Christian Divorce: Interview with Professor Willie Elliott

Christian marriage is not always a lifelong commitment.

Traditional Christian wedding vows include a promise that the couple will remain together for the rest of their lives. However, Christians can and do get divorced for any number of reasons. Professor Willie Elliott is an Associate Professor in the Department of Allied Health and Social Work at Northern Kentucky University. He is also an ordained minister. Recently, Professor Elliott took time out of his busy schedule to answer LoveToKnow's questions about Christian divorce.

What does the Bible say about divorce?

The biblical ideal for marriage is a lifelong bond between husband and wife (Matt. 19:5). Marriage is a union founded by God and not to be done away with by anyone (Matt. 19:6). This position also is supported in the Old Testament by the statement: "And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garments with violence (Mal. 2:15-16).

While the above two positions seem to be antidivorce for any reason, Jesus said to the Pharisees (a religious group), "Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery,…" This appears to make sexual immorality (adultery) the only valid, biblical reason for divorce. I would suggest, however, that Christians would be better served by going through a Christian process in getting married in order to avoid the possibility of divorce.

Are there circumstances under which Christians can seek a divorce?

Different faith groups and denominations, within Christianity, differ from one another as to how divorce is to be understood theologically and what constitutes valid ground for seeking a divorce. (Or if there are any valid reasons for seeking divorce.) However, this author would suggest that excessive drinking, sexual and other forms of infidelity, the variety of inner experiences and outward behavior can lead to the breakdown of the marriage and may constitute circumstances that warrant seeking a divorce.

It's important in examining this issue that I be clear as I can about the Bible and the traditions of the church in regard to divorce. The reader must understand that there are many different Christian positions on divorce and this is but one.

Has the Christian view of divorce changed in recent years?

I think that all Christians have come to view divorce as a tragic reality. Regardless of the theological position of Christians of all denominations, all clergy and lay caregivers have had to respond to the needs of persons involved in a deeply troubled marriage.

That said, I don't think the Christian view of divorce has changed formally, in terms of church doctrine(s). However, Christians now view various options for dealing with a deeply troubled marriage and one of the options is divorce.

Do Christians tend to put up with a bad marriage longer than non-Christians?

Divorce does not just happen quickly. There is one study that demonstrates that over 50% of divorcing persons seriously considered divorce for one to three years before the actual end of the marriage through divorce. This process, of divorce, has been described in the following stages: the breakdown of the marriage, the movement toward divorce, and the recovery process. And contingent upon the resources that a Christian has may prolong or shorten the length of time involved in the process.

Can a divorced Christian remarry in church?

It depends on the church. Personally, the author divorced and was remarried in a church, by the assistant pastor. However, when a pastor of a different denomination wanted to remarry after being divorced for many years, none of the pastors in his denomination would perform the marriage ceremony. I did agree to perform the ceremony.

The answer is, yes, but it will vary from church to church.

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Christian Divorce: Interview with Professor Willie Elliott