Changing the Way We View Divorced Christians
The family of God, like any other family, is one that comes with its share of struggles. In the church, Jesus brings together young and old, male and female, rich and poor, black and white, and unites them in the spiritual foundation of the cross. Sometimes though some of the groups get lost in the shuffle.
A few months ago we read from some Christians who are single about how they feel they are treated in the church. Today, we turn our attention to a similarly marginalized group, divorced Christians.
This article is structured in much the same way the previous one was. Not being divorced myself (though I do come from a divorced home) I solicited the help of some Christian men and women who have been divorced and asked them to share their thoughts on how they feel they have been/are being treated in the church. I encourage you to hear their words and consider how we can better respond to our divorced brothers and sisters.
What Divorced Christians Do Not Need
They Do Not Need to Deal with Gossip
"Assumptions are never good. Spend some time talking to find out about their particular situation. It will help make you more sympathetic and helpful to others who are in the process of divorce whether that be the spouses, children or other family members affected by the divorce. I guess, in a word, listen." - C
Sins cause us to be curious. When someone comes forward after the sermon we wonder what exactly they did. Consider it a spiritual morbid curiosity. Some issues are easy to look past because the consequences are private. Divorce is by nature very public. One month a couple is together and another they are not. This can prompt many questions about what happened and who was at fault. Questions like these then cause us to at worst, gossip, and at best, change our perception and interaction with the divorced individual(s).
"Shortly after I felt ostracized- mainly due to my inadequate feelings of personal worth. A person to listen to our gripes, complaints and self pity." - J
Many times in a divorce situation, one half of the marriage did not want the marriage to dissolve. When the divorce takes place, a part of who they are, their identity, is ripped away from them. Their life undergoes an upheaval and issues of self-worth and inadequacy take root. The last thing then that the divorced Christian needs are rumors and gossip spreading about their situation. Talk to the divorced individual, not about them.
They Do Not Need to Be Ignored
"There are things I cannot do now because I was once divorced. Although I was half of a failed marriage a large part of it was outside my control. Those who would say, (about my service) "well that's just the way it is" lack compassion and understanding..." - C
It is the belief in many places that men who are divorced and later remarry are disqualified from being able to serve as elders and/or deacons (as they are no longer a "one woman man"). Whether you believe this to be doctrinally true or not, it's important to note the effect this belief has on those men. Consider the rest of the quote that follows.
"...Not only does it set me aside as "other" I often still feel that I am being punished for a sin that I can't, in their limited or perhaps legalistic view, ever repent of completely. It's a fact, I will always be a divorced person. Personal feelings aside, as to whether or not that is correct or true, that is the one thing that consistently makes me feel like an outsider in the church." - C
Imagine the feeling, if you can, of having a sin that you could not, no matter what you did, be forgiven of. There is no salvation, and the mistake you made in divorce will forever hang over you. Though divorce is a forgivable offense, our handling of those who have experienced it can make them feel as if it is not. We must be careful about how we present our views. We certainly should not change doctrine for the sake of someone's emotion, but the explanation of our belief may need to.
What Divorced Christians Need
They Do Need Church Family
"Do not treat divorced people like they have the plague! Do not ignore the situation...Invite the divorced person or persons to a small group meeting and pray with them and over them. Pray specifically. Let them know about forgiveness and God's grace. Let them know God is with them and is all powerful. God can handle anything!" - G
Sometimes those who are divorced remarry, other times they do not. The toll divorce has on physical families is immense. Through all the pain and upheaval of their physical family, the divorced Christian (and their children) need the constant involvement, love, and care of their spiritual family. Don't pretend that nothing has happened, though you ought to allow some time of healing to pass. Weep with the Christian going through divorce, regardless of why, and be the family of God we have been called to be (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:24-26).
They Do Need Understanding
"The number 1 thing everyone should know about those brethren who are now single again, is that we are just as tender-hearted as the rest of those who are making their way back into the grace of God." - J
Divorced life presents its own set of challenges. Home life and interactions with family members morph into something very different and, often times, difficult to navigate. Try to put yourself in the divorced Christians shoes (listening to their experience is a great way to do this!). Understand that feelings of loneliness, low self-worth, and depression may follow. Be there to cheer them up, to listen, or to give them space when it's needed.
They Need to Be Involved
"Love them! Give them understanding and compassion, without having to know all of the details. I was humiliated by my divorce. Invite them to be a part of the church activities, call and check on them. Listen without judgment and don't gossip. Invite the person to sit with your family." - G
Making the transition back from married to single is jarring. Go out of your way to involve the divorced Christian. Invite them into your home, spend time in conversation with them and be involved in their interests. In the early days, check on them to see how they're doing. Don't be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, just be accessible and let them divorced Christian know that, as a brother or sister of Christ, you are there for them.
I am thankful for those who shared their perspective with me on living as a divorced Christian. You may never personally go through divorce, but you likely know someone who has/will. Divorce is difficult, but if we put into action the suggestions above we, as the church, can provide a better atmosphere for those hurt, and be the family they need.