Thursday, December 28, 2006

Divorce, Homosexuality, and Priorities

John Meunier wonders why the UMC considers homosexuality scandalous, but not divorce:

As we all know, though, marriage is under direct attack. Divorce rates are high and continue to be. Long before the wider culture and entertainment industry started to embrace homosexuality, it positively gloried in the easy divorce and the disposable marriage. Celebrity news is practically an unending paen to the idea that marriage is only to be preserved as long as it is convenient.

And here, we have clear New Testament texts from no less than Jesus Christ himself (and St. Paul to boot).

And yet, I hear and read very little attack and condemnation of the official UMC position on divorce. There is hand wringing about divorce, but no threat of schism over allowing it to continue. Divorced ministers are not a scandal.

By any quantifiable measure, divorce is a much deeper crisis than the "threat" of gay marriage or gay ministers.

So, why do we talk so much about the second and so little about the former?

That's a good question.


Anonymous said...

I guess we have our answer from the lack of comments on this. :)


Jonathan said...

I think we should pay more attention to the issues of divorce, and less attention to the issue of homosexuality.

Having said that, I also think they are sort of like apples and oranges. Divorce is generally something that happens tragically, from which people can receive forgiveness and healing, and then move on with their lives. No one is asking us to bless divorce as a gift from God. Divorce is usually not an ongoing behavior that some people are asking the church to bless and celebrate.

codepoke said...

Good point, Jonathan.

I would add that divorce happens to our friends, relatives and even mentors. It's hard to treat our closest confidants with the cavalier honesty we afford to the homosexual crowd. Which is the error is a great question.

bob said...

I think sometimes marriages that end in divorce are enter into so whimsically that we tend to think of them as larks and not true marriages.

Ivan Walters said...

Those of us opposed to the attempt at legitimization of homosexual behavior also oppose nonbiblical divorce and abortion. However, one fight at a time, one fight at a time.

Larry B said...

The question, in my opinion poses a false dichotomy. We could point to any number of human behaviors that are tolerated within the church that are clearly detrimental to our relationship with Jesus. Pride, arrogance, greed, materialism, etc.

In my opinion the reason there is so much discussion regarding homosexuality is that in the case of divorce and all the other possible issues such as the ones I listed above, there is at least the base assumption that these behaviors are sinful and can separate us from God.
No one wants to legitimize the practice of divorce, greed, pride etc as not sinful. (At least I haven't seen any resolutions proffered at a general conference stating such)

The current discussions about homosexuality takes it to a different level in that the church is being asked to legitimize (ie declare it as not capable of separating one from God) a sexual behavior that has for a long period of time been thought of as being sinful.

Why do the discussions continue so vociferously? Talking to most laypersons, they are tired of it. So there must be some other reason - and any even marginal student of political science can give you the answer - follow the money.

The discussion is no longer one of ideas amongst the congregation. It has become a fashionable political cause being influenced by organized groups that exist outside of the normal church structure. Groups like the confessing movement and the reconciling ministries network provide a place for dollars to flow and produce the constant stream of rhetoric that ensures we won't hear the end of it for a long time.

I was recently a bit shocked and dismayed to find out that our conferences Bishop lent her position and authority to a fundraising letter for the reconciling ministries network. (A copy of the letter is found here

Side note - is a Bishop even allowed to do something like this?

But nonetheless, this is why the discussion will continue and continue loudly. When even a Bishop is resorting to fundraising and organized campaigns to attempt to change the will of the General Conference, the church has lost the voice of it's members and become beholden to special interests much like the rest of our society.

Organizations like these will seek to stack the delegations to the general conference with people who are there soley (or mostly) to support their positions. This is pure and simple political activism from outside organizations which ought to be stopped from both sides.
The debate no longer is about principal, but who is the best strategist and activist.

Anonymous said...

hmm...might it have something to do with the fact that divorce is percieved to be a one-time evil, whereas homosexuality is a continuous lifestyle?
Or maybe there are alot more divorced people in our churches?
I think it is scandalous that a church that claims to believe so much in the power and grace of God could say something like: "when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation...divorce is a regrettable alternative..." (161.D)
I appreciate that we are trying to be realistic, but can we Christians really believe in such a thing as "estrangement beyond the possiblility of reconcilliation?"

Kevin Baker said...

"Apples and oranges" seems to be a recurrent theme when this subject is brought up, both here and on John Meunier's site, and I can see that up to a point - but would add that both are fruit, both edible, both food, and have a lot more in common with each other than say "fruit and zoology." (Ok, enough with the metaphor)

In other words, I do think the original question raises several others that we don't really discuss much. Everyone wants to say that divorce is a tragic circumstance, but grace covers all - which usually means that there is no limit to how many divorces one can have and how many new marriages the church will bless. In many cases, it feels like we have traded in fidelity in marriage “till death do us part” for serial monogamy (the new, “acceptable” polygamy) – “till someone else do us part.” To all the divorcees reading this, please know that I am not trying to be cavalier and insensitive, but I do believe that with regard to sex, the church has a huge double standard here.

Indeed, people like Dan Bell have argued persuasively that homosexuality can be seen as less than God’s ideal in a fallen world, but one that the church might have room to bless in certain circumstances. Such arguments seem to follow current church casuistry with regard to divorce. For those interested, you can find part of Dan’s argument in this book


though he has presented papers and other more lengthy pieces in other places.


Kenny said...

I think it's simply that, for most of us, we find divorce easier to relate to, and it's happening closer to home. It's much easier to find a sin that doesn't apply to you or those close to you, and that you don't really understand why someone would be tempted toward, and use that as a scapegoat than it is to actually deal with your own sinfulness. Christians have trouble holding marriages together, just like everyone else (Christians should have less trouble, but should doesn't always translate into do), but most Christians - most people - don't suffer from homosexual temptations. I have to make an effort not to lust after women to whom I am not married; I don't have to make an effort not to lust after men. The majority of males are in the same position I am here, and the Church tends to alienate people who are not in this position, so that the percentage is even larger within the Church. So it's much easier to focus on homosexuality - somebody else's problem - than to deal with our own problems, whether those appear in ourselves or in others.

codepoke said...

I appreciate that we are trying to be realistic, but can we Christians really believe in such a thing as "estrangement beyond the possiblility of reconcilliation?"


Beyond doubt.

There are some marriages and divorces done on a lark, but you are surrounded by men and women who love God and who have been brutally and irreconcilably betrayed. Your question asks these people to suffer the impossible for nothing - and they feel the guilt of their failure long after you have gone on to your next crusade.

None would ask a donkey to go back to a cruel abuser, but how many of us might ask a husband or wife to go back to a betrayer?

codepoke said...

Such arguments seem to follow current church casuistry with regard to divorce.

Casuistry is used pejoratively here, but is that appropriate?

Jesus was asked to tell whether divorce was always right, and now the church is asked to enforce that divorce is always wrong. Boh requests are in error.

Divorce is plainly and simply not always wrong for both parties, or God would not have given a writ of divorce to Israel. Jesus would not have made allowance for the hardness of our hearts. Paul would not have released the believer to let the unbeliever depart.

When you treat divorce as an equal decision on the part of both parties, you do a tremendous injustice to some divorced people. The divorced woman who had to leave to protect the children from abuse. The partner betrayed repeatedly and finally left by one who starts an entire new family outside wedlock. The spouse of the unbeliever.

We sit out here, and listen to fantasies of the spiritual victories we might win if only we had faith. We play them in our heads night after night, and pray them in our hearts, and wish that God would move and let us suffer our marriages again if only He would receive the glory.

But God doesn't move.

And our former spouses go on with their lives. They live and form new relationships and acquire new diseases, and never look back.

And our brothers remind us that we need to be open to reconciliation, and that casuistry is a bad thing.

I would remind you that it is an abomination in the land to restore a thoroughly broken marriage. Please, preach that to your divorced brothers and sisters.

I would remind you that Jesus was a casuist, who rationalized healing on the Sabbath by explaining that any one of those listening would pull a donkey out of a pit on the Sabbath.

Please, be brave enough to find some of your divorced people innocent, and worthy of full restoration. Please, quit telling us that if we were not so lazy, we would not be in the pit in the first place. Please, quit telling us to pray that the man or woman who left us here might return, when in our hearts we know the foul smell of abomination.

We're scored on the number of wounds we bind up.

j2 said...

"So, why do we talk so much about the second and so little about the former?"

In reply: in part because we stopped speaking so much about the former[divorce] that we are in a position to rationalize an issue that was never in the mainstream consciousness as divorce was. We cannot permit ourself the confrontation on divorce because we must remain in denial as to why we do.(speaking in a collective sense) Many of us may be forced to recognize that we were wrong to consider divorce, or at the least to close the door to reconciliation because we simply didn't wish to deny ourself the comforts of a new mate.

Contrary to anyone who finds the questioning of the current permissiveness of divorce within some, but not all, denominations to be a morally dubious hardship, the facts are clear that we simply do not offer much if any resistance to divorce under any circumstance. We simply presume that the couple had some legitimate reason and trust both parties to have cleared it with God before becoming potential adulterers. It is this general failure to exercise Church authority in HUGE matters of morality and relationships that lead to futile discussions about absurd requests to normalize and "bless" abnormal behavior. And it is only predictable, like a childish plea, that we are thwarted from exercising authority to condemn immature, immoral behavior by our real adult failures and the accusation of hypocrisy in treating such matters unequally.

Some general house cleaning among most American mainstream churches would go a long way to changing the importance of what topics are discussed and receive our time and energy. I'm pretty sure homosexuality would then receive as little air time as bestiality and cross species marriages.