I finished reading David Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Church over a taco at Moe's on Saturday. It is a thought-provoking book, and to be honest, I feel inadequate to fully evaulate his claims. So I'm going to appeal to you pastors out there. I think there are a few pastors who read this blog from time to time. Instone-Brewer's book is sub-titled "Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities," so his book is really for you anyway. I'll give you the basics of Instone-Brewer's premise here, but don't cheat -- go read the book, follow his entire argument, and let me know what you think. (OK, if you want to cheat a little, you can go to his web site and get a quick summary of his thesis.) You can leave a comment here on the blog, or email me (you'll find my email address in my profile).
Instone-Brewer says there are two main Old Testament teachings and two main New Testament teachings on divorce; they are interlaced, as the N.T. teachings refer back to the principles in the O.T. teachings. So the O.T. passages are Deuteronomy 24:1, which allows divorce for adultery, and Exodus 21:10-11, which allows divorce for neglect of food, clothing, and conjugal love (which we could extrapolate into abandonment, abuse, and neglect). The N.T. teachings are in Matthew 19:3 and following, where the Pharisees question Jesus about Rabbi Hillel's "Any Cause" divorce, a (willful?) misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, and I Corinthians 7, where Paul instructs the believers in Corinth on marriage, singleness, divorce, and widowhood. Instone-Brewer's argument on this latter passage is far too involved for me to try to sum up here.
So pastors and other Bible scholars, get a copy of the book and let me know if you think his arguments stand up.
Why does this matter for a blog on the children of divorce? As I mentioned before, the church has often excluded families after divorce. Sometimes it was the subtle exclusion of people who didn't know what to say and simply felt uncomfortable around those who are hurting. But sometimes it was the overt exclusion that forbade our moms and dads from being members of the church or serving in leadership. Not long ago, I knew a man who lost his job with a denomination after his wife had an affair and divorced him. You'd better believe the children of that couple were hurt by the denomination's actions.
The way the church treats divorced individuals affects entire families, not just the former spouses, and much of that treatment rests on our understanding of the legitimacy of divorce as informed by Scripture. I grew up on the conservative side of these issues, and I was challenged by this book to rethink some of my assumptions about divorce. For those who grew up on the liberal side of these issues, I think you will also be challenged by this book in some of your assumptions. And really, if a book makes us think, hasn't it pretty much done it's job?