Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Split Vote on Rethinking Divorce

Christianity Today has an article on evangelicals rethinking divorce. The key issue is whether Jesus rejected divorce for any cause, or whether he rejected the strict "any cause" standard being debated in his day, and instead accepted the more lenient Old Testament grounds. British evangelical scholar David Instone-Brewer argues for the more liberal interpretation, contending that there are invisible quotation marks that would have been understood in Jesus' day.

My interest here is not in the main argument, but the response to it. David van Biema, writing in Time, reports that reader response to the Christianity Today article was initially highly negative, but leveled off at 60% opposed to the more liberal reading, 40% for.

Letters to the editor are never a scientific survey. But this split strikes me as about the likely proportion of traditional and more liberal views on divorce among evangelicals.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The question I ask is why the conservative right supports legislators who support social programs that weaken families? If there was no fault divorce, AND had to graduate from a pre-marriage class, do you think the divorce rate would go down? Or would the people simply co-habitate more often? Either way, we have to do something to correct the course our nation is headed. in.

Gruntled said...

I think if the opinion leaders in and out of government were resolutely pro-marriage, the divorce rate would go down. People with disorderly live would continue to cohabit and come and go, but the benefit of marriage would increase. This would help convince the waverers to make their marriages better, rather than chase the false dream of starting over.

peter hoh said...

If it's just about theology and revisiting proscriptions on divorce, then this rethinking is not going to accomplish much. It won't hurt, either. The slope can't get much more slippery.

Not to denigrate the ideas in the article, but we need to rethink marriage more than we need to rethink divorce.

(And no, I'm not going where Coontz keeps trying to go. By the way, I loved Elizabeth Marquardt's response over at Family Scholars, Nov. 26.)

Can you imagine rethinking alchohalism before AA came along? That's what the Christianity Today article made me think of. (Not that I was around before AA.)

My short letter of response would be something like this: Thanks for broadening our understanding about what Jesus said about divorce, but this won't help heal hurting marriages, and it doesn't address the currents in our culture that are working against marriage.

So where is the important work being done? Just follow the links at the SmartMarriage site (which you wisely link to already). The Bill Doherty keynote address from 1999, "How Therapy can be Hazardous to your Marital Health" strikes me as an important moment in this movement to rethink marriage.

Gruntled said...

Peter, I don't follow the analogy with Alcoholics Anonymous. Could you elaborate?

peter hoh said...

Thanks for asking me to clarify. I could have made my point better without the 4th paragraph.

I'm trying to unpack a bunch of thoughts that have been swirling in my head, but haven't been fully formed. Trying to present them concisely when I haven't achieved clarity myself is a recipe for confusion.

I think there's been a significant change in thinking about alcoholism since AA came into being. How'd that happen? I'm not sure, but I think that the idea that alcoholism could be treated changed how people regarded the condition.

I'm not trying to create an analogy between alcoholism and divorce. There are some connections, of course, but it's the change in thinking that interests me most.

There's the public policy angle, too. How much can public policy influence behavior? Certainly, the Women's Christian Temperance Union thought they would have the problem of alcoholism solved if they could only persuade lawmakers to ban alcohol. Well, we know how that turned out.

As I read it, the Christianity Today piece is framed such a way that it fits a broader debate about whether or not to prohibit divorce. I think the article serves its purpose well, but I think we need to move beyond that debate.