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Divorced from the church – Marcia’s story

by on July 13, 2011

Ok, so the explosion of interest suggests that divorce is a live issue for lots of you guys out there. That post has been the most looked-at of anything we’ve put up in a long time. Yet we don’t often talk about divorce in our churches, do we?

I wonder if we need to talk a bit. I’m guessing lots of people have been interested because they know someone who’s been through, or is going through, divorce. Or because they are someone…  Probably you know someone connected to your church, or who used to be, or who’s interested in being. And I’m guessing the issue of remarriage might be most awkward one – they’ve asked about it, or gone ahead with it, or something? Or you have.

I think it might be helpful for everyone to hear a few stories, get a conversation started. We’d love to hear your story. Change the names, protect people’s privacy, but tell us what happened, what you wondered, what you think now.

I’ll tell you one from around here, to get the ball rolling.


Marcia is an older lady in Canterbury. She lives alone, and has done for many years. When she was a young woman, she met a wonderful young man, and they were married. She fell pregnant, and it was about at that time that it became apparent her husband was not being faithful to her. During the pregnancy, he left her. They were divorced some time later, and Marcia had to bring up the child alone.

Through this time Marcia was in contact with an Anglican church, and the minister was some support to her during the divorce. In particular, he acknowledged that the blame for the divorce belonged entirely with the ex-husband. The Rev accepted that divorce was an understandable outcome under the circumstances. Marcia felt like the church was on her side – until she mentioned the question of remarriage. Could she marry a new husband?

The answer was a definite NO. The Rev told her that remarriage was never permissible. Even though her husband had committed adultery and abandoned her, even though she had a child to bring up with no father, even though she was the innocent party, even though she was divorced on allowable grounds. No remarriage. Ever.

Marcia was told that she must spend the rest of her days a single person, with no family around her. She was very upset. She dropped her contact with that Rev, with that church, with any church. But she followed the rule. She did the Christian thing. She never remarried.

That was forty years ago now. Now she is old, and alone. Very alone.

She is also bitter. She looks back and says, ‘How was that fair?’ The question is aimed at the Church. The church that made her pay the price for her ex-husband’s sins.

And of course, behind those words is the realisation that it’s all too late, that she’s had her life now, she didn’t get to have the life she wanted, the life other people had. She missed out.

Who do you think she blames for that?

Until this year, Marcia has had no contact with any church.

Which issue do you think she wants to talk to us about?


Let’s hear your story.

From → General

  1. Skeptic permalink

    “Marcia has had no contact with any church since then”
    So she is not a Christian. Why would you “do the Christian thing?”
    Did she not remarry because “she followed the rule” or because she didn’t find a suitable partner?
    Why is she so alone? Where is her child? Why doesn’t she have other meaningful relationships in her life?
    Who says that being married & having kids is the most desirable state in life and that being single is 2nd class? The Bible doesn’t. Nor does it promise to give everybody “the life they wanted”.
    Perhaps the church is shouldering the blame unfairly.

    • Dear Skeptic,

      Thanks for writing. I guess with a name like yours, you are going to have a lot of questions! Not sure I have answers for them all, but I’ll have a go at some.

      You ask, why would someone not attend church and yet have a sense of conscience informed by church teaching? I think there are quite a few people around like that, Skeptic, all over the world. In our society, they’re probably more common in older age brackets. Back in the day, the Church was a respected bearer of moral standards for the community. I meet people in Canterbury like that. They want to assure me that they still say their prayers and keep the 10 commandments, even though they stopped attending church in 1974!

      Why is she so alone? Where is her child? Why doesn’t she have other meaningful relationships in her life?

      That’s a good question to ask. I can’t give details about the child, but there’s not much contact. It’s very interesting to try to understand how people get so isolated in our society. I don’t understand it well myself. But I can tell you that there are many, many people like Marcia in Sydney. We meet many in Canterbury. Lonely people. People who are relationally poor. Lots of them!

      I’ll give you a few of the common reasons I’m aware of, why people get so isolated.
      – family (esp. children) move away, out of Sydney or interstate
      – mental illness, e.g. depression
      – other health problems –> lack of mobility
      – language barriers

      This is such a big issue in Sydney, it’s a real opportunity for the churches to serve people. One of our aims at Canterbury is to create some community here for people, a place where they can experience love and friendship. That’s a very valuable community service, if you can do that.

      Who says that being married & having kids is the most desirable state in life and that being single is 2nd class? The Bible doesn’t.

      I don’t think anyone was asserting that, Skeptic. Just saying that that was what Marcia wanted for herself.

      Perhaps the church is shouldering the blame unfairly.

      You may be right. My point in the post was not that the church was to blame for everything in Marcia’s life. I wasn’t really so interested in the issue of fault. It was more about Marcia’s perception, and feeling of bitterness, and the way it alienated her from the church. I’m wondering about the relationship. I guess I’m asking, what do we think of the church’s practice in this case? Cause similar cases still occur today. Did the church get it right? Do we think it would be better to do things differently?

  2. We have a lot of divorced women with kids in our church. Some left their husbands, some had their husbands leave them. In all but a very small number of cases I would say that they are totally free to remarry as Christians because their divorces occurred before they were believers, and Jesus has redeemed their brokenness. In one case a woman has had two divorces, and yet I would still say that as a Christian she is fine to be remarried because of the nature of the relationship breakdowns (adultery and abuse). She would love to be remarried, but has two growing children to think of, an acrimonious ex, and no modelling of healthy marriages in her past. The church is at the moment being a wonderful influence in her life for good, modelling healthy marriages, helping to heal her pain, and giving her kids some much needed positive male rolemodels.
    I think the issue of divorce is very often handled poory because we do not fully understand Jesus’ teaching on it, and because it has been a stigma in churches for too long. Jesus would have wanted divorced people to have a relationship with him regardless of whether they were divorced or not. Divorce is not an ideal, but an acknowledgement of the brokenness of the marriage covenant, and should not be encouraged, but should not also be hushed up…

    • Thanks for sharing your stories and thoughts with us, Julia. That’s been helpful.

      It’s great to hear that divorced people are feeling welcome and loved at Appin/Rosemeadow churches. Keep up the great work.

  3. Quynh Spankie permalink

    From the information given about Marica, I don’t see any biblical grounds for her not to be able to be remarried. Hence the Rev, very Pharisee-like, had set a moral standard that was not required by Christ. These extra laws, which she was told she needed to hold to, was an extra burden she need not carry, and having followed it through produced no good fruit in her. So the church and the Rev in particular do carry a weight of responsibility, for the detour towards bitterness, in her spiritual growth.

    I thought divorce meant that you are free to remarry, anyway. I thought that was the difference between divorce and separation. It seems to me that Marcia was told to be indefinitely separated from her husband, still very much tied to him in the consequences of the marriage.

    But as for how Marcia’s life turned out, I can see she has suffered much and I grieve for her losses, but in some ways she needs to take responsibility for the bitterness she feels. She got some bad advice but no church or Rev can be as Christ to her. Perhaps if she had sought the scriptures for herself, and sought after God’s truth she could of truly have seen what God really wanted. It is still not too late for her. If she is willing to repent of sins, take responsibility for her own life and turn to Christ.

    As for this event in her life causing her to turn away from church all together, it doesn’t need to be like that. Often when people come to Jesus because of church, when church sins against them they have no resources to cope with that situation but when people go to church because of Jesus the trials will come but their faith in God will still be in tact and Christ will give them grace to forgive and overcome.

    As for how the church deals with divorcees, in my experience churches often come across, unequipped, unaware and unwilling to deal with the complicated issues of sin and grace that divorce brings up. Especially when they get it wrong like in this situation, one who suffers much is bound to suffer more.

    There’s much more I can say but I’ll just leave it there.

    • Thanks for your comments Quynh, nice to hear from you.

      The question about the biblical grounds for forbidding remarriage is an important one, I think it needs to be brought out into the open for discussion by God’s people. (Anyone who wants to take that up here, feel free, we’ll listen to your views.) I do think a strong case can be made that divorce means ‘free to remarry’.

      Sounds like you’re wanting to think about the question of responsibility: who’s responsible for Marcia’s plight. If the church invents its own rules, it’s responsible for the damage they do. But people (like Marcia) are also responsible for their own story – not just helpless passive victims. While this was not my main concern in writing the post, I agree with your view on the whole.

      I might take up one point though:

      no church or Rev can be as Christ to her.

      What you say makes good sense about Christians. But Marcia was scarcely a believing Christian at any stage. For outsiders and inquirers, isn’t it true that the church does represent Christ to them? What other way do they have to see and appreciate Jesus, to understand God’s word, except through the prophetic ministry of Christ’s body the Church? For an outsider to develop an independent view on the Bible’s teaching, in opposition to teaching of the Church – that’s a tough gig. The odds are stacked against them. In 1970 when all this was happening, I reckon Marcia would have been hard pressed to find an evangelical church leader who would have said ‘It’s ok, you can remarry.’

      I think what you say about peoples’ motives in coming to the church is a good insight. Christians also get hurt by churches, but they’re probably going to be more resilient. But when outsiders or ‘fringey’ people get burnt, as you say, when church sins against them they have no resources to cope with that situation . So you potentially have this group of people who are more dependent on us to tell them God’s will, and also more vulnerable to being hurt and damaged by us if we treat/teach them wrongly.

      That makes it a bigger worry if the church is poorly equipped to counsel and help people like Marcia – the very people who need us most!

  4. soph permalink

    interesting that in Isaiah (50:1) and Jeremiah (3:8) God presents himself as a divorcee: he divorces his people because of their unfaithfulness. This divorce will not preclude him from marriage to his bride in the new creation. Perhaps God’s experience of divorce and remarriage can help inform how we care for those in our congregations who share in his experience.

    • Thanks for that Dr Soph. Sounds like you’re doing biblical theology for us…

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