Church should not treat divorcees like 'modern-day lepers', says pastor

(Photo: Unsplash/Naassom Azevedo)

Around two in five marriages in the US end in divorce and Christians are sadly not immune to relationship breakdown. 

With the Bible setting out God's plan for marriage as a lifelong union, how should the church treat Christian divorcees struggling to believe they are forgiven at the same time as being tough on the biblical principle that marriage is for life?

This is the question that Bethel Church's Kris Vallotton considers in his blog post, 

Vallatton, who is Senior Associate Leader of the Redding, California-based church, said he was in no way trying to promote divorce but rather consider how the church should treat Christians who have parted ways with their spouse.

'I am totally against divorce! Marriage is a covenant you make for life,' he said, adding, 'Marriage isn't something you try out to see if you are compatible.'

He wrote, however, that in his three years as a marriage counsellor at Bethel his 'dogmatic, black-and-white perspectives' on marriage and divorce had been challenging to apply to real-life divorcees in the church.

He gave the example of two Christian divorcees who had married each other and had kids but were now looking for marriage counselling from the church because they were having issues. 

Vallatton suggested it would be unhelpful to take a hard line with such divorcees and tell them that because they were committing adultery and didn't have the blessing of Jesus on their relationship, they couldn't expect to ever be blessed and should simply live with the fact that they 'both screwed up'. 

He also questioned whether strictly teaching against re-marriage was sending people the message 'that cohabiting is better than marriage'. 

He charged that churches could be guilty of having a double standard towards Christians who co-habit with partners they are not married to.

'If Steven lives together with four different people over 15 years, and then finally decides to settle down and marry, the church celebrates him and the fact that he finally "gets it"! He isn't met with shame and judgment, but rather relief and celebration!' he said.

'But why can't we apply this same celebration to someone who tried really hard to do the right thing (get married instead of just living with someone), who failed (like we all do and have in life) and then wanted to do the right thing and do better the second time around and get married again?

'Do you see the double standard here?!' he said, adding that in his view such a 'double standard' was 'unjust'. 

He said one possible way for the church to approach the question divorce and re-marriage was to think about God as a redeemer who was prepared to turn things around 'for those who remain repentant and humble'. 

'The gospel is always redemptive because Jesus died to redeem mankind from all of our brokenness!' he said. 

He argued that the answer was not in casting divorcees out and making them feel ashamed but rather reassuring them that they were forgiven and still a part of the church. 

'I'm concerned that in our zeal to keep marriages together—a good and noble thing to do—we have completely marginalized an entire people group, who, by the way, are often in immense pain!' he said.

'We've marked divorced people as our modern day lepers and banished them from connection to the Church family. In some church circles, divorce is equal to the unpardonable sin. People who have been divorced are treated as if they have the plague: they can't serve in the church and they are not trusted.

'I'm not okay with exiling a third of the church to the ice castle of shame simply because they have failed in one area of life. It is our call and responsibility as the Body of Christ to redeem and restore into the fold anyone who has been through a divorce!' 

The blog post comes days after Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt praised his church for giving him love and support during his divorce from Anna Faris. 

'Despite what the Bible says about divorce my church community was there for me every step of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk,' he wrote on Instagram. 

'They helped me tremendously offering love and support.  It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender.' 

Pratt made the comments in response to actor Ellen Paige, who accused him of attending an 'infamously anti-LGBTQ' church. 

'Nothing could be further from the truth,' Pratt said in his statement.