The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce

Today, the messengers at the 2010 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will be debating a resolution on “the scandal of Southern Baptist divorce.” According to Baptist Press, it reads, in part, that “the acceleration in rates of divorce” in SBC churches “has not come through a shift in theological conviction” but rather “through cultural accommodation.” It further says the SBC has been prophetic in confronting assaults “in the outside culture” on God’s design for marriage “while rarely speaking with the same alarm and force to a scandal that has become all too commonplace in our own churches.”

Here is the last half of the resolution:

RESOLVED, That we express our conviction that a denomination defined theologically by our belief in the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture ought to proclaim the whole counsel of God, especially when the Bible confronts our own patters of sin …

RESOLVED, That we express our further conviction that a denomination defined missiologically ought to recognize how damaging Southern Baptist accommodation to the divorce culture is to our global witness for Christ …

RESOLVED, That we express our further conviction that a denomination seeking God’s blessing in revival and reformation ought to address the spiritual wreckage left in our Southern Baptist churches by our own divorce rates and our silence about the same …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim the Word of God on the permanence of marriage, and to provide ongoing marriage enrichment opportunities, in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s abhorrence of divorce …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to unite in marriage only those who are biblically qualified to be married to one another and who demonstrate an understanding of the meaning of lifelong love and fidelity …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches in our wedding services to maintain the gravity of the vows being undertaken, not simply as a token of a couple’s romance but as a covenant before God, until death do them part …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to minister to couples and families in crisis through counseling, mentorship, and, where necessary, through biblical church discipline …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim God’s mercy and grace to all people — including those who have been divorced without biblical grounds — due to the truth that the blood of Jesus can atone for any sin and can cleanse any conscience …

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to have special compassion for and energetic ministry to those who have been left in the wake of family brokenness …

RESOLVED, That we urge all Southern Baptists in troubled or faltering marriages to seek godly assistance and, where possible, reconciliation; and be if finally

RESOLVED, That we pray that the true peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will reign in us such that the next generation will see the gospel not only in the counter-cultural nature of our verbal witness but also in the counter-cultural love and fidelity of our marriages.

34 Responses to The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce

  1. Donald Johnson June 16, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    Divorce is a symptom, not the problem. Breaking (Biblical) marriage vows is the problem. If no one broke their vows in one way or another, there would be no divorce.

    If you want to reduce divorce, the importance of both parties keeping their (Biblically-based) vows needs to be taught.

  2. Nate June 16, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Donald, the resolution covers that well.

    RESOLVED, That we express our further conviction that a denomination seeking God’s blessing in revival and reformation ought to address the spiritual wreckage left in our Southern Baptist churches by our own divorce rates and our silence about the same …

    RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim the Word of God on the permanence of marriage, and to provide ongoing marriage enrichment opportunities, in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s abhorrence of divorce …

    RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to unite in marriage only those who are biblically qualified to be married to one another and who demonstrate an understanding of the meaning of lifelong love and fidelity …

    RESOLVED, That we call on our churches in our wedding services to maintain the gravity of the vows being undertaken, not simply as a token of a couple’s romance but as a covenant before God, until death do them part …

  3. Rick Presley June 16, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    As long as we capitulate to cultural norms, no resolution will effect a change. This is just one more evidence where we have not just lost the Culture War, we were never really in any position to make a stand.

    Most Baptist efforts today in the area of divorce are aimed at finding a way to justify it. We dare not stigmatize it or censure it for fear of offending the offending parties.

    Here’s the problem – we no longer view the church as a community. It is an institution much like any other we join or leave at our whim. We have no sense of shared pain or joy because we work so hard to live private, isolated lives, and don’t want other people “all up in our business.” Personal autonomy trumps Hebrews 10:23-25. In such a state, our churches really do not feel any of the deleterious effects of divorce because we don’t share one another’s pain. We don’t see the impact and the devastation that divorce leaves in its wake because we are not just disconnected, we prefer it that way. Given a choice, will families choose to spend time together or apart? Sadly, apart. And our churches only mirror this disconnection.

    So as long as church is the equivalent of a social club we join or leave as it suits our preference and our bodies of believers are nothing more than loose associations of individuals (not even families) willing to meet with each other for a couple of hours once or twice a week, then we will never see a transformation of the American culture that so permeates our churches.

  4. Donald Johnson June 16, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    My point is that saying divorce is a scandal is putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. Divorce is not necessarily a sin, but breaking covenant vows IS a sin.

    Yes, there is some discussion of vows, but the emphasis should be on both parties making Biblical marriage covenant vows and keeping them.

  5. Jeff June 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    How about a resolution on the lack of clear, strong preaching that has been characteristic of most SBC churches over the last 10-20 years? How about a resolution on the lack of church discipline? Both of these resulted in the accomadation to the culture. How about a resolution on the epidemic of morbid obesity in SBC churches which reflect poor stewardship of a number of different things. And by the way, I thought the SBC was defined theologically, not missiologically. Seems this is backwards.

  6. Nate June 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Jeff, don’t you think this resolution speaks to your items of strong preaching and church discipline? It would require both to take action on this item. BTW, the obesity reference is an easy stone to throw in trying to divert from the subject matter at hand? Any church discipline taking place at your church over gluttony (which is different than obesity)?

  7. Jeff June 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Nate
    The subject at hand is/are resolutions of the SBC. They are arbitrary and reflect the “easy route.” Divorce is easy and it is a symptom (just as, btw, obesity is a symptom). Faithful expostion of the whole scripture and faithful church discipline are the problems (rather lack of them is the problem). So while the divorce resolution addresses them, tangentially, they are really only secondary issues in the resolution.

  8. Nate June 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    And we are discussing one of those resolutions. It is also arbitrary and easy to throw large stones. Since the conservative resurgence 20 years ago, I would argue there is much stronger preaching than there was before. Obviously that is my opinion and reflects the churches I have been involved in over the last ten plus years. However, to simply throw out the moniker that there is a lack of strong preaching in the majority of SBC churches is hyperbole.

    A messenger to the convention would have the ability to draft a resolution. Go for it next year.

  9. Jeff June 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    In the last 20 years have you seen or heard of a resolution on church discipline? As to hyperbole, it is rhetorical device used to make a point. As to being a messenger, I asked.

  10. Nate June 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    “As to being a messenger, I asked.” So, you asked the leadership of your church if you could be on their messengers? They turned you down? Did they know about your desire to make a resolution concerning church discipline? Sorry, but you are being a little vague.

  11. Jeff June 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Yes I asked the my pastor about being a messenger and never heard back.

  12. Chris June 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Jeff,

    I believe there was a resolution on regenerate church membership passed in 2008 which called for more biblical church discipline.

  13. Nathan June 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Did I miss the resolution regarding what to do with people already married after groundless divorce on either or both sides of the married couple?

  14. RD June 16, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Can I ask what each of you believes would be proper Biblical church discipline in the case of two members who are getting a divorce?

  15. Rick Presley June 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    RD, I would address biblical church discipline regarding divorce only in the context of biblical church discipline as a whole. Since our churches generally see only excisive discipline when the topic is broached, I think the conversation is skewed.

    Biblical discipline regarding divorce begins at birth and in the home. If we would practice the Shema, our kids would know what the Bible has to say about divorce. Additionally, discipline, i.e. disciple-making, is nurtured through modeling the behavior we want to see and living out the life we want to see our children live. If we disciple them as they are growing up on the ideals of chastity, purity, and choosing as God would choose for a partner, we are well on our way toward biblical church discipline. If we’ve not discipled them to be disciplined in their choices leading up to marriage, I don’t see how we can justify practicing excisive discipline when that marriage breaks down.

  16. Donald Johnson June 17, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    “excisive” is not a word according to m-w.com. I am not sure what you mean.

  17. Donald Johnson June 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    You might be deriving it from excision, which would imply a method to remove someone from a church congregation via Mat 18 or similar.

  18. James Cole June 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Jeff,

    Some SBC churches definitely use church discipline and in my opinion faithfully preach the whole of scripture. I’m a part of one of those churches and absolutely love it.

  19. Rick Presley June 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Donald, you are correct. Before I answer though, could you tell me what Jeff and others mean by “church discipline”?

    Are we talking of the whole totality of the disciple-making process or are we using it as a code word for “cleaning the rolls” or excluding members? Or something else other than these?

  20. Rick Presley June 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    James,

    What do you mean when you say “use church discipline?” Do you mean it as a form of punishment for wayward activity? A form of discipleship and teaching? Donald mentions Mt. 18 as a means for removing people from the church congregation although I am baffled by this since Mt. 18 only applies in cases of personal offense that is unresolved. In Americas “no fault” divorce climate, there are no offended parties, at least from a legal standpoint. If there are no offences, how can we practice church discipline against divorced individuals?

  21. Nate June 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    “In Americas “no fault” divorce climate, there are no offended parties, at least from a legal standpoint. If there are no offences, how can we practice church discipline against divorced individuals?”

    The church should not be following the government’s dictums on matters of the bible. According to that type of logic the church should tolerate couples living together and homosexual couples as members since it is not against the law of the US.

    Church discipline is a means to attempt to get a believer trapped in a habitual sin to repent, turn back to the Lord, and embrace the community of believers. Should a person refuse an individual rebuke, a multiple person rebuke – over a extended period of time, the situation would be brought to the church and if the person refused to repent, they would be excommunicated in hopes that being separated from their church family that the Holy Spirit would convict them, they would repent, and then welcomed back into the fellowship.

    The sin that caused the church discipline to begin could be of any nature – from refusing to come to church to adultery, etc.

    Church discipline is a means, in love, to keep a person from letting sin destroy their lives. It should always be done with the intent of seeing the person fully restored back into the family.

  22. Donald Johnson June 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Certainly one part of the process should be allowing the person to defend themselves from any accusations and explain themselves. For example, there is a wide variation about what constitutes Biblical grounds for divorce, so what one person may see as sin, another may not.

  23. Rick Presley June 17, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Thanks for the reply, Nate.

    As for the church not following the government’s dictums on matters of the Bible, why is it then that preachers seek licensure in order to solemnize marriages?

    As for church discipline, that’s pretty much the definition I would expect. There is no formative discipline or preventative discipline, i.e. “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” mentioned in your outline. Discipline, as you’ve explained it, only begins after an offense is committed. As you might suspect, I consider this neither a biblical nor a sound approach. As I understand biblical discipline it begins from the moment of salvation and continues all through the believer’s life. Its primary aim is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12) and that the body might be able to edify itself in love and good works (Heb. 10:23-25) so that every member contributes to the whole (I Cor. 12).

    As long as we see church discipline solely as a corrective to blatant sin, we will never have a healthy view of it.

  24. Nate June 18, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    Rick,

    I think you are incorporating multiple things together, and they are not bad to join. Having an attitude that discipline is part of a methodology of all of church life is accurate and worthwhile. Preaching and teaching accomplish what you are speaking to with regards to equipping the saints. Also living life together, not simply on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week as we sharpen each other, pray for each other, and confess sins one to another accomplishes this as well. So, I agree with you that it all goes hand in hand.

    Having said that, there are times that demand punitive action because sin can cause people to forget about the aforementioned items and drag them to places they do not want to go, or where they think they want to be and are willing to turn their backs against the family. At that point, the steps I outlined would have to take place. What else would you do? That style of discipline is not typical, but does have to show itself from time to time. Parents don’t go looking for opportunities to use corporal punishment on their children, but sometimes it must be done – lovingly.

    As for pastors seeking license in order to marry, I think you are misreading that. Ordained pastors are recognized by the state when performing weddings, not the other way around. The state recognizes weddings performed in churches as meeting the requirements of the state. So, I guess you could say the state seeks out pastors.

  25. Rick Presley June 18, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Nate,

    My point was that the biblical teaching of discipline is holistic, communal, and embraces far more than the way we currently use the term. The consequences are that “church discipline” in the eyes of many begins with someone committing an offense and requiring intervention. This is incredibly short-sighted and unbiblical. Every one of Paul’s epistles are part of a “church discipline” strategy because they encompassed formative, preventative, and corrective admonitions. The only Baptists I know who define church discipline in such a holistic way are Mark Dever and those who have been influenced by him.

  26. Donald Johnson June 18, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Given those that recommend Dever’s works, my working premise is that he misunderstands the Biblical grounds for divorce and therefore will declare someone to be in sin who is not.

  27. Tracy Irvin June 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I think the fault falls on us pastors and discipleship leaders for not teaching/preaching the true meaning of marriage: that it is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. If we teach/preach this and make it clear, then perhaps divorces will become less in our churches. As long as we miss the mark on the true meaning/purpose of marriage in our teaching/preaching/counseling, then our congregations will miss the mark in their living out the image of Christ and His church. This includes all the above:preaching, discipline, and accountability.

  28. Curtis June 21, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    Tracy pretty much nails the issue. What must happen in order to provide discipline and accountability is to make sure the church consistently communicates well the biblical standard for marriage and the extremely limited biblical grounds for divorce. Church leaders and members must be held accountable for the counsel they give, for, sadly, many couples in dire straights receive ungodly counsel. I have personally seen it happen many, many times, and I have confronted those whom I know have given ungodly counsel.
    Sometimes there is no counsel at all. We have church members in our pews who have divorced their spouses for unbiblical reasons and then are permitted to remarry. We are too ready to make concessions.

  29. Donald Johnson June 22, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and neglect. Abuse includes physical, emotional, sexual, etc. types of abuse.

    The more spouses act like Christ, the more Godly a marriage will be, but when sin enters the picture a marriage can become something that is not God honoring.

  30. Chad H. Mill June 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Did anyone else find it a little ironic that we passed this resolution about 24 hours after recognizing and giving a special award to a well-known Southern Baptist pastor who has been divorced???

  31. AJL September 2, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    I gather from this discussion that none of you has gone through a divorce nor do you have an inkling as to why people divorce or what would make it impossible to live with a choice that you made at 25 for the rest of your life.

    Let’s say that one person is incapable of being married. They are immature, won’t take their marital vows seriously and are basically using the marriage as a substitute for a mother or father. Should they continue in such an awful relationship because of church tradition? And if they seek a divorce and one later marries a “real” spouse, can you then “forgive” them their past sin as if it were anything else? Or is this the “unforgivable” sin?

    And do you also note that Paul was speaking of “no more than one wife” as someone that had multiple wives instead of a divorced person?

    Even Moses was divorced…David was divorced…do you remove these from their Biblical influence?

    And yes, obesity is probably as much if not more of an issue because they all spring from the same well…A faith that lacks POWER from the Holy Spirit and is about doctrine with no love of God to be seen.

  32. connie September 23, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I am currantly seperated from my husband. when we seperated he then found God. and also a girlfriend.
    Now we are talking about getting back together. my reasons because i love him and want him to be my husband. his reason because it is a sin to divorce. So if he comes back to me it will be because it is the right thing to do not because he loves me. I find this hard to accept. I need to know that he is coming back becuase he loves me, not because it is the right thing to do. and i am also having a hard time accepting that it did not take him very long to find a girl freind and that they have relations. which to me is a sin because he is still married to me.
    am i wrong for not wanting him to come back because it is the right thing to do?
    thanks, connie

  33. Jim October 3, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    When a couple goes to their pastor for marriage counceling, the husband stops going, but the wife continues. Next, pastor is praying that wife finds an apt, etc. He also repeated every problem to wife that husband spoke with him about. She walked out and left their child with daddy. Husband filed for divorce, after crying, begging her not to go. The pastor threatened to sue husband if he is ousted over this, saying he is accusing him of having an affair with wife. Husband said he did not accuse him of an affair, only that they spent so much time on the phone, or at the church. Said it is, was inappropiate.These are close friends of mine, and it is such a shame.

  34. Cathy Key January 10, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    I am not a scholar, but agree with Donald Johnson. Something needs to be done to pronote male leadership mentoring/testimony/”not conforming to the world”/keeping promises (& vows!) lifestyle in SBC homes & churches. I’m living in a world in and out of church where all the men act like boys, all the women do, too, the boys do everything to egg it on and anything goes/small to large sin a la carte. Someone help!!!!

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