Few things stir up more controversy and reveal old, unhealed wounds like biblical teaching on divorce. But as we move through Jesus' great Sermon, we cannot simply skip this part (as the lectionary does!). We must be willing to hear and submit to what the Lord Jesus has to say. Personally, I'd rather not write about this. I don't like offending people. But I believe God's Word and obedience to his Word, however imperfectly pursued, holds the key to life for us. It's only when we dodge Jesus and his teachings that we fail to find healing and hope.
It is my opinion that America's greatest problem in the realm of sexual ethics is not the confusion surrounding homosexuality, not sexual misconduct among the clergy, not the almost constant presence of pornography in our media, but rather the rampant and unchecked divorce and remarriage that has become the norm in our culture and even in the Church.
If you believe the statistics, only 47% of children today are raised by their biological parents. It is commonly said that in the U.S., half of all marriages end in divorce. Even if these stats are given a 10-15% swing, they still show us that America is socially and culturally bankrupt. The stats aren't much better for the Church, and in some cases they are actually worse.
For "us" not "them"
The change must begin with "the household of God." We follow Jesus; these are his teachings. We will have no credibility to speak to our culture about marriage (or any other area of sexual ethics) until we take seriously the Christian requirements on marriage in the Bible in our own community.
Though not without some interpretive and practical difficulties the teachings of Christ on divorce are plain enough that many non-Christians cite them (correctly understanding their meaning) in order to show that most Christians in the States are inconsistent in our application of biblical sexual ethics. It seems that we often talk out of both sides of our mouth when it comes to sexual ethics and divorce: We want to uphold a biblical definition of marriage for others (e.g. the gay community), but we are not willing to do so for our own.
We must return to the Christian teaching on divorce. Much is at stake: God's glory, our families, and our witness in our culture.
So, what is the biblical standard?
In my next post, I will outline very briefly the most liberal biblical stance allowable and discuss a few ways that we, as the Church in the US, can make progress on this issue.