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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Subculture of Divorce in the Church

Divorce and Secret Societies


In Jesus’ day, there were definite rules as to who could and could not be out in public crowds.  Those with diseases such as the leprosy often mentioned, knew that they had to keep their distance, because they were not welcome in their condition.  Others may have cautiously ventured out, knowing that if they were discovered, they would be in trouble.  That was like the woman with the hemorrhage who touched the hem of his garment.  These individuals were filled with shame, and afraid people might discover their secret and then reject them.  There are individuals who experience the same kind of thing in our churches today, who know to keep their mouths shut, lest they be looked down upon by others.  One such group is Christians who have suffered the experience of divorce. Whether or not they were the ones who initiated it, and whether or not there were scriptural grounds for the divorce, many divorced Christians have learned to be very careful about who they tell of their divorce.  


My wife and I have discussed a phenomenon in relation to this that we both have experienced.  In the course of conversation, one of us may mention that we are divorced, or in our second marriage, or the books are being discussed, and sometimes we get a very interesting response.  Once we mention being divorced, other individuals in the conversation may suddenly change their demeanor and inform us that they, too, have been divorced.  And I have noticed that if the person has been divorced more than once, they are really slow to admit to that.  Somehow, once they hear that we have been divorced, they feel it is safe to share their experiences.  It is as if there is a secret society within the churches that is bound together by the struggles, devastation and shame of a failed marriage, who know that not everyone in a congregation will extend grace to them.  Some will reject them or view them as second class.  This phenomenom results in a subculture of divorced Christians.


In this subculture, there is an awareness that many people will not understand the divorce process,  even if they try to be understanding.   There is also an understanding when in conversation they with another person who has been divorced, they can make a simple reference to a type of struggle and the listener quickly relates without explanation.  These conversations are always carefully initiated  in regards to who they are discussing the topic with.  As my wife points out, the shame can be very strong…even many years after the fact.  Indeed, I know some who were divorced so long ago, they just don’t bother to bring the topic up, because they are tired of feeling like they have to explain, to defend, to relive an event that was ages ago in another period of their lives from which they have long since moved on.  


But in sharing the experience with another who has admitted their struggle, there is a degree of comfort, a bit of assurance and a sense of hope, a common identity.  As if to say, “I know, it was awful, but God has brought me through it, too.  Yes, I too, know the forgiving and restoring power of God in my life, even if I don’t feel comfortable sharing it out loud.”  Now surely this isn’t the only area where people experience this kind of kindred spirits in their journeys toward wholeness.  Is there not a degree of comraderie that holds the 12 step groups of Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous together?  Neither of these categories of folks are very keen on sharing that they have these struggles, especially if it is an experience from which they are not yet free.  And there are other areas of life failing that Christians would just as soon keep to themselves, because of the embarrassment and scars they have experienced.  Maybe those who have come out of the world of prostitution, or those who experienced sexual abuse as children, or those who once were incarcerated; as an example of just a few.  I have known people like these, and they, too, are hesitant to openly admit their devastating experiences, failings and weaknesses, because they know that to admit these sins or failings may lead to judgment and rejection by their fellow Christians.  


With these other areas, there often comes a time when they have been delivered from these things which bind them, and then they are often willing and able to stand before their brothers and sisters to share how God set them free, and how their life has changes subsequently.  But the divorced person may never feel the freedom to do the same kind of sharing.  Why?  Hard to say.  We may love to rejoice in the deliverance of people by God from the hold of sins and scars, and to celebrate the healing God can bring to those whose lives have been filled with brokenness and suffering.  But somehow we aren’t always quite so sure what to do with marriages that have failed, and think we need to figure out who is to blame more than we need to figure out how to minister to the need.  Theologically, we hold firm to the sanctity of marriage, and somehow have come to believe that God could have, or should have, kept the marriage together if only the person had prayed more, believed more, been more obedient, or some other such notion.  And, indeed, if both partners were totally committed and obedient to God 100% of the time, the marriage would have held.  But as far as I know, there aren’t any perfect Christians like that walking around…we are all caught in the real life of this world.  


On an ongoing basis individuals choose each day whether to succumb to sins and temptations.  However, unlike gossip, lust, angers, “white lies,” or judgmental attitudesa marriage is shattered by divorce one time, it isn’t a recurring practice.  It is a one time event that impacts the rest of your life, the life of your family, your friends, and the lives of your children.  Even though people who struggle with other sins time and again may be accepted and forgiven, sometimes a person who experienced that gavel drop one time, may not always experience the same kind of acceptance or grace.  EXCEPT, in the secret society, the subculture of Christians who have been through divorce.  There you can find people who know that God is able to forgive, heal and bring hope, even after the most devastating of divorce experiences.  I hope someday we can get beyond the subculture, and find a way for our churches to stand with those whose marriages have been shattered and offer them the encouragement and support they may desperately need.  I have heard a few stories here and there, and they are always told by people grateful that somebody cared.  With as many divorces as occur in our world, maybe someday there will be more stories like that.  And when that support and encouragement comes, perhaps we will also discover more stories of broken marriages healed and restored, as well as stories of those who have found God still has a place for them in the Kingdom, even though they are divorced.






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