On Divorce

I keep seeing people on social media attempt to draw equivalence between theological conservatives’ seeming embrace of divorce and their rejection of same-sex marriage.  Although I often wonder if it isn’t simply a tu quoque (“you did it too”) fallacy, in the interests of dialogue, here are my thoughts.

The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline does not endorse divorce (see our Social Principles).  Much like Jesus’ response to the Pharisees pointing him to the Law of Moses about the divorce issue, the UMC (and theological conservatives, specifically) say, “It’s for the hardness of your hearts that we allow this.”  Likewise, Jesus clearly says that divorce in a case of infidelity is perfectly justified, and our justification for remarriage is based on an understanding that covenants are not inviolable–if one party breaks covenant, the other party is not bound by it any longer.

From Scripture, the lone condition which justifies divorce in Scripture is adultery.  If one party commits adultery, then it justifies divorce.  Some may argue that Jesus’ statement in Luke. 16:18 (“Whoever divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”) excludes the possibility of any divorce, but this is a standalone statement in a section that has little to do on the surface with divorce.  It does not take into account Jesus’ parallel words in Matthew 19:9 (which is in a larger section about divorce and remarriage)–“Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  So it can be inferred that if a person were to remarry after the justified ending of an unfaithful marriage, they are not committing adultery.  I think, comparing Lk 16:8 with Mt 19:9 and other verses, that it’s safe to say that one party breaking a covenant ends the covenant.

Meanwhile, on the issue of homosexual behavior, even relatively liberal-to-moderate pastors have to admit, much like my old senior pastor once did, that “the Bible never says anything good about homosexual behavior.”

One possible outlier scenario with divorce, though, is how that affects the position of a person who is divorced for reasons other than adultery/immorality.  I personally think that such a divorce becomes justified after the first person remarries or has sex with someone other than their divorced spouse–at that point, one party has committed adultery (see Luke 16:18b).  The alternative line of thinking would be that the spouse who remarries is living “in a state of adultery” (like the Roman Catholic Church talks about in their discussions of divorce and remarriage), but in the end this goes back to whether Jesus said a marriage covenant could remain binding upon one party even after it was broken.  Again, I think Mt. 19:9 (among other places) points toward marriage covenants only being valid for as long as both parties are faithful, since implicit in the statement “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality…commits adultery” is the corollary, “whoever divorces his wife, in the case of immorality…does not commit adultery.”  If a marriage covenant is soluble, then one does not ‘remain in a state of sin’ should one remarry.




One thought on “On Divorce

  1. Jesus condemned divorce as a mere convenience for men that was completely contrary to the will and purpose of God. If some believers disregard the wrong of divorce, it is no argument for anyone to tolerate homosexuality.

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