Many times the church has not been a safe place for Christians who are divorced. They have been marginalized, judged negatively, ignored, and not cared for by church leaders and the church.
This is probably not the kind of blog post you’d expect on Valentine’s Day, but for many, Valentines Day is a painful one. It may be a day of losses and heartache as they are reminded of their broken marriage – a marriage they hoped would last a lifetime.
Through blogging, I have connected with some precious people who have experienced divorce and they have shared some of the difficulties they have faced at their churches. This ought not be so. I’m thankful for “Bethany” who has written this article with such great insight. ~ja
14 Signs that Your Church Needs An Attitude Adjustment Toward Divorced People
By Bethany Crocker
Jesus set the example of reaching out and healing people: the rich and poor, the popular and the outcasts. He touched lepers and sick people, and raised the dead. He set the standard of caring and kindness, and called his followers to serve and love one another. His church is a place of healing. However, sometimes the church can be a place where people can be hurt as well. Every person in the church needs to be aware of words and attitudes that drive people away.
This list uses strong language to make a point. I hope that it will move Christians to grapple with this problem: the quiet, subtle shunning of divorced Christians and their children. Shunning those who need care is wrong. To be able to right this wrong, we must be aware of how churches push divorced Christians and their kids out the door. Not all the actions in the following list occur in every church. However, any of these items can further hurt people who are already in pain. And that hurt can alienate them from the church. In that case, our actions, intentional or not, are keeping people away from the tender and healing love and grace of God.
I have witnessed some of these actions. I have seen the damage they cause in people. I hear the sadness of people who’ve had to go to other churches because their home church lacked sensitivity.
Have any of these happened to you? If so, do you still attend church?
You know You’re in an Uncaring Church when…
1. You are permanently removed from leadership or from the worship team just because you are divorced, even if you are the innocent party. Taking a break from ministry during the time of crisis is an appropriate response to the emotional condition of people. Disqualifying them from ministry, however, is not appropriate.
2. Your pastor and youth leader preach anti-divorce sermons that proclaim ALL divorce is wrong.
“If you walk away from your marriage you are walking away from Jesus.”
“Divorce never makes anything better.”
3. Your church leaders give the impression that 90% of divorces are for frivolous reasons.
According to a study done in the past 10 years, only 12% of divorcees surveyed said they divorced because they fell out of love. Nearly 50% of divorces were for very serious problems: adultery, abandonment, drug/alcohol addition, abuse, felonies, etc.
4. Your church leaders act as though all marriage problems are easy to solve if you try harder, including marriages with recurring infidelity, abandonment/disappearance, abuse, drug addictions, alcoholism, or incest.
5. Your church leaders use scare tactics to warn people about the consequences about divorce. The fact that church leaders don’t use these same tactics with common problems such as gossip, greed, arrogance, overeating, and quarrelsomeness, suggests that using scare tactics is not an approach that sends the right message.
6. Your church leaders treat marriage as a magical cure for weaknesses such as bad character, selfishness, alcoholism, immaturity, felony activity, illegal drug use, mental illness, porn addictions, child molesting, etc. This attitude encourages people to marry even though one or both are not reliable or responsible.
7. Your church forgives felonies but not divorce.
First, not all divorce is sinful. To treat all divorce as sinful is wrong. Second, we should not make an unfair distinction in sins, as if some are forgivable and others are not.
8. Christians don’t offer sympathy for marriage breakdowns.
For example, in some churches, when innocent spouses tell their story and hope for understanding, they are dismissed by the phrase: “It takes two to tango,” implying that their complaint is irrelevant because all divorces are evidence of the nearly equal failure of both parties.
9. Your Sunday school teacher or Bible study leader teach you to stay away from singles and divorced people. They show Christian marriage videos and preach sermons with the message you must hang out only with “people who will encourage your marriage.” Instruction on how to strengthen our marriages and become better couples and parents is vital for the church. However, encouraging Christians to befriend and restore people who have experienced traumatic experiences such as divorce is also a vital ministry of the church. Our teaching should not alienate nor denigrate a group that is already filled with guilt and grief.
10. Church leaders see divorced people as Bubonic plague carriers, and subtly encourage people to quietly and secretly shun divorced friends. While they don’t come out and tell you to end the friendship, they often recommend that you spend your free time with happily married couples and their children. They approve when you stop inviting children from divorced homes to come over for birthday parties and play dates because those kids might be a bad influence.
11. Some church leaders want to use you as a poster child for the Tragedy of Divorce.
Several years ago I was invited to share my story of how God had restored my life and my children’s lives. My dramatic story of disgrace-to-honor reflected the biblical themes of weeping-to-joy and death-to-life, but I was told by a pastor to “tone down the happiness” in my testimony. It was a shame to leave out the amazing reversals: from grinding hardship to financial stability, from feeling rejected to finding a meaningful life-changing ministry. When the Lord rebuilds a person’s life — in spite of all the odds — it bring glory to God when we tell others.
12. When you ask why there aren’t more single parents at your church (despite the fact that nearly 1 in 4 households with children under 18 are headed by a single parent), Christians often say that divorced people don’t value God’s standard of marriage enough to come to church. In my experience, divorced Christians often avoid church because they feel lonely, isolated, unwelcome, and get used as a cautionary tale.
13. Your church leaders teach that God will heal your marriage even if one party isn’t willing.
God allows divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts. If God allows it, who are we to deny it or accuse people of not trying when it is necessary?
14. Your church prohibits the D-Word
Some churches instruct couples to never mention the word divorce in their marriage, as if this is a magic talisman to avoid a marriage failure. Not only is this silly, it’s not biblical. God often warns his people he will divorce them. There are boundaries in marriage that require warnings.
Here are 14 suggestions that allow us to be obedient to God’s Word while also show God’s love, grace, compassion, and welcoming to those who are experiencing a horrible form of brokenness in their lives…
14 Ways to Be Sensitive
1. When teaching on divorce, mention that nearly 50% of divorces occur for very serious reasons. Not all divorce is frivolous, nor is all divorce a sin.
2. Remember that nearly 1 person in 3 who has ever married has gotten divorced. That means that many people at your church have experienced divorce, even if you are not aware of it. (Note: The divorce rate per marriage is about 50% in the U.S., but some people have divorced multiple times, hence the nearly 1-in-3 people figure.)
2. Acknowledge that most Christians took their vows very seriously and did the best they could to save their marriage, praying and struggling to hold it together for a very long time.
3. Accept that in the United States, one person can unilaterally divorce the other spouse without their consent.
4. If you do remove a person temporarily from leadership in order to give them time to heal, let them know the steps to restoring their position, whenever possible. Be aware that much healing comes through service to the church. So find some way for that person to use their gifts as quickly as is reasonably possible.
5. Encourage couples to continue their fellowship with any divorced person who comes to church, unless that person is harming others. Accept them where they are right now and pray for them. Don’t exclude them from your Bible study.
6. Be aware that some people are not marriage material, and that their worst actions are kept secret and hidden. People who are divorced from felons or from dangerous people, for example, usually won’t tell their story to anyone.
7. Be willing to help people who are victims by offering friendship, legal and accounting referrals, counseling, and possibly financial help.
8. Get to know the passages where God allowed divorce due to the hardness of people’s hearts in both the Old Testament and New Testament:
Ex. 21:7-11, Deut 21:10-14, Deut. 24:1-4, Matt. 19:8, Ezra 9:1-2, 10:1-12,
Neh. 13:23-27, Matt. 5:31-32,
(For a good discussion of this topic, download the free printable PDF “God’s Protection of Women” from RBC Ministries. web001.rbc.org/pdf/discovery-series/gods-protection-of-women.pdf)
9. Treat divorced people with respect, just as Jesus treated the woman at the well.
10. Don’t call divorced households “broken families.” Sometimes the marriage was so badly broken that divorce was necessary to bring up the children in a safe and healthy home. Use the phrase “divorced families” or “single parent families.”
11. Be aware that most children from divorced families are likely to turn out just as well as children from intact families especially if their parents find supportive friendships at church. A 2004 survey found that Christians are nearly 3 times more likely to recover from divorce than people with no religion.
12. Don’t buy into the myth that getting divorced dooms the children to divorce. Although there is a 26% correlation with divorce for people whose parents are divorced, there are at least five factors that correlate with divorce at an equal or higher rate.
A. AGE at marriage: If marrying at less than 18 years old: 29%
B. INCOME: If earning less than $25,000 annually: 31%
C. How important is RELIGION to you? If responding, “Not important”: 26%
D. Ever had FORCED premarital sex? If yes: 34%
E. Timing of first birth
(1) Having a child before the marriage (or bringing a child into the marriage): 29%, or
(2) Infertility or no children after the marriage: 29%
13. Don’t condemn the spouse who files the legal paperwork.
Often the person who files for divorce is the “innocent” spouse. Spouses who are out of control, such as adulterers, alcoholics, drug abusers, physical and verbal abusers, abandoners, sociopaths, and felons are less likely to file for divorce. They want it both ways: To live a self-centered immoral lifestyle and keep up the pretenses of having a home and spouse who runs the household while they do their own thing.
14. Don’t assume that the top need for divorcees is finances, home repair or car repair.
The number one need is for friendship, respect, and acceptance. They need a listening ear on a regular basis. Good people want to be treated as equals, not as “less-than” or second-class citizens. They need to be recognized for the gifts they have and be given opportunities to use them.
©2013 Bethany Crocker (pseudonym). All rights reserved. This blog post may be reposted if duplicated exactly including this copyright.