Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Every so often I get a revelation.  Not from God, but usually something most everyone else in the world has already thought of.  Even if I'm a latecomer to an idea, it still makes me feel good.  So here's my latest revelation.  I was thinking about homosexuality and the church.  One of the arguments I've used is that if you believe homosexuality is a sin (which I don't), is it fair to pick on it when we're all sinners, to varying degrees?

So, if we don't require our ministers to be sinless in other regards, why require them to not commit the sin of homosexuality (presuming you believe homosexuality is a sin)?  The response I've usually received is that homosexuals who want to be ordained are unrepentant.  So it's ok to be greedy occasionally or uncharitable, so long as you feel bad about it.

So then I thought of a pretty major group of unrepentant sinners we let slide in the church: divorcees.  Below are four passages from the New Testament (three from the gospels) where Jesus and Paul lay out the case against divorce pretty tightly.  Not much getting around it.  But most churches still allow divorced men and women to be ordained, to take communion, and marry again.  We don't generally require them to repent of their sin of divorce (I'm sure there are exceptions). 

It seems to me that the church (generally - not any specific denomination necessarily) has decided that divorce is a part of life in 20th and 21st century America.  Most churches will let divorced and remarried men and women fully participate in the life of the church, whether it is a sin or not.  Clearly according to Jesus, divorce is a sin.  If we're going to be hardcore legalists, we have to treat divorced people much, much worse than we currently do.  If you're a legalist and are not willing to go to that length, why not cut gays and lesbians some slack?

I can't believe how much effort churches in Oregon have put into the "Constitutional Definition of Marriage" initiative.  Under state law, they needed 100,840 signatures to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot.  They collected 244,587 signatures.  Those have not been verified - undoubtedly some will not be valid, but unless there's a miracle this will be on the ballot in November.

Imagine if these churches have devoted that effort to loving their neighbors by fighting poverty, feeding the hungry, or protecting the environment?  Oh wait, I missed that part in the Bible about actively persecuting those that you don't agree with.  What was I thinking?

Matthew 5:31-32 (MSG)
"Remember the Scripture that says, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights'?  Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are "legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity).  And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure.

Matthew 19:3-9 (MSG)
One day the Pharisees were badgering him: "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?"  He answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female?  And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh--no longer two bodies but one.   Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."  They shot back in rebuttal, "If that's so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?"  Jesus said, "Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God's original plan.  I'm holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery."

Mark 10:2-12 (MSG)
Pharisees came up, intending to give him a hard time. They asked, "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?"  Jesus said, "What did Moses command?"  They answered, "Moses gave permission to fill out a certificate of dismissal and divorce her."  Jesus said, "Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways.  In the original creation, God made male and female to be together.  Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman--no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity.  Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."   When they were back home, the disciples brought it up again.   Jesus gave it to them straight: "A man who divorces his wife so he can marry someone else commits adultery against her.   And a woman who divorces her husband so she can marry someone else commits adultery." 

Luke 16:18 (MSG)
Using the legalities of divorce as a cover for lust is adultery; Using the legalities of marriage as a cover for lust is adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:10-16 (MSG)
And if you are married, stay married. This is the Master's command, not mine.  If a wife should leave her husband, she must either remain single or else come back and make things right with him. And a husband has no right to get rid of his wife.   For the rest of you who are in mixed marriages--Christian married to nonChristian--we have no explicit command from the Master. So this is what you must do. If you are a man with a wife who is not a believer but who still wants to live with you, hold on to her.  If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him.  The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be left out; as it is, they also are included in the spiritual purposes of God.   On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse walks out, you've got to let him or her go. You don't have to hold on desperately. God has caled us to make the best of it, as peacefully as we can.  You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God.

Update: I want to clarify something - I'm not necessarily saying that divorce is a sin and any divorced reader is thereby a sinner.  There are a lot of good and bad reasons for getting divorced and I'm not qualified to judge them.  One thing that seems to be clear from the passages above is that if you leave your spouse so you can marry someone else, that's a sin.  What Jesus says in Matthew 5 is that people were using the law as "cover for selfishness and whim."  That's a very different situation than leaving a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, etc.  But again, it's not up to me to make that distinction.  I also believe that redemption and grace are available to all us and that God can be present in our lives married, single, divorced, gay or straight. 



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