Divorce in the Church: What it does to God’s Children Part 1

Before you click past this, read on.   This isn’t what you think. What I am discussing today is when a Church becomes so broken, so dysfunctional that divorce is the only answer.  When you are tearing apart the children, after you have been through months of counseling, sometimes its better to walk away.  Stay with me on this, because its something very close to my heart right now.

I know not everyone who reads this espouses what I believe when it comes to faith.  However, I think that everyone can at least understand what I am talking about and you might actually learn something from what I am about to say. In this analogy,  I am treating a Church, its Pastor and congregation, like a marriage.  It is said in the Bible that the Church is the bride of Christ.  So this isn’t that far out of the realm for most Christians to understand.  So when I discuss things later on, its in this context.

What really happens in a divorce?  What is the cause?  Sometimes its one spouse being unfaithful to another.  In this case, that isn’t what I am discussing.  There is something more subtle and must more devastating, in my opinion.  It’s because you fall out of love.  You fall out of love with the congregation, the Pastor, or ultimately, Christ himself.

Why does this happen?   Many will say that they have valid reasons why they fell out of love.  “He hurt me!”  “He said unkind things to me!”  “They are always bitter!”    Something that started as small gets churned up and becomes a major problem.  Then the sniping begins, the fighting and even the most well intentioned people can turn even the smallest things into major drama.   Each person thinks they are correct, they are the most injured party and the heart hardens.  In the meantime, the “children”, or those that didn’t start this drama, sit around being affected by snide comments, the unbending attitude and the lack of reality by those involved.  I will describe a few of the individuals and what they are like below.

1.  The Perpetually Offended:   This is the person that no matter what the individual they are angry at does, good or bad, they find a way to be offended by it.  This person may have had an originally valid reason to be upset, but they have discussed it, held onto and nurtured the hurt to a point where it is now a huge blot in their soul.  This type of person will read something like this and also be offended by it.  They have long lost the ability to forgive and they draw others into their black hole whenever they get the chance.  These people are poison to themselves and others.  The worst part is that they don’t realize it, most of the time, they are so buried in themselves.  Some even think they are being offended in protection of others, because somehow those others can’t defend themselves.  These people will have little or no ability to find a middle ground and forgiveness of the person that offended them is not an option.

2.  The Holier than Thou:  This is the person that doesn’t think they have done anything wrong.  No matter what they are told or the amount of evidence they are given, they don’t think they have hurt or wronged anyone in any way.  They even have Biblical back up for the way they have acted.  These people are highly controlling, slow or even resistant to suggestion, become aggressive when criticized and have no realization why anyone would find them at fault.  They will apologize when confronted, but will internally not mean it, because they find no reason to do it.  This person may be in a position of authority and will think that they need to be followed without question, even if they, themselves, do not do the things that they expect of others.

3.  The Innocent Bystander:  This is the person that may be oblivious to what is going on.  They find things about the way they always were and don’t know why people just can’t get along.  You will find many of these people elderly, or people who just don’t want to get involved.  When the “divorce” progresses, these people will, unfortunately, get drawn in.

4. The Sniper:  These are people who might have been in group 1 or even in group 2, caused issues and then took off.  These people might have been deeply involved with starting the process leading to the divorce, but they set their time-bomb, packed up and left before it went off.   These people, unfortunately, are as much to blame as group 1 and 2 for the ultimate divorce.  They will also be similar to group 1 or 2 and think they had good reason to go what they did and take little responsibility for what happens later.  In their minds, their hands are clean because they left before they, personally, were the reason for the divorce.  These people may be genuinely contrite and like number 2 have Biblical reasons for doing what they did.  These people will also stay peripherally involved-sitting on their metaphorical roof top taking shots at the people still there.

5.  Switzerland:  These are the people in the unenviable position of trying to ride the fence and be peace makers between all of the above.  Number 4’s may have been number 5’s at one point and decided, for whatever reason, to cut and run.  These people will have Biblical reasons for doing what they did, be people who hate conflict so much they will avoid it at any cost, or just want “Mom and Dad” to love each other like they used too.  These people are the type that figure if they can keep the trains running on time and the money where it needs to be, that eventually everything will be ok.  These people, unfortunately will probably become number 4’s if pressed too hard.

6.  The Casualties:  These are number 1-5’s, but number 1’s will think they won if they get their way, as will number 2’s.  Number 3’s will continue to go along and the 4’s and or 5’s may or may not be the same.  Many will become the “walking wounded”  and will have to leave to just survive.  They will be permanently damaged by the whole process and may not be able to commit to another relationship for years to come.  No matter who wins, these people will find themselves losers.

So what does all this mean in the context of a church divorce?    Jesus has words on how to deal with these situations, Let’s look at Matthew first:

Matthew Chapter 18

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

This is pretty clear.  Jesus states the way to deal with someone that has a trespass against you.  He doesn’t say, “Go first and hash it out with your friends, talk about it on email, then draw someone else in to fight your battles for you”  does he?    The problem is, that all the numbers above may have tried this already and failed.  So now what do you do?  You need to analyze how bad the trespass is and then consider this:

Ephesians 4:32

Viewing the King James Version. Click to switch to 1611 King James Version of Ephesians 4:32.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Can you forgive the person?  According to Christ, you should.  But can you forget it?  Can you excuse it?  That is something you need to decide for yourself.  But what you can’t do is become like the “Perpetually offended” and draw people into your black hole.  You can’t be like the “holier than thou” and be oblivious to those around you with feelings.  If you want to leave, because you have become like the “walking wounded”, don’t be a “sniper” and remain on the side sending in volleys.

So if you are in this kind of situation, what do you do?  Nothing above is very Christian, in all honesty.  Divorce is prohibited in the Bible unless it is a case of adultery between a man and a woman.  But in some cases, divorce in a church may be necessary to save the children.  The problem then becomes, who divorces who?  When should it happen?    When I figure that out, I will let you know.

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