The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is Divorce OK?

Faith asks, “Is divorce OK?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“ ‘OK’ is hardly the right word for divorce.  The prophet Malachi lived in a time when many thought that divorce was ‘OK,’ but he heard a different word from God​: ‘The LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away’ (Malachi 2:16), that is, divorcing ‘the wife of thy youth’ (v. 14). The Lord declares that His altar is thereby covered ‘with tears, with weeping, and with crying out,’ the tears and lamentation of women thus cast into a life of isolation, poverty, and shame.

“These women can only cry out to the God who ‘raiseth up them that are bowed down’ and befriends strangers, orphans, and widows (Psalm 146:8, 9). This same God tells the men involved that He has no regard for their offerings and will not receive them with good will, a divine act of excommunication (Malachi 2:14). They have rejected their wives, and so God rejects these men, putting His grace and favor beyond their reach.

“But God’s prophets from Moses to Christ and the apostle Paul also recognize that there are cases in which it may be unwise or impossible for husband and wife to live uprightly and peaceably in the bond of marriage. Provision is therefore made in Scripture for ‘loosing’ or ‘untying’ the marriage bond in an orderly way, under supervision of authorities in church and state, a way that safeguards the rights of both parties and best serves the interests of any children in the home.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“Divorce is most often a deeply painful separation between a couple who, we can assume in most cases, loved one another deeply. There are often children involved who will no longer have the home they thought would be theirs for the rest of their pre-adult life. Life after divorce is often lonely, with one or both parties emotionally wounded. So, no, I can’t just say that it’s OK.

“But I assume the question is to the ecclesiastical legality of divorce within the Hindu tradition. Hindu culture deeply values marriage and family. The community takes a portion of the responsibility for keeping couples together.  However, there is also the very pragmatic understanding that some marriages are toxic, and must be ended for the betterment of all concerned. There is no prohibition against divorce or remarriage.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“No, ​in the Catholic Church, there is no such thing as divorce. The Church, through its ministry does recognize the sometimes there is a problem at the time a man and a woman marry. If at the time of the marriage it may be judged that the problem is grave and believe it or not a grave defect is provable, then the Church through the ministry of its own legal system called a Tribunal may declare that a sacrament never took place. This is not divorce. This is declaring that there was an impediment so great that the marriage bond could never be considered a sacrament.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“While divorce is never a good thing, Eastern Orthodoxy has accepted it as an extreme measure of remedy when a marriage becomes so toxic that staying together is worse for the respective spouses and those around them, than maintaining the marriage. Anyone involved in a failed marriage is encouraged to spend a significant time and repentance for their part in the failure in the holy state of marriage, and find in that repentance--as in all repentance--the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“The short answer is, yes divorce is okay. But I think it is also important to add that divorce is a loss whether you are the one who wanted it or not. And with any loss we should honor the grief that may come with that loss. So, while it may be okay to divorce it is not easy for anyone. Divorce is one of those difficult decisions in life where I firmly believe the church needs to be compassionate and understanding to both parties and not judgmental. Unitarian Universalists believe that divorce is hard on the individuals and the family, and therefore a church should be a place of support and understanding.”

My response:

When a marriage breaks down, the last thing I want to do is pile guilt on the spouses trying to recover from the failed relationship with a blanket statement that the spouses need to repent of their failure to sustain the marriage. Judaism has a ritual process to release the marriage and hopefully provide a framework for beginning to heal. In that sense, with the consent of both spouses, divorce is acceptable from a Jewish perspective.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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