The Moral Silence of Divorce

Founders Journal · Winter 2005 · p. 25-27

The Moral Silence
of Divorce

Peter J. Yoder

I recently spent an evening with an engaged couple living together. Discovering sexual compatibility is not an uncommon practice in this generation, but I was surprised to see such a choice coming from two raised in the church. Jim and Sarah excused their living circumstances by way of finances—one apartment is less costly than two, but our later conversations proved the sexual motivation behind their lifestyle.

Many may think the couple’s tragic pre-marriage choice to share the same bed is a consequence of several circumstances—their northern, high church upbringing, their adolescent friendships and their education to name few. While depravity and sin lie at the heart of their actions, Jim and Sarah, along with countless others, have found opportunity to reject traditional views of morality and an excuse to try to justify their sin through the open door of divorce. It is divorce—experienced by both Jim and Sarah’s parents—that left them with a muddied view of morality.

The practice of divorce is becoming increasingly mundane and the dramatic decline in our culture’s morality is increasingly impressive, but rarely are the two linked. We are quick to throw blame at the symptoms of our social sickness, but it is the faulty moral foundation upon which divorced parents are left standing that provides our culture with an excuse for immorality.

As divorce has become increasingly predominant, the ability to establish moral concern in the lives of children disappears. Virtues like fidelity and sacrifice which were understood as unwavering are now placed in the gray of today’s morality. Consequently, though Sarah’s parents opposed their daughter “living” with her fiancé, it was the moral silence of divorce that muted their cry. Ironically, in the evangelical church’s reaction to this couple’s lifestyle, its breath is wasted blaming the dead liturgy of the church, the corrupting influence of friends and the far left public education, while the unfolding moral degeneration caused by divorce struts through its pews.

What do I mean? Let us suppose Sarah’s parents remained adamantly against their daughter’s decision, even to the point of attempting to halt the ceremony. Sarah has only to sit her parents down and bring up their past. I imagine her to say, “Look, your ability to tell me what to do went down the drain when you divorced. Am I to accept advice from you when your own lives are a disaster? Am I to abstain when you were unable to keep from committing adultery?”

Certainly, Sarah’s actions will not correspond with her words; she will eventually seek the advice of the ones who raised her. But this scenario should not place our focus on the woman caught in adultery but on the family silently watching as she is being stoned. Fearful of exhuming their own sins from the grave of divorce, the parents are left paralyzed in the cause of morality.

In modernism, and those worldviews preceding it, arguments from fact—“do what I say, not what I do”—actually had some substance. There was an understood absolute that stood above the actions of men. Now, in this progressive postmodern culture, Christian actions are a life preserver in an ocean of relativism. Without buoyant action our words sink. How unfortunate this is! For, if we are honest, we realize the righteousness demanded by our peers is absent in our flesh. The harder we try to impress others with morality, and the harder we try to impress upon others morality, the more vile we look. Once again we are confronted with the heart of the Christian gospel: we are vessels in need of a foreign righteousness, compelled into a life of repentance and faith.

It is here, in the act of repentance and faith—by which our Christian pilgrimage started and continues—that the moral voice of those divorced is reclaimed. Repentance strengthens the vocal cords and makes sweet the words of those once oppressed by the fear of relived sin. As children see their parents dealing with the sins that led to divorce, they will begin to see morality as a divine product, not manufactured by the mind of man. Consequently, we as the church, finding reassurance in the cross, are to seek the reformation of society with lives of humble repentance.

There stands, though, a stumbling block before us. It has been the age-old enemy of humility and repentance, desiring in all circumstances to thwart virtue. Pride is its name, and its effects are ever-so subtle. It wraps itself around the naïve victim in such a way that not only does the strangling of humility go unnoticed but the resulting blindness to pride’s deadening presence is embraced. Rightly said by Alexander Pope, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

This is the position in which our church finds itself. Pride has captivated our lives and strangled out repentance. Tied up in looking righteous, we would much rather point fingers at others than engage our own sin. For the sake of appearances, love without passionate concern for others becomes our mode of expression. It is a false love, seeking perfection in others’ lives, while hiding our sin in the bottom drawer.

Still, Francis Schaeffer was correct in declaring, along with the breadth of Scripture, love is the mark of the Christian. Let us not, though, think love can be estranged from repentance. The mark of love must include the mark of repentance. A proud man’s love only shovels dirt upon the grave while the repentant lover eagerly awaits the dry bones to come to life once again.

The question, nonetheless, rises as to how we proceed in actively pursuing reformation. Are we to once again climb upon our calloused soapboxes and scream out anti-divorce rhetoric? It is too late for that now. We are living in a society in which a large number of the children are growing up with step fathers, step mothers, or single parents.

If we desire a recovery of individuals, families, churches and a once prosperous culture, where life, marriage and purity are cherished, we must be faithful to preach the gospel, encouraging faith in Christ and repentance of sin in our churches, in our families and in the lives of divorcees. In the midst of our responsibility to live as salt and light, morally challenging our culture, we must be honest with ourselves. We must be honest with others. We are a church that walks with a limp and cannot strut without looking absurd. Once our culture sees the church openly engaging its sin, denouncing its own self-righteousness and fleeing to Christ as its only hope, we may once again see the church address the dire needs of culture with a stronger and clearer voice.