Maybe somebody is finally realizing divorce isn’t the unforgiveable sin, if sin is the right word for divorce anyway? (As I pointed out to a friend, if it is a sin, it is the only sin that the Bible also gives specific instructions on how to commit it properly!) Or maybe they are recognizing the reality that many who end up divorced go on to have meaningful and fulfilling marriages that deserve to be recognized. Maybe it is that the pope is trying to help his leaders realize that people are important and good doctrine should not be pushing them away, that divorce isn’t a good enough reason to make them feel like second class citizens or exclude them from Communion when they move on in life.
Every divorced person I know recognizes and celebrates the incredible beauty of those who have 30, 40, 50 year marriages, people who have fought hard to make their marriage work. But there can be no smugness for the success of such marriages, the better choice being the humility demonstrated by a happily married individual I knew who, upon hearing of a friend’s divorce responded, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
I know of many instances where a pastor has made statements that, hopefully unwittingly, communicated to the divorced in the congregation that they did not truly belong…not really, because they had failed in their marriage. Yet those same pastors would consider themselves welcoming to people who have struggled with divorce.
Maybe before you decide whether your church is welcoming or not, you ought to ask a divorced person in the congregation who trusts you enough to be totally honest about it with you. You might be surprised at what you hear.
Non-Catholic churches also have had plenty of scandals (or church secrets) involving pastors, youth leaders, deacons, church organists, and church secretaries. The toleration or condoning of such things as gossip when disguised as prayer requests. God's gospel of love proclaimed in a harsh, judgmental manner. And finally, as a friend of mine likes to point out, the sanctimonious gluttony observed at every potluck fellowship dinner.
It just seems so wrong to continue such blanket condemnation of the divorced without consideration for individuals or circumstances, while we know that there are other significant issues that we choose to ignore. (It might be a good moment to remind yourself of verses like Matthew 7:3-5, Romans 2:1-4 and following, or 1 Corinthians 10:12.)
In fact, reality is none of us are perfect; we all are dependent on God’s mercy.
When I look at the life of Jesus, I have no doubt that his theology was sound. Yet, his theological principles never caused him to turn people away, though some chose to leave. Instead, Jesus’ theological principles compelled him to invite people to come. Even people whom the “official religious teaching” declared were unworthy of God’s mercy.
But God might, just might, be pleased when somebody who claims his name recognizes that all people are important to God. Even people whose lives are filled with heartache, struggle, poor choices or questionable behaviors. From God’s perspective, they are important enough that Jesus was willing to die for them.
If your church has told you (or told others) something less, then maybe your church could learn a thing or two from Pope Francis.
Or maybe you need to change churches. At least, that’s what I think about it all.