Friday, November 15, 2013

On Re-marriage and Divorce

The current "big issue" in our society and Church is that of homosexuality and the limits of our permissiveness towards those who suffer from same-sex attraction. However, I do not think that this is the most important issue about which the Church should fret. Scientifically, homosexuality is a genetic mutation that will always affect around 2-3% of the population (from what I've read on current statistics). This is not to say that homosexuality is not an important issue that merits our thoughts and discussion, however, there is another issue that is much more prevalent in Church and society, that is, divorce and remarriage.

Consider, if only 2-3% of the population is homosexual, that means about 97% of the rest of the population is heterosexual (another post will deal with the identification of "gay" and "straight" another problem in the Church). A majority of these folks will marry and the current statistics seem to indicate that around half of all marriages, Christian or not, end in divorce. The issues of divorce and remarriage are not intrinsically tied to the issue of homosexuality, yet, they fall within the same "camp" of issues. Consequently, the current liberals in the Protestant Episcopal Church have used the erosion of marriage within our own Church and the society as a form of justification for the inclusion of active homosexuals in the life of the Church. I stumbled upon a piece from Bishop Vono of Rio Grande, which can be found here, which uses this point to justify the same.

The problem with our current Church is that we have no grounding in traditional, Christian sexual morality, much less a solidly Reformed understanding of marriage. As an unmarried man, I feel somewhat presumptuous to lecture on the finality of marriage, yet, I hope the reader will have ears to hear.

Divorce is a problem caused by the human condition, that being complete and total fall into depravity, caused by our father, Adam, and passed throughout generations. The cultural fad of "emotional fulfillment" and the concept of soul mates leads one to question their spouse, when the infatuation begins to wane. This waxing and waning of human emotion is normal. It brings to mind C.S. Lewis's concept of the law of undulation. We are all subject to the undulation or waxing and waning of emotion and desire that we might feel towards another person, which is precisely why Christian marriage is not based upon "eros" love. I am no Greek scholar, but from what I understand, there are three words for love in the Greek language: agape, phileo, and eros. The first describes the sacrificial love of God to man, manifested in the atoning death of Christ at Calvary. The second is the brotherly love between friends or siblings. The last is romantic love or sexual desire that one feels towards a spouse or future spouse. Now, this is not to say that eros is not important nor that sexual desire is wrong or unnecessary, both of which are false ideas. The issue is that we cannot build the foundation for a life-long relationship solely on sexual desire. Our culture places an unbelievable expectation upon sexual desire and fulfillment that which can even be a burden to someone, who cannot possibly be a perfect fulfillment of the entirety of one's sexual desires.

This is not the case with Christian marriage. The covenant of marriage is not based upon feelings, however important they may be in the establishment of a relationship, but on a committed love, such as that of Christ in his death to atone for our sins. I intend to look at the biblical passages touching on the subject as this point to clarify some points.

The first passages to investigate are Jesus' commands in the Gospels. I will present the Matthean version of these sayings. In Matthew's Gospel, we have the issue of the so-called Matthean exception, which we will see shortly.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
In this passage, we see Jesus revoking the system of divorce established under Moses, which was given due to the "hardness of heart" of the Israelites. Divorce is no longer permitted in the Christian community. Jesus likens this to adultery, a serious sin and offense. There are some interpretative issues here that will not be resolved in this post, yet, I intend to offer my thoughts on the matter. The so-called Matthean exception, deals with the phrase "saving for the case of fornication" which some interpret to mean that if one spouse cheats on the other, there is a lawful case for separation. I tend to agree with this treatment. However, I am not convinced that this subsequently permits remarriage. The passage seems to indicate a complete rejection of remarriage in the Christian community. 

Another important passage from Matthew's Gospel is found in the nineteenth chapter:
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. 
10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matthew 19:3-12)
This passage elaborates on Jesus' earlier teaching (within the Gospel, not necessarily chronologically earlier). We see, again, that divorce is prohibited. The Matthean exception is included here. This means that, perhaps, divorce can be justified on the grounds of infidelity. However, this is not for individual Christians to decide but the proper ecclesiastical authority. Included here is Jesus' teaching on celibacy as well. Marriage is a good thing for the individual and society but there are some who are called to celibacy. Jesus enumerates the various reasons for celibacy but it is important solely here to note that celibacy is an option for Christians, but only for those who are so called.

We move now to St. Paul's teaching on the matter:
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:8-16)
In  this passage, Paul reiterates the teaching of Jesus on the matter. It is interesting to note that Paul also exhorts celibacy, those who are called to it. The general principle remains, divorce is prohibited (except in certain circumstances) and remarriage is absolutely prohibited. I think the so-called Pauline exception is debatable, but, for the sake of simplicity, let's assume that Paul is saying that Christians who are married to unbelievers, before their conversion, are allowed to separate, if their unbelieving spouse so desires. Paul does not allow for the remarriage of separated Christians, neither does Jesus. Paul exhorts that spouses should be reconciled or if reconciliation is not possible that they should remain unmarried.

This is what I see as the teaching of Scripture on the matter, that divorce is prohibited and the subsequent remarriage of Christian persons is equally prohibited. If the so-called exceptions are to be allowed, that Christians may separate in the case of infidelity or if an unbelieving spouse departs, this does not allow the subsequent remarriage of Christian persons. Marriages are to be mended and relationships reconciled but the Church has not historically allowed remarriage.

Now some may ask, where does the Anglican tradition fit into all of this? Didn't Henry VIII divorce Catharine of Aragon? How can we claim to have any sexual ethic with this example? First, it's important to remember that we are not the Church of Henry. Secondly, we should remember that Henry was never divorced. He had multiple marriages declared null and void.

How does all of this relate to the issue of same-sex relationships? Essentially, it is the same problem. Moreover, if we as orthodox Christians wish to be heard and especially if our argument is based upon Scripture, then we need to take Scripture seriously ourselves. Clearly, Scripture condemns homosexual behavior (1 Cor. 6:9; Romans 1:26-27; Lev. 18:22, these passages clearly condemn homosexual behavior, presuming that other references are dealing with perverse prostitution, ritualistic sex acts, although I doubt they are; equally, the moral law is applicable to Christians, if Lev. 18:22 is no longer applicable, then incest and bestiality are also acceptable. Now, the problem is that if we are basing our rejection of homosexual behavior on Scripture (as we should), we have to equally condemn divorce and remarriage.


Walk In Truth said...

Remarriage after divorce is not permitted, but why do you need Paul to confirm that? What did Jesus say? He was very clear on the issue. He should speak for Himself. What did our Heavenly Father say? That is what the focus should be. Period.

Lawrence said...

The East has always allowed divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances so the Western position is not so ironclad as many in our tradition think it is. The West is not the whole of the Church.

Taking the verses out of context as is often done has the effect of yanking Jesus out of the Jewish context in which He was operating. There are several things that Jesus did not address in this context because they are assumed. For instance bestiality, witchcraft, etc would have gotten one stoned or cast out and functionally declared dead. The law "killed" the spouse clearing the way for remarriage. Because we do not operate according to biblical law and accept sins that would have allowed for remarriage under the Law that does not obviate the Law or the assumptions of remarriage inherent when Jesus made these statements.

Marriage should be understood as covenant. I would recommend "Second Chance" by Bishop Sutton for some thoughts on this.