It seems like we’ve been covering most of my least favourite Bible passages of late, so perhaps I should have expected this one to come along – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”. Another winner!
And what a good passage to have on the day of a baptism! Certainly it serves as a subtle way of informing any divorced parents who may be visiting us today, and who may be thinking about getting their children baptised, don’t bother coming here!
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”. That’s our stance, and we don’t want any no good adulterers or adulteresses around here, nor your children of questionable origin!
Now, before someone actually does get up and try to punch me, I should point out that if there is a finger here being pointed at persons who have failed in their marriages and have been divorced and remarried, that finger is pointing squarely at me!
I am a divorcee, and I have remarried, and the church (not this church but the greater Diocese) never lets me forget that!
I received my synod badge the other day. This gives me the privilege of getting access to the 2006 sessions of the synod of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It’s a privilege I’m afraid I rarely take advantage of. Even so, I was fascinated this year to see that they’ve inserted some letters under my name – ‘ACIC’.
In truth, I’m not entirely sure what these letters stand for, but I’m guessing that they stand for ‘Acting Curate in Charge’, which, if correct, means I must have been demoted again!
I used to be ‘Acting Rector’. I’ve never been permitted to become full rector of this parish, despite having now been here for 15 years. I’m technically still a casual in this position, whose tenure is entirely subject to the whim of the Bishop, and I think now I must have descended still one step further down the ecclesiastical ladder!
In truth, I really don’t care what label they apply to me here, so long as I’m free to continue to do the work I feel called to do. Even so, I know full well that there is only one reason that I get this label, and that is because I am one who has been divorced and has remarried, and so in the eyes of the establishment I will always remain a second class cleric, and should consider myself lucky to have been allowed to continue in this ministry at all.
Of course, it’s possible that I’ve misinterpreted this badge, and that the letters actually stand for, ‘Arch-Chancellor in Constantinople!’, but I don’t think so.
In truth, as I say, I really don’t care what label people apply to me personally, except in so far as it is a testimony to the fact that they will not let me forget my failings. And yet it was Jesus Himself who said, .”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”. That seems pretty final, and who are we to question the Lord Jesus?
No wonder the historic church has always viewed divorced persons in such a dim light, and refused to baptise their offspring.
By maintaining a high standard, and excluding divorced and/or adulterous persons from the fellowship, we maintain the purity of the faith community as a whole. Of course, for the person on the other end, the experience is something like having someone put the boot in when you’re already doubled up on the ground!
A woman by the name of Doris Mae Golberg wrote some lines which summed up for me my experience of divorce:
I have lost my husband, but I am not supposed to mourn.
I have lost my children; they don’t know to whom they belong.
I have lost my relatives; they do not approve.
I have lost his relatives; they blame me.
I have lost my friends; they don’t know how to act.
I feel I have lost my church; do they think I have sinned too much?
I am afraid of the future,
I am ashamed of the past,
I am confused about the present.
I am so alone,
I feel so lost.
God, please stay by me, You are all I have left.
At this point, in my experience, the church regularly responds by putting the boot in. That’s what happened to my parents when they were divorced. I copped my share when my turn came, and I’ve since been through it with so many friends. Is this really the attitude we think that the Lord Jesus would have us take?
Personally, I think that even a minimal amount of Bible study would suggest to us that judgement is not the final word of the Lord Jesus in this matter, and it may not even be the first word. For one thing, in the very passage we read this morning, where Jesus seems to speak so aggressively towards divorcees, that dialogue is immediately followed by him welcoming the children indiscriminately!
As I’ve suggested already, those who make distinctions between people on the basis of their marital status, generally pass judgement not only on the remarried couple, but equally upon their children, who are judged as being the unholy offspring of an adulterous and sinful relationship!
If Jesus Himself had taken this attitude, we might have expected him to say, “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, except for those of dubious parentage, who I’d prefer you kept well away from me!”
Jesus does not make any distinction between the children. He embraces them all, regardless of their race, their colour, their gender, or their parental pedigree! And just as He does not withhold his love from any of his children, Jesus is on record as refusing to judge someone who was caught being openly adulterous!
If you are a student of the Bible, you will remember the passage from John 8, where the religious leaders drag the poor girl before Jesus and ask him whether they should stone her as an adulteress, according to their law. Jesus says, “Let the one who has never made any mistakes cast the first stone”, and when they all disappear, Jesus says to the woman what I think are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture, “I don’t condemn you either!”
The church has too often been quick to condemn. Jesus though rarely condemned anybody. Indeed, to be quite blunt about it, the only people we see Jesus condemn in the New Testament are not weak and sinful people who have failed, but pompous, self-righteous religious people who think the sun shines out of them.
Rev. David B. Smith (the ‘Fighting Father’) Parish priest, community worker,martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three.
Get a free preview of Dave’s book,Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you subscribe to his newsletter at www.fatherdave.org