by Andreas Bochmann | originally broadcast 19 November 2022 |
I still remember a time when divorce was not talked about very much in our church. At most, there were whispers behind closed doors. Divorce simply didn’t happen—and if it did, at least one person of the couple was disfellowshipped. Pastors who went through a divorce always lost their jobs. Divorce was an absolute “no go.”
A lot has changed in church, and in society at large. Divorce rates have gone up drastically and continually for the last 50 years or so, and many Adventist churches in the Western world no longer react to it with much surprise, let alone abhorrence. Divorce has become quite a normal—even expected—phenomenon. It has become so normal that at least in my experience it is hardly taken note of, even in church. I would express this (perhaps mischievously) by saying that divorce has been “privatized”: just as it has become a non-issue for churches, it has disappeared from public view generally. In the church it went from punishable, to being “none of our business.”
Is that good or is that bad? As pastoral counselor, I (somewhat counterintuitively, perhaps) regret that trend. When divorce is not talked about, couples and families are left alone in their loss, their grief, their pain. But how should a church deal with divorce? Divorce is a serious dilemma for any church, in any Christian denomination.
On the one hand, you can neither deny it nor pray it away: marriages fail and end in divorce. We want to acknowledge reality and we want to be pastoral about it. On the other hand, there appears to be a clear New Testament position on divorce, which does not quite match our current experience in the church. Therefore, we tend to simply avoid or ignore the topic.
In this presentation, I systematize the various answers churches give to the dilemma of divorce, boiling them down to four (very different) ways of dealing with divorce, reflecting especially on pastoral implications of each such position churches can take. Perhaps—just perhaps—such a reflection is stimulating and thought-provoking enough to rethink the topic in the hope of finding new and radical ways of dealing with divorce in our churches.