Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Divorce & Remarriage

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- Week of 5 Lent
(Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, 604)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 957)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) 128, 129, 130 (evening)
Exodus 7:8-24
2 Corinthians 2:14 - 3:6
Mark 10:1-16

Where are the limits to love and the boundaries to resurrection?

Today we have a debate in Mark's gospel. The issue is divorce. Some biblical scholar-pastors come to Jesus armed with authority -- Deuteronomy 24:1-6, the teaching of Moses, the author of the law and the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible. Read that passage carefully:

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man's wife. The suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you for a possession.

I'm pretty sure that's not a passage that the lectionary has us read in public worship. The concerns are for the protection of property and for purity, from a male perspective. Property and purity are important, even primary values for the community of Moses and for vast portions of the Hebrew scripture. These are values that Jesus debunks in several places. Jesus reinterprets scripture or transcends it in the name of God -- especially the scripture laws about property and purity. Jesus challenges those laws on behalf of higher values. He reinterprets them from the perspective of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus says that it was men's hardness of heart that motivated this commandment from the Torah of Moses. So Jesus offers a higher vision, quoting from Genesis. The intention of marriage is that the two shall become one flesh forever. "Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Then Mark adds some clarification in a private conversation with the disciples, declaring that all remarriage is adultery.

So the church took these words and made a new law, and administered it with a good bit of hardness of heart. Divorce? Impossible. Remarriage for any reason? Impossible as long as the former spouse is alive. The intent is good -- to protect and support marriage. The affects are often tragic, in conflict with Jesus' mission which he defined "that you might have life, and have it more abundant." Couples become trapped inside of loveless, even abusive relationships. People who have suffered the trauma of a failed marriage are doomed to a solitary life without a partner.

It was too much for Matthew to take. When he was writing his gospel, with a copy of Mark's on his desk, he added the words "except for unchastity" to the divorce ban. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."

In succeeding centuries, the church has followed the tradition of Matthew, and I would argue, the tradition of Jesus. As we have lived with the prohibitions on divorce and remarriage, we have recognized that although they can serve to support and protect marriage, they can also produce tragic injustice that blocks the redeeming power of love and resurrection.

Most of the Christian church has recognized that there are times that a marriage relationship dies beyond reclaiming. Sometimes a marriage can turn toxic or abusive. To require a couple to live in such circumstances is unjust and damaging, not life abundant. Most of the Christian church has recognized that sometimes after divorce, healthy and life-giving love can happen again. The witness of divorced Christians who remarried, sometimes outside the church, and the fecundity of their relationships helped the Episcopal Church reverse its ban on remarriage in 1973. The church saw the fruit of the spirit in the lives of some of its divorced and remarried members -- "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things." (Galatians 5:22f) For some who have lived through the death of divorce, remarriage was the experience of resurrection.

So the church followed the model of Jesus, taking a law that had been intended for good effect -- to protect marriage (with its property and purity issues) -- and the church reinterpreted it to be more open to redeeming effects of love and resurrection. The church raised up the values of the Kingdom of God as its witness to such a change. And though we always see through a mirror, dimly, we hope the more compassionate interpretation will bring to God's people life, and life abundant.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 1:31 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

But, isn't the Church simply following the culture by changing position on divorce rather than declaring loudly "let no one separate" this man and woman? And isn't a culture of easy divorce a breeding ground for more hasty marriages and therefore more mismatched couples, and thus more domestic violence?

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

So Lowell, with the book of Matthew and Mark on his desk, decided that we don't really even need a book. Jesus couldn't have possibly been protecting us from ourselves. He couldn't have been protecting the countless hordes of children born without two parents.
And yet that is exactly what we have done. Hire a lawyer, pay court fees, and a man (with a black robe) put usunder the belief that he has the authority of The Almighty.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Lowell said...


I'm surely not advocating a culture of hasty marriage or easy divorce. We have a pre-marriage process that is precludes hasty marriage in our church. I've known a lot of people and the circumstances of their divorce. I can't think of a single one who found it easy. I think that's a straw horse.

Just declaring loudly "let no one separate" doesn't save marriages or make them healthy. Having that standard does bring people into the difficult work of marriage counseling and therapy, of forgiving and renewing. I know we work hard on supporting couples through hard times and conflicts.

But sometimes "let no one separate" means "lock them up in poison for life." I've sure seen that. I've seen marriages that we so toxic that I was certain that divorce was God's will for them.

Then what? Never a family or partner for you. After a woman has been brutalized by her first husband, just victimize the victim by saying never again? That's not the way of Jesus.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Ah Reg,

Welcome back. You must have been agreeing with me for the past few months' reflections. This is the first time you've thrown the book at me in a while.

I love the book. And I embrace Jesus' protecting us from ourselves. And, on occasion, protecting children from the abuse and violence that they sometimes experience in two-parent families. Not all two-parent families are healthy or even safe.

Do you know anyone who has been divorced? Do you know their story?

Do you know anyone who has been happily remarried after divorce? Do you just see cursing in their relationship, or maybe love?

I'll say this, Reg. You are consistent. Whenever there is a conflict between love and law, you always choose law. I try to be as consistent in choosing love.


At 9:17 AM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

Jesus is Love, and he also wrote the Law.
People will do what they have to do. I, especially if I was in a teaching position like you, would not presume to know God's will. I am more concerned with your circumventing the Law and your congregation embracing the Gospel according to Lowell then of individuals breaking it.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Thanks Lowell, for staying engaged.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Lowell said...


Yes, God is Love and Jesus is the Incarnation of God's love in a human life.

But Jesus most certainly did NOT write the Law.

The Law was written by human beings. As Jesus references the offending passage in Deuteronomy allowing a man to write a certificate of divorce if his wife displeases him, he attributes it to its traditional author, Moses. Then Jesus goes on to re-interpret the Law in a more compassionate form, more consistent with the God of Love.

The Scriptures were all written by human beings. The Scriptures were authorized as being Canonical and authoritative by human beings -- Councils of the Church, where leaders met, debated and came to consensus around which books accurately reflected the experience and teaching of the Church. (It took a few extra centuries for the debate around Revelation to settle down.)

Reg. Do you want Law or do you want Love? If both, then which Laws? You obviously like the ones that seem to outcast gay people and the ones that prohibit divorce and remarriage. How about slavery? Jesus didn't abolish that one. In fact, he spoke of slaves as models of service. And Paul advised them to stay as they are.

If you don't think we should re-instate slavery, then why?


P.S. You didn't answer my questions. Do you know anyone who has been divorced? Do you know their story? Do you know anyone who has been happily married after divorce? Do you just see cursing in their relationship, or maybe love?

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

Jesus didn't write the Law?

If he didn't write it, then why did he come to fulfill it? (in Matt 5:17)

At 3:14 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

I could not help but apply Joan Chittister's words from her daily readings on the Rule of Benedict (
)to the discussion. I know it is taken out of context, but I would like the both of you to dwell on the words. UP

"If anything, this chapter on a now defunct practice, is a lesson in the way that gentleness softens rigor without destroying either the practice or the person. Legalists too often opt for practice, whatever the cost to the people who are trying to do it; liberals too often opt for people's convenience, whatever the loss of spiritual practice. Benedict, on the other hand, opts for a way of life that cares for people physically while it goes on strengthening them spiritually.

The contemporary question with which the chapter confronts us is an extremely powerful one: When we eliminate a spiritual discipline from our lives, because it is out of date, or impossible to do anymore, or too taxing to be valuable, what do we put in its place to provide the same meaning? Or do we just pare away and pare away whatever demands spiritual centering from us until all that is left is a dried up humanism, at best."

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

Dear UP,

Great quote from Joan Chittister.

For me the task for the Church is to help equip people to be spiritually whole and healthy so that they can better into whole and healthy relationships that will allow them to live life abundantly. The Benedictine three-fold promise of obedience, stability and conversion of life is a rich model for living in relationship and in community -- what Benedict did best.

The tension between stability and conversion can be lived out through obedience (from the same Latin word as "listen").


At 8:09 AM, Blogger Lowell said...


What about Paul? Clearly his experience of the power of Jesus was as a liberation from the law. The law was death to him. When he realized that his justification was a pure gift, not dependent upon his performance under the law, he experienced grace. His whole gospel is summarized by those words -- justification by grace through faith.

Every conflict he had was with those who tried to re-introduce some part of the Jewish law. Paul steadfastly resisted.


P.S. You still haven't answered -- do you know any divorced people and their stories? ...any happily remarried people? How cursed do you regard them?

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

Of course I know someone, who doesn't.
Again, let me state this clearly. I don't judge individuals, that is God's job. I judge the the churches, especially ones that are in turmoil and display such a lack of peace and unity like the Episcopal church. The church has no authority to change, disregard, or ignore Biblical teaching that don't fit the current societal standard and political correctness.

Destroying marriage through easy divorce, lack of understanding a vow, or endorsing gay marriage, has already done incredible damage to our society. Now your church seems to be adding to the problem. And who gets hurt? Not only the churched, but the unchurched.
We have the answer to the unchurched problem. Unless we water it down.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Lowell said...


Come visit my church. You will see incredible love and vitality, and a sense of outreach and passion for the gospel that you can taste. Come judge my church. It is strong and faithful.

You have a particular interpretation of the Bible that you have received, and it is obviously satisfying to you. It is what you call "Biblical teaching." But it is "Biblical interpretation."

I know of no one in my church who endorses "easy divorce". Actually, Episcopalians have a rather low incidence of divorce, much lower than the Baptists who have the highest rate of divorce among American Christian denominations.

We make an incredibly big deal about vows. Especially our Baptismal Vows which we just renewed at Easter. We will do so again next month when the Bishop Visits and again on the Feast of Pentecost. We take our vows seriously, and we study them regularly.

And the Church has always changed Biblical teaching as it has reflected upon it as a body. (Or do you still support slavery and monarchy as Biblical institutions?)

And, ask the unchurched. Who do they feel hurt by? They are hurt regularly by the angry, judgmental churches they call hypocrites, who call them "lost" and "sinners" and "unsaved" and who have the same kind of faults that they have.

Actually, as I look at Jesus and his approach to those outside his faith, our approach is very much more like his. We reach out with love and compassion and invite others to share with us in the abundant life and good news that Jesus has brought.

Reg -- both of us are committed to Jesus and follow the Bible faithfully AS WE INTERPRET IT. I just think you interpret it badly, and you think I interpret it badly. But I'm NOT ignoring Biblical teaching, I'm just emphasizing different parts of the Bible than you are. I emphasize love where you emphasize law. I'm convinced that love is more characteristic of Jesus than law is.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home