Paul, Jesus, the UMC & divorce

Paul put it this way: “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”

The United Methodist Church declares some marriages are broken beyond repair and that divorce does not preclude remarriage.

I’ve been working with this for 10 months and still don’t see how what we in the UMC hold as a social principle is compatible with Paul or Jesus. I am at a loss.


5 thoughts on “Paul, Jesus, the UMC & divorce

  1. Personally, I think that the one who remarries (or sleeps with someone else) first commits adultery, which is the only circumstance under which Jesus allowed divorce. I think that is the point when a divorce in the eyes of secular law becomes a true, biblical divorce. After that point, I don’t see why we would prevent either party from remarrying–that old marriage covenant is broken in God’s eyes as surely as it is in ours or the secular court’s.

    Beyond that, I think that the Eastern Orthodox approach is a far better, more grace-filled approach than the UMC one. The Orthodox allow for divorce and remarriage, but subsequent remarriage ceremonies include litanies and prayers of repentance and sorrow for the old marriage and the re-married person’s part in its dissolution. They also only allow this three times. After that, well…

  2. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. – I Corinthians 7:15, which, it seems to me, is an amendment to a new situation. Even Jesus seems, on some occasions, to forbid divorce in an absolute way, and then, to offer the exception of adultery. I point this out to suggest that the Jesus and Paul seem to consider divorce appropriate to certain circumstances. When a couples is able to remain together for decades, maybe 5 or 6, it is something to celebrate. At the same time, when one or the other breaks the covenant, it is yet another sign of falling short of the ideal of what God intended in creation. I have seen marriages that bring out the worst in each other and make both worse persons. Such is not what God intends. I assume you are not suggesting that anyone remain in an abusive relationship. The point is, there are many ways to break the marriage covenant that might not include adultery. In any case, yes, some marriages are broken beyond repair. In such cases, as Paul put it, it would be better to remain as Paul was, that is, unmarried. However, some do not have that gift, so rather than burn with passion unfulfilled, it is best to marry. Having said all this, in a secular setting, people will divorce for convenience. In a Christian context, the guidance should always be to work through issues.

  3. It is what it is, an accommodation to a secular culture that does not value permanence, that places the interests of the individual over any commitment made in marriage. It is no different than when Henry VIII blew a gasket with the Catholic Church because he wanted to change wives. He was told no. He was the king. So, he just decided that he’d make his own rules about marriage. He later did the same thing when it came to the civil rights of English citizens. He was the king and could do as he pleased so he did. What Scripture taught was to him of no concern. Now, if and when concern turns to matters of property… then appeal is made to the trust clause. At that point there can be no accommodation at all. It is perfectly understandable. When it comes to really critical commitments, there can be no accommodation at all. It’s a matter of secular law. Everyone understands.

  4. Something to ponder. From Catholic Answers: “In Matthew 19:3-9 when the Pharisees are questioning Jesus about divorce, Jesus seems to make an exception in the case of adultery. Why, then, doesn’t the . . . Church follow what Jesus says in the Bible and allow divorce in such circumstances?”
    Answer: “Let us recall first of all that Matthew’s audience was mainly Jews, and only Matthew’s Gospel has this . . . clause. The word “adultery” is not what Jesus said, although many Bible translations use this word. If Jesus (had) intended to say adultery, he would have used the word moicheia, meaning “adultery,” but instead he used the word porneia, meaning illicit or invalid. His audience . . . knew exactly what Jesus meant. Leviticus 18:6-16 lists marriages that (were) illegal for Jews because they (were) between certain degrees of consanguinity or were with a Gentile, which was forbidden. . . . and this is why Matthew’s Gospel includes this exception.” Answered by: Jan Wakelin

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