Divorce Mythology

In recent discussions on another blog, one commentor asked how so many people came to believe they would go to Hell if they divorced their abusive spouse.  Below is my response (with minor editing):

Our modern Christian culture has, to a large extent, embraced an unbiblical Divorce Mythology.  Note I call it mythology, not theology. The mythology has little biblical basis, but is shored up by lots of biblical references plucked out of context.

It starts with the false assumption that “divorce is sin” and “God hates divorce.” It then goes on to equate divorce with adultery…not the single act of divorce but the ongoing state of remaining divorced. So divorce is falsely seen as an ongoing state of sinful rebellion against God.

Then, it’s neatly capped with a poorly substantiated policy that people who have divorced are disqualified from ever holding church leadership positions. This edict provides a basis for always remembering who has divorced and never letting it go, no matter how much time passes or what other life events transpire.

Put it all together and divorce becomes the one unforgivable sin within many churches. Any other sin can be repented, forgiven, and forgotten. Not so with divorce…it is always remembered and always held against the person.

Add to that the many sermons falsely proclaiming “God hates divorce!” and “Divorce is not an option for a Christian!” And it is easy to acquire the perception that a divorce moves someone from being an object of God’s love to being an object of His wrath. And, in some ways, these unspoken conclusions are even more powerful for being unspoken. If they were voiced, they could be exposed as false. By remaining unspoken conclusions to which the false teachings logically lead, they remain unchallenged and retain their deceptive power.

This Divorce Mythology unnecessarily imprisons many abused spouses in a dangerously toxic marriage.  Convinced that divorce would make them an object of God’s wrath, condemned to eternal damnation, they stay in the abusive marriage, endangering the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of themselves and their children.

Similarly, many godly believers who have experienced divorce lead desperate lives of quiet guilt, avoiding church and feeling distant from God, in the belief that they are living under God’s constant disapproval.

I grew up in church, accepting the Divorce Mythology as truth.  Although I didn’t see divorce as condemning someone to Hell, I did see it as permanently condemning someone to a sort of second-class Christian status…someone who had failed so horribly and irresponsibly that they could never again be entrusted with anything of importance…whose children were doomed to a second-class high-risk raising…who should never remarry and if they did remarry would almost certainly divorce again…who must never be given any form of responsibility in the church…

I would never have said that someone who had divorced was a second-class Christian. If someone had asked if that’s what I believed I would have said no. I had never even thought it through enough to realize that was my perception. It was simply the overall impression and logical conclusion based on what I had heard preached and the attitudes expressed by others within the church.

But when I first found myself facing divorce, this was how I felt…as though I was facing the very real possibility of permanently losing God’s favor and being condemned to a second-class Christian status.

Thankfully, I had deep enough roots and enough understanding of God’s heart to perceive the falseness of this perspective…to realize that there cannot be any such thing as a second-class Christian…to understand that since we are saved by God’s grace, through faith, not of works, that such a thing is impossible. And as the Holy Spirit continually spoke His love to me, He led me past the divorce mythology to see the complete lack of biblical basis for the myths.

He is such a faithful friend!

In my book, So You are a Believer Who has been through Divorce, I use a myth-buster approach to address the various myths supporting this biblically unsubstantiated mythology.  I have also addressed each of the divorce myths in various posts sprinkled throughout this blog.  Please feel free to browse, starting with clicking on the links highlighted in blue text within this post.

What life experiences has God used to free you from false perceptions?

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Graceful, Wellspring ]

 

21 thoughts on “Divorce Mythology

  1. You’ve done it again, Joe, capturing how many of us felt when we went through divorces and the subsequent time afterward. I grew up in a church that accepted the Divorce Mythology as well, and like you, I didn’t fully recognize it until I was on the divorced side. It was quite painful. Thankfully I’m in a more grace-filled church environment now. Thanks for your continued perseverance to get to the biblical truth so we can treat each other with love as God would want us to.

    • “…I didn’t fully recognize it until I was on the divorced side. It was quite painful.”

      Yes, it is quite painful…and quite isolating. Once seen from the perspective of going thru divorce, it’s hard to understand how it was previously accepted and neglected. But it was…

      But once fully recognized, it can be dealt with, dragged into the daylight and scrutinized under the truth of God’s word and compared to what we know of God’s heart.

      Painful, yes. But what God has taught me thru that experience, I wouldn’t trade for anything.

      Thank you, Lisa!

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  3. Of course you know I understand the divorce myth, but I am appalled that some would go as far to believe divorce damns one to hell. Oh where to start?

    Not only are many spouses harmed and abused in bad marriages, but often children are put in danger. So by staying in a dangerous marriage, children’s lives are put in jeopardy and many wind up living in a “hell on Earth.” Talk about damning. Didn’t Jesus say that the penalty for harming children is severe?

    Second, I think this divorce myth is one of many myths surrounding the modern Christian church. Much of the Bible has been translated in a way to support human power, not God’s.

    • Yes, it’s tragic how distorted people’s views can become. I think most people who embrace the divorce mythology do so out of accepting what they’ve been taught rather than really reading each passage of scripture for themselves to see what it really says.

      Some, though, are harder to excuse. John Piper, for instance, is a well-known theologian and popular Christian writer, who is well respected in many Christian circles. When it comes to teachings on marriage and divorce, he has things so wrong on so many fronts it’s hard to know where to begin tearing down the strongholds of deception.

      Here is a post on another site that gives some insight into Piper’s teaching on this topic: http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/john-pipers-divorce-doctrine-opinion-turned-into-gods-law/

      It is truly horrible…and in such a learned man it’s hard to view it as anything other than intentional false teaching.

      Thank you, Dan!

  4. My mom grew up in that mythology – was told she was going to hell for eloping and then for divorcing when her husband walked out. In the last 10 years, though – she has come to know a loving Father God who values her, loves her and pulls her into his family – and that is priceless to me – so see this!

    • Yes, God’s love and grace are truly priceless! Not only is He faithful in redeeming us from covenants of abusive bondage, but he is also faithful to deliver us from all the false teachings and wrong perceptions of His heart.

      Thank you for sharing your mother’s story, BCM!

  5. Thank you Joe for cutting through the bad-theology-boat-load-o-crap when it comes to this. I appreciate you and so do many others who have enough to deal with without added shame and guilt

  6. I’m so thankful for Grace, Joe. It’s such a beautiful thing to know that God will never leave us or withdraw his love from us. Thanks for sharing these thoughts here. I know this ministry is a blessing to many.

  7. As I think you’ve gleaned, Joe, from visiting Sheila and me at Longings End, the two of us are no strangers to divorce. I’ve come to recognize that divorce springs, as Jesus pointed out, from hardness of heart – either our own, a spouse’s, or some combination of the two. To be sure, such hardness can come about through a multitude of avenues! But in each case, may the wise and knowing compassion of our Savior hold at bay the throwing of all-too-ready stones.

    • I love your Longings End blog, Michael! So many pertinent posts written with grace and wisdom.

      Yes, hardness of heart…depending on the situation, hardness of heart either causes divorce or necessitates divorce.

      And, yes, may we each trust in our Savior’s compassionate love, in all circumstances.

      Thank you, Michael!

  8. Thank you for the insightful post. I first found you when you did a guest post for Beth at Messy Marriage. I myself have fallen into everyone of the divorce myths that you have described. I feel that sometimes church and definitely society perpetuate the these myths because they lack the knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches and also because they take the approach “this is what I have always known about divorce”. Thank you for the reminder that God is such a faithful friend!
    Blessings, Mary!

    • Welcome to the blog, Mary! I’m so glad you’ve joined the discussion.

      Yes, we tend to accept what we learned as children. And we recall preachers (usually men we trusted) pointing out scriptures appearing to support the various myths. So, until life gives us reason to question…and the Holy Spirit leads us to review the supposedly ‘supporting’ scriptures, we tend to accept without really digging for ourselves.

      I think that’s part of what makes the Divorce Mythology so hard to overcome. So many of us were raised with this being fed to us as biblical truth…and we can recite all the passages that supposedly ‘support’ it.

      Yet, once we allow ourselves to actually question it…or face a life situation where the contradictions become glaringly apparent…we realize that the myths can only be supported by plucking verses out of context and reading them to mean something other than their obvious clear intent.

      Blessings to you, Mary!

  9. Yup, the divorce mythology is pretty familiar to me, Joe, especially in the church of my youth. Thank you for walking us through this – I know this will be a great help and comfort to a whole lot of people.

    • Those myths learned as children can really take root, can’t they?

      I so appreciate your blog, Michelle, and your constant pursuit of God’s heart.

      Thank you, my friend!

  10. Pingback: Divorce: What It Is | Do Not Disturb

  11. I admit, I drank the Divorce Mythology Kool-Aid. I just came out of an over decade long abusive marriage. I was told by several pastors and women’s ministry leaders that God said I could not get divorced unless my husband was sexually unfaithful (I’m not exactly sure what proof would have been required) or my husband was physically violent. And evidently the “violence” had to qualify as life or death. Of course, if I left for any reason other than unfaithfulness, I was forbidden from ever marrying again. All I got from the church was the “you made your bed, now you have to lie in it” philosophy. I finally started counseling with a “secular” counselor who specializes in domestic abuse. I was able to break free, but I had to do it on my own. It was blogs such as yours that offered me hope in what I thought was a hopeless situation. I struggle with going back to church, afraid that people will expect me to justify getting divorced. And I’m just not ready for that.

    • I am so sorry for all you have suffered, Minerva…first at the hands of your abuser, then at the hands of those in the church.

      Thankfully, God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce is love and redemption.

      For myself, I eventually reached a point where the opinions of others simply doesn’t matter as much, as I have become more confident of God’s love and approval.

      I am praying for you, this morning, that God will wrap you in His love and give you a special sense of His comforting presence.

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