A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post listing a few conversations that I wish I had…well, still wish to see in the church today because to me: (1) They are important issues for many, and (2) We have been so bad at handling those issues for so long. The first one on the list was “Marriage, Divorce and Infidelity”.
Don’t get me wrong…I am not saying that the church has not talked about these issues. In fact, the church has talked plenty about them. The problem is, the church has been doing all the talking, and not nearly enough listening. As a former professor of preaching, one thing I have learned is that preaching about a subject on Sunday is not the same as having dealt with it in the community. A mistake pastors and church leaders make too often. I am not out to resolve the issues involved in a short blog post, but I would like to raise a few questions to hopefully invite conversations.
Earlier this year I spoke at an event, sharing my story and trying to raise awareness for mental wellness. Afterwards a person in the audience whom I recognized as a leader in the Chinese church circles came up to me and offered his kind encouragement. As we were wrapping up our conversation he said to me: “I am sure God will continue to use you to help people, because you managed to save your marriage.”
I have thought a lot about what he said and one question troubled me: Why is God’s ability/willingness to continue to use me to help people conditional upon whether I had stayed married or had gotten a divorce?
What is more troubling is that I don’t think my friend had intended what he said to be a theological statement on how God works. Rather, what he meant was: If I had gotten a divorce, I would have been shunned in the Christian community and would not be given these opportunities to speak, to serve, to help people.
Of course, this is hardly news. Pastors have lost their careers, people have been marginalized and others have been asked to stop serving in the church for the sole reason of choosing a divorce. Again, I am not here to offer quick solutions, but I would like to ask:
Why does having a divorce “disqualify” a person for ministry?
If two consenting adults have genuinely stopped loving one another and decided to get a divorce rather than being miserably trapped in a “by-name-only” marriage, why is that so wrong?
Who among us are qualified to judge all that goes on between 2 people in their marriage/divorce?
Perhaps rather than just being “anti-divorce”, the church should learn what it means to be “pro-love”?
Closely related to this issue of course is the matter of infidelity. All the sermons I have heard on the subject basically have the same message: “Don’t do it. Just don’t. Don’t give in to lust. Don’t play with fire.”
Of course that is good advice. Problem is, most people do not get involved in an affair just because they are looking for great sex, or because they are looking for “excitement”. People get involved in extra marital affairs because there are deep needs that are not being met within the marriage, there are pains and wounds that they have suffered with for a long time, and for most, because they are, simply, desperate for love. The tragedy is that we paint people who have committed marital infidelity as being guilty of the ultimate sin. We alienate them from our community. We look at them with eyes of judgement. And most of our so called practices of “discipline” or “restoration” are little more than exercises in shame and punishment.
What will happen, if we learn to look at a person and rather than seeing the sin, we see the hurt underneath?
How I wish we had better conversations when I was still in the church….