When we read the Bible we hear about Jesus loving the outcasts of society. When we think of outcasts today, we often think of those outside the church: the homeless, drug addicted or poor people. But I want to talk to you today about the outcasts inside the church – those in the Christian community that feel judged, unwelcomed and looked down upon. I have all too often felt this way as soon as I mention that I am divorced.
When I tell people that I have been divorced (twice), they immediately have a negative reaction. While most would never say anything, I can see it written on their faces. They don’t often wait around to hear the whole story nor do I often want to go into it. However, I almost always do. Why? If I don’t, they just make assumptions. As Christians, we are not supposed to get divorced, nor are we supposed to be with someone who is divorced (Matt. 5:32).
If I can manage to explain that I wasn’t saved until after my first divorce or that my second divorce ended due to infidelity on my ex-spouse’s part, then the listener might be accepting. Most times I get the dreaded look of pity. In a day and age where divorce is so commonplace, why do I feel like I am wearing a huge red letter D on my shirt?
I was once told by a pastor that I could not be on the leadership team at church. He said that my house was not in order because I was divorced. I was astounded. It didn’t matter that I was an active member of my church, leading worship and Bible studies. It didn’t matter that my life had changed completely since I divorced several years before. He heard the D word and made his decision.
Divorce is the one area where I feel like I am more welcomed by the secular world than by the church. If one of my non-Christian friends hears that I’m divorced, they don’t bat an eye. It’s true that society has made many things commonplace, and I don’t condone Christians taking that same approach, but shouldn’t we be more forgiving and gracious than our unchurched counterparts?
As we have seen by recent comments in our denomination, some people hold a general belief that we should always try to work things out with our spouse – and if we can’t then we, as Christians, have failed. I assure you, anyone who is divorced has felt this kind of judgment when they confess to other Christians that they are divorced, even if the reason for the divorce is biblical. It’s kind of like people saying to you: “Hey, I know the Bible says all your sins are forgiven, but God wasn’t talking about THAT sin.”
I often wonder why I do not see more divorcees in the church. According to the American Psychological Association about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. So why aren’t 40-50% of the people in my church divorced? Either they feel as uncomfortable as I do and decide to stay home, or they find another divorced Christian to remarry to eliminate the stigma.
So what are we to do? I wish I had a good answer for that. Invite your divorced friends to dinner or to hang out. Listen to them when they want to talk about it. Don’t give them “the look” when they confess that they are divorced! Be graceful in the face of their pain, just like Jesus would.
Bridjo Cobbs is executive assistant and bookkeeper at the Baptist Convention of New England.