Monday, March 4, 2013

Here is a question

"why do you think the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of practising homosexuals are more essential issues for evangelicals than the remarriage of divorcees?"

I have been asked to put a few words together in a scholarly manner in response to this question.

Your assistance welcome. Non-evangelicals are welcome to help, but please put yourself in the position of being a bona fide evangelical before you send me your bon mots.


mike greenslade said...

1: All Christians are evangelical.

2: Same sex marriage and ordination of gays have been been common practice for a long time in the Anglican Church - just not always officially sanctioned. Evidence of Gods blessing is as clear in these relationships as any heterosexual ones.

3: There are bigger issues to consider if we are to take the Gospel seriously.

Andrew Reid said...

I hope you'll accept my evangelical bona fides, Peter, without further justification :)

My answer would be, "I'm not sure that they are more important, but they're getting a lot more publicity." Perhaps in terms of same-sex blessings/marriages, this is something which is changing the nature of marriage in a more fundamental way than re-marraige of divorcees.

With re-marriage of divorcees, this is not really treated as a "battleground issue" by those seeking to push the boundaries of the church's practice in the same way as same sex blessings or ordination of homosexuals. There is a process for dealing with divorcees who want to be re-married (usually obtaining the bishop's permission), rather than it being something that requires change to the church's legislation or current practice. Unfortunately, this process has become a rubber stamp, rather than an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances of the individual case. My hope would be that priests and bishops would take the view that divorce is not God's will for marriages, and unless there are special circumstances (e.g. adultery, divorce before becoming a believer, abandonment), remarriage of divorcees is not permissible. I would also hope they heed Jesus' warning that remarriage of divorcees can in some cases be equivalent to adultery.

I have a friend who was married and divorced before becoming a believer. Now, I think it would be unjust to prevent him from re-marriage due to his pre-Christian conduct, which he has repented of and turned away from. I have two other Christian friends who were abandoned by their wives - one in an adulterous relationship, the other just wanted to give up on the marriage. Both wives also gave up their Christian faith at around the same time. In these cases, I believe it is fair based on Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. 7 for them to divorce their wives and be free to re-marry.

However, these special cases do not alter the principle that divorce is not God's will and neither is re-marriage of divorcees. I understand it's difficult for ministers when people come for marriage, and it's clear they will go to a celebrant or another church if you say no. But we cannot bless what God does not bless.

This is an area where our Catholic and Orthodox friends are more Biblically faithful and consistent in their position than Protestants.

Douglas LeBlanc said...

Thank you for posing the question Monday about evangelicals, divorce, and same-sex couples. Here is my summary of four theories that circulate most often in the United States.

1. Evangelicals misdiagnose the problem. The greater threat to marriage, this theory says, is its abuse by people who divorce and remarry multiple times. Britney Spears and Las Vegas wedding chapels are often paraded as the embodiment of this theory.

But this theory defines the argument only in reference to an extreme. It is like arguing that we cannot say anything worthwhile about murder until every known serial killer is apprehended. Is there any serious movement, in the Church or in the broader culture, to celebrate divorce as righteous behavior?

2. Evangelicals designated same-sex couples as their next victims after the fall of communism.

This theory rests on the cynical and baseless assumption that direct mail drives evangelicals’ theological commitments. If that is the level of discourse people want, any serious discussion is doomed.

3. Evangelicals are compromised by their own failures and sins.

There is an element of truth here. Whether a divorced or remarried evangelical has the moral standing to speak on family matters depends on the circumstances of the divorce. The New Testament allows for divorce in the case of adultery or abandonment by a nonbelieving spouse. Divorce is nevertheless sin, which is a truth most evangelicals readily affirm.

4. Evangelicals are concerned about doctrinal change and its implications.

The Church’s theology of marriage predates the sexual revolution by centuries. Evangelicals did not pick this conflict, but we must respond to it. To remain silent as a culture considers a thorough redefinition of marriage is cowardly and irresponsible. So we enter the debate, most of us with fear and trembling, and try to engage it in a way that will leave us unashamed of our behavior if, at the end of time, we are proved wrong in our understanding of God’s revealed truth.

Gene Packwood said...

It seems to me that the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of practising homosexuals are more essential issues because they require that the Church declares what the Bible calls sin as not sin, whereas proper and honest preparation of divorced persons for marriage includes acknowledgement, confession and repentance for the sin in the breakdown(s) of the previous marriage(s) and the resulting divorce(s).

Peter Carrell said...

Excellent comments so far: Thank you!

PS I won't be questioning the 'bona fides' of anyone offering an answer here!

Andrei said...

I think it is the same issue.

We know as Christians what God intended marriage to be, don't we?

And the world seeks to undermine and cheapen that vision.

Marriage as a civil institution has been very nearly wrecked which is a crying shame because I don't believe that this has made anybody happier than they would have otherwise been, the converse in fact judging by the number of prescriptions for antidepressants written in the Western world in these days of enlightenment. Nor as evidenced by the social pathologies that degrade our Nation and that we wring our hands over.

Yes - the same issue in different manifestations

liturgy said...

"There is a process for dealing with divorcees who want to be re-married (usually obtaining the bishop's permission), rather than it being something that requires change to the church's legislation or current practice."

Yeah Right. LOL.



Joshua Bovis said...

In short my understanding of the views pertaining to divorce are as follows:
1. Christians can never re-marry after divorce
2. Christians can marry after divorce in any circumstances
3. Christians can marry after divorce in certain circumstances
(this view is what I believe is consistent with Scripture)

Though it must be said that divorce (except on Biblical grounds)is identified as sin.

In all truth, I think divorce is one of the Evangelical blind spots. I remember when I was about 20 and I was a passenger in car coming back from a church house party and the subject of divorce came up; (which is a very painful subject for me as my parents divorced after 27 years of marriage and it took me a long time to get over it) and I made the following comment:
"I cannot understand how Christians can divorce when there has been no adultery" and a woman who was in the car responded by saying this:
"My husband and I are about to get a divorce and neither one of us has been unfaithful, so be careful what you are about to say".

I did not even have to say to her that I thought that she was sinning. She knew that she was. It was very telling.

The problem I think Peter is that in the issue of divorce, Evangelicals have filtered Scripture through the grid of culture, rather than vice versa.

Our culture says that divorce is an acceptable lifestyle choice, if you are not happy in your marriage, for whatever reason, you can get a divorce. Jesus says no! Our culture says that life is about doing what feels right for you and that it means you leave your spouse for someone else that is ok. The Lord Jesus says no. Yet it seems that the divorce rates among Evangelicals are no different to that of unbelievers.

I don't think the homosexual issue is more essential, it is more that this is battle in the War over the Bible that is being waged.

I have heard revisionists respond to Evangelicals regarding the homosexual by saying "Well why are we so wrong when you think divorce is ok?"

The problem with this reasoning is that two wrongs don't make a right. Evangelicals who think divorce is ok are just as wrong as those who think homosexual marriage is ok.

I have not met any Evangelical minister who has come out and said that Christians can divorce their spouses for any reason, though if they did, in essence they would be saying that one can be a practicing adulterer and be a Christian, and so what they are doing is promoting a false gospel where there is no repentance, which is the same false gospel that is currently being proclaimed by those who are promoting same sex marriage.

For what it is worth I believe that if Evangelicals want to promote Biblical family values and have more credibility then we need to speak up about not only the sin of divorce but also the sin of our acceptance of divorce.

So in answer to your question, the blessing of same sex relationships and the ordination of practicing homosexuals is more eseential for evangelicals than the remarriage of divorcees due to the current battle that is being fought, however it should not be more essential.

Peter, thankyou for the question. At first glance I thought it was a rather silly question, but when I thought about it, the blind spot (to me at least)of evangelicalism when it comes to divorce was glaringly obvious.

Peter Carrell said...

Bosco: is the commenter referring to episcopal permission speaking from a different ecclesial context to our own?

Joshua: thank you for thoughtful words. Yes, the question itself is interesting. It is as it has been put to me. I think if I were thinking of a question along those lines it would not have come out like that.

Joshua Bovis said...

I am very thankful for the question. It serves to remind me of the importance of critiquing our culture biblically, filtering culture through the grid of Scripture rather than the reverse and always reforming our lives and doctrine to the Word of God.
I just remembered there is a good term for this – Semper Reformander!

MargaretG said...

Ithink the critical differences are:
(a) the framing of the issues
(b) the teaching of scripture

As a number of people above have said the church has never said "it is a blessing to be divorced" let alone "lets celebrate divorce and promote it" Yet that is what is being asked of us in same-sex relationship. Rather the remarriage of divorced persons is seen in terms of human frailty and sin, and something that has a tinge of sadness, because the beauty of God's plan is marred.

(b) the other thing is that there is also (as a number of people have already pointed out) passages which do give dispensation to divorce in certain circumstances. I think it also instructive that even God in the Old Testament allowed for divorce and for polygamous marriage because of people's "hardness of hearts". (Jesus, of course, called us to a higher standard of behaviour, the one intended by God in his creation.)

But there is not a single occasion in the Bible where such leeway is given for those with homosexual inclination - to act on them is always seen as sin, and beyond what God can accept. This is as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New. I draw from this the conclusion that homosexual acts are beyond what God sees as acceptable behaviour for his people.

Finally, and contrary to some of the comments above, there are many evangelicals (and I suspect others) in the church who despair at the current practice of being silent on the issue of divorce and remarriage, just as they despair at our failure to stand up against people living together before they have taken their marriage vows.

Anonymous said...

The question itself is loaded in such a way that it is almost impossible to answer in it's current form. It makes a claim (that evangelicals are more concerned with homosexuality than divorce).

No evidence for the claim is given.

No reasons why homosexuality and divorce are on the same level are given.

The question has clearly been asked by someone in a coma. That is the only explanation I have for the total lack of any appreciation for the current political environment.

Anybody hear of a divorce pride march recently????

The question ignores factual examples of Christians being legally persecuted in the name of gay rights. I know of no Christians being persecuted over divorce. So to put them on the same level of cconcern is ludicrous.

The question ignores the fact that homosexual marriage involves a radical re-evaluation of what we understand by the nature and authority of Scripture in a way that the issue of divorce does not.

In short, the question assumes wrongly that divorce and same sex marriage are similar and equivalent issues. That assumption is absurd.

Bryden Black said...

Peter, as ever it is the very form of the question that determines the kinds of answer that might be forthcoming. In which case, I am not just playing Jesuitical casuistry when I ask whether this is a fair form of the matter before us?

In other words, when asked, “why do you think the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of practising homosexuals are more essential issues for evangelicals than the remarriage of divorcees?”, I’d want to know a heap more behind the point of the question. Not least, I would not wish to even begin to hint that we might play one thing off against another. But I guess we have to start somewhere, and with what you’ve given us ...

So; for starters, I have offered before to the ADU readership this resource from the CoE, Marriage in Church after Divorce, being the Winchester Report of 2000. See

Secondly, I am on record as saying very recently that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Thirdly, the matter of remarriage has become far more serious a matter these past 50 years in western cultures than I think many of us might appear to appreciate. And I commend Bosco for banging on about it. That said however, are the two issues equivalent? In what ways might they appear so? In what ways are they actually distinct? Back therefore to my very first observation.

Is the true form of the matter before us the redefinition of ‘marriage’? Is that the real point of trying to offset and/or link these somewhat related issues? Or are we asking (yet again) something like: first it was slavery; then women suffragettes; and now it’s gays - or rather it is all those people who might deem themselves members of the LGBT communities? So that the matter before us is something like ‘discrimination’.

Yet again, if it is the case that ‘discrimination’ per se is what is in our cross-hairs, and should be in our cross-hairs, then I have to also gently ask: is such a criterion on its own actually a viable one? Or should we rather be more discriminating about such criteria?! For example, the very logic of the present Marriage Amendment Bill before us in NZ is frankly the most illogical piece of legalistic stuff I have seen in years! How so? The preamble says outright that it seeks to apply the principles of “equality” and “non-discrimination”. Well then; one has to ask rather forcibly, why/on what grounds does the Bill discriminate against polygamy and polyandry, let alone polyamorey? For it includes unions between two men and between two women as possible parties to a ‘marriage’, but excludes any unions among two men and one women, etc etc. ON WHAT BASIS?! There are none ...

So; the issue of ‘discrimination’ on its own just fails to hold much water. The nature of human being is far more rich and complex than our present trendy political sound bytes will allow ... And I for one would not be forced onto the horns of a false dilemma ... Back to my initial observation! And when you have tidied up that matter, then perhaps I might be game to address why I do think the issue of the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of practising homosexuals is a serious concern, since it drives directly to anthropological bed-rock, the Imago Dei.

Anonymous said...

Divorce itself is not a sin, but is always *caused by a sin. God Himself is described as a divorcee in Jeremiah 3.8, because of the sin of his wife Israel.
It is not true that Jesus outlawed the very possibility of divorce or that the undivided church believed this, since the Orthodox Churches had and have a different discipline from the west.
On the question of remarriage in church, it is invidious to make clergy decide which cases are 'acceptable' and which are not. Since marriage is marriage, it should be left with the state, and not a case where a local congregation or minister is called to make a judgment.
Are there too many divorces in the evangelical world? Of course there are. But be assured, you'll be damned if you and damned if you don't.


Andrew Reid said...

I'm not sure what the situation is in NZ, but in Australia the Anglican practice concerning re-marriage of divorcees is that the priest needs to write to the bishop and explain the circumstances of the case. The bishop then considers the request and decides whether or not to grant approval. I think this is the case in most dioceses but I'm not certain. My apologies if I applied this too readily to other contexts, but I had thought it was reasonably standard practice.

liturgy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Father Ron Smith said...

I will leave this argument to you so-called'Evangelicals'. (Although, as someone else has already indicated, by the very nature of the word, ALL Christians are concerned with propagating the Good News of Jesus Christ and His message of salvation).

A lot, of course, depends on what one perceives to be Good News - as, say, opposed to Ill-Judgement.

Father Ron Smith said...

" Since marriage is marriage, it should be left with the state, and not a case where a local congregation or minister is called to make a judgment." - Martin -

I couldn't agree more. And this is why the Church should not seek to interfere with the decision of the State to allow monogamous, loving and committed relationships between same-sex couples. Their loving relationships are as valid as those between two person of the opposite gender.

Father Ron Smith said...

In my own experience, as a priest in ACANZP in Auckland, my bishop made the decision to leave discernment about the re-marriage of a divorcee to the priest conducting the marriage. He trusted us to use proper discernment.

My bishop at the time explained that, as the person dealing intimately with the couple concerned, one was trusted to make the best possible decision as to whether the people concerned were properly aware of the moral and social issues.

I always asked the divorcee whether he/she was cognisant of their part in the break up of their original marriage; and whether they were truly regretful of the breaking of their marriage vow.

That was my personal responsibility fulfilled, except to remind the couple that, in any future problems in their commitment, I would make myself available to help in the possibility of reconciliation.

Bishops, generally, do not have personal contact with every couple seeking marriage - in whatever circumstances.

MichaelA said...

Q: "why do you think the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of practising homosexuals are more essential issues for evangelicals than the remarriage of divorcees?"

A: We don't, and they aren't.

(If you ask a question that assumes a fact in issue, you will find the conversation very short.)

Andrew Reid said...

I'm very surprised to hear you know of someone in Sydney with a priest's licence who is on their third marriage. My understanding was Sydney was stricter about this than other dioceses.
I'm aware of someone who has just come from Sydney to Melbourne to work as a theological lecturer, and was ordained as a deacon soon after his appointment to Melbourne. The reason he was not ordained in Sydney was because he had been divorced previously.
I don't really know the specifics of either case, so I can't comment more than that, but my perception was that divorce is a barrier to ordination in Sydney. How strict they are on re-marriage of divorcees in churches I'm not sure.

Chris Spark said...

Just a thought:

This does clearly raise some questions re our wider dealing with divorce.

But I do concur with Andrew R that many of the evangelical circles have been around take divorce very seriously, though usually seeing it as something that has to be reckoned with as a part of the broken world we live in - something always to grieve over, but to be reckoned with in the complexities of that.

But perhaps that is the difference here. Something Ron said brought it out for me. He said in dealing with divorcees seeking marriqage:
"I always asked the divorcee whether he/she was cognisant of their part in the break up of their original marriage; and whether they were truly regretful of the breaking of their marriage vow. "

Even in this 'lighter' version of dealing with the divorce/remarriage issue, there is still the sense that there is something sad and to be grieved over, and certainly not celebrated in dealing with divorce. So there is a recognition that is is a part of a broken world.

With a change to the marriage or ordination understandings of the church with regards homosexual practise, it would be hard not to see celebration and encouragement of something that Evangelicals see described in Scripture as part of the brokenness of the world.

there is obviously more to it than that (eg related questions about the ontology of marriage), and I haven't said much that hasn't already been said, but thought I would toss that in.

God bless

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks for you comment Chris. I've long thought that divorce was a sign of our 'broken world' - in that it signals the human reality of couples who no longer love one another. In cases where both parties become estranged - and children are involved - the parting should be rendered as as amicably as possible. God hardly wants two people to grind one another into the dust of death.

One must recognise the fact that marriages do break down - for all sorts of reasons. I don't really think God wants couples to stay together in a relationship barren of all joy.

Repentance, and an honest appraisal of 'what went wrong', yes! But also the Church should be in the way of offering the possibility of new life, which is at the heart of any encouragement of divorced persons to re-marry. True penitence and forgiveness are at the heart of the Gospel of OLJC.

Unknown said...

Interestingly the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire drew criticism not just because he was the first Anglican bishop openly in a gay relationship but also because he was the first divorced bishop in the Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith said...

Speaking of Bishops, has anyone seen this notice on +David Cappel-Rice's Facebook Page?:

"Congratulations and Blessings to The Very Reverend Mark Bourlakas, Bishop-Elect of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia."

This could mean that Bishop David remains with ACANZP after all.

liturgy said...


Matt Watts' comment is obviously false. Or, if it is true that he was criticised for that, then his critics were wrong.



Peter Carrell said...

I assume, Bosco, you are referring to claims re 'first' re divorce.

Unknown said...

I am happy to bow to your superior wisdom re other instances of divorced bishops Bosco. I was at college when Gene Robinson was consecrated and I was just repeating what a college tutor had said. (Blindly following one's tutors grits one nowhere...). It would be interesting to know which provinces have allowed divorced bishops. To my knowledge they are not allowed in C of E.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Matt
Divorced bishops are certainly allowed or 'allowed' in TEC and in ACANZP.

To my knowledge no divorced person has ever been elected a bishop here. But we have had an instance of bishop being divorced and remarrying while in office.

liturgy said...

Barbara Harris is a pretty high-profile case of electing a divorced person as bishop well before Gene Robinson. As for the CofE not allowing a divorced person to be bishop, it seems the bishops do not know about this (quick search turns up