Friday, 6 May 2011

Christ, Divorce and the Church

Under Moses, every divorce was a concession registered by certificate to ensure its occurrence was a matter of public record. At that time, conceding to and managing the fallout of an inevitable separation was the better way to defuse the abiding intolerance and unyielding vendettas of that era, than forcing one or both stubborn personalities to stay together. This behaviour was hardly a virtue to emulate, so Christ's response to the lawyers testing Him was 'why bother citing it?' 'It was allowed for the hardness of your hearts', He said.

Christ, here, is intimating that divorce can often be avoided by mediation, defusing the build-up of resentment and giving up the stubborn insistence that staying together is intolerable. Divorce involves maintaining a stubborn emotional wall (hardness of heart) without a readiness to forgive in order destroy the bond of marriage.

Of course, Christ's censure targeted those who invoked divorce as an automatic personal entitlement to end a marriage for every type of major spousal dispute and disenchantment. 

For instance, the Pharisees challenged Christ with the question: 'is it lawful to put away for any cause?' One religious sect of that time held that as long as it was properly registered in accordance with Moses Law, a man had the right to exercise personal (read, arbitrary) discretion in setting aside a failing marriage with its economic and emotional dependencies, and that he could then pursue a new relationship. 

Admittedly, the public record of divorce thwarted its serial abuse and was vastly more preferable to the disgrace of just 'putting away', the detestable wilful self-serving act of simply deserting a marriage without any notice or valid explanation.

In Christ, the concession of divorce is removed for all causes, except 'porneia': gross sexual neglect and misconduct. Beyond these cases, we are to seek reconciliation. It's unfair to hold longstanding grudges against a sexually committed spouse while God generously overlooks our many faults. 

A Christian may indeed divorce when their partner has ended the sexual union. For instance, by deserting the marriage, by long-term sexual neglect or by gross infidelity.

According to Christ, this sole divorce concession does not completely exonerate either party, nor are they completely absolved of responsibility. 

Divorce is not a licence to re-marry. However, the church leadership has a scriptural role in resolving escalated disputes between its members. According to Christ and the apostolic letters, it is an arbitrating authority that can prescribe ways to defuse and resolve disputes, including marital ones, peacefully. In some aggravated cases, leaders may even recommend separation, or divorce for sexual misconduct as a last resort. The church should also offer exceptional support akin to bereavement counselling to shore up those who are separated and grieving over their loss of a life partner. 

The lack of significant levels of support and fellowship to counteract the ensuing loneliness of separation and divorce is one of the most glaring, ugly acts of negligence in the modern church.

Church leaders and members will explain either now or on Judgement Day why their mission lacked any stated high-profile concerted efforts to stave off the loneliness of Christian separation and divorce. The woman that Christ met at the well would have suffered terribly in today's church.

How does the verse, 'In as much as you did it to the least of these my brethren...' end?

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