4 Myths about Divorce that Can Hurt Your Church – Part 1 of 4 in the Series
When it comes to building and nourishing a marriage the message is clear, both partners have a responsibility. As Christian leaders we challenge each person to do all he or she can to honor the marriage covenant, build the relationship, and create a loving Christ-centered home. We challenge each person to give 100 percent to making the marriage work. But, are there times when a single 100% won’t carry a marriage? Sadly, there are.
Since we come from the understanding that each person in the marriage is responsible for making it work, we can easily leap to assuming that each person is 100% accountable when a marriage is dying or has died. I know from my own experience, that leap in assumption isn’t accurate. The myth that one person can give 100% and save his or her marriage without the cooperation of his or her spouse sets us up to hold a person accountable for the wrongdoings of their marriage partner. This is both unfair and potentially spiritually damaging.
Of course, both partners have undoubtedly made mistakes in the relationship and each needs to assess their own role and make amends. Yet, it is totally possible that only one person in the relationship is making mistakes that are monumental enough to lead to the end of the marriage. If this is the case, that person must take appropriate actions if the marriage is to have any chance of becoming healthier.
To hold one person accountable for fixing a marriage that is drowning due to his or her spouse’s neglect, abuse, or addictive behavior is unreasonable and hurtful. It further victimizes the victim. It also misses an opportunity to share the grace and compassion of Christ.
Ruth was being abused by her husband, emotionally and spiritually. She also sensed that things were escalating and that she was at risk for physical abuse. When she approached someone at her church for help, she was told that she needed to work on being a better wife and to submit to her husband in order to save her marriage.
Ruth received no help in coping with her situation. Worse yet, she was held accountable for the abusive behavior of her spouse and told to return to a potentially dangerous situation. When she finally decided that for own safety she needed to leave the marriage, she clearly perceived that the church blamed her for a situation she did not create. The truth was that she had been dedicated to her marriage and endured abuse for far too long from a man who did not begin to love her as Christ loved the church.
And then there’s Tom. Tom’s wife left him. She said she just wasn’t happy and that the new guy she’d found was making a lot more money. Tom was crushed. He had made mistakes but felt he had for the most part been a good husband. He pleaded with her to come back and he prayed to God to save his marriage. When he sought pastoral counseling, the pastor told him that it was the husband’s responsibility to fix it when a marriage faltered. He also told Tom that divorce was a sin and that he would never be able to remarry if his wife divorced him so he really needed to fix his marriage.
When I first met Tom he was in a state of hopeless despair. Rarely have I ever seen anyone that tightly wound. He couldn’t make his wife return. He felt doomed and permanently labeled as a failure. He was sure he could never be right with God again. His pastor, a man he respected, had made it clear.
I believe the pastor’s desire to save marriages was well intended but missed the reality of Tom’s situation. Because the pastor believed the myth that one person can always single handedly save a marriage, he held Tom accountable for solving a problem he had no control over. In doing so, he left this already hurting man feeling defeated and hopeless rather than encouraging him with the good news that God would redeem his life no matter what choices his estranged wife made.
Crushing this Myth
With God’s help and the willing participation of each person, God can work miracles in a marriage. And, sometimes, one person’s change of direction can in fact precipitate the revival of a marriage. But, we need to recognize that it’s a myth to believe that every person who is facing a divorce can fix his or her marriage without any sincere, ongoing, prayerful effort from his or her spouse.
Having been through a divorce myself I can tell you that divorce is awful. I think that’s why God hates divorce, it hurts his children. Having been married for over 30 years to my second husband, I can verify that a healthy marriage is preferable by far and worth every bit of effort.
Yet, divorce is a reality in our society, including in our churches. If we in the church can overcome the myth that one person who gives 100% can fix all the problems in a marriage, even when their spouse isn’t on board, we can stop victimizing people who are already victims. We will stop implying to people that they should be able to somehow fix devastating problems caused by their spouse. We will instead be able to encourage them to give their all to saving their marriages, including seeking counseling, but at the same time not hold them accountable for those things over which they have no control.
At that point, we can share God’s grace. We can draw close to the brokenhearted. We can minister and encourage them with the truth that God still loves them and has a plan for them to have a future and a hope…even if divorce becomes or is their reality.
NOTE: Names in this article are fictitious but represent typical stories.
Other Topics in 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.