain married to a man who is physically abusive, would be, in my view, evil and Pharisaical. To forbid re-marriage is equally Pharisaical. The apostle Paul opposed those who forbade marriage, and in my reading, that includes those who forbid re-marriage. Today’s evangelicals — Dr. Mohler’s faction, anyway — are at least as legalistic and works-righteousness driven as Roman Catholicism has ever been at any point in its history.

    • Dr. Mohler may hold the views you say he does, but what you are saying here is not what he expressed in this article. I am commenting only on the article.

      • But this is the core issue that I believe Dr. Mohler, Chaplain Mike, and most every posting on this blog have missed. There is this misconception that divorce is mainly about “We don’t love each other anymore” or “They didn’t try hard enough”. Most every divorce situation I see involves either severe mental illness, severe depravity, or abandonment. I believe the percentage of divorces due only to “They didn’t try hard enough” is relatively small, and is a completely separate problem.

        • Really? If the statistics about divorce rate are correct (one out of two marriages end in divorce), are you implying that most of those that fail are due to the irreconcilable problems that you mention?

          I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I want to understand if that’s your view. I certainly agree that most divorces end due to something beyond mere “we don’t love each other anymore”. But I think that it’s possible that the lack of a perfect marriage (lack of the “love” feelings and fulfillment of hopes and aspirations) can often lead down the road to some of the worse things you’re talking about, and that our selfishness allows us to justify and deceive ourselves as we get into those situations.

          So I don’t think that “we don’t love each other anymore” and “they didn’t try hard enough” are the final straw for most marriages, but I think they could start the marriage down that path.

        • All I’m saying is that in this article AM is not commenting on divorce per se, but rather on the church’s failure to recognize it as a central issue in its advocacy for family values.

        • “Most every divorce situation I see involves either severe mental illness, severe depravity, or abandonment”.

          I believe this to be greatly overstated. However, if it were true, or even half true, then the church has much deeper problems than divorce if most of the 50%+ of church members are divorcing. This post is about Mohler’s comments re: religious conservatives not even placing divorce on the agenda in its culture war and possible reasons why.

          That being said, its not about the church getting back to simply preaching against divorce but addressing some of the very real roots and reasons you gave that begins in the mind and heart that lead to the behaviors of “depravity” or “abandonment” which are not the way of love and fidelity. It is about becoming a community of faith that can come along side and support a family where mental illness is severe to help them care for a mentally ill person (or a divorce-in-love), or to get our hands even dirtier by confronting the abuser while caring/protecting for the abused – even if Love leads them to divorce.

          • Sorry I’m slow to post, it appears my 2nd paragraph is redundant to CM’s response.

          • Buford Hollis says:

            These “real reasons” include the last fifty years of global economic changes (the need for two-career households, the end of lifetime employment with one company) as well as semi-related social influences such as increased economic independence for women. I’m not convinced that Christians can or should have any effect on these.

    • Actually, to bind people in such marriages is not Pharisaic. The Pharisees recognized many reasons outside of infidelity to divorce- probably too many, and THAT is part of what Jesus was denouncing, as well as divorcing in order to marry someone else.

    • Sorry, but Dr. Mohler is, in my view, wrong as usual.

      😉

    • David Cornwell says:

      Dan, I’m not sure Dr. Mohler is saying that, but I do agree entirely with the rest of what you say. My wife is a mental health counselor and saw many, many cases of just these kind of problems before she retired. And adding to the problem in many cases was a fundamentalist pastor who tried everything to keep them together and doing nothing about the problem. Many times the husband was a serious abuser, and the pastor would blame the wife. These women were desperate for help but were made to sound as if they were sinners going to hell if they did anything to help themselves.

  25. cermak_rd says:

    I guess I would say that divorce is not always all that harmful. I’m thinking here of the young couple that marry early and then leave their starter marriage within a few years with no children. Or the couple that has raised their children (like the Gores) and then decide that they’ve run 25 miles of the marathon and really would rather not do the last mile or so together. Because no minor children are involved, I would classify those two divorce types as no harm no foul type divorces.

    Even when children are involved there are times when it’s appropriate for couples to split up. I think of my own case with my argumentative parents (think Lockhorns). I think of couples who have suffered a major jolt (loss of a child or economic dislocation) many times they simply don’t have the same coping skills and so can’t live with one another through the tragedy. I’m sure every couple has their own story.

    And don’t forget that in some cases only one part of the couple wants to split up. I would imagine once the word divorce is brought up, a Rubicon of sorts is crossed. It’s hard to walk that one back. Even if the other part of the couple doesn’t want to split, no one wants to play the ogre and refuse to grant the divorce (who wants to force someone else to stay married to them? Not me!).

    So I think divorce, while unfortunate in many cases, is too complicated to sum up as divorce is always bad.

  26. Rob Burke says:

    This post reminds me so much of the second story within “the Hammer of God”.

  27. Its the issue of regular people having divorce that I think gives the chruch a black eye when they scream, protest, etc.. about gay marriage. The evangelical church has lost its bearings and I no longer take it seriously over how it interprets some issues. Divorce is a prime example. I’m not ripping on people who have had divorces, etc.. Life is hard and it happens at times. But why can’t some of those people show grace that they received on others? Also…if the church treated divorce like it does gay marriage, etc.. than that would drive away many. That would turn the tables and give some people an idea on how crafty and condescending evangelcilas can be; and how fast they can turn on you.

  28. I’m late to this, and perhaps no one but me will read this. Nonetheless…
    It is not enough to make divorce a priority. In order to reduce a behavior, it must be condemned. An example in today’s otherwise permissive world is drunk driving, which has been very successfully combatted. The tenor of the comments here suggests that this would be impossible for divorce, since people swarm like killer bees if one attempts to condemn something like divorce, accusing one of lacking grace, moralizing, etc. Fine. But let us not delude ourselves that most divorce is about saving battered women. The vast majority of divorces I’ve seen are of the “I don’t love you anymore” variety, with rampent egoism and instant and constant gratification at the root of it all.
    There have been notable successes in the realm of divorce prevention, i.e. premarital counselling, but they have side effects, namely somewhat increased cohabitation.
    The ugly truth is that, as soon as you apply “grace” to these kinds of issues, the problem increases. You feel better, but the problem grows. Everyone says Prohibition was a laughable failure, BUT: in the early 20’s deaths from alcoholic liver cirrhosis declined significantly, only to rise again in the mid 30’s.

    • “The vast majority of divorces I’ve seen are of the ‘I don’t love you anymore’ variety, with rampant egoism and instant and constant gratification at the root of it all.”

      So true.

      Earlier in this discussion I used the word gloomy for a statement that was made by someone else. Now I’ll make a gloomy statement.

      I don’t think things are going to get any better. People are generally more influenced by the ungodly society we are becoming than by the Bible.

      Someone stated earlier in this “conversation” that atheists had a better record with marriage than Christians. My guess is that this is true because many atheists never marry, but live together. Obviously, this doesn’t excuse the terrible record of “Christians.”

      Sadly, on the living together front, I don’t know how many “Christians” I’ve talked to who are currently living together. Many of them attend churches where their behavior is known and never questioned.

      I know a pastor who took a job and found 8 couples in his new church living together. He confronted each and offered marriage counseling. Four couples left the church and four got married.

      This pastor seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

      I’ve found marriage to be one of the most interesting object lessons in my Christian walk. For me, it has been a wonderful “teacher.”

      It’s hard to watch marriage crumble.

      • “Someone stated earlier in this “conversation” that atheists had a better record with marriage than Christians. My guess is that this is true because many atheists never marry, but live together. Obviously, this doesn’t excuse the terrible record of “Christians.””

        If you live together, you have no influence on the divorce rate. So living together doesn’t explain the difference in rates between Christians and atheists — unless the argument is that living together prevents bad marriages.

        Which I think it might, honestly. I lived with a girlfriend and we thought we wanted to get married, but it didn’t take long to figure out that would be Stupid. Had we been under the concept that God commanded us to get married before we signed a lease, I’m 99% sure we’d be divorced.

        I think the difference in rates is due to other factors than religious identification. I suspect it’s related to things like income, educational level, geographical location.

        • Thanks for showing me that I was unclear.

          I don’t understand why atheists marry, but that’s besides my point.

          I would guess that fidelity is not as important to atheists since they believe there are no restraints from God.

          Thus, certain “arrangements” that Christians would be very uncomfortable with (not saying that many atheists aren’t), like an occasional and “understandable” encounter with someone outside of the marriage isn’t going to cause a split.

          Why would an atheist need to get divorced when happy with this type of arrangement?

          I would never argue that living together prevents bad marriages.

          • But why would you argue that atheists in a sense have no morality? That they would be more unfaithful in marriage? Is the only reason you are faithful to your spouse is because God said so?

            The inverse of that argument, of course, is that Christians are more moral. And I would disagree with that, as a Christian myself. The most awful things that have been done to me in my life have been done by Christians. Many of the nicest, most loving people I know aren’t.

            I would suggest that “faith, not works” is at least partially at the root of the high rate of evangelical divorce. If you’re saved, God forgives you for running around on your wife. If you don’t believe in God, there’s no one to tell you you’re forgiven, and you have to live with the consequences of your actions in the here-and-now.

          • I would not say that atheists have no morality. Since there is no God, however, their morality is self defined. I’m sure there are many atheists who like certain words of Jesus or Ghandi or some other moral leader, but, in the end they decide what is “right” and what isn’t.

            I would never try to defend bad behavior of Christians. It’s unfortunate that you have had such experiences.

            Truth, however, can’t be used as a reason to sin. We are saved by grace, not works. Anyone who “uses” this truth as an excuse to sin is disobedient or has a lack of understanding.

            You comment:

            “If you’re saved, God forgives you for running around on your wife.”

            Although we live in a time when most church leaders won’t take a stand for Biblical principles, most would still not agree with your comment if it is a way-of-life statement.

      • Neuropuck says:

        “I know a pastor who took a job and found 8 couples in his new church living together”

        the horror.

    • Kozak-

      To what effect will having such a change in behavior result in actual change. Yeah maybe strict laws can change someone’s drinking, but it will also drive them toward other destructive behaviors. Or, you can look at the Mormons as a modern day example. They have used church laws and routines to confirm theri population against certain behaviors. What is the result? It has either forced it underground such as drinking, or it has reuslted in other health issues, such as increased depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness.

      And though I am agnostic I think the only hope has to be grace. Otherwise people can juts live by laws, established church behavior and norms. Oh wait…the Mormons do that already!!

  29. What’s worse, I’m finding that I agree with Al Mohler too: http://rayanselmo.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/the-definition-of-marriage/ .

    I feel very odd now …

  30. I’m also late to this conversation, but I just want to echo that Mohler is right in his acknowledgment of the loss of the moral high ground with the differing treatments of divorce and same sex marriage. There are constant riffs about the opponents of same sex marriage liking marriage so much they did it three times. People see the evangelical church compromising on a key point that Jesus said and emphasized, they believe that people will simply pick and choose which parts of scripture they will follow, even with an avowed literal following of scripture.

    Part of the acknowledgment of the problem maybe could be addressing why divorce is so prevalent in evangelicals, more so than mainline Protestants or Atheists. Perhaps there is some problem either in the approach to marriage or in the determining of spouses?

  31. Just one reason for the problems mentioned in this conversation:

    http://gustavus.campusreform.org/group/blog/freshman-orientation-caught-on-tape

  32. “Perhaps there is some problem either in the approach to marriage or in the determining of spouses?”

    This.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Many years ago, I was at some Christian Singles event that had a guest speaker. The speaker kept stressing that what to look for in a husband/wife was “Common SCRIPTURAL Values, Common SCRIPTURAL Values, Common SCRIPTURAL Values.” No thought of compatible personalities, interests, all the things that initially attract and bond you together other than the Theological. I wonder if this is a contributing factor — after a couple years into the marriage (or later when your kids grow up and leave), what happens when you find all you have in common is Parsing Theology? Imagine a marriage whose “bond” is entirely based on nitpicking Theology Parsing like some of the flamewars on this blog.

  33. I think most Christians marry without a biblical view of marriage. (I did.) What is the purpose of marriage? Marriage is meant to incarnate the picture of God’s self-initiating love for the Bride, his Church. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. We, as the Bride, respond to the faithful love of God with loving Him in return, and submitting our hearts and lives to him. This is the Christian view of marriage. This is what He calls us to as husbands and wives. He calls us to incarnate the gospel.

    I don’t expect the culture to rise to this level of commitment. And yet the culture still somehow seems to believe in love for a lifetime. Perhaps, somewhere deep inside, people know that love was meant to last forever. I wonder if God is the source of this intuition…

    In any case, I have no expectations of the people in our culture to keep a lifelong commitment in marriage. That beautiful picture is the Church’s calling. The only trouble is that the Church isn’t given this lofty, noble calling by most of its teachers. We are largely unformed and uninformed when it comes to marriage.

    Personally, I find the biblical view of marriage inspiring and ennobling, calling forth the best in me. But I know I cannot do this without the invigorating presence of Christ and His love in me and with me…