I am a heterosexual male, legally married to one woman. We were married by an ordained pastor in a church. I made a vow to God and to my wife to remain her faithful husband until we are parted by death. Nearly 12 years later, I have honored and kept this vow.
Nevertheless, the Bible clearly condemns my marriage and fitness for ministry as a pastor of Christ’s church. This is something we should all take quite seriously and soberly.
In May of 2006, after a two-year separation from the woman who is now my ex-wife, I filed for and was granted a judgment of divorce. There was no adultery or abuse committed by her or me. In the legal language stated in our divorce decree, the grounds were “irreconcilable differences.”
Some time after that, my (current) wife Blairlee filed for and was granted a judgment of divorce from her now ex-husband. They had been separated for well over 4 years, and the legal grounds for their divorce were similar to my own.
The Bible has some explicit things to say to people like us about our choices, the consequences of our choices, the condition of our lives, and my ministry.
In regards to those serving as priests/clergy,
“ ‘The woman he marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people,’ Leviticus 21:13-14
As to the harm of divorce,
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.”Malachi 2:16
The above verse from Malachi can also be translated this way:
“For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel…Malachi 2:16 (NRSV)
As for the grounds of divorce and remarriage, Jesus said,
“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”Matthew 5:32
Yet in another place, Jesus said,
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”Mark 10:11-12
Pertaining to a church’s overseer [clergy],
“Now a bishop [overseer] must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,”1 Timothy 3:2 (NRSV)
These are just a handful of the 33 times divorce is mentioned in the Bible. While the Bible has a number of things to say about divorce, and at times metaphorically uses divorce to depict God’s relationship with his people, divorce is never cast in a positive light. At worst, divorce is flatly condemned as a God-hated practice and at best offered as a concession to human hard-heartedness (Matthew 19:8).
Yet just a cursory reading of the Bible verses I’ve cited above would lead us to the following conclusions about my life, marriage, and ministry:
- By divorcing my ex-wife, I have done violence to her while also, by biblical implication, having demonstrated some degree of hate.
- God hates our divorces.
- Because my ex-wife did not commit adultery, I have made her a victim of adultery.
- My wife Blairlee has committed adultery by divorcing her ex-husband, making him a victim of adultery.
- By marrying my current wife under the grounds of our divorces, we are living in adultery.
- Since my wife— if I could even call her my wife under these circumstances!— and I are living in adultery, we are not legitimately married in the eyes of God, which means our son Jacob was conceived and born out of biblical wedlock, making him, in the eyes of God, illegitimate.
- As a pastor, I am expressly forbidden from marrying a divorced woman.
- As a pastor/overseer of the church, I am only allowed one wife. (I have had two.)
For these reasons, it is clear that the Bible condemns not only my divorce, but the legitimacy of my marriage and my ordination.
Other than the personal anguish from enduring a separation and divorce (which Blairlee and I will never face again), do you know how many consequences I have faced as a result of being divorced and remarried to a divorced woman? Zero consequences.
Let me say it again: the church, specifically the United Methodist Church, has not condemned me for my divorce and remarriage to a divorced woman. My divorce did not disqualify me from being remarried in a United Methodist Church by a United Methodist pastor, and there was no prohibition in place to prevent me from marrying a divorced woman. The church has not barred me from being ordained a Full Elder. No church I have served has ever refused to receive me, a divorced man married to a divorced woman, as their pastor. In fact, I have never been interviewed, questioned, or interrogated over my divorce and remarriage by any Staff Parish Relations Committee, District Superintendent, Bishop, or Board of Ordained Ministry.
There’s one simple reason for all this. While the UMC discourages divorce, calling it “a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness,” there is nothing in our Book of Discipline that forbids me from getting a divorce, remarrying a divorced woman or being ordained, even though, biblically speaking, my divorce and remarriage are clearly “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Where does that leave me?
If we were to fully adhere to clear biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage, then one must conclude that I am unrepentant, living in abject rebellion and sin, deserving to have a millstone tied around my neck and drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6). For I am leading others into sin through my sinful example and tacit endorsement of divorce, remarrying a divorced person, and living in adultery… with an illegitimate child, too! In fact, why not condemn and drown the whole United Methodist Church in the depths of the sea for allowing and condoning sin that God has quite emphatically said he hates?
So, to my sisters and brothers who vigorously argue, based on six biblical passages, that the “practice” of homosexuality is a sin, while condemning same-sex marriages and “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from becoming clergy, I ask you to be just as vigorous and as intellectually and morally consistent in your condemnation of my divorce, remarriage, and ordination.
Furthermore, I ask you to submit to our 2020 General Conference:
- …a petition deeming it a chargeable offense for clergy or laity to divorce, unless it can be absolutely verified that there was sexual immorality or adultery. (Keep in mind, however, that this would still violate the Mark 10:11-12 prohibition on divorce. I’m not sure how you would settle this discrepancy except to prohibit divorce for any reason.)
- …a petition deeming it a chargeable offense for clergy to marry people who have been divorced for any reason.
- …a petition deeming it a chargeable offense for a clergy person to marry a divorced person.
- …a petition that would bar divorced persons from being received as candidates, licensed, recommended, commissioned and ordained as Elders or Deacons, or consecrated as Bishops.
- …a petition setting the penalty for violating any of the above restrictions as a year of suspension without pay for first offenses, and a termination of conference membership and revocation of credentials for licensing, ordination, or consecration for second offenses.
If you are not willing to exercise due diligence in submitting these petitions, then I ask that you withdraw your support for maintaining our Book of Discipline’s restrictive language concerning homosexuality.