Recently, I was hanging out with a few of my preacher friends when the subject of divorce came up. Sadly, we each knew a number of marriages currently ending. As a traveling evangelist, I’ve had similar conversations with pastors in many churches. So, I asked this group of preachers, “When was the last time you dealt with divorce in a sermon?” None of us could remember. Then I asked, “When was the last time you heard preaching specifically on divorce?” Again, none of us could remember. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not being done, but it certainly seems absent from many pulpits. So, why aren’t churches talking about divorce?
The Pain of Divorce
Some pastors avoid this difficult topic because they’re sympathetic to the pain many church members have experienced. After pastoring two churches for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen the agony divorce brings. Every person in the home is subjected to its pain, with the ripple effects often extending to their church family as well as their community.
The Stigma of Divorce
Talking about divorce without sounding condemning can also be challenging. Although God specifically says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), it’s certainly not alone on the list of things He hates (Proverbs 6:16-19.) My parents divorced after 28 years of marriage; so, I can testify that there is definitely much about it to dislike. But the stigma associated with divorce is often felt more by the spouse deemed “the innocent party” than the one who walked out or was unfaithful.
The Causes of Divorce
Of course, marriages break up for a myriad of reasons. There are biblical grounds for divorce in cases of abuse, adultery, and abandonment. Too many times though, divorce is caused by a general indifference to sinful behavior; either before or after the couple gets married. For instance, Christians are just as likely to be promiscuous or to watch pornography as non-believers. And, more and more professing Christians are living together before tying the knot.
It’s not a great leap to link the rise in the Christian divorce rate and the decline in sermons on the issues at its root. You see, divorce is not the only topic many churches are hesitant to talk about. In an attempt to be more relative and positive, too many sermons have become “How to…” seminars. I’m all for biblically-based encouragement. However, we also need to preach the passages where the Bible says, “do not” or warns against destructive thoughts, attitudes, and behavior. And we need to call those things what they are – sin.
Approaching the Topic of Divorce
So, how should we approach the topic of divorce? First, we need to know our aim. Are we equipping couples to have healthy marriages or simply telling them that God hates divorce? Staying married just to avoid divorce sounds like a miserable existence. The sign of a healthy marriage isn’t necessarily longevity; it’s each spouse submitting to the Lordship of Christ.
People don’t enter marriage with the intension of getting divorced. I truly believe that the vast majority of couples want a life-long relationship. But if we fail to address the causes of divorce then its pain and stigma will continue to multiply. Teaching God’s plan for marriage before the wedding day helps to increase the value a couple places on God’s will and on God’s Word in their marriage.
Healthy marriages make healthy churches. And healthy churches desire to restore what sin breaks. The Church must be compassionate to those who are broken, while never compromising the value God places on marriage. That means we’re as much an ambulance at the foot of the cliff as we are a guardrail at the top! However, we cannot do either unless we start talking about divorce.