The evolution of divorce

Saturday, January 14, 2006


The former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, called it the opposite of peace; and it's certainly caused conflict in many religious settings over the years.

Many denominations' stance on the issue has softened in recent decades however, making divorce less taboo in some churches.

The country's high divorce rate is the main impetus behind the changing perspective, say religious leaders.

The Web site -- a community service Web site that offers research and support regarding divorce -- estimates that 20 percent of Catholic and Protestant marriages and 40 percent of Jewish marriages end in divorce after five years.

In response, local churches such as Centenary United Methodist Church are offering various educational activities and even support groups targeting those impacted by divorce.

Centenary's "Growing through divorce" group begins this Thursday, and is intended to offer support and healing, said Karen Mustoe, associate pastor at Centenary.

"Centenary has a strong committment to reaching out to people in need. The pain of divorce is one of the needs that we want to respond to," said Mustoe. "Divorce brings shock, adjustment, grief, guilt, fear and a host of other emotions and difficulties. During difficult times we all need a caring community to help us through."

Next week, the Southeast Missourian will explore local churches' views on divorce and various religious-based community programs that address the issue.

On the national level, here are the positions of five denominations have issued on the subject, as compiled by in May 2002.

Assembly of God

"... divorce is treachery (deceitful unfaithfulness) against your companion ... Jesus forbade divorce as contrary to God's will and word ... Paul forbade a Christian couple getting a divorce ... Jesus permitted a Christian to initiate a divorce when fornication was involved ... Jesus in His basic teaching forbade the remarriage of divorced persons ... [Church] membership is open to all born-again believers ... The offices of elder and deacon are not open to those who are remarried ... We positively disapprove of Christians getting divorces for any cause except fornication and adultery." -- "Assemblies of God beliefs: Divorce and Remarriage."

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The church magazine Ensign maintains a "I have a question" section which is set up so that members can ask theological questions. One dealt with divorce. After reviewing Matthew 19, and Mark 10, Jonathan M. Chamberlain, (a family therapist, and a first counselor at Orem Utah Lakeview Stake) commented: "In these texts dealing with divorce, the sincere reader can discern the Savior's gentle flexibility and acceptance of divorce when it is clearly necessary. The reader can also see the Lord's recognition of persons whose current societal circumstances are different from the celestial standard."

Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod:

In a Q&A section of the church's Web site, it states that: "The LCMS believes that divorce is contrary to God's original design and intention for marriage. While divorce can be justified Scripturally in certain situations (e.g., adultery or desertion), it is always preferable for couples to forgive and work toward healing and strengthening their marriage. Because no two situations are alike, LCMS pastors deal on a case-by-case basis with members (or potential members) who are wrestling with the issue of (past or present) divorce."

Southern Baptist Convention

On June 14th, 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a revised summary of its faith. On the topic of marriage, it says in part:

"Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. ... A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."

United Methodist Church

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church from 2000 states, in part: "When a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes. ... Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God's grace is shared by all."

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