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Articles: Divorce & Remarriage


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C&MA Statement

Free Methodist Manual

The Scandal of “Unilateral Divorce”—How No-Fault Divorce Undermines Society (Mohler, 060217)





C&MA Statement


3. Divorce


3.1 Divorce is a departure from the purposes of God. While in the Old Testament divorce was allowed and apparently easily secured, this, like polygamy, was contrary to God’s highest intentions. Jesus explained that provisions for divorce in the Old Testament were an accommodation to “the hardness” of people’s hearts and a necessary evil (Matt. 19:8). The prophet Malachi declared, “For 1 hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel” (2:16 RSV). Jesus said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6; see also Mark 10:6-9). The Church, therefore, should seek always to discourage divorce as a solution to marital problems. The Bible teaches that even when a Christian is married to an unbeliever, the Christian should continue to live with his or her mate if at all possible (1 Cor. 7:12-13).


3.2 While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, there are certain circumstances when it is permitted. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32 and again in Matthew 19:9 that a person is not to divorce his mate except for the cause of fornication. The Greek word used for “fornication” refers to habitual sexual immorality for which the synonym “whoredom” may be used, implying all kinds of immorality, including adultery which desecrates the marriage relationship - a view generally accepted by Greek scholars.


3.3 The absence of this allowance in Mark 10:6-12 and Luke 16:18 does not set aside the practical conditions for carrying out the Mosaic practice of divorce in the new age Christ establishes. But He makes a sharper interpretation which handles the problem of divorce as a lesser evil to the continuation of an impossible situation. Divorce is expressly denied for the immediate purpose of marrying someone else (Mark 10: 11-12). It is incumbent, therefore, that a believer entertain divorce only as a last resort and because of violations through whoredom - never as a reason to marry someone else. When one partner of a divorce has become involved in adultery, the offended mate is permitted, though not required, to get a divorce. If an unsaved husband or wife refuses to continue to live with his or her mate and departs, the believer may agree to this separation: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Cor. 7:15). Such separations may result in divorce, and in that event the Christian is guilty of no wrong.


4. Remarriage


4.1 The remarriage of persons who have been divorced is permitted by Scripture under certain circumstances. If, after being divorced, one of the original marriage partners dies, the remaining partner is free to remarry. Romans 7:2 and I Corinthians 7:39 make clear that death dissolves the marriage relationship.


4.2 When an adulterous relationship has brought about a divorce, the party who is innocent of adultery has a right to remarry. The words of Jesus, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication,” implies the right of remarriage. When He adds, “And whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (the guilty party) committeth adultery” (Matt. 5:32), the right to marry anyone guilty of adultery is denied and also to marry anyone who obtained a divorce for the express purpose of remarriage (Mark 10: 11-12).


4.3 The consistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament is recognized as Jesus interpreted it. The passage in Deuteronomy from which Jesus quoted in Matthew 5 :31 and Mark 10:2-12 indicates that the “putting away” of a wife dissolves the marriage and allows remarriage. Jesus did not change the nature of divorce as dissolving marriage and permitting remarriage; He simply rejected all rationalization and excuse for divorce and made clear that only the innocent party whose former marriage was revoked by divorce could remarry without guilt.


4.4 According to the teaching of I Corinthians 7, which permits divorce when an unbelieving husband or wife of a believer “departs” (note 3.3), remarriage on grounds of desertion alone is not permitted according to verse 11: “But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” In other words, if the unbelieving, deserting party is not deceased and does not remarry, neither should the one who has been deserted remarry.


4.5 When two unbelievers have been divorced and one is subsequently converted and neither has remarried, the Christian should attempt to restore the marriage. If the non-Christian refuses, this makes the marriage the same as the kind described in I Corinthians 7:15.


4.6 If a person is divorced on other than the above scriptural grounds and his or her former partner remarries, that partner by remarrying has, according to scriptural standards (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9), committed adultery and has dissolved the original relationship.


4.7 Remarriage is never commanded; it is in some cases only permitted. Divorced persons who have scriptural grounds for remarriage should enter into such remarriage only with the greatest caution. Seldom is there a marriage failure for any cause in which one of the partners is “completely innocent.” The applicant for remarriage should demonstrate an attitude of repentance for any part he may have had in the original failure. He should receive counselling from the church so as to avoid repeating destructive attitudes and action.


4.8 Persons who remarry after being divorced on other than scriptural grounds are guilty before God of adultery. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:32, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Such marriages should not be performed by a Christian clergyman.


4.9 Persons who have been divorced on other than scriptural grounds, who subsequently become Christians, are not absolved from the necessity to remain unmarried by having become Christians. While it is true that we are made new creatures in Christ, we continue to bear legal and moral responsibilities that existed before conversion. A person, for example, who contracted a debt as a non-Christian, is not absolved of an obligation to pay that debt by becoming a believer. A man who brought children into this world as a non-Christian must still provide for those children after his conversion. A man who contracted a marriage while a non-Christian must honor the terms of the marriage contract even after he is in Christ.


4.10 Persons who were divorced and remarried without scriptural grounds prior to conversion should not feel obligated after conversion to withdraw from the subsequent marriage. The remarriage that was entered into wrongly constituted an act of adultery that broke the former marriage. With his former marriage, then, having been dissolved, the remarried person is responsible to be faithful to his new contract. Having broken the former marriage, he is ‘living in adultery” only if he is unfaithful to his present marriage contract.


4.11 Persons who are divorced, or divorced and remarried on scriptural grounds, are entitled the full privileges of fellowship and membership in the church. A believer who was divorced, or divorced and remarried on other than scriptural grounds while still a non-believer, should likewise be received into full Christian fellowship. The grace of Christ forgives all sin; the person in Christ is a new creation.


4.12 Discretion, however, must be exercised in the choice of divorced and remarried persons for places of leadership in the church. While all believers are equal members of the Body of Christ, not all members are qualified equally for every office in the church. The offices of elder (spiritual leader) and deacon (business leader) in the church are to be filled by those of high moral and spiritual qualifications, whose pattern of exemplary Christian living is so established that it may be followed.


4.13 A believer who knowingly secures a divorce on other than scriptural grounds, or a believer who knowingly marries someone who was divorced on other than scriptural grounds, or a believer whose divorce was granted on other than scriptural grounds and who remarries, should be disciplined by the church and be granted full privileges of Christian fellowship only after a demonstration of genuine repentance for deliberate departure from scriptural standards.




Free Methodist Manual


630.3.1.4 Principles Regarding Divorce


When one marriage partner is a Christian and the other a nonbeliever, we believe that the Christian may not for that reason divorce the unchristian mate (I Corinthians 7:12-13), because Christian love may redeem the unbeliever and unite the home in Christ (I Corinthians 7:16).


When a marriage is violated by sexual infidelity, the partners are encouraged to work for restoration of the union. Where reconciliation is impossible, a divorce may be allowed. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9)


Desertion is the abandoning of a marriage without just cause. We believe that a person denies the faith that deserts a spouse deliberately and for an extended period of time. When the desertion leads subsequently to divorce, the deserted partner is no longer bound by the marriage (I Corinthians 7:15).


Where reconciliation is impossible in a troubled marriage, we acknowledge that divorce may be unavoidable (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). When marriages break down completely, we recognize that, in the words of Jesus, “hardness of heart” is implicit on one or both sides of the union (Matthew 19:3-8; Mark 10:5-9).


Though the Scriptures allow divorce on the grounds of adultery (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (I Corinthians 7:10-16), it does not mandate divorce and we advise counsel with church leaders to seek other alternatives. One of these may be for both to live celibately.


630.3.1.5 Recovery After Divorce


Divorce always produces trauma. It is the breaking of a covenant, thus violating God’s intention for faithfulness in marriage (Malachi 2:13-16). For this reason divorced persons should be helped to understand and remedy the causes for the divorce. They should seek pastoral counsel. Professional counsel may also be necessary. If unhealthy patterns of relating exist, they must be helped to replace them with new attitudes and behaviours that are Christlike (Colossians 3:1-15). Repentance and forgiveness are crucial to recovery. The goals of the process are personal healing and restoration to wholesome participation within the church. The church must extend its concern to family and others affected by the divorce.


630.3.1.6 Remarriage After a Divorce


A divorced member or one who is considering marriage to a divorced person must come under the authority, counsel and guidance of the church.


Persons who have been involved in divorce while in a state of unbelief shall not for that reason alone be barred from becoming members, even though they remarry. Similarly, believers are not prohibited from marrying a person who was divorced while an unbeliever. A member of the church divorced from an adulterous spouse or, deserted by an unbelieving mate, after attempts at forgiveness and reconciliation have been rejected, may remarry (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-11; I Corinthians 7:15).


630.3.1. 7 Refusal of Counsel


When a member divorces a spouse in violation of the Scriptures, or remarries without seeking the counselor following the guidance of the pastor or the membership care committee, the committee shall review the case and recommend appropriate action to the official board. Corrective action shall include removal from leadership, and may include suspension, or expulsion from membership.


630.3.1.8 Exceptional Cases


Cases may arise for which the pastor or the membership care committee can find no explicit direction in this Manual. In such cases, the pastor, after consultation with the committee, shall confer with the bishop.




The Scandal of “Unilateral Divorce”—How No-Fault Divorce Undermines Society (Mohler, 060217)


America’s experiment with no-fault divorce—an experiment that could well mean the virtual abolition of marriage as an institution—has produced a massive toll of cultural destruction and personal pain. Millions of marriages have been terminated, homes have been broken, and lives have been destroyed in the wake of easy divorce.


Jennifer Roback Morse, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, has been tracing the effects of no-fault divorce throughout the culture. In “Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society,” she argues that the nation’s high divorce rate is the direct cause or a major contributor to a vast array of social problems. Furthermore, she argues that “divorce is in the background of the same-sex marriage debate because same-sex marriage is the end of the trend that no-fault divorce began.” As she makes clear, “The legal innovation of unilateral divorce began to reduce marriage to nothing but a temporary association of individuals. If marriage is merely a free association of individuals, there is no principled reason to exclude same-sex couples, or even larger groupings of sexual partners. The permanence of marriage was one of the key features that distinguished it from an ordinary contract.”


Interestingly, Morse is out to prove that libertarians should oppose no-fault divorce. Yet, even as her argument is tilted especially toward those with a libertarian bent, her research and arguments concerning marriage should interest all Americans.


Her redefinition of no-fault divorce as “unilateral divorce” is a significant semantic game. The very fact that easy divorce, facilitated by law and virtually uncontestable in court, was labeled “no-fault” in the first place was a significant concession to the divorce culture. The revolution in America’s divorce laws has produced a situation in which one spouse may demand and cause the breakup of the marriage, even if the other spouse is committed to maintaining the relationship.


Morse understands that the libertarian bent of contemporary America plays right into the hands of those who promoted no-fault divorce. “The ‘leave us alone’ posture has been one of the most successful rhetorical moves of the advocates of the deconstruction of marriage. I believe this is because minimum government has traditionally had deep roots in the American psyche and continues to have a deep hold on the American imagination. But the redefinition of marriage is part of the left’s attempt to redefine freedom to mean a combination of having your own way and being completely unencumbered by human relationships.”


She perceptively argues that many Americans want minimal government and absolute moral freedom. As she describes this pattern, many citizens want a society that is fiscally conservative and lifestyle liberal. “It sounds good on paper,” she argues, “but in practice it simply is not possible.”


Why does marriage emerge in virtually all civilizations and cultures? This is simply a fact of history, as the various cultures of the world have found their way toward the recognition of committed heterosexual couples as the privileged unit of society. In their own way, these cultures recognize and formalize these couplings through public ceremonies and an entire network of social, legal, and relational protections.


Most significant to Morse’s argument is the fact that government is not needed in order for marriage to emerge. “Marriage is an organic, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society,” she argues. Furthermore, the actual operation of marriage as an institution depends only to a very small extent upon government at all. “This culture around marriage may have some legal or governmental elements,” she acknowledges. “But in most times and places, the greater part of that cultural machinery is more informal than legal and is based more on kinship than on law.”


How does this work? “We do things this way because our parents did things this way; our friends and neighbors look at us funny if we go too far outside the norm. The formal legal and political structures provide some support and enforcement for the norms, but by far, the bulk of the daily enforcement of the social expectations about marriage takes place informally.”


Essentially, the entire logic of marriage has been reversed within postmodern American culture. “The modern alternative idea about marriage is that society does not need such an institution,” Morse explains. Accordingly, “no particular arrangement should be legally or culturally privileged as the ideal context for sex or childbearing.” As she sees it, this simply and necessarily means the end of marriage. When marriage disappears, it is replaced by “a legalistic concept of a bundle of benefits granted by the state.” Of course, this is no lasting substitute.


This new legalistic concept, understood to be created by the state, is simply no substitute for the informal culture of marriage.


At this point, one of Morse’s central concerns appears—where the informal culture of marriage fails, the government must step in with litigation, laws, supervision, and bureaucratic intrusion. Inevitably, this means “a disaster for the cause of limited government.”


All this is part and parcel of the entitlement society—a cultural assumption that all privileges should be equally accessible to all citizens (even if the government must mandate this access). As Morse conventionally argues, sexual activity is now considered such an entitlement. Marriage has simply been sidelined, “no longer the only socially acceptable outlet for sexual activity or for the rearing of children.” Instead, “It is now considered an unacceptable infringement on the modern person’s liberty to insist that the necessary context of sexual activity is marriage, with rights and responsibilities, both implicit and explicit. It is equally unacceptable to argue that having children outside of marriage is irresponsible. Women are entitled to have as many children as they choose in any context they choose. In this sense, children have become a kind of consumer good.”


In the case of our modern litigious culture, all of this is reduced to matters handled by the courts. Yet, the courts are stunningly inefficient and ineffective in compelling adults to behave in ways that will lead to the protection, nurture, discipline, and care of children.


In one incredibly descriptive paragraph, Morse explains why a married couple operates very differently. “No one from the state forces them to pool their incomes, if they both work. If they have the traditional gender-based division of household labor, no one forces the husband to hand over his paycheck to his wife to run the household. No one makes the wife allow him to take the kids out for the afternoon. No one has to come and supervise their negotiations over how to discipline the children. When he’s too tough, she might chew him out privately, or kick him under the table. When she lets them off the hook too easily, he might have some private signal for her to leave so that he can do what needs to be done.”


Where this informal and very natural pattern of home life is not preserved, the state must enter the picture. As always, the state enters clumsily and at great cost. Spending just a couple of hours observing a divorce court or custody hearing will be sufficient to prove the point—government simply cannot replace what the breakup of marriage destroys.


In another important section of her essay, Morse reveals that the majority of divorces are initiated by women—a fact not generally known throughout the culture. The current shape of laws and the ideological bias of feminism points women toward divorce. Morse argues that the sole custody laws, with a preference toward women, “is correlated with an increased probability of women initiating the divorce.” This is because the woman “can have the enjoyment of her children, and possibly some financial support from the father, while reducing the difficulty of negotiating with their father over the children’s care.” As she argues bluntly, women would be far less likely to initiate divorce if they lacked confidence that they would be given the custody of the couple’s children. She also argues that women often grow more frustrated with the burden of maintaining the relationship and may see a divorce as the easy way out of this emotionally-demanding challenge.


“Women need to stop seeing marriage as dispensable and men as disposable,” she asserts. Likewise, men must be led to see marriage as a life-long commitment of their highest priority.


Rebuilding a culture of marriage is no small task—especially as the cultural elites promote any number of “alternatives” to civilization’s most central institution. Nevertheless, it is a challenge we must accept, starting with our own homes, our own marriages, and our own churches. Christians understand that marriage is about far more than sociological analysis and economic considerations. Marriage is the unique arena of God’s glory in which the Creator’s love for His creatures is shown in the right ordering of the man and the woman and in the establishment of the marriage bond as the locus of sexual expression and the gift of children.


Jennifer Roback Morse offers important insights in this essay, including her relabeling of no-fault divorce as unilateral divorce. We are also indebted to her for her convincing argument that lifestyle liberalism is incompatible with a free and ordered society. Clearly, we have much work to do.


Jennifer Roback Morse’s essay, “Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society,” is published in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (Spence Publishing Company, Dallas, 2006).