There are so many demands on church leaders today that helping divorcees is probably not in their top ten list of priorities and sits well below proclaiming the gospel, discipleship and reaching the lost, the poor and the lonely.
Besides if 'God hates divorce', won’t we in some way be condoning divorce if we help?
I think this reaction is a tragic waste of the priceless gift that we, the Church, have to give to those affected by divorce in the UK.
230,000 people in the UK divorce each year. 1 in 2 children will see their parents separate. If we cautiously estimate that for each person who divorces another six are affected (parents, children, siblings, friends etc) then, over 20 years, 26m people will have been directly impacted by relationship breakdown – that’s half the population of the UK.
Divorce is an epidemic affecting our attitudes and behaviour, and every church needs to have worked out what it can do about it.
An opportunity missed
The exciting thing is that the church has the opportunity and the expertise to radically improve the situation of all those people affected by relationship breakdown. With transformative power at our hands, why is it that many divorcees feel hurt by the response of the Church to them and their situation? I regularly hear sad stories of divorcees being told that they are a sinner even though they did all they could to prevent the divorce; not being able to help in children’s church as it would 'send the wrong signal'; not being able to remarry in church whilst a convict with kids from previous relationships can; being criticised for leaving the marriage after suffering years of abuse.
One woman was subject to physical abuse in her marriage but her church leaders advised her to stay in the relationship. This was highly dangerous. Two women are killed every week in the UK by their partner or their ex. There are many complex issues at work here and we may need to review both our theology and our witness. God hates divorce but he also hates violence against the weak and the vulnerable, and in some cases divorce is the lesser of two evils.
The gospel proclaims God’s redemptive ability to take what is bad and make good out of it. When we come alongside a person in crisis to love and support them, not ducking the difficult issues of acceptance, forgiveness and responsibility, but respectfully allowing them to make their own choices, we make them ready for life in all its fullness. For some people this may mean trying again to make their marriage work, but for others that’s not possible. Critically, all of them can stand restored and able to relate better to people.
Interestingly, the tools to help someone recover from a relationship breakdown are the same as those that restore a failing marriage. We can minister 'on both sides of the fence' with confidence that we are building better relationships to stop the downward spiral of relationship breakdown in our society. When one person is restored, then all their relationships are transformed, including with their ex and their children, in effect transforming all the six people previously impacted.
In some cases divorce is the lesser of two evils
Restored Lives, a six week course which helps separated and divorced people recover, is one way the Church can provide the skills and practical tools people need. This is what people who have had their lives transformed through coming on this course have said: ‘I now have hope’; ‘I have forgiven my ex’; ‘I have been healed’; ‘I am not alone’; ‘I feel happier and closer to God’; ‘I feel fully restored.’ These are life-changing comments in the midst of what is often a person’s biggest ever life-crisis.
This is the thrill of running the Restored Lives course. We see people arrive lonely, broken and often isolated from their community, and we witness the transformation to hope, confidence and, in many cases, joy and freedom, which is the testament of God’s Spirit at work. This is the gospel in action and the transforming gift of grace, love and forgiveness to the world, which is why this ministry should be at the heart of every church.
Our passion is to equip more churches with this knowledge. That is why we are running the Restored Lives conference on Friday 24 June 2016 at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London. Nicky Lee, co-author with his wife Sila of The Marriage Course, will be speaking about how churches can minister into marriage as well as relationship breakdown and we will be revealing how to make this work in your church.
Erik Castenskiold is a chartered accountant and finance director, who was a communications director in a FTSE 250 company and now heads up the Restored Lives course. He is also the author of the Restored Lives book.
For more information visit restoredlives.org