Sunday, October 04, 2009

Divorce Episcopalian Style

The last time we heard a sermon from our rector supporting easy divorce was back on 07/13/2008 and the argument went like this, "People were never meant to stay married for 60 years." Today we had another chance to hear about the subject as Mark 10:2-16 showed up in the lectionary.
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’

If those words disturb you, don't worry, they don't apply anymore because "we" know better.

In his sermon today, the rector noted that the greater portion (those African churches) of the Anglican Communion follow a literal interpretation of this reading, an interpretation that neither he nor the Episcopal church holds. He used the first half of his sermon in an attempt to support the current doctrines of free and easy divorce and remarriage in the Episcopal church U.S.A. The usual arguments were covered with a couple of surprises tossed out for good measure. It was a surprise when he tried to justify the liberalization of divorce and remarriage in the ranks of the clergy. (No mention of 1 Timothy 3. I guess nobody believes that anymore). Then he pitched in an argument that the multiplicity of grounds for divorce that developed over time were a big problem and they eventually led to the justification of divorce for anyone on the grounds of "mutual incompatibility." Talk about an opportunity to discuss the dangers of incrementalism. No mention of the increased ease of secular divorce and the Church's response, which in the case of the Episcopal church was not to just roll over and play dead, but to join the game with flapping jowls and wagging tails.

And does anyone recall how close the Episcopal church came to having a "Liturgy of Divorce?" Oh yes, it was unofficial and was aborted from the Episcopal News Service web pages after it was discovered and exposed by bloggers, but who can forget that it,
"aimed to 'witness and bless the separation of this man and this woman.' It contained an 'undoing of the vows' by the couple..."

Our rector then turned to the tried and true arguments of domestic violence, mercy, and justice as justification to ignore the words of the Lord. A surprise came when the rector admitted that "experience" was an important guiding force leading to our current liberal teachings. I am afraid that "experience" is all you have to go by when you toss out Holy Scripture.

Can "experience" lead to salvation?

I will say one thing for him, and that he is honest about himself when he said that he thinks that "some scriptural verses have to be set aside" and he includes Mark 10:2-16 among them. This was no surprise to me, but I just wonder what the guests who were present for today's infant baptism thought. I also wonder how the second half of the sermon, during which he lauded long term marriages and contained some good thoughts, tied in with the first 10 minutes. It left me wondering just what part of the Gospel was this sermon based upon if the rector "set aside" the scripture itself. I guess it was just another sermon based on "experience."

I also wonder what those baptismal vows meant,
Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your
Answer I do.

Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.

Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your
Answer I do.

Does that mean I promised to obey only the easy words and reason away the inconvenient ones?


  1. Dude - why didn't you stand up and call the fraud of a rector on this? If the Vestry and Bishop are behind him, why didn't you walk out?

    If divorce is so easy even after Jesus' warning to the Pharisees, doesn't this mean the community will take a similar view of the vaunted Baptismal Covenant? You break one promise, you can break them all. That's why bein "forsworn" is such a big deal to believers.

  2. I'm having a bit of a "Huh?" moment with my parishioners. The last Rector divorced his wife and married the organist (who divorced her husband - so two marriages went down). But he was such a nice man and everybody was fine with it.

    I recently shared how my wife and I had our marriage stretched to the limit by a series of health and financial crises - and how Jesus' words helped us hang in there - and they want me to "not talk so much about negative things."

    dstein42 - Sometimes it is the clergy who just want to stand up and walk out :)

  3. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Wow - Pewster - you and dstein42 - WOW!!! You guys need to research the domestic violence and spousal abuse statistics and read case files before you come down so hard on banning divorce. I am a life long Episcopalian - and I thank God every day that I am divorced from my first husband and have found happiness and love with my second. Because I know that if I had stayed married to my first husband I would be just another statistic - a dead statistic. So I say to you - before you slam Charlie's sermon- and the current cannon rules of the Episcopal Church - walk a mile in the shoes of someone in a bad marriage - someone who lives in fear of being beaten and worse on a daily basis - gives a new meaning to "until death do we part". The Episcopal Church's stance on divorce is one based on love and caring - not a Neanderthalic desire for domination and control.

  4. dstein42,

    A helpful letter will be sent to try to repair our relationship.

  5. Tim+,

    Thanks for dropping by. I agree that what keeps us together in marriage is not something we can attribute to our own actions. We cannot do it alone, Jesus is the glue that keeps on holding, and it tears our flesh when we cast Him aside.

  6. Anon,

    I have not walked in your shoes.

    The rector discussed unending grounds for divorce but rejected the point that there remains a high standard that Jesus has set for us. When we fall short of God's desire for us, it is because of our thick necked, stubborn, neanderthalic nature. In a way, grounds for divorce are our human interpretation of what constitutes an acceptable excuse. These excuses do not make the standard go away, nor do they justify setting the standard aside.

    Ultimately, we do not need to make excuses, because the Lord knows what can be excused already. Instead, we are called to ask for forgiveness for all things known and unknown that we have done against Him, and those things will remain even after our excuses are granted.

  7. Re: yesterdays reading
    When Moses asked the Pharisees “what did Moses Command,” they referenced Moses in Deuteronomy where he neither commands or encourages divorce but rather allows it with strings attached (mainly for the protection of vulnerable women). But Jesus says you have to go beyond that to Genesis (which both Jesus and the Pharisees believed was written by Moses) in order to discern what the creator had in mind – the biblical ideal.

    By the time of Moses it had become clear that the ancient Israelites would not be the model for God’s redeemed humanity. So instead of the original intention of the creator, laws were needed to account for this second best reality (for lack of better words) or the falling short (hamartia) of the ideal. Notice that Jesus did not condemn Moses for the allowance of divorce. The problem was not the ldeal – the problem was not the law – the problem was the people – they were (and are) hard hearted.

    I can tell you that I am deliriously happy with my wife. The hard fact remains however that with the failure of my first marriage (my first wife left me for another man) I fell far short (hamartia) of the ideal and it was an occasion of great angst and repentence. Divorce, even for the best of reasons, is still a product of a fallen world and not the Creator’s intention.

    The story of the children appears in yesterday’s lesson as those who (in that society) “had nothing to offer.” So the lesson (I believe) is not to receive the Gospel as innocent and naïve children, rather it is a reminder that God’s Grace comes as a free gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it and there is nothing that disqualifies those who come to trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is what the Cross has done for us. Thanks be to God.
    (sorry for the length)

  8. Thank you for your witness Fr. Robert.

  9. Late to the party as usual.

    Of course, the problem is that over time, we have forgotten the truth that Marriage is a spiritual union of two souls ordained by God to change us from two to one. Later, we supplanted that with the idea that Marriage is merely a civil contract, for which an action for "Breach," would lie if one party acted badly. At least civil contracts have the force of law behind them. Now, of course, we don't take marriage as seriously as we do credit card debt.

    Satan must be enjoying this.


  10. Anonymous11:38 AM

    R. Sherman and Pewster - I greatly appreciate the knowledge that you both consider that I have been practicing adultery for several decades - I plan to continue for many more - I assure you. My children are proud to know that you consider them bastards! I will have to thank you for your opinions on one front - they have certainly spiced up our sex life! You will know me on sunday by the large red A pinned to my dress!

    Gentlemen - there is no forgiveness, understanding or humanity in your narrow minded stiff necked souls - may God forgive you!

    Divorced and thankful for it!

  11. Anon,

    You left out "knuckle dragging."

  12. Anonymous4:35 PM

    Nope - didn't leave it out - I didn't want to insult the Animal Kingdom!

  13. Anon, from what precisely, do you conclude I judge you? I do not. I judge no person other than myself. In fact, given Christ's injunctions in the Sermon On The Mount, I fall into the category of "Adulterer," occasionally, not to mention "Murderer," as well.


  14. Anonymous11:57 AM

    RE: "Anon, from what precisely, do you conclude I judge you? I do not. I judge no person other than myself."

    R. Sherman -- you said that God states that divorce is a sin. Saying that something is a sin is now considered "judgement." ;)

    The truth is, there are standards -- and we all fall short of them. True love and mercy is *not* to simply eliminate the standard, but to point out the standard and point out the sin . . . and proclaim God's forgiveness.

    I believe that anon would prefer that you simply lie -- and erase the standard and pretend as if it no longer exists.

    I find it interesting that Robert+ can 1) admit the standard, 2) confess the sin, and 3) not try to erase the standard or pronounce those who hold to the standard to be judgers, "narrow minded" and "neanderthalic."

    But freedom in Christ's love can do that for you.

    Keep up the great blogging, Pewster. Hope to meet you someday.


    An Episcopalian Watching in Columbia

  15. Anon......

    "Saying that something is a sin is now considered "judgement."

    By whom, and under what authority?

    If the Church says it's a sin because the Bible says so, that's one thing.

    If the Church does not consider it sinful and the Bible does not proscribe such behaviour, why the discussion?

  16. Anonymous2:19 AM

    John - felt the need to point out that Anon 2 was being sarcastic about societal standards i.e. "fluffy bunnyism".

    Also felt the need to point out that except for the latest Anonymous post, it was all one person, henceforth referred to as Anon 1, and the second as Anon 2. Sorry to possibly confuse further and add an Anon 3, myself.

    Disclaimer: my Christanity is 99% Episcopalian. It's a case of "your mileage may vary" so don't expect me to think the same.

    That said... Anon 1, I am so sorry for what your first marriage put you through, and glad for you that you are in a better place now. I would like to say, whether differing from or similar to Pewster etc., that there should be a standard, that divorce should be a tragic circumstance - BUT a necessary one when evil and harm are the only things that come of a union. God has standards for us, but His love for us comes before everything else - even His wrath, and there are stories in the Bible of this!. He could not want pain to come to us as a result of something He intended to be good.

    The Episcopalian Church saw this, and allowed a very thin exception. Divorce (as abortion and other things) are still NOT allowed in cases of convenience - mere disagreements and incompatibility count as such for marriage.

    Pewster et al, I unfortunately cannot speak much to your responses because you veiled your thoughts so heavily with snark that it is hard to tell where you stand exactly in this particular case. So I say the following not to refute you, but to state my own beliefs. Feel free to let me know if I am on/off YOUR mark, but bashing ad hominem in place of a clear refutation is NOT welcome.

    As for me, I believe that a standard should be upheld. But there are times where humans abuse what God made - and I name the abuser, not always both parties in a marriage, as the person breaking God's law in these cases - and we should be allowed to take a step back and repair the damage humans have wrought on a case-by-case basis... a.k.a. divorce on grounds of prolonged/unabashed infidelity, abuse, etc. Divorce because a woman wasn't otherwise a "good wife", which is a large basis of the Moses law referred to in the Gospel passage - would be unacceptable.

    Sorry for the length.