And, I’m back. I guess. I think. Maybe. Anyway, here I am today.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I follow quite a few marriage bloggers and writers on Twitter, and recently, divorce has been a trending topic among them, with an increase in the number of posts and tweets encouraging Christians to continue to hold on to their marriages for the Kingdom. I can understand that, by the way. Back in December, Michelle Weiner-Davis, of Divorce Busters, sent out a tweet stating that January was Divorce Month, and recommended that New Year’s Resolutions for starting divorce proceedings be abandoned.
I can see why; I have been reading on a secular sexless marriage forum recently, and from about Christmas on, there were at least a dozen who wrote of finally serving divorce papers. In fact, as I write this at the end of March, two more men on that forum have announced the beginning of divorce proceedings in the past week. To me, that was both personally stunning and confirmation that Weiner-Davis was right!
Building Blocks/Starting Blocks
Previously I have addressed the nature and essence of marriage in three series, Marital Idolatry, Covenant or Contract and What God Has Joined. It was only natural that I then did an examination of the Church’s shaky teaching on divorce in my series, Scarlet Letter Or Valid Option. While I admit to swimming against the currents, I still see that last series as among the most important that I had done.
But there were comments and questions from readers that I promised to address, but with my customary procrastination, I kept pushing back. Because of the most current wave of “standing against divorce” tweets and posts, and its implications for folk in truly sucky, toxic marriages, I feel the need to expand on what I’ve written in the past.
The following statements are my givens from which further discussion proceeds; no debate, no discussion, they are my building blocks from which I begin a further discussion. If you want the background for them, read the posts that I have linked to, above, but know that I believe them to be biblical.
Given #1: Marriage is an institution created by God, but it conveys no special unction or blessing upon those who enter into it.
Given #2: Marriage is an institution created by God, but it was not created with spiritual permanency; it is not eternal in its essence.
Given #3: Marriage is a covenant only inasmuch as it is a contract, an agreement/commitment between two people.
Given #4: There are four, not one, valid options for divorce, according to OT teaching, that Jesus and Paul did not renounce: adultery (Deut. 24), failure to provide clothing, food, and sex (Ex. 21).
Given #5: Divorce is not the breaking of the marriage covenant; breaking faith with your spouse by violating one or more of the four promises (fidelity, protection, provision, and conjugal rights) is breaking the marriage covenant.
Question: What constitutes “Sexual Immorality”?
One of my readers asked a couple of questions in response to Scarlet Letter, part 3 that I promised to address, which I intended to do, and actually came back to them several times and thought, “Ehhh….. Not yet.” But after the present flood of marital absolutism, I told myself that I could procrastinate no longer. He wrote:
CSL, as you’re really stirring things up here I’d love to learn about your thoughts on what actually constitutes “sexual immorality” in the context of divorce?
I was hoping to get your opinion on what would count as sexual immorality with regards a legitimate basis for divorce. If you refer to Matt 5.28 then it’s almost possible to say that, save for the purest of heart, we all have grounds for divorce.
As I mentioned in my last post, I am spending a lot of time reading and learning about the historic context of our Christian faith, and its Jewish roots. Jesus was not a Baptist or Methodist; He was an observant Jew who went to Temple and synagogue, who recited the Shema twice a day and prayed the Amidah two or three times a day.
Just today, I came across a sentence that explains the dichotomy between Christians and Jews. In the introduction to her book Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner, a Jewish convert to Christianity, wrote, …
“Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity.”
We Christians emphasize what we think and what we feel, rather than what we do, whereas in Judaism, it is the other way around; in Judaism, it matters what you do. It comes down to the question, “Are you a mensch?” (As Christians, I would hope so.)
When you re-read the questions above, about “what actually constitutes sexual immorality” and referencing “looking at a woman”, you can see the innate Christian mindset at work, desiring to find the mental tipping point at which we can determine that X is not sexual immorality, but Y is where the line was crossed. In other words, we look for clues in attitude and intent.
But does it really matter to the marriage, to the individuals involved, why something happened/is happening? What matters is what is happening because that is the source of misery in the marriage. Oh, we can try to parse out the whys, wherefores, and whereases and we can try to figure out whose tit brought about the other’s tat (uh, wow… that’s a dangerous phrase to try to play with, isn’t it?). When it comes down to it, when all the shouting is done, the question is really very simple: is the covenant of the marriage broken by the actions of one of the spouses or not?
Picking The Low-Hanging Fruit First
My reader asked what I believed to be a “legitimate basis for divorce” when it came to sexual infidelity. Above, I listed my Givens about what I believe the Bible says about marriage and divorce. In examining Givens #4 and #5, I worded it to reflect that the violation of the marriage covenant is an action. With that in mind, it is a natural first step to identify the most egregious violation of a marriage covenant.
The one action that is undeniable (and easiest to label as sin) is adultery. There is no equivocation about it: either the spouse bedded another lover or s/he didn’t. If s/he didn’t, then there is no violation of the covenant. By the act of marital infidelity, the marriage covenant is broken. While it is up to the wronged spouse to decide whether or not the break is irrevocable, or if there is to be an attempt at reconciliation, the irreducible fact is that the infidelity broke the covenant.
To argue otherwise is to call Moses and Jesus liars; there is no question about it. (Quick rabbit trail: for those who claim that marriage is eternal, that the marriage covenant can’t be broken, it seems that Jesus’ teaching that divorce is permissible due to adultery scotches that argument instantly.)
And now to the harder questions: does sexual refusal constitute a valid reason for divorce via “sexual immorality”?
Ehhhhh… next time.
(And my apologies to that reader for taking so long in coming back to your questions. Stay tuned.)