Remarriage and Acceptance

Couple giving thumbs-up


A couple of weeks ago, I was surfing radio stations while driving, and landed on a Focus on the Family recorded broadcast.  The topic was ministering to couples in a second or third marriage –  a topic close to my heart.  I settled in to listen.

The broadcast included four or five respected Christian men, including James Dobson, Gary Smalley, and Greg Smalley, all men I respect and whose books have influenced me, personally.  Much of the discussion centered around Gary and Greg Smalley’s book, The Heart of Remarriage (which I have not read).

The discussion included recognition of some of the special challenges facing blended families and the feeling of disenfranchisement that many second-marriage couples feel within the church.  Several statements were made regarding the need to encourage these couples and help them succeed in their current marriage.  There was discussion about the need to extend forgiveness and reconciliation to second-marriage couples, as well as offer counseling and resources.

As a Christian listener who is in a second marriage, I felt…disappointed

Don’t get me wrong.  I was glad to hear the recognition of the special challenges and the all-too-frequent sense of alienation within the church.  And I was glad to hear discussion about how to address specific needs.

And yet…there was something…not…quite…right…

This talk of the need to extend forgiveness and reconciliation…

Why would any pastor assume that I, as a husband in a second marriage, am more in need of forgiveness than anyone else?  Why would he assume I am in need of reconciliation, as though I had personally offended him or had left the body of Christ?

Frankly, if reconciliation is required between any pastor and me, in regard to my marital status, that conversation should begin, not with his piously extending forgiveness toward me, but rather by his apologizing for making false assumptions about me and needlessly harboring ill will or unfounded suspicions.

See, while the panelists recognized some of the issues and needs, they failed to recognized the fundamental issue of WHY believers who have experienced divorce and/or remarriage often feel isolated from their church family.  The root issue is this overshadowing assumption that we must have committed some exceptionally horrible sin in order to have experienced divorce and/or entered another marriage…a sin horrible enough to justify being regarded with suspicion every time we attend a new church…or anytime candidates are discussed for a church leadership position.

They’ve failed to recognize their theological error in presuming “divorce is sin” and/or that “a second marriage is an adulterous relationship“…both biblically unsubstantiated myths.

No church can effectively minister to any people-group whom they view as being more in need of God’s grace than they themselves are.

And no church will reach their full potential for ministry to individuals who are married, considering marriage, or divorced from a marriage, without first recognizing that:

  1. violation of covenant vows is an egregious sin that needs to be addressed, whether or not it includes divorce, and
  2. there is nothing sinful or ungodly about a just divorce.

The marriage covenant is best honored, not by obstinately refusing to divorce, but rather by both partners wholeheartedly daily living out the covenant vows to love, honor, cherish, and protect their covenant partner.  In the event that one partner hard-heartedly and unrepentantly violates the covenant vows, divorce may become a necessity.

Your thoughts?

[Linked to Graceful , Wellspring, Messy Marriage ]



33 thoughts on “Remarriage and Acceptance

  1. I need to go back and read the posts to which you’ve linked so as to more fully understand your position. I think my ex-husband and I both sinned against one another. It’s taken me many years, but I can honestly say I think I was more to blame. I’m currently in marriage counseling, and it’s helping me to learn: I don’t communicate as well as I thought, either.

    I also think judgment within the church is dangerous. We’re all sinners. We’re all in need of Jesus. We’re probably also all in need of counseling for one thing or another. There’s no shame in self-improvement.

    Joe, I started this thing last week: this virtual (but old-fashioned) prayer meeting in my space. The second post will go up in about an hour. I wrote, this week, about my relationship with my son’s stepmom; you might enjoy reading that part of it. But more importantly, you’d bless in gathering and praying with us. I hope to see you there.

    • Yes, one of the downsides to trying to communicate thru a blog is the need to try to express myself in a few short paragraphs. I’ve learned to rely on links to prior content, which helps…but then I wonder about the impression of someone who doesn’t follow the links.

      I certainly don’t mean to give the impression that I’m without sin, or that I’m a perfect husband. I struggle as much as anyone…especially with communication. Many counseling sessions across several years have helped, both with communication skills and with searching my own feelings and motives. But I’m still very much a work-in-progress, relying daily on the Holy Spirit to guide me.

      I’m not sure what an old-fashioned virtual prayer meeting is…but like reasons to run to the throne room! I’ll stop by and check it out.

      Thank you, Brandee!

  2. Joe,
    I agree with what you are saying. I don’t think any positive purpose is served by making any group feel “different” or in need of additional prayers or grace. It seems the media wants to approach things in a manner that polarizes people instead of pulling them together. (Even Christian media)

    In my leadership seminar, I ask this question; do you believe your immediate supervisor is “for you”, “against you” or “for themselves?” This question can also apply to spouses, churches, friends and many other examples. If I know you are “for me”, I will walk through walls for you. If I feel you are against me or for yourself, I will do just enough to get by or leave unless I am part of the 10% or less that are high performers no matter what.

    I know Jesus is “for me”. I should not get a different feeling from the church.


    • “I know Jesus is ‘for me.’ I should not get a different feeling from the church.”

      Well stated, Greg!

      And I love the example from your leadership seminar.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. You’re right on, Joe. First, I want to say it’s good to see a new post. Second, I wanted to tell you that your guest post at on my site has drawn the most traffic to my site as a single post in the last year. Thanks. Now to the core of this post.

    I think you’ve noted something very essential to the overarching problem of how divorcees and persons remarried are often treated and looked upon by the church, and even the so-called greatest leaders of the church: With Judgment. This bothers me. Didn’t Jesus say “Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged.” If our church leaders and a great number of Christians in general cannot look at divorce and second marriages without being judgmental, they have missed one of the fundamental messages of Christianity. Maybe others should pull the logs out of their own eyes before working on the splinters of us who have suffered great heartache and hardship due to marriages that were doomed due to consequences beyond our control.

    • Hah! Glad to hear it was a hit on your site! 🙂

      You know, the funny thing is, I don’t think most Christians (including those on the “Focus on the Family” panel) would see themselves as being judgemental. They think they are showing grace, based on what they have been taught to believe about divorce.

      The root issue, I think, is that they are still believing the system of myths about divorce that have become so prevalent in today’s churches…yet are not biblically substantiated.

      They’re probably showing as much grace as they know how, given their current perceptions…and they won’t do any better until they gain a better perspective of God’s heart toward His children who are either enslaved in a covenant of abusive bondage or have experienced divorce.

      Thank you, Dan!

      • I think you nailed it there, Joe. They often do think they are showing grace because they have accepted the teachings without really checking it out. Too often, we accept what somebody says about the bible without reading it in context for ourselves.

        • “Too often, we accept what somebody says about the bible without reading it in context for ourselves.”

          Yes, exactly, Forrest! I guess we all do that to some extent…at least early in our Christian walk. we almost have to.

          The truly frustrating part is when people in leadership roles who are old enough to know better remain stuck in old paradigms they should have outgrown.

          Oh well…we continue to speak the truth that God has revealed to us…and trust Him with the rest…

          He is trustworthy!

          Blessings to you, Forrest!

  4. Hi, Joe! I am so glad you caught the subtle presumption in the comments you were hearing. The subtlety itself is part of abuse, whether by an individual or by an organization…the church. It IS abuse. It always subtle. We need to call it what it is, not to be adversarial, but to stay aware.

    If each Christian has been dealt grace, and is dwelling in Christ, living with His life and mind…then should it not be a natural outflow of that to pay such grace forward, to understand with the mind of Christ that judgment is God’s, that Jesus is more than sufficient, whether a person is divorced/remarried or not? Marital status, past/present, and who is to blame is irrelevant! It’s the past. Can’t be undone, but is forgiven. Done! No-one can figure out every detail of blame or cause – and there is no need, because that, too, is irrelevant. If “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” then the abundance from these mouths, and the assumption that a pastor would need to forgive a parishoner (for anything other than a personal offense to him/her), seems indicative of hearts that are unaware of the grace in which THEY walk, and the work which Christ completed. I respect them also, but really see what you see – the fruit they are bearing.

    Keep talking, Joe! So many are being hurt by believing this junk; whether on the giving or receiving end, pride and shame are promoted. And people are driven from Christ, as I was, by pointless PUNISHMENT, really, for things that are already forgiven by Christ Himself! Isn’t that rather contrary to what He gave for us??!!! Can’t we just let each other be…in Christ together? Same team? “Love one another as Christ loved you?” I agree with all you said; just adding my two cents with feeling! Blessings and respect to you and and your readers! Diane

    • “The subtlety itself is part of abuse, whether by an individual or by an organization…the church. It IS abuse. It always subtle. We need to call it what it is, not to be adversarial, but to stay aware.”

      So true, Diane! The subtlety…the unspoken underlying assumption…is what gives strength to the lie.

      If someone came right out and boldly stated “I think Joe is a lousy person who will never-ever be trustworthy, because he’s been through a divorce,” people would see the lie for what it is, and the lie could be exposed, dealt with, and eradicated.

      But the subtlety…the use of biblical terminology…and the unspoken implications…those are the poison that keep perpetuating the system of myths and keep feeding the lie.

      Thank you, for the insights!

  5. Dear Joe,
    It has been awhile, I can’t even recall the first blog of yours that caught my attention, but it was good and on target of what I was seeking information for at the time. I work with single parent families in our community, and our church has given my husband and I the go ahead to hold a free dinner once a month for them to come and put their feet up and eat, you may recall. Volunteers are to come out and eat with them and listen and visit. There is no study, no hoops to jump through, but by obeying God’s direction of visiting neighborly with them over the dinner table, we are seeing many come to faith.
    I would like to have your permission to use some of what you wrote about today in your “Remarriage and Acceptance” blog post for a volunteer workshop we will be having in the fall. I too feel very sad about how we, the church assume so much about others’ lives.
    I am not learned about what the Bible says about divorce, but Jesus is teaching me how to show up in others’ lives in a real way. Some of the single parents I’ve come to know over the years are now bringing their boyfriends, some of whom are live-in. We have welcomed them warmly and are waiting on the Lord and watching for his next directive on how to love….
    As I was reading your words I kept thinking of Jesus and the woman at the well, how he went out of his way to visit with her, and through his acceptance, she felt drawn to open up.
    Why do we find it so hard to love people for who they are rather than what they’ve done, or what it looks like they’ve done? Why are we always focused on the behavior, what things look like on the outside? Well, because we are all broken, and we are all in need of healing.
    Thanks again for your post…

    • What an awesome ministry, Cindy! It really is all about demonstrating Christ’s love to others.

      Yes, you’re absolutely welcome to use material from this post. God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce is a recurring theme on this website, so you may find some other posts that would also be helpful.

      Thank you, so much, for your ministry and your encouragement!

  6. Hey Joe, EXCELLENT post!!

    The level of holier than thou condescension rankles me to NO END!!!
    The notion that someone from a split marriage or home needs a pat on the head and a bit of “Nooo, it’s okay, we’ll accept you…even though *you* suck at being a good person.”.
    Shut up.
    I’d rather hang with pagans who don’t judge than Christians who make a profession out of it.

    • You always make me laugh, Jennifer!

      I work so hard to craft just the right way to say something…trying to word it just right to say exactly what I intend to maximize the impact while minimizing the risk of being misunderstood.

      Then you just spit it right out there, summarizing an entire post in two sentences!

      Yes, that’s it exactly! You nailed it! 🙂

  7. ranthegauntlet suggested me to read your blog and whoa! Talk about a great review ’bout a radio segment and a book (gotta check that one out). Very interesting that you had your ears peeled, when one (like, me) would probably not have realized what was said and not said correctly there. Deep thoughts! Although I’ve never been married (but totally agree that a horrible one would be like a mental prison), your blog and ranthegauntlets are VERY interesting reads to learn from – and what things to look out for, if I ever end up going down that aisle.

    • Welcome to the blog, SF!

      Yes, one does learn to pick up on little nuances. I suppose some people would think I’m nit-picking, but it’s more than that. I’m not only pointing out the issues to others, I’m also reminding myself not to let the blinders fall back in place…not to forget the difficult lessons God has taught me through tough times.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Oh, you’re hitting a nerve with me, too, Joe. I SO get what you’re saying! Yes, I sinned in my first marriage just like I sin in my second, but the fact that my first husband slept with other women was HIS sin that destroyed the marriage. My attempts to keep the marriage together through forgiveness weren’t enough. So please, church, don’t condemn me for something that was out of my control. I’ve seen a lot more marriages stay together that are MUCH unhealthier and sin-filled than some of those that fall apart. I could go on and on but it’d be adding another blog post in itself. Thanks for sharing this. You say it well.

    • Lisa, I always love your comments!

      Yes, this false notion that “divorce is sin” carries an automatic assumption that we have control over things that we don’t.

      And yes, I’ve always thought it bizarre that a church will often remain silent about an affair going on in a marriage, but suddenly become vocal and condemning when the couple divorces.

      These wrong perceptions all start, I think, with a false understanding of how God views marriage and divorce as well as God’s attitude toward His children who have experienced divorce.

      Thank you for sharing your practical wisdom!

      • I remember a long time ago, I wrote a song called; We are the Church. We are all broken and all needing direction and teaching from our Lord Jesus Christ, whether we are newly married, divorced, single parenting, etc. If someone in the church offends us, we must speak to them. If people in the church offend about divorce, or anything at all, we must go to God, and pray and ask Him what our response should be. We are the church, we are needing to communicate one to another. We will not grow our faith by focusing on the negatives, but focusing on Christ. He in turn will show us what to do, He will show us how to be effective in the broken church, our broken community and our broken world.
        I remember when I was fifteen and molested by a Pastor. I decided to walk away from my faith, even though I heard my Lord tell me “don’t use that as an excuse”. We cannot use “the church” as an excuse anymore. We cannot use any bad thing that has happened to us or has been said against us, as an excuse for us to waiver in the faith. The Lord is our perfect example. Let us focus on Him and become the church He wants us to be.

        • What a horrible heart-breaking injustice, Cindy! I canot imagine how horrible that must have been for you at 15.

          Yes, we find healing in turning to Christ Himself, and relying solely on Him.

          Yet, there remains a need to continue pointing out false teachings so others can learn to see the difference between Christ’s heart and what they’ve seen so poorly reflected in the church.

          Blessings to you!

  9. Wow! Did they really say that? Are you sure they weren’t talking about how they need to be forgiven by the divorced couples they’ve rejected and ignored? If they weren’t saying that–if they were saying they need to forgive the couples for their sins–then I’d be appalled too, Joe. I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around that kind of attitude. I’m glad you’re discussing the problem here. I’m certain it’s prevalent in many churches and Christian communities.

    • Yes, quite sure. The perceived need for forgiveness and restoration was not the main topic of discussion…more mentioned in passing as an underlying assumption as one of several areas of special needs for couples in second marriages.

      I wouldn’t say I was appalled so much as disappointed. I’ve become accustomed to these sorts of misperceptions about divorce and remarriage within the church. So it wasn’t shocking to hear such presumptions voiced.

      The disappointing part was first hearing the positive of influential leaders within the evangelical church openly discussing the ministry needs of believers in a second marriage (got my hopes up)…then to hear the same old wrong attitudes still being projected by those same men in the same conversation (disappointing)…

      Thank you, Beth!

  10. Joe. You know my story. After she left, I really really tried to stay in the same church. After all, i stayed in my job, stayed in our house, and didnt change a thing — hoping that consistency would help with the healing and help bring her home.

    But it was so … awkward after a while. I found whole groups of people simply not talking to me. Not out of anger or spite, but I just think they dont know what to say.

    And then after I remarried, it got even worse. I have a brother who won’t speak to me. Lifetime friends — gone.

    So we are in a new church with new friends and a new relationship. Life is definitely getting better.

    • The situation in your previous church is SO frustrating, David! And so sad…for everyone…

      As a believer who has experienced divorce and remarriage, I cringe at the injustice and lack of grace by people who should know better.

      As someone who was raised in conservative, traditional evangelical churches I understand the other side of it…the people who would like to say a kind or encouraging word…but have no idea where to begin…and can’t get around their own false (though they don’t know it to be false) perceptions regarding God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce or are trapped in a covenant of abuse. I understand because I was once a part of that group of believers who was blinded by the traditions I heard preached as a child…

      It is truly heart-breaking how Satan’s lies can take root and flourish in Christian culture resulting in oppressing and marginalizing the very people the church should be supporting and encouraging.

      I am so glad you’ve found a new church where you are finding encouragement and friendship!

      God bless!

  11. Yes, Joe, I think we typically assume that a divorced person didn’t try to keep their marriage together and didn’t respect their vows. But I’ve known many cases where one spouse tried very hard but the other partner divorced them anyway. And I’ve known situations where one spouse forgave unfaithfulness but after repeated and continuing unfaithfulness divorced. There are lots of divorced people who were committed to their partner and took their vows seriously.

    I think there is this untrue myth that “it takes two” to have a bad marriage, but it often just takes one.

    • Yes, the “it takes two” myth is one of several in a whole system of biblically unsubstantiated myths that have taken root in the church, on the topic of divorce.

      This one requires some truly twisted logic. It really does take two, both partners working together in love and respect, to have a healthy marriage. It’s crazy how this fundamental truth gets turned on its head by people somehow concluding both partners must be at fault for a marriage to end in divorce. I discussed this topic in more detail in another post:

      Thank you, Gail!

  12. Hey Joe, I followed the link from ACFJ and landed here. What a great post and the topic is of interest to me because I’m also working on a post regarding FOF and the marginalizing of families which don’t fit the traditional “biblical family.” There are some great comments here, too. With half of our marriages ending in divorce, there surely must be a lot of people very uncomfortable listening to this teaching from the pulpit and from leaders of respected ministries.

    I find it interesting that there is so much emphasis on the biblical family, yet when a couple is in crisis, the church is ill-equipped to help. I think there is an idolization of the “image” of the perfect godly family. However, this message is shaming to every broken family and probably most families have at least some brokenness.

    • Welcome to the blog, Julie Anne!

      I’d be interested in reading your FOF post, when completed.

      I have very mixed feelings about FOF, at this point. At one time, I viewed it as a fantastic ministry supporting godly marriages and godly parenting. Like I said in the post, I have a lot of respect for James Dobson and the other FOF leaders (both current and historical), and have gleaned useful help from their books.

      BUT…I have to agree with you about idolization of the “image” of the perfect godly family. There is definitely a tendency to equate traditional family with godliness and visa-versa. No, I don’t think anyone at FOF intentionally promotes idolatry of the traditional family…nor do I think they intend to be judgmental toward those in broken families.

      Yet, the subtle message is definitely there…

      • Yes, indeed, and when that message is heard time and again, and it makes church a place of friction rather than solitude, it makes church an unpleasant place rather than a refuge. I’m not sure how this problem can be addressed, but I think it is something that pastors/church leaders should be exploring.

        • I agree. Unfortunately, a high percentage of pastors are too blind to the issues to even recognize the need.

          If one believes the biblically unsubstantiated myths that “divorce is sin” that “God hates divorce” and that “remarriage is adultery” then the idolatry of traditional families and suspicion toward individuals in broken families or blended families is almost inevitable.

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