What to do when same-sex couples “divorce”

John Piper anticipates what will happen when God begins to save people who have entered into legal gay “marriages.” He offers thirteen helpful guideposts for ministering the gospel to such people in days to come. I recommend that you read all of them, but I would highlight number ten:

Assist them in the legal processes and expenses of undoing what the state called “marriage.” That the state will call this process “divorce” is not decisive in what it really is: the removal of a sinful fiction.

That’s right. We cannot ever treat gay “marriage” as anything else but “a sinful fiction,” even if it becomes legal in all fifty states. That stance will have pastoral consequences, which is why you should read the rest here.

38 Responses to What to do when same-sex couples “divorce”

  1. James Bradshaw June 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    “We cannot ever treat gay “marriage” as anything else but “a sinful fiction,” even if it becomes legal in all fifty states.”

    Three verses in Scripture record Christ Himself providing the grounds for a valid divorce: infidelity. That’s it. Any other divorce and subsequent remarriage is the display of a perpetual and unrepentant adultery, the practitioners of which are excluded from Heaven and condemned to everlasting Hell. That is the literal word of Scripture, like it or not.

    As such, millions of heterosexuals are living “sinful fictions”, at least according to Scripture.

    Why does this receive zero attention from anyone here? The Church traditions have been consistent in this regard: divorcees have been ostracized and shunned throughout history. They have either been directed to remain celibate or reunite with their first spouse in most circumstances.

    Has the conception of morality has been revised to accommodate heterosexual remarriage? Is Scripture being “applied” differently than in the past?

    What is going on here?

    • Michael Lynch June 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      James, you’ve brought this up several times before. I’m convinced you haven’t done a thorough study of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, so you simply do not understand it. I recommend Jay Adams’ book to you (and anyone else who wants to study the topic) Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. I don’t have the tact to deal with it in this space, but your argument simply doesn’t work when looking at the entirety of the Bible.

      • James Bradshaw June 4, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

        Jay Adams? I haven’t heard of him. I’ll quote Martin Luther instead:

        “Those who want to be Christians are not to be divorced, but each to retain his or her spouse, and bear and experience good and evil with the same, although he or she may be strange, peculiar and faulty; or, if there be a divorce, that the parties remain unmarried; ”

        “What about a situation where one’s wife is an invalid and has therefore become incapable of fulfilling the conjugal duty? May he not take another to wife? By no means. Let him serve the Lord in the person of the invalid and await His good pleasure.”

        More …

        “Tertullian (c. 200), like his contemporaries, held that the marital bond is indissoluble. In his Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, he strongly objected to a woman’s remarrying even after her husband’s death, because then she would have “one husband in the flesh and another in the spirit. This would be adultery-joint knowledge of one woman by two men.In regard to divorce, he claimed that the new law of Christ had abrogated the OT law permitting divorce; that same new law thereby outlawed remarriage. Tertullian did, however, accept remarriage if the dissolution of the first (either by death or divorce) had occurred prior to one’s conversion (for in Christ, one becomes a new creation).”

        “The Council of Elvira (c. 300) vigorously opposed remarriage. Women who divorced their husbands, regardless of grounds, were to be excommunicated. If an “innocent” wife (who divorced an adulterous husband) were to remarry, she was to be denied the sacraments until her first husband’s death, after which she might find readmission to the church. Because, however, her crime was not as serious as that of a “guilty” party, if she were to die before her first husband, she might receive the sacrament of extreme unction”

        If you disagree with the 2,000 years of Christian tradition, I guess that makes you a theological liberal! Welcome to the club! 🙂

        • Michael Lynch June 5, 2013 at 6:55 am #

          Four quotes hardly give us the scope of 2,000 years of Christian tradition. There isn’t enough context in the first quote. What did Luther say before or after it? The second quote is kind of a “duh.” I don’t think you’ll find anyone here who disagrees with it. The second two are plainly unbiblical. There are biblical grounds for divorce and the bible does allow for marriage after divorce.

          Again, you need to sit under a sound teacher on this subject if you are going to try to use it for an argument–you simply don’t have all the info. I’ve recommended Jay Adams–a solid theological conservative–maybe others could recommend someone to you. I’d even buy a copy of the book I recommended if you wanted. At least do a thorough study of the entire Bible and put the pieces together yourself before continuing with this particular argument (see Don Johnson’s comment below, although I disagree with what he says about Piper).

          Ultimately, none of this–what you believe is others’ hypocrisy–takes care of your main problem, James. You need to repent and come to Christ. You need to put off your soul-killing lifestyle. I’m glad you keep coming back to blogs like this and it seems like you have done some study of Scripture. Now, you need to stop studying it to simply use to justify your lifestyle.

          God bless.

          • Michael Lynch June 5, 2013 at 7:12 am #

            http://stallberry.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/a-hundredfold/
            Tim Challies linked to this today. It may be helpful and it’s relevant to the Piper post.

          • Lauren Bertrand June 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

            Michael Lynch– The fact that your rebuttal included a call for repentance and an accusation of a “lifestyle” suggests that James Bradshaw really did play the “gotcha” game quite effectively. Obviously you’re quite intelligent, so please tell me you can do better than play the “abomination” card. Exceptions for divorce and re-marriage in the Bible are infinitesimal and certainly don’t cover the tremendous array of divorces that Evangelicals have blithely tolerated across the Bible Belt over the last half century.

            This discussion begs a question. Will an Evangelical, who so typically relishes the “charitable” act of calling out another person’s sin, be equally attentive when the homosexual, or atheist, or Muslim (or Catholic or Episcopalian or just-about-everybody-else), can sit at the table and reciprocate? Will the Evangelical listen when the second party–the accused–points out the Evangelicals’ sins (hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness not the least among them) that are no more or less odious in the eyes of God?

            • Michael Lynch June 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

              Lauren, I would recommend the book to you as well if you think James has a point. I added his need for conversion after I felt I answered as best I could in this space. It was an afterthought and really the only thing that matters when it’s all boiled down. You are also in need of salvation, so I’m likewise glad you keep coming back for more.

              I don’t really understand your second paragraph, so maybe I’m not all that intelligent (but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt).

              • James Bradshaw June 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

                Michael L: I live as my conscience dictates. I’m not promiscuous but am rather partnered monogamously. I strive to be honest and generous towards others. As I’ve said, I’m not an atheist. My relationship with my significant other has elicited a generosity and selflessness from me that I didn’t know I was capable of. That, to me, indicates there is a real value here.

                Besides, I’m certain that if I said I was going to live as a heterosexual *Mormon* or an Orthodox Jew, I’d still be in “need of salvation”. Others would say the same thing if I became a Catholic (or a non-Catholic, depending on who you ask).

                I long ago gave up trying to live and believe what others insisted I believe or do to be “saved”. The criteria shifted and changed so often that I ultimately pleased no one.

                I do appreciate that you’ve at least refrained from the contemptuous and derogatory name-calling that one frequently sees in religious blogs directed at people like myself.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy June 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    I honestly do not remember my church having resiurces set aside to assist abused spouses in getting a divorce. Why is this a priority for Piper?

    • Akash Charles June 5, 2013 at 1:12 am #

      a church should plan/pray to have resources to help sinners / disadvantaged/hurt- its a church!!!!

  3. Hannah Lewis June 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    You forget the huge portion of Christianity that accepts loving committed homosexual relationships, and interprets being gay as not a sin. That portion is only increasing in the younger generations that are replacing the older ones. In 50 years or so, I expect the homosexuality issue in Christianity to approach what the slavery, segregation, interracial marriage, divorce, and women’s equality issues now are (except for women’s ordination which is catching up fast): a non-issue except among the most backward few hold-out churches. There are many, many churches ready to accept these gay couples into their family. There is a place (many, many places) for them that doesn’t include the condition “you have to get divorced if you want to sit at our table”. I look forward to the near future when that will be the norm, instead of the spiritual and mental abuse that Piper endorses.

    • Daryl Little June 5, 2013 at 7:27 am #

      Hannah,

      No doubt there are huge numbers of church-going folk who accept “loving committed homosexual relationships”, but to call that group “Christians” is perhaps not the best term (although it may be true).
      Either way, their acceptance of an aberrant, sinful behaviour doesn’t mean that we get to re-write Scripture and pretend that it has nothing negative to say (or anything positive for that matter) on the issue.
      In the same way, the lax attitude towards divorce and remarriage, not to mention gossip, sexual activity among unmarried folk and the acceptance of foul language within many churches doesn’t justify those sins either.

      The standard is Scripture, not the local culture’s current mood.

      If that is abuse, may we all be abusers.

      • Lauren Bertrand June 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

        But most churches, including the Evangelical ones, accept the majority of those latter sins. They may impugn the fornicators, the divorcees, those who use the Lord’s name in vain, and force them to repent. But many don’t, just as virtually all churches fully tolerate the unrepentant gluttons. Are these enabling churches not truly “Christian” as well?

        • Daryl Little June 6, 2013 at 8:54 am #

          Lauren,
          The issue isn’t toleration. It’s celebration. No one is trying to push for “prideful marriage” or “gluttonous marriage” or “liar’s marriage” while claiming that those things are just “the beautiful way God has made us.”

          Apples and oranges.

          • Lauren Bertrand June 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

            I’m no fan of “pride” parades, for homosexuality, minorities, or anything else–largely because a prideful nature reveals a sinful heart at its core. I have never attended one and don’t plan on it. That said, none of your other pairings with “marriage” make any sense. “But Lauren,” you rebut, “neither does gay marriage. It’s a sinful fiction.” Except that it’s clearly not a fiction in 12 states–a number which inevitably will only grow. Clearly a huge portion, perhaps a majority, of Americans do not agree with you.

            Frankly, I’d say we DO celebrate obesity and gluttony by the fact that more than 50% of Americans suffer from this affliction, and we would never cast them out of our houses of worship. In fact, we accommodate them, either through larger seat belts on airplanes, bigger hospital gurneys, or extra value meals at McDonald’s. Gluttony is also shortening our lives, inducing huge medical costs and creating epidemics through complications that used to affect only a small fraction of the population (sleep apnea, diabetes, congestive heart failure). Plenty of people blame genetics on their corpulence, even though a quick visit to newsreels from the 1950s reveals that practically no one was fat back then. If our grandparents weren’t obese, where did these obese genes come from?

            I can state with complete confidence that the average Evangelical church has a far, far greater probably of gluttony within its congregation than it does with homosexuality. So do most other churches. By all means, you are perfectly entitled to condemn the latter of the two; unlike some, I’d never deny that the Bible is very clear on homosexuality. But the lack of condemnation for gluttony will always make you open to attacks for hypocrisy, and deservedly so.

  4. Andrew Orlovsky June 4, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Hannah,

    I wouldn’t be so sure that younger Evangelicals are that much more liberal than their older counterparts.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter/2012/10/the-myth-of-the-liberal-young-evangelical/

    In fact, at my church it seems the Baby Boomers are more offended at “Wives submit to your Husbands” than the 20 and 30 somethings. So called “Gender Equality” has just lead to a generation of young men who have no interest in marriage what so ever while so called “liberated women” watch their biological clocks tick away as they approach their 40s still single.

    And to call Piper’s opinion spiritual and mental abuse is just pathetic.

    • Lauren Bertrand June 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

      Andrew, since most studies both liberal and conservative show young people under 35 overwhelmingly supporting the very non-Evangelical canon of same-sex marriage, to the tune of 70% or more, where are these throngs of ultra-conservative young Evangelicals? Could it just be that, while young Evangelicals aren’t particularly liberal, an increasing number of young people simply don’t identify as Evangelical? After all, the fastest growing category of religious identification is neither Evangelical Christianity, nor Mormonism, nor Islam–it’s “religion: none”.

      • Andrew Orlovsky June 5, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

        Its important to note that most of the “nones” are the children of Reform Jews and Maintain Protestants. Watering down religion does not make it more attractive to young people.

        • buddyglass June 6, 2013 at 8:23 am #

          It’s not just reform Jews and mainline protestants:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2013/05/are-we-losing-the-young-evangelicals-by-age-since-1972-part-ii/

          If you look at the cohorts born in the 1970s and 1980s, both experienced a steep drop in the number of members calling themselves “evangelicals” during the period when each cohort was in its teens and 20s. In the case of the 1970s cohort, though, they eventually started calling themselves evangelicals again.

          Also check out Wright’s first post in that series:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/author/bradleywright/

          The high-water mark for “percentage of Americans calling themselves ‘evangelical'” seems to have been around 1993. Since then the numbers have decreased for all age groups, but most noticeably among the young. Approximately 2/3 as many people age 18-29 call themselves “evangelical” in 2013 as did in 1993.

          Of course, one way to read this is that in 1993 there were lots of folks calling themselves “evangelical” who weren’t actually very “invested” in the set of beliefs commonly associated with evangelicalism, and that’s the set who’ve subsequently decided to stop owning the label. In which case it could be a neutral (or perhaps even beneficial) development from the point of view of a “fully invested” evangelical.

  5. Don Johnson June 5, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    John Piper in his teaching and James Bradshaw in his comments commit spiritual abuse by misusing Scripture. They do this by quoting a verse on divorce as if it was an atomic truth statement, when what it is is a remez/hint to a more complete teaching based on the whole counsel of Scripture. The whole counsel of Scripture gives abuse and neglect as Godly reasons for divorce.

    • Daryl Little June 5, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Denny,

      This post is an excellent reminder from Desiring God, that we mustn’t be swayed by cultural definitions, nor must we wash our hands of the mess that these sinful re-definitions create.

      Thanks for this.

      Don,

      While you may disagree with Piper on male headship in the home and in the church, or what boundaries he understands Scripture to put around divorce, to call that spiritual abuse is just flat wrong and irresponsible.
      Unless, or course, you can prove that he doesn’t think that the Bible actually teaches that but chooses to pretend that it does because he has some perverse desire to keep women “down”.
      If that’s what you think, then you’ve got bigger problems than simply being unable to imagine that someone would see things differently.

      Speaking for myself, I’ve been egalitarian, at least as far as church eldership goes, but have since become convinced by Scripture that I have been wrong on that and so I’ve changed my mind in an attempt to, as best I can, bring myself into submission to Scripture.

      Having said all that, I agree with you that James is wrong on the divorce issue, but then he has always admitted to being a liberal “Christian” so I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. But there again, he’s not being abusive. If you read his post, you’ll see that he’s pointing out his own misunderstanding of Scripture and then admitting that he doesn’t believe what Scripture teaches anyway.

      These are all watershed issues, and we dare not side with the culture simply because it seems right in our own eyes.

      • Don Johnson June 5, 2013 at 9:35 am #

        What I see both John Piper and James Bradshaw doing is decontextualizing Scripture.

        Once you take some text of Scripture out of context, it becomes like modeling clay and one can form almost any doctrine from what oneself has decontextualized, in other words, it is a way of abusing Scripture. After doing that, it takes very little effort to abuse actual people with a message of condemnation, after all, that is what the (decontextualized) Scripture says. Hence my concern.

        • Lauren Bertrand June 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

          Exactly! And yet who gets to decide when a text has or hasn’t been decontextualized? When does an exegesis become an eisegesis?

          Taken down to the level of this argument, what makes James wrong about the divorce issue, other than that he was able to extrapolate a clearly Biblical interpretation that other people here do not like because–let’s face it–it holds them accountable?

          • Don Johnson June 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

            James is wrong because he does not take the whole counsel of Scripture, and the same goes for John Piper. This is why we have the whole Bible and not just a book on the sayings of Jesus.

        • James Bradshaw June 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

          Don writes: “After doing that, it takes very little effort to abuse actual people with a message of condemnation”

          You have me confused.

          On the one hand, you seem to be saying that I’m taking numerous Bible passages “too literally” without understanding the whole of Biblical ethics in a way that would permit a more compassionate approach to divorced heterosexuals.

          On the other, you seem to be suggesting that I’m liberalizing Scripture by not taking at face value the three or four passages that condemn homosexuality (which must be viewed in a very literal and atomic way).

          So … what are you saying?

          To be honest, I’ve never understood what it means to “take the Bible in context”. To do that, one should probably know a great deal of church history, should probably understand Greek and Aramaic and be familiar with the writings of early historians like Josephus. It would also help to have a background on the sociology and culture of the Jewish people throughout the early centuries. Of course, such standards would silence most of us who claim to speak about the meaning and authority of Scripture.

          • Don Johnson June 6, 2013 at 10:31 am #

            I think we agree that when a text is taken out of context, then bad things can happen in that the potential for misinterpretation, misunderstanding and misapplication increases. So a person trying to be a faithful exegete should strive to NOT take Bible text out of context, this means (as a minimum) not taking it out of its immediate context of the teaching unit and book it is found in, not taking it out of the context of the whole counsel of (the progressive revelation of) Scripture, and not taking it out of its cultural context.

            When you quote just Jesus on divorce as being definitive in and of itself, you fail to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. As Jesus was Jewish, he should be assumed to agree with everything in the OT/Tanakh and so not need to speak on those things taught there unless he needed to correct a misinterpretation of something. It turns out this is exactly what Jesus is doing in Matt 19, he is correcting seven (7!) misinterpretations of Scripture that the Pharisees made, one can figure this out by using the Jewish Mishnah as a source for what the Pharisees taught, as a part of doing due diligence in the cultural context area.

            In other words, the goal should be to present good interpretations of Scripture all around. You are not doing yourself any favors by presenting an over-simplistic and ultimately incorrect interpretation of some parts of Scripture.

  6. Brett Cody June 5, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Piper is standing on the Word of God. I pray the Lord pours out days of repentance and blesses His church (i.e. His bride) with hope giving ministry to homosexuals who repent of their sin and turn to Christ for salvation from their sinful fiction.

  7. Don Johnson June 5, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    Piper is standing on his (potentially mistaken) interpretation of the word of God, just like everyone else is.

    • Daryl Little June 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      You included? So then are you abusive because your interpretation has ramifications?

      • Don Johnson June 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

        Every interpretation has ramifications. Piper’s is (spiritually) abusive as it does not recognize the Biblical reasons for divorce of abuse and neglect, even tho he knows this is a possibility.

        • Daryl Little June 6, 2013 at 8:57 am #

          You seem to be assuming, Don, that Piper has no answer to your charge. Answers like separation, church discipline and other means of addressing those issues.
          I agree that divorce for abuse and neglect are both biblical, but of those who I’ve spoken with or listened to, who would disagree with that, would never say “She just needs to stay home and take it.”

          You continue to twist both the teaching and motives of those with whom you disagree and in so doing you undercut your own credibility.

          • Don Johnson June 6, 2013 at 10:50 am #

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OkUPc2NLrM is a video of John Piper on spouse abuse where I believe what he taught facilitates both verbal and physical abuse of a wife starting around 2:40. I think this is not good.

            It used to be on the Desiring God website but apparently has been removed and a subsequent post there has tried to clarify his thought, but the latter post does not clearly repudiate the part that I think facilitates abuse. I think John Piper should step up and repent and clearly repudiate the part that I think facilitates wife abuse.

            • Daryl Little June 6, 2013 at 11:20 am #

              ” I think John Piper should step up and repent and clearly repudiate the part that I think facilitates wife abuse.”

              That you think? God help us if that’s the standard.

              I think you should step up and offer a different understanding of what was said, or better, step up and inquire of Dr. Piper that he provide you a clarification of what you’ve misunderstood.

            • Daryl Little June 6, 2013 at 11:31 am #

              I just watched the video and all I can say is, wow.

              Don, it seems pretty clear to me that you’ve got John Piper in your sights and are willing to take everything he says and twist it simply because of your (in my view) unbiblical view of husbands and wives and the church.

              His advice was sound, wise, cautious and thoroughly biblical. What? Going to a church where she can be provided a safe place and her husband can be disciplined promotes abuse? Putting up with something, rather than immediately seeking a divorce, so that she, and her husband, can get the help they so desperately need, promotes abuse?
              Not leaving immediately because her husband fails (badly) one time?

              Sorry Don, but all that video does is expose you and what appears to be your agenda.

              Thank God for pastors like John Piper. All women in such difficult marriages should be so blessed as to be in a church that is being led in this way. All women.

        • Denny Burk June 6, 2013 at 9:53 am #

          Don, this is ad hominem at best, slander at worst. You can do better than this.

  8. Chris Ryan June 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    Is there a trick to the commenting here? I tried posting a msg but nothing seems to work. Even posting a simple Scripture.

  9. Paul Reed June 6, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    The church has blessed second, third, and fourth marriages, but now wants to take a stand on sodomite marriage? Even if it does take a stand, no one is going to take it seriously. For our children, homosexuality is going to be treated like having red hair…not very common, but not viewed as sinful. Be prepared to be called a bigot and everything else if you want to stand firm.

  10. bravelass June 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Valid criticisms of churches who do sanction 2nd, 3rd, etc. marriages without biblical reason and reconciliation attempts, etc — leaving all that aside …

    The big difference between serial monogamy and pseudogamy is that one is a good done in a sinful manner, the other is an inherent evil which lies about the body, marital union and what marriage is.

    Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room which most Evangelicals still aren’t willing to come to grips with: birth control. Something NO Christian body accepted until 1930.

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