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Progressive Christianity And Divorce


Neon Genesis
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As a former fundamentalist, for me, one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus is not the hellfire and brimstone passages which can easily be explained to me. To me, the most difficult passage to accept is Jesus' teachings on divorce. When I was a fundamentalist Christian, I was always taught that Jesus had repealed the old law's permissive view of divorce and that Jesus had forbidden all divorce expect in the case of adultery. Even if you were abused by your spouse, unless your spouse had an affair, it was a sin to get a divorce and even if you got a divorce on biblical grounds, it was a sin to remarry because Jesus had said that a divorced spouse who remarries is also committing adultery. On the other hand, Paul allowed for divorce if your religious differences were causing conflicts in the marriage and didn't have nearly a strict view on divorce. This idea that you should be forced to live with an abusive spouse seems archaic and sexist to me and in regards to the teachings on divorce, Moses and Paul actually seem more progressive than Jesus.

 

There was a case awhile back where this lady in TN who was a member of the Church of Christ was a pastor's wife and she killed her husband because he forced her to do abusive sex acts. I was a member of the Church of Christ although not her particular congregation, but I have to wonder if the reason why she killed her husband was because she may have felt trapped by the church's condemnation of divorce. It seems ironic to me that the more literal Christians take the bible, the higher the divorce rate goes up. How do progressive Christians reconcile progressive beliefs about divorce with these seemingly out-dated teachings of Jesus? Is the fundamentalist interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount's condemnation of divorce an inaccurate interpretation or is it a historically inaccurate account of the teachings of Jesus? When do you believe divorce is an acceptable choice, if you believe it ever is one?

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Neon,

 

You ask some tough questions that i for one do not know for fact the answers to. However I would like to make one observation that my personal experience has spoken to me.

 

It seems to me that people will be people in that IF they have a propensity to do harm to others, which also leads to your issue of divorce and other things, they will. They will look for justification for what they want and desire to do even if none exists. If they can not find it in the Bible, they will find it elsewhere.

 

My personal understanding is that it is not so much that they get those ideas from the Bible in the first place as it is that they use the Bible to justify that which they already desire and want to do. Men before the Bible was written, in many societies looked down on women and mistreated them. To me the Bible reflects a lot of the dominating characteristic of men of that time rather then men solely being a reflection of the writings. In other words, it is my own belief and understanding that especially in the OT men wrote inspiring words but slanted God into their image of giving God human characteristics similar to their own . ie: Getting angry, being sexist, killing enemies, being jealous, showing favoritism, changing their mind, etc. . This is simply not the God i personally know.

 

So while we may attribute parts of our understanding of the Bible as responsible for some things that may disgust us, i believe that is not primarily the case. Rather the case to me seems to be that it was and is man that is responsible for the parts of the Bible that he uses to justify his intrinsic non support of life and justice.

 

As for the NT and what Jesus said concerning divorce, personally i do not know if that which is written is what he said or not. I read it and if it witnesses with my inner being, i receive it. If it does not, i leave it alone. As a result I leave alot alone. biggrin.gif So call me a cherry picker. laugh.gif

 

I have repeated myself and written this rather poorly it seems but am hoping this makes some sense to just more than me.

 

Joseph

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Guest billmc

I became divorced back in 1984 when I was a fundamentalist. Though I had "biblical grounds," it still hurt a lot, and I did or did not do things that contributed to the death of the marriage.

 

As I read your opening question, NG, a number of things came to my mind and I'll just briefly share without going into too much depth.

 

1. I find alot of wisdom in Joseph's response. I suppose I am a "cherry-picker" also because though I try to follow the better of Jesus' teachings as a rabbi or as Christ, I also believe that Jesus was a product of his religion and his time. Though I am convinced that he had a close, intimate relationship with God and is therefore a good pattern for us, I don't think that his relationship with God guaranteed that he was infallible or inerrant on every issue, any more than we are.

 

2. It's my view that marriage was very different back then from what it is now. For one thing, many (perhaps most) Jewish marriages were arranged marriages, bringing families together in bonds that strengthened particular relationships within the community. Even though progress was made over the centuries, we see this echoed in "The Fiddler on the Roof" where Tehvia (sp?) asks his wife, "Do you love me?" It's implied that, contrary to the romantic view of modern marriages, biblical marriages were more about community status and social benefit. If this is true, then Jesus' condemnation of divorce isn't so much setting a standard for all time as it is trying to ensure that women, who usually had no source of income without a man's provision, would be taken care of within the community. One of the early church's first functions was to care for widows who essentially had nothing. In our society, we look askance at people who marry for money or prestige or power. But this was the norm in biblical days. So it also puts the issue of divorce in a different context, IMO. I.e. if we say that Jesus was against divorce, it is beneficial to ask why? What did he think divorce led to?

 

3. Though Christians will sometimes get in our faces and scream that marriage is a sacred institution given to us by God, it is usually the government (the state) that authorizes the marriage. :) The power invested in our ministers to marry people is issued by the state, not by the church. The church blesses the union, but the state issues the benefits of it.

 

4. I would never present divorce as the first option to a struggling marriage. And while I know that the Bible does not present marriage exactly as we moderns perceive it, many of us seem to believe it is an equally beneficial relationship between two people who love each other. IMO, if the love ceases, then the marriage dies. It may still be a partnership or a relationship, but I would hesitate to call it a marriage. And I would certainly never recommend two people stay together if things have turned either verbally or physically violent with little hope for reconciliation. Despite what the scriptures may say about how Jesus may have stood on this issue in AD 27, I can't believe that God would insist that we stay legally bound to a person whose intent is to do us psychological or physical harm.

 

Those are my initial thoughts. I hope others chime in as this is an important subject.

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Marriage, I think, is a good idea. Historically it has brought a lot of structure to the family; it has brought human love and sexuality into a contractual, mutually responsible framework. Not perfectly, mind you, especially since women have almost always gotten the lesser status. But I happen to think it is still a pretty good idea. Sociologists and psychologists recognize that a relationship between two people is never so stable as when there is a third party weighing in on it. Marriage kind of brings that third party into the picture by making their community and society at large officially recognize their love and commitment to one another.

 

Ok, now on divorce: I think we have to recognize that the marriage by nature is a contract, and divorce is doing away with the contract. Why is it contractual? Why create this framework? Because, I would say, it creates a stable environment for the family unit. Love and sexuality, to my mind, can be very free, until you bring children into it. Then there needs to be something stable, because there is a great deal of responsibility present.

 

I would never suggest that a violent or abusive marriage be kept going. There is no stability, and no fidelity to the contract! It defeats the entire purpose of the marriage. Forget the religious notions of marriage and what God supposedly thinks of it. From a utilitarian perspective I would say that marriage is fundamentally a contract for the stability of the relationship and of the family (i.e. children). Perhaps when considering a divorce, one of the main things one should be weighing is how will this affect one's children? If there are no children, then there is less stress and need for that stability and perhaps it would be just as well to separate for irreconcilable differences. Not that I think we should take the vows we make lightly. Hopefully divorce really is a last resort. Hopefully the marriage was grounded in the right reasons, too!

 

Just my thoughts that I was admittedly reasoning out as I was writing.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I am also a former member of the Church of Christ. This was a major issue for them. I have come to conclude the answer for this, and other similar questions, lies in Jesus Sermon on the Mount. I believe Jesus purpose in this sermon was to contrast the law and Gods intended ideal. Jesus noted that God viewed adultery as more than just a physical act. Jesus indicted that lusting after another, even if that desire was not actually pursued, was sufficient to qualify as sin.

 

I believe Jesus was simply communicating Gods intended ideal for marriage. Jesus began this sermon by confirming that his mission was to fulfill the law. We learn from Pauls writings that the law was completed by Christ sacrifice which allowed God to remove it as a barrier between Him and His creation. Paul indicates, because of Christ sacrifice, we are no longer under law, we are under grace.

 

Scripture indicates Christ sacrifice paid the penalty for all sin, which would presumably include unscriptural divorce. If not, then salvation is obtained by works which would make Christ sacrifice irrelevant. I understand there are those who participate on this board that reject the doctrine of an atoning sacrifice. Christ sacrifice, as far as I am concerned, is the heart of Christianity. Without that Christianity has no purpose, at least for me.

 

Divorce is a tragic reality of life but I dont believe its any more of an issue with God than any other sin. Ive been happily married for 44 years. My son has been happily married for 19 years, but my daughter is on her third and hopefully her last marriage.

Edited by Javelin
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Divorce is a very personal thing for me, and really isn't related to my religious beliefs at all. My folks divorced when I was four years old. Maybe they shouldn't have, I don't know. But they did. In a few weeks, my wife and I will celebrate our golden anniversary (it actually isn't until September, but this is when the grandkids are out of school). So divorce is not contagious. I just can't see it as an issue that is properly addressed by quoting the Bible, in fact I'm sort of offended by the idea.

 

Just some rambly thoughts.

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Divorce is an ugly and often necessary evil.

 

But regarding Christianity, I suppose in a way it comes down to what version of the Bible you work with. Mine uses the term "faithfulness" where others may perhaps be more explicit to indicate sexual fidelity.

 

But what can be involved in "faithfulness". I believe many things that happen in a marriage gone bad can be considered to be a lack of faithfulness. Obviously physical, psychological, and mental/emotional abuse fall into this category. I think taking the other person for granted does as well.

 

The most common reason given for divorces is the expression "irreconcilable differences". This generally means there's a lot of arguing and fighting going on. Somewhere along the line, respect has been lost. One person does not respect the other, or niether person respects each other. A loss of respect, I would think, should fall into the category of lack of "faithfulness".

 

My parents divorced when I was about nine. My mother left my father at my behest because I was tired of being beaten by him.

 

My first wife divorced me because the marriage simply died. We both had mental illnesses. She had much anger and niether one of us had any respect for each other. This again falls under one of the possible definitions of "lack of faithfulness". My ex began dating fairly quickly, whereas I waited until she had already begun an affair with the man who became her second husband. I did so not because of religious beliefs, but because she left me so I was the one spurned, and I just wasn't ready to start dating. Usually the one who initiates the separation is ready to date the day after he or she leaves.

 

So, all depends upon the definitions of the term "unfaithfulness". With the definitions I have set forth, it would appear that Jesus was more progressive than Paul, and possibly more progressive than Moses. If you restrict the definition to the sexual one, then the opposite is true.

 

One supposes that the church's preoccupation with sex had a lot to do with turning Jesus' words into a sexual one, but I'm willing to believe that the word that has been construed into sexuality has either been mistranslated either by modern theologians or in the far distant past during a time when wives were possessions and wife-beating was an accepted means of 'keeping one's possession in her place'. With the expanded definition of "unfaithfulness", the role of wife as possession is stripped away, and wife-beating certainly becomes unacceptable.

 

Whether the Council at Nicea would approve is another matter, but I can't say as I totally approve of what they did either.

 

Michael

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