Friday, September 16, 2011

Response to Russell Moore on Pat Robertson and Divorce

Over at Moore to the Point, Dr. Russell Moore has a terrific blog post about Pat Robertson's recent suggestion that a husband or wife could legitimately divorce an Alzheimer's-afflicted spouse and get remarried, on the premise that having Alzheimer's was a "kind of death."

I completely agree with Moore's assessment of Robertson's remark (which seemed to be made somewhat off-the-cuff, though is still dead wrong).

What I found particularly interesting, however, was the discussion that bubbled to the surface in the combox.  As you can imagine, because many non-Catholic Christians do allow for divorce and remarriage in at least some circumstances, some commentators were forced to use more nuanced language when describing the category of exceptions into which Alzheimer's (to them) does not belong.  (Of course, the problem with a house built on sand--people's private interpretations--is that there is no guarantee that more Christians in the future won't put Alzheimer's into the exception category.)  In a nutshell, these commentators tried to prove that Alzheimer's was not an exception by rehearsing the standard definition of the exceptions that Protestants do allow (based on a certain reading of Matthew 19:9).  

From my Catholic perspective, which allows for no exceptions at all, the possibility of at least some exceptions is really a game changer--one with serious implications for what/how/why marriage is and is not.  In other words, it is a much easier argument to say that marriage is a bond created by God, and nothing man can do can put that bond asunder.  Only death can do a husband and wife part.  If marriage is truly forever, it can only be so based on God's real action on the lives of the spouses.  They do not make themselves one; God does, and "what God has joined together..."

We can no more put marriage asunder by our sins than by any other action we can commit.

And, it is worth noting that the historic understanding of marriage and Jesus's prohibition of divorce and remarriage in any circumstance stretches back to the earliest Christians in the first centuries of the Church.

Those who admit exceptions, then, offer a radically different understanding of marriage: marriage, their position implies, IS something that can be rent asunder.  Divorce from one's spouse IS possible.  Man CAN choose to put their marriage asunder.  God's divine action CAN be undone by man's decree.

Now, it is possible that two people presumed to be married were did not actually enter into sacramental marriage the day they made their vows.  Shot gun weddings, for instance, do not effect a sacramental marriage.  And the Church, in an act of love and mercy, does offer to consider the evidence that a marriage never took place in the first place.  (Sadly, this process has been abused in some corners of the Church, and I pray for those people who have not taken the process seriously and have annulled perfectly valid marriages.)  Still, it is possible for someone who has never truly been married to obtain a civil divorce and later enter into a true sacramental marriage.  This could not be considered "remarriage," since that person had never before been married.

Moore's blog post, and the comments that follow, are worth the read.  Here, for your convenience, were my two comments:


Dear Dr. Moore,
I just found your blog for the first time today, and I couldn’t agree with you more about your assessment of Robertson’s latest statement.
I wonder, though, how culpable we are as Robertson’s Christian brothers and sisters. As crazy as Robertson’s statement was, the fact is, Christians still divorce all the time for a wide variety of reasons. Some then remarry, yet are still accepted by their congregations (either current, or perhaps new). It is hard for me to imagine that any preacher would make the blunder that Robertson made if Christians took our Lord’s prohibition of divorce and remarriage more seriously…by not getting divorced and remarried. With that in mind, I ask the Lord for mercy not only on Robertson but on the entire body of believers who claim Christ as their Lord, yet find ways of rationalizing behaviors that He clearly condemns. And though I have never divorced, I wonder how my own sins scandalize other believers and non-believers alike.
On the issue of the supposed “exception” that Jesus seems to make, it is worth noting this immorality clause only occurs in one gospel. If you were a Roman Christian reading Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’s language would not have allowed for exceptions to the no divorce and remarriage rule. Jimmy Akin has a terrific commentary on Matthew 19:9 here:
Come, Holy Spirit, and reunite your faithful Church around our Head, Jesus Christ, so that the errors of those who teach apart from her can be clearly and unequivocally understood as such!
God bless,
Sorry…I just realized that one sentence didn’t communicate what I intended:
I believe that congregations should accept people living in a state of sin…but not accept their sins. I think it is problematic when congregations think that they can just ignore a person’s public sin while accepting the person. I am not a pastor, and I can’t begin to imagine the pastoral difficulties associated with this issue. On that note, I am thankful that my church (the Catholic Church) has such clear, yet loving and pastoral, guidelines for persons who have divorced and remarried. The Catholic Church is clear in that no person who has truly been married can ever validly be remarried, since they are married to their first spouse until death do them part. No sin can put a marriage asunder, since God is the creator of that marriage bond.  
I do think that this is the truth that has been lost across so much of Christendom, and it is a faithful return to God that can open our hearts to repentance, healing, and forgiveness…but only if those who are remarried are willing to turn away from their sin. I know this is a hard truth for many to accept, but with God, all things are possible, and nothing is better than following God’s will! His mercy and grace are always sufficient, and we prove that to be true most particularly when we as His children let go of the sinful aspects of our lives that we can’t even imagine living without!
God bless,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting take of the controversy. It's so hard in the middle of a particular controversy to look past it to larger issues illustrated by the controversy.