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Divorce Part 2

December 17, 2007

The most up to date statement on divorce and remarriage for SDA Church members was was voted at the 57th Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, August, 2000 as a revision of chapter 15 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 1995 edition. A full copy of the statement may be found here. For the moment I’d draw your attention to the following statement–particularly the section in bold:

It is recognized that sometimes marriage relations deteriorate to the point where it is better for a husband and wife to separate. “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11, RSV). In many such cases the custody of the children, the adjustment of property rights, or even personal protection may make necessary a change in marital status. In such cases it may be permissible to secure what is known in some countries as a legal separation. However, in some civil jurisdictions such a separation can be secured only by divorce.
A separation or divorce which results from factors such as physical violence or in which “unfaithfulness to the marriage vow” (see sections 1. and 2. above) is not involved, does not give either one the scriptural right to remarry, unless in the meantime the other party has remarried; committed adultery or fornication; or died. Should a member who has been thus divorced remarry without these biblical grounds, he/she shall be removed from church membership; and the one whom he/she marries, if a member, shall also be removed from church membership.

So let us summarize the SDA Church’s current position

  1. If your spouse commits adultery you may divorce & remarry without church sanction.
  2. If your spouse physically abuses you, you may divorce but must spend the rest of your life celibate and alone unless they enter into a sexual relationship first.
  3. If you are “abandoned by an unbelieving spouse” (whatever that may mean) you may also divorce and remarry without sanction.

Does anyone else see how sad and perverse such a position is?

I’d also like to draw your attention to a paper by Australian SDA Phil Ward on divorce. As part of his paper, Ward undertakes a very interesting examination of the position of Ellen G. White on this issue.

13 comments

  1. I did follow the link to Phil Ward’s paper. I found it shallow and contradictory, an inevitability when considering divorce apart from a sound theological foundation of the marriage covenant. Considering your usually sound scholarship, I’m surprised your offering this paper as a counter to the church’s official position.

    The weight of God’s word falls against divorce and does all it can to support marriage. That the world’s position is exactly the opposite should caution us against arguing too strongly for ways out rather than ways of reconciliation. God intends for divorce to be very, very difficult, not for mere legal reasons, but because it threatens the principles of sacrificial love inherent in His very character. Divorce undermines the image of God as revealed in the marriage covenant. Divorce should always be considered the most extreme solution to marriage problems, even in cases of adultry. Forgiveness and acceptance are the healing agencies of the Spirit, meant to reconcile broken relationships before divorce is absolutely necessary. Adultry, however it is defined, is not given as a Biblical excuse or “exception clause”, but as a consession to human weakness. And I speak as one who has been sinned against in this regard as well as one who has been guilty of it myself. Adultry within marriage is as forgiveable as any other sin, by the grace of God.

    We live in a world that avoids pain, whether physical or emotional, at all cost. Pleasure is the primary goal, the satisfaction of feelings. Self-denial is mocked as religious fanaticism. There are times when marriage can be a cross as galling as any devised by men. Yet a cross does not negate the hope of resurrection. Dead love can be reignited with the Spirit of God.

    I made reference in a previous comment to my personal story with divorce and remarriage, so I won’t repeat that here. I simply add my support for our position as a church by saying I find it fair, balanced, and Biblical. I would concede it may be distorted in it’s use on local levels as it is interpreted and applied selfishly. But this can be said for any doctrine we hold.

    The modern and postmodern theological context remains one of cheap grace. The cost of discipleship is largely ignored today. Therefore, I write and preach to counteract such tendencies.


  2. As long as we live in community and seek a resolution to these often messy and heart-rending human situations, we are constantly challenged to move beyond ourselves and in into the Realm of Grace.

    I agree that we should beware of the “cheap” versions of Grace. Those interpretations that tell us that God just wants us to “be happy” and that ultimately become thinly veiled coverings for “Christian Hedonism”.

    Yet we also struggle with the reality of poor decisions, faulty wisdom and sometimes, even nastier variations on sordid themes than we had imagined possible. In a society that has become more and more “permissive” and “inclusive” sometimes there is strong appeal in a “single reason for divorce”. That way, we only have to apply a rule. Anything less is not covered and is (often) not adequately addressed.

    However, simply staying in an awful situation is not the same thing as self-denial, is it? Pain and discomfort are often avoided, and our affluence leads us to believe that we can cushion ourselves against anything that will cause us distress. Yet, we cannot, by the same token, argue that those who divorce for “adultery” or “other reasons” are trying to avoid the pain and discomfort of emotional/physical/sexual/psychological abuse. Surely, moving further down that line of reasoning might bring us to the point of accepting these “abuses” as “from God”.

    As a Minister myself, I have heard my fair share of tragedies. And have heard over and over again how people have reached out to their faith community for help,but their community cannot believe that things are as bad as they are told. It is shocking to realize that the spouse who is trying to leave an abusive domestic situation suffers equal tyranny from the Saints who themselves are trying to escape the reality that something like that could possibly be happening in their safe, moral, protected community.

    I have often thought that we express more concern when a marriage is breaking up – and concern might not always be the right word in each situation – than we do in the years that it has taken to get there. And, yes, people do not always share their troubles. I suspect, because they know it is not safe to do so. Precious few are willing, and/or able to ride those rapids with a family in crisis.

    Perhaps we need to pay greater attention to building the families of our members and our workers. To growing their marriages and strengthening family bonds. To helping to prevent these tragedies – but also being there for the people when they happen. To truly enter the Realm of Grace.


  3. There have been times in my ministry, when I have wished that there were a way to right all the wrongs and make (as the little prayer says) all the bad people, good; and all the good people, nice!

    In ten years of ministry, I have not seen many marriages break-apart. However, I have sat and listened to the stories of those who have long since been through such deep waters, and from time to time, watched almost helplessly, as one or two couples have wrecked their homes and families – refusing help; counsel; and the involvement of the Faith Community.

    And there have been occasions when I have wondered about the sanity of it all. How we are often unable (sometimes, perhaps, unwilling) to get involved to save the marriage – people keep things very private and are understandably guarded; And yet we tend to jump in “boots and all” when the divorce is being ironed out, as we try to figure out who is guilty and who is innocent. So that we might “do the right thing”.

    What is the right thing to do? One man commented to me, “The Church is not there when you need them; And there when you don’t want them anymore!”

    Peoples lives are not perfect. And I guess we struggle to find the best way of holding up the ideal (in this case, a healthy, loving marriage) while at the same time understanding that awful truth – that we all live with imperfection.

    I appreciated Phil Ward’s comments. They attempt, at least, to bring some balance into the picture. And to rightly question if our entrenched position is both Biblical, and helpful.

    When we marry we make vows. These vows are composed of more than simply – “keeping myself only to you”. We promise to, “love, honor, cherish” in addition to the monogamy clause. It is curious to me how we seem to reduce “marital unfaithfulness” to be only adultery. Surely, if I beat, or otherwise inflict physical harm on my spouse, I am being unfaithful to my vow? Or if I refuse to provide and otherwise care for her, am I not guilty of desertion? What if I break her down, not with my fists, but with my words and attitudes. If I demean and deride her, both privately and publicly – am I not being a faithless husband? I may never stray sexually, does that mean I am a faithful husband? Certainly not!

    Certainly, many interpretations of Grace are “cheap”. And some are little more than thinly veiled disguises for Christian Hedonism. However, we are called to participate in the sharing of Real Grace. Grace that recognizes our inadequacy and imperfection, yet continues to call us despite our brokenness.The gospel is revolutionary, possibly even subversive at times. And yes it must challenge our cultures and world views. It calls us to be better than we have been; perhaps it calls us to be better than we ever thought we needed to be!


  4. devorce is painfull and injurous not only to the victim/s but also to the image
    of rhe church.The church should therefore stick to biblical teaching tha mare theologicala
    assessions.The churchs family life department should provide sound marital sencetisarion
    to couples as regard to remainig faithful. your article s are o.k


  5. May I suggest an article from Christianity today the Nov 07 issue, “what God has joined: what does the bible really teach about divorce. David Instone-Brewer

    Also I recommend “Divorce and Remarriage” from same author above.

    “Divorce and Remarriage” What does the bible really say” Ralph Woodrow.

    I agree that our stance is impractical and non biblical. We know what the Jesus said but what did he MEAN. Paul said that women should be quiet and not teach. That is what he said, but is that what he MEANS!

    I recommend the books above. I believe it will balance things out. but i agree divorce is horrible and painful. But also remember Man was not made for marriage, marriage was made for man” ahhh you like that huh? LOL


  6. In my short time in the ministry (11 years) I have heard many sad stories. Some of them involve Divorce. All of these stories include some reference to “guilty” and “innocent”. I recall hearing of one brother who commented, “I would rather face God than the Bretheren!” (He committed suicide). Divorce polarises families and congregations. And our attitudes about it and to those who are caught up in it’s trauma are often more about determining who was wronged and who therefore deserves support and encouragement from the Church. Another brother commented to me, “Funny, how the Church is strangely absent when you need them, and all over you when you don’t!” He was speaking in the context of his pending divorce. Strange how we assume that all the information we receive about the various parties, we so often assume to be “true, and incontrovertible.” I have observed Church Boards take decisions about members status simply on the word of one or other spouse, without ever “interviewing” or giving space and time for each case to be stated by the individual.

    I believe that the Church wants to be fair and loving in its approach to dealing with the Divorce Phenomenon. But our best intentions are sullied by our own mixed motives, and limited understanding. I have seen very few members be genuinely supportive and caring in the face of a Divorce within the Church. We want all the details, yes. We are happy to talk about it among ourselves, yes. We will eagerly share the latest news. or convoluted twist in the whole sad saga, but very few will take the time, or have the courage, to come along side those who are hurting so badly and walk the journey with them.

    Sounds harsh, I know, but I think that we use well intentioned guidance to serve our own selfish motives, and families being torn apart by divorce are also re-traumatized by their faith community.

    One of our challenges in determining exactly what the Biblical position is on the issue of Divorce has been understanding what Divorce meant to the people to whom the counsel was first written. What did Divorce mean in the Old Testament? What did Divorce mean in the early Church? Understanding that Divorce was never God’s intention for us is important, but so is understanding that he never intended for husbands (or wives) to stray; or for spouses to abuse alcohol, drugs, or sex. He never intended for a man to beat a woman (or visa versa) or for a woman to emasculate her husband with her words and attitudes. Marriage vows (and faithfulness) covers far more than who we are sleeping with. We are turning a corner, and perhaps our policy is not perfect yet. Maybe it never will be, but I am relieved to see that the Church is moving in a more compassionate direction. But it still depends on compassionate people to handle the guidelines it has produced. Perhaps our greatest challenge is not the Manual, but the man (ual)-handlers…


  7. Wayne, I was only in Adventist minsitry for 5 years until i was asked to resign from my pastoral position because i was getting a divorce. they didn’t wait to see it it happened and axed me and gave my “budget” away in one month. Dang! I ended up with a dual divorce.

    The sad thing was I was given no assistance. They said, see ya! oh you can have unused vacation pay. Gee thanks it was mine anyways. In a few short months i found my self 2000 miles away laying on the ground of an old studio apt with no food in my cupboards. Nothing worse when your family(church) abandons and rejects you. My finances were gone, career gone , relationship gone. and the church was so indifferent. Even The Catholics who commit crimes (pedofile) aren’t abandoned like that.

    oh well I am finally back up on my feet doing meaninful ministry (not with the church of course).


  8. Truly the church does not help when you need them they only come when you don`t need.Instead of giving support they only ostracise you.I had a tough marriage with my wife and the marriage ended up in divorce.I should admit that both of us were guilty of our situation and it was really unbearable to live together.I agree with a recent writer who commented and said that marriage involves more than faithfulness rather than faithfulness in merely sleeping together.This situation did not only end in our divorce but in me being disfellowshipped by my local church.I was only told a month ago that i had been disfellowshipped from that church.To my surprise brethen i was not even given any chance to state my side of the story as to how we ended up in divorce.What the church board did was listening to the evidence given by my former wife and that s how they reached their decision to disfellowship me.I tried to talk to them and they said the disfellowship would stand as long as it takes.Surely according to rules of natural justice i should have been given time to state my side of the story but they had already condemned me beforehand.


  9. Hello,
    I have experienced much of what I have read thus far. To my knowledge, I have not been disfellowshipped however. My wife left me in 2000. She then divorced me in ’01. During that year, I made attempts at reconciliation.
    We had moved far from our home church and when we split, we both moved back to that area, albeit sepperately.
    I attended the church where we had both been baptized and married. I was treated poorly by the congregation. No one asked me what happened or if I was ok.
    My exwife is a beautiful, loving, caring woman. So I think it only human nature that she be regarded as the victim. No one seemed to notice that I didn’t leave her nor did I divorce her. It was the other way around.
    Eight years later, I still hear of things that I was supposed to have done. I’m certain that these have grown in depth of depravity as time has gone by.

    One wonderful gray headed Saint did finally, after 7 years, inform me of the story that had been circulated about me. How much of it was from my ex-wife and how much has been created through the church’s rumor mill, I may never know.
    My membership is in storage in a conference church membership file. I have attended Seventh Day Adventist churches here and there and from time to time, but shy away from transferring my membership and actually joining a church family.
    I was an ordained elder and sabbath school teacher before. I love the truth that I have been able to understand. Jesus has never left me even when I dispaired of salvation because of all this.
    I recently remarried. She is not SDA but has a wonderful connection to God. We speak more from principle than detail when we discuss our faith. So far so good.
    Good luck to you all and may God bless you deeply.
    crsn


  10. hello, since the paper from Phil Ward is no more avaliable on net is there any possiblity to read it? Thank you!


  11. The woman I love-she&I are Adventists-divorced me a few years ago.There had been no discussion.I know my sins,and I have repented a long time since;I believe that God has forgiven me.I heard that she had said that she would never seek reconciliation: that stung ever more.I will always believe her to be a good woman,
    and it saddens me greatly that she is on her 3rd partner.She has ‘our’ 3 children,all of whom I love.
    I’d be willing to do a lot for her to love me,despite her divorce:she told me 8 years ago that she had chosen not to love me,but she cut me off radically some years ago.I believe “there is a God in heaven…”(Daniel),but I seem so far from love on this earth
    (although my little son never fails to tell me that he loves me,whenever I say goodbye to him&my 2 daughters).
    Our church has plenty to say about the colours of the high priest’s robes etc;but in this matter,no one has ever broached the subject of my being divorced by the woman I love.


    • Ps.I came to this website,because ‘my beloved'(I use this term because she is and lest I reveal her identity)sent me a huge screed of verbiage-it was via a text message- from Phil Ward on the justifications for divorce).


      • Pps.Lest I should sound sanctimonious,I must say that I will always love ‘my beloved’ because she is a lovely woman.Tthere is no virtue in me for ‘deciding’ on this.I see the element of absurdity to this stance,but there it is.



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