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Divorced from the church

by on July 11, 2011

We’ve met a lot of divorcees in Canterbury. I mean, a lot. Their stories vary widely, some don’t even want to tell us their story. But of the ones we’ve got to know, they all seem to have one thing in common. They’ve all been burnt in their dealings with the Church.

As a result, church is the last place they think of going for support and care and help.

How have we managed to get it so wrong?

And how are we going to fix it?

From → General

  1. All of them had dealings with the church??

    Wow. Very religious area, I suppose.

    Most of the divorcees I deal with have neither been rejected, challenged nor supported by a church. The worst I get is that their Catholic church wouldn’t allow them to be re-married. But most know that before they ask them…

    • Yeah, we were surprised too. Different demographic. Also most of these people are oldish – from back when more people had a bit of contact with ‘the Church’.
      We’ve also had that their Anglican church wouldn’t allow them to remarry.

  2. I’d say that if their church hadn’t burnt them, they might still be at church, so it certainly doesn’t say every church is doing a bad job, just that some are.

    But it’s nice to be part of an environment where ‘anyone is welcome’, and I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.

    • Good point, John, perhaps I’ve over-generalised. But your comment raises a very interesting issue. Australia is full of divorcees. Bursting at the seams with them. So why are there so few divorcees in our churches?

  3. Gary Bennetts permalink

    Hi Jonathan,
    Thanks for putting this on the table. I must admit, I too am really interested that you are having contact with a number of divorced people.
    It’s good for us to work out where we start with people at the level of theology and principle. I have read David Instone-Brewer’s stuff on the issue and have fallen in and out of love with it. I’m not quite sure what I think of it at present. It would certainly have led ‘the Rev’ to respond in a different (and better) way to ‘Marcia’ than he did. Have you read it? What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Gary, thanks for weighing in,

      I agree about starting with theology, rather than perceived needs. Otherwise we’re not the church! However it does trouble me that at times we seem capable of holding and asserting theological positions with little regard for how well they connect with the real world, or whether they are actually helping or harming the people we teach them to. As if theology were something that exists in an ideal realm somewhere out there, not something that can get its hands dirty as it connects with people’s messy lives and brings them help and hope. Start with the gospel, definitely, but if the theology we develop and derive from it is not working for people, perhaps it needs review?

      Ok, getting off that hobby-horse – David Instone-Brewer! I’ve just been reading his Marriage and Divorce in the Bible – the bigger of his two books. Nearly finished it. I might try to post a review at some stage (unless you’ve done one you’d like us to post!), but I’ll give you a few preliminary thoughts.

      First, i’m very grateful someone is tackling this stuff. It’s so rarely dealt with in our scene, any help is welcome! DI-B seems to be a solid evangelical, so that helps.

      Also, he is an original thinker. He’s happy to take on 2000 years of interpretive history, and say, ‘They got it wrong’. And provide evidence. That’s a scholar with attitude. I like that. Reminds me of Luther.

      His work is massively footnoted. I.e. he backs up his claims with extensive primary source evidence. That’s very impressive, no one else I’ve read on this subject does that. He doesn’t make that many assertions in a chapter, most of the time is spent exploring the evidence. I like that. So his book doesn’t attempt to say a lot of things, but rather to ‘prove’ the few central points he makes. He doesn’t often say something without giving evidence. Makes for a powerful argument. But I suspect his little book lacks this, which would be a big drawback.

      He is particularly strong in the Rabbinic stuff, which is his area of doctoral research. And this is the stuff most directly relevant to New Testament studies. So that helps too. He pulls out a lot of stuff that sheds light on the NT text.

      Basically DI-B offers a different way of interpreting the NT texts we rely on for our doctrines on marriage and divorce. And he makes a persuasive case that his way is more natural and likely than ours. At the exegetical level he seems quite strong.

      I think he provides enough evidence to at least seriously unsettle evangelical assumptions about marriage and divorce. A rethink is called for, and until it’s done, our traditional practices have a big question mark over them.

      What I think he doesn’t do is to challenge our proof-texting approach to theology (and especially ethics), where we treat Scripture as a kind of ramshackle book of rules, that just needs a little systematising to make everything clear. Until someone lays the axe to the root of this tree, I think it’s going to be hard to get consensus on ethics issues. I actually heard a Sydney pastor (whom I respect very much) tell his congregation, ‘The only grounds Scripture allows for divorce are…’ Clearly he felt that he held the complete rule book in his hand!

      Love to hear your thoughts on all this Gary. (And anyone else reading!)

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