Sunday, September 2, 2012

A more generous attitude

UPDATE: Catholicity and Covenant makes a nice point here re generosity in the Milanese tradition.

ORIGINAL POST: There is nothing like an interview published posthumously to rattle the cages of an organisation which inhibits its own leaders from speaking their minds. So we have the very recently deceased Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini giving an interview from the bier, as reported by the BBBBBBBBBBC (see also a note in The Tablet). These words are worth reflecting on,

"Unless the Church adopted a more generous attitude towards divorced persons, it will lose the allegiance of future generations, the cardinal added. The question, he said, is not whether divorced couples can receive holy communion, but how the Church can help complex family situations.

And the advice he leaves behind to conquer the tiredness of the Church was a "radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops"."

Believe it or not, despite anything you read here, ADU concurs with the need for the church(es) to adopt a 'more generous attitude' towards those whose lives do not neatly fit within the customary way of life of Christians. Indeed, we must ask ourselves 'how the Church can help complex family situations'. Though quite why the most progressive cardinal of recent times etc could not simply say that divorced persons receiving communion is a question needing an urgent answer, I do not know.

That more generous attitude needs to be worked out in such a way that we affirm the teaching of the church while working out how we can help, effectively, complex family situations.

Such an approach is, of course, not novel to the late Cardinal, but simply the way of Jesus.

Incidentally we need to follow that way, whether or not we gain the allegiance of future generations.


47 comments:

Bryden Black said...

The combination of holiness and grace will probably be a hard but necessary road for any generation Peter.

The BBC World - Beeb! - session I watched had a quite a spiel on Martini: fascinating frankly!

carl jacobs said...

"Generous response" is a euphemism for "compromise." What is the point of having moral standards if you won't actually enforce them? Why then should not every violation of said standard be met with "generous response?"

Here, I will say it out loud. We don't have a God-given right to be happy. We have a God-given responsibility to be virtuous. This whole purpose of "generous response" is to justify people as they avoid the responsibility of virtue in order to pursue their own vision of happiness. Yes, that is what the modern world desires. The modern world has made a god of its own autonomy. But that doesn't mean the Christian Church has to follow. We don't have to bring their idols into the sanctuary and set them on the altar.

Some 20 years ago, I knew a woman by the name of Linda. She was 38 at the time, and a little overweight. She had two daughters, aged 16 and 14. She had been married a little short of 20 years. Evidently her husband wasn't happy, so he left his wife and children for a another woman in her mid-twenties. Should I write the excuses? "I didn't love her anymore." "I shouldn't have have to stay in a relationship that doesn't meet my needs." "I found my soul-mate." "The kids will be fine."

What sort of "generous response" should be made for her faithless husband? And how would that "generous response" vindicate the pain and humiliation and deprivation and abandonment and loneliness this man left in his wake? What cost would it impose on him for deserting his home in search of his own naked self-interest? Before a church starts accommodating the desires of the sinful world, it might ask itself "Who is it that we should first accommodate?"

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
'A generous response' modelled after Jesus' own generous response to people is going to be about compassion rather than compromise.

I see nothing in the example you cite which leads to 'generous attitude' becoming soft and compromising on the sinner needing to repent. I do see something which would lead the Roman church to permit the sinned against wife, after divorce, being able to receive communion without needing to go through the unusual process of 'annulment' which in many cases involves a pretence that a marriage didn't exist even when it did.

Surely a 'generous attitude' is what Jesus showed the woman caught in adultery, the sinful woman who anointed him without being rejected by him, the deserting (and in one case triple denying) apostles, and the serially monogamous Samaritan woman at the well.

Bryden Black said...

Carl & Peter: like I say, holiness + grace. That surely is always the true approach ...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Peter, your comment doesn't respond to Carl's excellent point.

I don't know where you are getting your information - the Catholic Church certainly wouldn't bar the "sinned against wife" from communion.

To maintain homosexuals be celibate while heterosexuals receive a "generous response" is inconsistent.

Alison

Andrei said...

Surely a 'generous attitude' is what Jesus showed the woman caught in adultery, the sinful woman who anointed him without being rejected by him, the deserting (and in one case triple denying) apostles, and the serially monogamous Samaritan woman at the well.

Surely Peter the woman caught in Adultery was admonished to sin no more.

The woman who anointed Jesus is associated with St Mary Magdalene who repented her past and was the first to encounter the Risen Christ before the denying apostles who of course did not deny Christ after meeting him post resurection

The Samaritan woman at the well is associated with St Photini - another who evangelized for Christ after her encounter with him, her first act of evangelism recorded in the Gospel story itself.

Our actions in this world have consequences on ourselves and others and we do not escape those. The generous response we receive from Christ is contingent upon us repenting our sins, the first step being acknowledging that what we have done is a sin in the first place.

Andrei said...

I have an anecdote similar to Brydon Black's above.

A Catholic Woman I know was abandoned by her husband who initiated divorce proceedings against her - which she refused to acknowledge.

In the end the papers were served on her by a Bailiff so the proceedings could well proceed.

Legally she is divorced but to this day she doesn't accept this and nor has she as far as I know in anyway compromised her marriage vows. She still sees herself as bound by her original vows and while I don't know what the Catholic Church's position is in this case it is my suspicion that she remains in good standing with the Church with regards to communion.

carl jacobs said...

Bravely he goes forth where angels fear to tread...

Peter

The story of the woman taken in adultery is the largest textual variant in Scripture. It has no Scriptural provenance for some 300 years after the Scripture was compiled. There are grave and serious doubts about whether John actually included the story in his Gospel account - especially considering the fact that the Gospel of John flows so well in its absence. I believe that if publishers of modern bibles had sufficient courage, they would remove the story from the Scripture - but, alas, human tradition is just too strong. In any case, it is not capable of carrying the weight you would ascribe to it.

carl

carl jacobs said...

Peter

The complex family situations to which your post referred must extend far beyond accommodating the innocent party in a divorce. Otherwise, it will have no effect on the public at large - a public that seeks after justification. No, it is my example that is more typical.

It is particularly depressing that the church is unwilling to confront the divorce of "irreconcilable differences." Mutual agreement cannot sever the marriage covenant. Neither can it alter the adulterous characteristic of any subsequent relationship. But this is precisely where the "generous response" is to be most broadly applied - in relation to the second marriage when the first didn't quite work out.

You can't make adultery go away by saying "I'm sorry about it, and now let's get on with life." Neither should the church offer that option as a "generous response." The only way to escape adultery is to leave it. The man who is truly sorry will leave it. Otherwise, he is just playing at religious rituals in order to salve his conscience.

carl

Paul Powers said...

Divorce itself does not affect a person's standing in the Roman Catholic Church. The problem arises when the divorced person remarries without an ecclesiastical declaration of the previous marriage's nullity. That person is barred from receiving the sacraments, but is otherwise allowed to participate in the life of the church.

In some cases a remarried divorced people (and their spouses) can be readmitted to communion if they undertake to live as brother and sister. This may be an approach for the church to consider for same sex couples.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison
I am sure you are right and I didn't go on to specify what might happen if the 'sinned against woman' after divorce then remarried. Either way, the RC church has an ungenerous attitude to divorce re its somewhat odd annulment process, and it makes life hard for some of its members re communion if they choose to marry outside the RC church a Christian who does not accede to the children being brought up Catholic.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
One point about the woman caught in adultery story you overlook is that it is included in the Bible today precisely because it accords with what we know of Jesus elsewhere and rings with the hallmark of Jesus genuineness, whatever the dubiousness of its provenance (over which arguments rage).

In general terms I think you overlook Jesus' generosity in entertaining conversation with people otherwise deemed to be sinners, before they had offered signs of repentance (e.g. Zacchaeus).

I fail to see what I have said which entertains notions that we might not ask people to repent of sin, seek forgiveness and a fresh start in the renewal of the Holy Spirit. There are plenty of complex family relationships to get our heads around even after repentance and forgiveness have been secured.

Shawn said...

Could it be that in response to the rather "generous" view of the Pharisees regarding divorce, Jesus was not only less than generous, but in fact demanded strict faithfulness?

I don't think the RC has it exactly right in terms of its practice, but neverthless it seems far closer to the teaching of Christ on this point than our overly generous (read lax) approach.

Shawn said...

A tale of generosity between a Methodist and Episcopalian Church.

Good article here by David Virtue on God's work in the global re-alignment of Christianity.

http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=16480

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
A strict adherence to faithfulness in marriage is a generous and kindly blessing on our spouses!

I think the Roman confusion lies precisely in its attempt to be faithful to Jesus' teaching while not allowing for the multiplicity of challenges marriage breakdowns bring, many of which in modern society were not raised with Jesus as he tackled the issues of his day.

Not every marriage breakdown is the clear cut result of the husband committing adultery or wilfully leaving his wife to fend for herself and her children without support. While I can think of many instances of breakdown in which I do wonder if, putting it bluntly, people could have tried harder to love each other; I also know of marriage breakdowns that rend one's heart as a pastor when learning of the complex psychological factors at work in destroying the relationship. OK, could go on and on here. But I think we can be as stringent as Jesus on teaching while continuing to reflect deeply on his example of 'generous attitude' to sinners. Notably to myself!

Father Ron Smith said...

" I believe that if publishers of modern bibles had sufficient courage, they would remove the story from the Scripture - but, alas, human tradition is just too strong. In any case, it is not capable of carrying the weight you would ascribe to it."

- carl Jacobs -

Aha! So the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery and pardoned by Jesus was not strictly true?

would that, by any chance, because Jesus is seen to be more merciful to this woman than carl feels would be quite proper? I have grave doubts about the selective hermeneutic that seeks to expunge anything from Scripture that would seem to accentuate God's mercy, rather than God's punishment. I'm sure biblical scholarship was not intended for that purpose.

This tactic, I find contra to the ethic of the Good News of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

If we, ourselves, were sinless, I could see the need for such a culture of retributive passion. Jesus was sinless, but He chose not to exercise such mercilessness. But then, that was Jesus; not just a vengeful blogger on the Internet.

Father Ron Smith said...

"In general terms I think you overlook Jesus' generosity in entertaining conversation with people otherwise deemed to be sinners, before they had offered signs of repentance (e.g. Zacchaeus)."

- Dr. Peter Carrell -

Well said, Peter! I am entirely in agreement with you here. Some people do tend rather to miss out on the overall tenor of the New Testament Scriptures - especially on the matter of the reconciling love of Jesus towards Sinners.

It would seem, there are still those among Christians those who appear to follow the Pharisees, in their literal application of the rigour of the Law towards their fellow human beings. (If Jesus had any enemies, it was surely these!)

The whole point of the Gospel is that it is Good News - to the poor, the disenfranchised, misunderstood, vilified, marginalised Sinners, who acknowledge their faults, and whom Christ came to redeem.

This seems to have been forgotten in some oddly-founded sense of the self-righteous need to point the finger at other peoples' sins.

The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector cum Publican in the Temple seems to me to be the best indicator of God's mercy towards those who recognise their own sins - rather than the sins of other people. We are given no licence to judge others - only ourselves. This is what Jesus surely meant when he spoke of 'whited-sepulchres'.

There but for the grace of God go I

My task as a priest, is not to condemn sinners to Hell, but to show them the way the Heaven - not by my own righteousness, (which, like that of Saint Paul, is like 'filthy rags') - but by that of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

carl jacobs said...

Peter

One point about the woman caught in adultery story you overlook is that it is included in the Bible today precisely because it accords with what we know of Jesus elsewhere and rings with the hallmark of Jesus genuineness

Such considerations are entirely beside the point. "It sounds like something we think Jesus would have done and said" isn't an argument capable of establishing that He actually said it and did it. The only question that matters is "Did John include the story in the autograph?" If he didn't then the story is not Theopneustos and cannot be used as the basis for a Scriptural argument.

In general terms I think you overlook Jesus' generosity in entertaining conversation with people otherwise deemed to be sinners, before they had offered signs of repentance (e.g. Zacchaeus).

Except this isn't a good model for discussion at hand. The church only has authority over people already in the church. So what we are talking about here is a matter of church discipline. Perhaps I have missed the point, but I perceive this "generous response" to be a relaxing of church discipline. Those outside the church would (theoretically) see the new modern attitudes and be more inclined to join. But that is their sole interaction. So perhaps Ananias is a better model than Zacchaeus.

This whole matter of conversation is beside the point however. Consider. There was a couple in my church whom we may call them John and Marsha. John was divorced. Marsha had never been married. John and Marsha wanted to get married, and had extensive conversations with the church leadership about it. John, you see, had no biblical grounds for his first divorce. The church leadership said (nicely, generously, gently) "We won't do this. You can't do this. Don't do this." Eventually John& Marsha found someone who would marry them, and got married anyways. So church discipline was applied. They were put out.

John and Marsha went to another church. Now let's assume that church is your church. If you should discover the facts of this case, what would you do as a shepherd? Would you meet them with a "generous response" and allow them a clean start? Would you seek to find ways to minister to them in their new complex relationship? Would you confirm them in a relationship that is objectively adulterous? Or would you affirm the discipline of the first church? Does Zacchaeus get to keep the money he stole?

In the real world, John and Marsha go to another church and no one ever asks. A year later the divorce comes out in some conversation, but is never pursued. It is discreetly overlooked. This is a scandal in the church. We say nothing because so many people are divorced we are afraid of the offense and the consequences that would attend. And then homosexual apologists snort and say "Why do you trouble us when you so easily cohabit with divorce?"

Good question.

carl

Tim Chesterton said...

Hi Ron - feel myself closer to you and Peter on this point. I did want to point out, however, that it's Isaiah, not St. Paul, who says 'all our righteousness is as filthy rags' a filthy cloth' in the NRSV) - though I'm sure Paul wd. have agreed.

Surely the tension we're discussing here is between the view of the Church as both a school for saints and a hospital for sinners. Both emphases are true and need to be kept in balance, but getting the balance right is not easy.

carl jacobs said...

FRS

not just a vengeful blogger on the Internet.

Vengeful? Heh. Well, maybe in the eyes of the "First Church of Let Us Sin More That Grace May Abound."

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
The 'adultery' story has a complicated history, e.g. sometimes being associated with John's Gospel, sometimes with Luke's. Two salient points are (as I understand the situation): (a) it cannot be ruled out as an inauthentic Jesus' story; (b) it accords with sound theology (the law is this, punishment of the original severity of Moses' law should be undertaken by those fit to do so, we should not sin).

I note that even you do not think the church should stone adulterers.

As for the situation you offer for discussion. I find nowhere in it the possibility that repentance for breaking a marriage up can be entertained. A church which engages in biblical discipline should also engage in biblical possibilities for restoration. (I am not going on to discuss what 'restoration' should mean re marriage break ups: theoretically, yes, return to first marriage; in practice, life has often moved on in numerous ways, so hypothetical examples, or examples without all details are almost impossible to discuss meaningfully in comments on a blog).

Absolutely, there are many questions raised on all sides of the multiple issues interconnected with living out our sexuality.

carl jacobs said...

Peter

I would seek the answers to three questions.

1. Was he married?
2. Is he now divorced?
3. Were there biblical grounds for the divorce?

At this point, all the necessary information is available to me. Nothing else needs to be known. I fear that you would ask a fourth question:

4. If there were no biblical grounds for the divorce, then what was the context?

To me the context is utterly irrelevant. The answers to the first three questions completely and irrevocably establish the character of any subsequent sexual relationship. There is no context that can alter that character. A previous marriage renders a subsequent marriage adulterous so long as the previous spouse is alive. That is a simple and unavoidable conclusion based on black-letter law, and not complex at all. Theconsequences might be complex and far-reaching. The nature of the relationship is not. There is no prayer, nor exhortation, nor ritual, nor sacrament, nor plea, nor oath, nor promise, nor confession that can change that nature.

It seems to me that "generous response" means "looking for a way to give some people a Mulligan on marriage." It means saying "The burden was too great" or "It wasn't really your fault" or "You were young and didn't know any better" so "God will understand if you get married again because He wants you to be happy and even though it's technically adultery, well, He will look the other way." That's what I understand this phrase to mean.

Now, I admit that I am imposing a definition on you, and this might be contrary to what you intend. But your definition of "generous response" has been abstract and therefore vague. You haven't really explained what you mean by it in terms that would allow general principles to be turned into specific actions. So long as you will assert that you would not validate a second marriage when the first marriage was concluded on non-biblical grounds, then we are at peace.

carl

Father Ron Smith said...

"So long as you will assert that you would not validate a second marriage when the first marriage was concluded on non-biblical grounds, then we are at peace."

I do love the royal 'WE' here. Then that's all settled then! The Church has offered her considered judgement.

Peter, you have my deepest sympathy I would not like your task of being expected to unwrap all of that. And so didactic, too.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
You are oversimplifying the realities of life. In my experience a straightforward Mr X, having cheated on Mrs X, turns up "five minutes" later with a new candidate to be Mrs X and a request for the Vicar to marry them as though nothing significant has happened relative to Jesus' teaching is rare.

Much more common is Mr X and Mrs X separate, having worked for years on their relationship, but never overcoming some significant difficulties (perhaps Mr X is alcoholic, or Mrs X is psychotic and spends most of her time in a psychiatric hospital, or Mr X is an obsessive workaholic, or Mrs X is an obsessive mother who will not put her husband ahead of her children, or ...). Then, eventually, and perhaps for no great reason (i.e. not at that stage contemplating remarriage to another) one sues for divorce (and insists on it). So divorce takes place and more time goes by. Then one meets a new potential spouse and a new marriage is in the offing.

What to do? On your reckoning it is nice and easy. If either remarries they are committing adultery, so they should not, and the church's role is to tell them not to and to impose discipline if they do. Further, the church's role is to insist on further attempts to resume the first marriage.

Well, good luck to you. But I cannot think of even the most extremely conservative of my ministerial colleagues who would agree with you by refusing to contemplate presiding at the wedding of the new marriage (all other things being equal and acknowledging that I am offering a scenario which is hypothetical in a number of ways).

carl jacobs said...

FRS

I am an American. We don't use the 'Royal We.' It doesn't even enter our minds to do so. This does however illustrate once again your amazing ability to misconstrue arguments in order to slander your opponent. The 'we' in question was "Peter and I.' I included the paragraph because I was beginning to wonder if I was misunderstanding the concept Peter was defending. All of this should have been obvious to anyone who can read the English language, and is willing to do so with even a modicum of charity.

carl

carl jacobs said...

Peter

I see there was no misunderstanding after all.

On your reckoning it is nice and easy.

Your words. Not mine. It's never 'nice and easy' to tell people that some decisions have permanent consequences; that visions of happiness must sometimes be sacrificed for the sake of obedience. It's hard to tell people that they face a difficult road of disappointment and self-denial. That's why I started this argument by saying "We don't have a God-given right to be happy." Happiness is the worst moral lodestone we could possibly apply.

If either remarries they are committing adultery, so they should not, and the church's role is to tell them not to and to impose discipline if they do.

And why do you suppose I would make such an assertion? What would be my authority?

Well, good luck to you.

And to you as well. It's not me you are actually arguing with.

But I cannot think of even the most extremely conservative of my ministerial colleagues who would agree with you

Ironic. It can't think of any who wouldn't agree with me. In the meantime, you can look forward to long and interesting debates over the ever-expanding definition of "significant difficulties." And you can also ponder how you will hold the line against contextual arguments made by homosexual apologists now that you have thrown a clear scriptural imperative onto the hot coals. Will you now use Scripture to defend your position on homosexuality having cast aside Scripture for the sake of your position on divorce?

The consequence of "generous response" is found in compromise. Should we really presume that our judgment about the termination of marriage is better than the judgment of the author of marriage?

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I would not want to go against the authority of God in Jesus Christ. The question I am raising here is whether Jesus would be as hard and as unyielding as you and you colleagues would be when faced with the situations we regularly face in today's world which do not always appear (to me, and other colleagues, at any rate) to be directly addressed by the words of Jesus (and of Paul) which we do have.

As for homosexual relationships, I think we could also ask whether Jesus would be as hard and as unyielding. I think we can ask the question (with its own set of complexities about modern life for homosexuals) without automatically answering it.

These are matters to reflect carefully on as we are dealing with the world which God lovingly created and lovingly redeemed, and in the process taught us through Jesus that the law is made to give life not to kill it.

carl jacobs said...

Peter

You say 'hard and unyielding.' I say 'consistent and faithful.' Your choice of words is both interesting and revealing. For it implies that the stance I defend is the stance of a harsh taskmaster who demands that bricks be made without straw. It is the language of intolerable burden. But what if we spoke instead of the man who has sex with his sister? Would you still find me harsh and unyielding if I should refuse to offer him any generosity? You are clearly parsing out sins. You are implicitly claiming that some portions of the Moral Law are disproportionately burdensome - that it would be unfair and wrong to expect people to uphold those portions. By what means did you accomplish this task? And do you not see Whom you are accusing when make such an implicit claim?

Is God hard and unyielding about sin? Perhaps we should ask the men who beat with futile fists on the side of Noah's Ark. Perhaps we should ask the men of Sodom who were destroyed without mercy for pursuing strange flesh. Perhaps we should ask the first born of Egypt. Perhaps we should ask the men, women, children, and infants of Canaan. Perhaps we should ponder those who shall see with great fear the Son of Man returning not as a Lamb but as a Lion with a robe dipped in blood. The God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament is the same unchanging God who revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The incarnation didn't change the nature of God, and it didn't change his attitude towards sin. Grace can never be used as an excuse to keep on sinning. And yet this is precisely the position you find yourself defending. You are asserting that the very God who condemned Sodom now looks with grace & compassion on the sin of Sodom; that He now makes allowances so that men may commit it freely when confronted with some intolerable circumstances. What then would he say to the city of Sodom? Would his judgment of the city have been righteous?

Why is homosexuality different in your mind from adultery? Why is divorce different from bearing false witness? Why would you adopt towards the later sins a stance just as hard and unyielding as mine? Why would you never think to ask questions about a generous response to their commission? Why would you think it improper to even ask such questions? Why do you think it is even so perfectly acceptable to ask such questions about divorce and homosexuality? You are making subtle assumptions about the nature of divorce and homosexuality that you aren't admitting. You need to identify and face those assumptions. They are leading you where you should not go.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I am not asking God to be compromising on sin. I am raising the question whether the approach you are taking is hard and unyielding in respect of mercy and forgiveness. You have written nothing here which suggests you envision any possibility of repentance from divorce.

I can envisage repentance for divorce.

I cannot imagine repentance for incest which involves continuing an incestuous relationship.

Father Ron Smith said...

From his advocacy of moral purgation here, I think carl would have been up for election to the Sanhedrin in the time of Jesus.

I wonder how Jesus would have fared at his hands?

I love the biblical concept of God's loving mercy and forgiveness - totally at odds with the old-style scribes and Pharisees' legalistic approach:

"What I require is mercy, not sacrifice!" - the Eternal God.

Good on you, Peter, for championing the Love of Christ in the Gospel!

Anonymous said...

Carl has pinpointed what many have previously (as you week by week, in different ways, teach that the only option for homosexuals is celibacy). Heterosexuals, in your teaching, have the option of "marriage" after marriage - blessed by the church. "Repentance for divorce", as you call it, in the Bible would be repentance from adultery. It means ceasing to have an adulterous sexual relationship. It does not mean being sorry that the marriage broke down and now continuing to have sex with someone else just because you are heterosexual and not homosexual. Until you face this inconsistency squarely, all your teaching on homosexuality appears based on prejudice.

Alison

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
Or, it could be that my teaching is based on the Bible which appears to be "prejudiced" against sexual relationships not involving a man and a woman, while offering some scope (but not a lot, I stress) for 'a generous attitude' re remarriage.

I take issue with the idea that every marriage after divorce involves adultery and thus living in an ongoing state of sin. However that is bound to put me offside with Carl and with you, and also (I imagine you will say) Jesus.

Nevertheless I wonder why Jesus didn't take the Samaritan woman at the well to task for her "adultery"? (Or perhaps each of her husbands had the misfortune to die!)

carl jacobs said...

Peter

I seem to have lost a post in the ether, but it matters not. The entire post was intended to elicit an answer to this question...

What I cannot envision is repentance from adultery that doesn't involve separation from the adulterous relationship. Peter, is the second marriage after divorce adulterous or not?

.. a question that you have subsequently answered.

I take issue with the idea that every marriage after divorce involves adultery and thus living in an ongoing state of sin.

So would I, of course. There are biblical grounds for divorce. But we have been discussing those divorces not so grounded. With the above admission, the matter is clarified. You have by some unknown authority simply defined away the nature of the action. Alison is right. Your position is dreadfully inconsistent. It is also unsustainable.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl (and Alison),
My position may be dreadfully inconsistent; and I am not without appreciation for those such as yourself who attempt to drive me towards greater consistency.

However I am not trying to articulate a position that is particularly different, as far as I can tell, from many, many conservative evangelical colleagues in ministry.

Now it is possible that we are all dreadfully inconsistent.

It is also possible that we are wrestling with ambiguities in life which do not admit of simple clear applications of the teaching of Jesus.

I would be interested in any other pastors who marry people commenting here. And I do not mind if you do not support me!

Shawn said...

God is the Lord of both mercy and judgement. One cannot be seperated from the other without compromising the words of Jesus Himself, and thus the Gospel.

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

God does not save us to leave us in our sins, but to transform us. It is this transformation that leads to a life of virtue, though always an imperfect one.

One of the problems in the Church today is the modern mindset, that views the Gospel as being about us, and our needs and desires, our wants. It is androcentric rather than Theocentric. Thus easy divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and various other issues are trumpeted as being about the "love of Christ" when in fact they are manifestations of our own self-love.

The Gospel is for us, but not about us. It is about the glory of God. A God who saves us in order to make us people who put God first in all things, not our own idols of self-fulfillment. We are saved that we might glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Anonymous said...

All you are saying, Peter, is that many of your conservative evangelical colleagues in ministry are similarly prejudicial against homosexuals, allowing "a more generous attitude" for heterosexuals than you/they would ever have towards homosexuals.

Carl is correct - as I have long understood: Your position is dreadfully inconsistent. It is also unsustainable. People need to read all your previous posts on homosexuality in this light.

Shawn underscores the unbiblical subjectivity: "easy" divorce.

Alison

Father Ron Smith said...

"God does not save us to leave us in our sins, but to transform us. It is this transformation that leads to a life of virtue, though always an imperfect one."

It is inconsistent, surely, to talk about an imperfect life of virtue~

There was only one perfect human being, and that was Jesus. No-one else has ever matched His virtue - no-one I know, anyway.

MichaelA said...

I can't comment on what the Roman Catholic Church teaches or practices.

But the scriptures do not say that divorced persons cannot remarry. Whilst that is a general rule, there are exceptions. Adultery is one (Matt 5:32, Matt 19:9). Desertion is another (1 Corinthians 7:14-15).

Not only can the righteous woman deserted by her husband re-marry, but there is no impediment to her receiving Holy Communion.

Alison wrote:

"To maintain homosexuals be celibate while heterosexuals receive a "generous response" is inconsistent."

Does anyone maintain that? If so, I am not aware of it. Orthodox Anglicans maintain that the scriptures teach us that ANY unmarried person must maintain celibacy, homosexuals as well as heterosexuals.

carl jacobs said...

Peter

Why is it important for you to wrestle with ambiguities in life when it comes to divorce and homosexuality?

Why is it not important for you to wrestle with ambiguities in life when it comes to prostitution and incest?

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
Our church, along with other churches around the world, and our society are talking about homosexuality, and that talk is occasioning talk about divorce and remarriage. Prostitution and incest are not featuring much in discussion these days, and among friends and family I know of no one wrestling with issues connected with them.

Nevertheless there are ambiguities re prostitution and incest. On the former, I feel ambiguous about whether it should be legal as it is in NZ, or not. On incest, I am beggared if I know what I would say if transported back in time to Canaan and invited to dinner with Abram and Sarai.

Shawn said...

Yes Ron, only Jesus was perfect. That is why I used imperfect to talk of human virtue. No inconsistency at all.

Janice said...

On incest, I am beggared if I know what I would say if transported back in time to Canaan and invited to dinner with Abram and Sarai.

Yes. She was his half-sister. Also, Abraham "sent away" Hagar without giving her a "certificate of divorcement". On the other hand, we don't know whether or not he ever gave Hagar a "ketubah". My guess is that he didn't since Hagar was not her own but Sarai's to give. Of course, all this happened long before the law was handed down to Moses and the Israelites, and before the laws against incest and about divorce and remarriage were promulgated.

MichaelA said...

Hmmm, Peter some suggestions: *Don't ask what butcher Abram got the lamb from.
*Geriatric jokes probably won't go down well.
*Don't ask him what is the carbon footprint of the family business!

Janice said...

Jewish marriage was/is like a property transaction. A man paid a "purchase price", a deed containing all the details of the husbands responsibilities towards the wife and what would happen in the event of divorce regarding the property she brought to the marriage (the "ketubah") was signed on betrothal and, finally, the man took possession of the property (his wife). The husband could divorce his wife for some "uncleanness" he found in her (De 24:1) and that meant giving her a "bill of divorcement" (a "get") and sending her away. There was no need to divorce her for adultery because in that case she would have been stoned to death.

The "get" was a woman's proof that she was not married and could (re)marry. Without it she was still married, and since adultery was having sexual relationship a married woman any relationship she entered into would be classed as adulterous, she and her partner would be at risk of being stoned and any children born would be outcasts and unable to marry within the community.

A husband who wanted to get rid of his wife and keep her property (or just want to make her life miserable) need only "put away" her and refuse to give her a "get". She would be an "agunah", or "chained wife", condemned to scratch for a living any way she could. In the meantime he could take another unmarried woman as his wife (which wouldn't be adultery) and any children born of that union would not suffer any social stigma.

These days Jewish divorce law remains pretty much the same. Women can't remarry without a "get" and husbands still refuse to give them one, even if the wife has obtained a civil divorce. Apparently it's a major problem. Furthermore, under current Jewish law a married man who has an affair with a single woman is not an adulterer and, though generally not practised even in countries that permit polygamy, the marriage of a married man to another wife is still regarded as valid.

Malachi 2:16 does not say that God hates divorce, at least not according to the Septuagint which says that, "the man who hates and divorces ... covers his garment with violence". Jeremiah 3:8 says that God "put away" Israel and gave her "a certificate of divorce".

When he referred to the creation ordinance of marriage Jesus was calling us all to the highest of moral behaviour. Startlingly, no doubt, he included men in that call when he said that a man who divorces his wife for inadequate reasons and takes another wife commits adultery. But he recognised that "hardness of heart" is something we all suffer. Otherwise, why did he give the exception?

The following is from a Bible study on law and justice produced by the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship in the UK.
The Law ... only sought to mitigate the worst effects of evil, by setting outer boundaries and sanctions, without enforcing God's highest principles and standards. ...
God's purpose for law therefore is that it should accept and recognise man's sinfulness, and indeed makes provision for it, but it should work within these practical limits to curb sin's worst effects without outlawing all that is contrary to God's ideals.


How do you mitigate the worst effects of a husband rejecting his wife and sending her away? You create a legal mechanism whereby the marriage contract can be dissolved so that the wife can remarry, not just for sex, as though that's all that matters, but also for companionship, support and bearing children. The ideal, of course, is that a married couple should not separate or divorce, not even for adultery. Even that should be forgiven if forgiveness is sought. I couldn't but I was only 21 at the time, not a Christian, and his confession was just the bitter icing on an already crumbled cake. Does God look mercifully on me despite my hard-hearted failure to live up to his high standard for marriage?

carl jacobs said...

Peter

I wasn't really addressing the legality of prostitution. I was wondering about your pastoral response to a woman who self-identified as a prostitute. Would you provide a "generous response" to her decision - a response that included a provision that perhaps not every decision to become a prostitute was a sinful decision?

As for incest, you must realize the incest laws are beginning to crumble in Europe. But again, I am not interested in legality. I want to know about your pastoral response. If a brother and sister both above the legal age of consent confided to you about an incestuous relationship between them, would you provide them with a "generous response" that allowed for the possibility of non-sinful incestuous relationships?

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I am quite clear in my own mind, trying to keep it on course with the great Christian tradition founded on Scripture, that the context for sexual intercourse which is righteous before God is marriage (monogamous, permanent, loving, open to bearing children, one woman one man whose social or familial relationship otherwise is not within the degrees of consanguinity).

That means that in terms of discussing, say, prostitution or incest or homosexuality or polygamy as ethical "issues" I do not, and will not teach that there are other contexts which are righteous.

Life is more complicated than "issues." A gay couple who set up a home and give of each other in love, perhaps reaching a stage where one is dependent on the care of the other (does the church's teaching mean that we require of them that they separate?) ... a prostitute with several children in a country without a welfare 'safety net' (is the first pastoral response to tell her to stop earning the money which saves her children from starvation?) ... a divorced woman seeking the love and care of another man and wanting it to be marriage not something inferior (see Janice's comment above: God is merciful) ... a polygamous family coming to Christ in (say) an African country where polygamy is tolerate (I believe churches there tolerate polygamy amongst the lay so as to protect the wives involved, but draw the line at a polygamous man becoming a priest or bishop) ... incest (pastorally it might be easier to quickly say "Stop! Your children could be mutants!!!).

I am an evangelical trying to be faithful to Scripture while also living in a real world of complexity. By all means give me a hard time about consistency and stuff. But I will still be living in that world.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
I am absolutely clear (and I think most commenters here are too): God looks on you mercifully.