What about divorce?

Does the church have a double-standard, treating divorce differently than homosexuality?

Harold N. Miller

Far too many of our Mennonite Church USA congregations make peace with divorce. We too often fail to discipline even divorce that is clearly sinful (eg., when persons initiate divorce because of an adulterous affair which they want to continue).

It is wrong and inconsistent for the church to remain silent when divorce happens but then turn around and loudly declaim same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, there are three short and simple reasons why this happens, reasons why congregations tend to view a same-sex couple as radically different from a couple who are divorced and remarried:

1. Few remarried couples stand up in a church and say "our divorces did not involve sin" or suggest that the church needs to change its teaching position that divorce is sin.

2. The church generally believes that the remarried couple is not continually recommitting the sin of adultery. John Martin's personal approach to divorce: when a couple's marriage is broken, they should not seek divorce, but counseling. If counseling fails and if staying together is injurious, they may choose separation -- though their failure to keep their covenant must be faced as sin needing forgiveness. If they choose divorce, now there is the (additional) sin of breaking their covenant. Can they be forgiven? Martin says yes. Can they remarry new partners? Martin again says yes, and adds: "Sexual relations would not be an act of continual sin."
--John R. Martin, Divorce and Remarriage: A Perspective for Counseling (Herald Press 1974 & 1976) p40
For instance, Howard H. Charles (study paper presented to Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference in 1955) and J.C. Wenger (Dealing Redemptively with Those Involved in Divorce and Remarriage Problems [Herald Press 1965]) taught that the consummation of the second marriage was also an act which destroyed the validity of the first marriage. Deuteronomy clearly implies that the first marriage is not still in effect after a remarriage: it gives an absolute prohibition against resuming the first marriage (24:1-4). Paul teaches that one abandoned by an unbelieving spouse is "not bound" (1 Corinthians 7:15). Jesus teaches that one can divorce (which implied remarriage in that culture) without sin when there is "marital unfaithfulness" (Matthew 5:32, 19:9). (When one marriage partner leaves and joins himself/herself to another, obviously the partner remaining cannot still have a marriage: marriage involves two. It seems that Paul and Jesus are acknowledging this.) If a congregation does not believe that the remarried couple is "living in sin," but believes that the same-sex couple is doing so, they will of course respond to the two couples differently.

3. There is diversity within the biblical canon on the question of divorce and remarriage. For example, consider the above allowances for divorce in the case of adultery (Matthew) and when an unbelieving spouse leaves (Paul). But there is no diversity of any sort within the canon on the question of homosexual behavior.