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Christians and Divorce

1) Does divorce disqualify you

from ministry?

2) Are there legitimate grounds

for divorce?

The short answers:

1) No.

2) Yes.

However, things are seldom so simple.

I will seesaw back and forth in this answer to try to provide some perspective on both questions.

An ‘either/or’ answer on this question is the wrong way to go. Either “yes” divorce disqualifies or “no” divorce does not disqualify both seem to be wrong if taken in universal ways. Why? Because life is more complicated than that. Moreover, there is the question about what kind of ministry we are talking about. Service in the church, loving thy neighbor as thyself, pastoral leadership, worship leading, other?

Every situation of divorce is different. What Jesus appears to be most against regarding divorce is intentionally divorcing a person in order to marry someone else. He sees this as a wholesale betrayal of the covenant of marriage (Matthew 19:9). Moreover, Jesus sees the covenant of marriage in significant creational/covenant terms. Namely that people should not divorce for flippant or preference-based reasons (Matthew 19:1-9). He goes as far as to say that Moses granted divorce in his time because of the hardness of people’s hearts, but not because of God’s will. Namely, the unwillingness to follow God caused the need to divorce. Jesus however trumps Moses and hearkens back to the Garden of Eden to solidify marriage.

Some people have tried to say that those in any form of church leadership are not allowed to have been divorced. They point to 1 Timothy 3:2, “The husband of but one wife,” to say ministers cannot have been divorced and then remarried. Thus, churches who think this will never be open to calling a divorced pastor. That approach is wrong though. This passage is not talking about those who were divorced and remarried. Instead, it is talking about polygamy. Paul was outlawing those who continued with polygamy. Therefore, this verse cannot outlaw someone from ministry because of a divorce.

The Apostle Paul also tries to weigh into situations in the church of Corinth. In chapter seven he clearly outlines the Lord’s teaching of sticking it out in marriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Yet, then begins to recognize a certain situation that is beyond the control of some. This situation is if someone is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever does not wish to be married to the believer any longer and separates (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). The point here is that no one can control their spouse. If they seek a divorce and won’t change their mind, that is life.

Paul's broadening the discussion to non-believing spouses puts another situation on the table that Jesus did not deal with. That has led some, including myself, to think that some circumstances can allow for a divorce even if Scripture has not directly mentioned it. The leadership of churches can help be part of navigating the complexity of marriages that are dissolving, and infrequently allowing such divorces. This is done all the while recognizing this is not God’s ideal, but still real. Of course, abuse and drugs are some of the classic cases used to provide justifiable circumstances, but pastors are often given less clear circumstances to think through.

Again, all of this does not necessarily disqualify someone from ministry. What if a husband divorces his wife who is a pastor? What if she was faithful through it all and will still make a great pastor? Clearly, that situation would call for doubly affirming her calling in Christ and not pulling her out of ministry. Churches have long made errors in this direction in times past. I know of many stories of divorce in more conservative denominations that have basically blacklisted pastors who have been divorced.

Finally, even divorce under the wrong circumstances would not disqualify someone forever from ministry. Christians believe in this thing called repentance and forgiveness. 😊 Let us remember though, that all of us have not lived up to God’s ideal in our lives. If meeting the ideal was the requirement for any ministry in the church, none of us could serve anywhere.

Therefore, my thought is that Christian leaders can help navigate the tough conflicts in couple’s lives, all the while discerning each opportunity for ministry uniquely. In the vast majority of cases, leadership of the church will advocate sticking it out. Church leadership often sees so many flippant reasons for couples divorcing. Then, there will be fewer times where spiritual leadership can navigate toward the inevitable for some.

My short answer here is too short in my opinion. However, people are seldom looking for a dissertation on questions asked in a Q&A. Every situation is unique, and thus there will be some scenarios which may/do allow for divorce. The vast majority of us are to be challenged to stick it out and trust God to help us figure out more ways of learning to love one another, forgive one another, and treat each other the way God wants us to. That is God’s ideal.

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