For David it was subtle. People at his church didn’t come right out and say it, but he could feel the difference and see it in their eyes. They were more aloof. Because of his divorce he felt treated differently. He already felt like a failure so this undercurrent in his relationship with people at church was a reaffirmation that he was now stigmatized. He was perceived as a lower level Christian.
For Sarah it was much more direct. The words stabbed at her heart. She could no longer serve in certain areas of the church because she was divorced. She wasn’t worthy enough anymore. Furthermore, a woman in her women’s group told her that had she been a better wife, her husband wouldn’t have left her. Sarah knew it wasn’t true but it still left her feeling looked down on by her Christian family.
Do we or others in our church do these things? Do we knowingly or unwittingly make the divorced and divorcing feel like they are damaged goods? Do we?
Two Things Can Happen
1. The Discrimination is Real
Whether direct or subtle, the discrimination against those who are divorced or in the process of divorce can be very real. Somehow, divorce becomes an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the people. There is actually the belief that because God hates divorce, divorced people are forever marked as less than in the ranks of believers. If your church falls in this category, let me remind you of what Paul said,
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 NIV
Surely, this must also include divorce. And, if God still loves and values the divorced, shouldn’t we?
2. The Discrimination is Perceived
Based on those I’ve heard from over my years working in divorce ministry, one thing I’ve heard repeatedly is, “My church doesn’t know how to help me.” This often is true. I think that well-intended, goodhearted church people and church staff members often simply don’t know what to say or how to help. Caring people who don’t know what to say or do tend to avoid the topic of divorce all together.
Even good Christians can find it hard to be around those who are in pain, especially if they don’t have any skills for handling it. Avoiding dealing with the divorced or divorcing can result in a sense of isolation and judgement on the part of those who are divorced or divorcing. It’s a sad paradox but not one without a cure.
4 Steps to A Better Way
As the church we are to live out the directive in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we are to “encourage one another and build each other up….”
- Listen without judgement. God is close to the brokenhearted and few things can leave a person as brokenhearted as divorce. Listening is a huge gift of love and it can also increase our understanding of the pain and challenges faced by a person whose marriage has ended.
- Pray with and for the divorced and divorcing. Prayer is healing. Shared prayer is powerful.
- Be intentional. Become aware of how you and your church can intentionally work to serve the needs of those who are struggling to cope with divorce. Set a plan in action.
- Offer healing guidance and support. Having a church-based divorce support group isn’t hard and can make a world of difference. To best serve, choose a group curriculum that goes beyond support and also walks your participants through a cohesive, life-changing, and prayerful healing process.
Your Church Can Make a Difference
That divorced people are subpar Christians is complete myth. Our salvation is by the grace of God and is not rooted in the circumstances of our lives or our marital status. By re-framing our thoughts about divorced and divorcing people, your church can draw these people closer to the healing power of Christ. You can lift them up from the pit and be a tool that helps God turn their ashes into beauty. In doing so, you will be both blessed and a blessing.
NOTE: Names in this article are fictitious but represent typical stories.
Other Topics in this Series:
About this Series: 4 Myths about Divorce that Can Hurt Your Church
There’s a good chance someone in your church has at least one belief that hinders your church’s ability to effectively minister to the divorced and divorcing. You may say, well not me! But, are you sure?
Divorce can be a hard topic for church leaders. We know that God hates divorce and that marriage is sacred. We also know that in His grace, God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Over the years since I founded After Divorce Ministries and created the Peace after Divorce Workshop, I’ve heard a lot of stories from divorced and divorcing people. It’s fairly common for people to share that their church leaders simply don’t know what to say, or how to help them, when it comes to divorce. And as hard as it is to believe, some have even included tales of how their church leadership or members made them feel rejected, unwelcomed, and like second-rate Christians.
In writing this series I want to help dispel some of the thoughts that are causing well-intended church people problems when it comes to ministering to those who are hurting from divorce. I believe that by becoming more aware we can significantly improve our ability to reach out to these hurting people with compassion and grace. We can offer them support instead of a sense of isolation, and we can help them find peace in a redeeming relationship with Christ.