Divorcing the War on Marriage


In the conservative Christian circles I live in, we often talk about the war on marriage: how the laws of our culture must uphold the biblical pattern against those who would seek to redefine it.

While that may be true, we seem to be ignoring a painful reality. The church lost that same war decades ago: on the issue of divorce. Maybe we should take the time to understand why before we make the same mistakes all over again.

The Last War

Back in the 1970s the rallying cry to defend marriage was around “Kramer vs. Kramer” instead of “Roe v Wade.” Churches were up in arms about no-fault divorce laws. There were heated debates about whether divorced people could still be ministers, church members, or even Christians. Sound familiar?

But over the course of the 1980s something odd happened. Suddenly it wasn’t just “those people” getting divorced. It was us. People we loved.

And we decided we weren’t willing to sacrifice all those relationships for the sake of a upholding a biblical view of marriage. Didn’t we?

It is tempting to blame one side or the other for the way things turned out. But the ugly truth is that both sides were right:

  1. It is cruel and unsustainable to legalistically force people to stay married against their will
  2. Society (and individuals) have paid a terrible price for normalizing divorce

So what would it take to do better this time around?

The Root of Shame

The deeper tragedy is that the previous battle was so traumatic, nobody wants to talk or even think about it. As a result, we end up being controlled by our shame rather than learning from it.

In fact, this makes me wonder if shame was the whole reason for the war in the first place:

  • Individuals couldn’t bear the shame of not living up to their marriage vows, so they wanted the state (and church) to sanction their divorce
  • Churches couldn’t bear the shame of not being able to keep people married, so they needed the state to prohibit divorce

The common thread on both sides is asking Law to take away our shame. Again, sound familiar?

Law versus Gospel

It feels funny having to say it, but isn’t this the whole reason Christ had to die? Because the Law would never — could never — be enough to save us.

  • Have we bought into a religion that seeks redemption through the Law rather than by Grace?
  • Does our security now depend on having the State on our side, rather than sharing the sufferings of our Savior?
  • Do we care more about appointing the right Judges than representing the right Jesus?

I believe the moralists are right that turning away from biblical principles will destroy society. But the hard truth is that principles were never going to save society. Only a Person can do that.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure what it will take to save civilization: to protect our families, purge injustice, and provide a better world for our children. But I am sure the answer is a Who, not a What.

Jesus never promised to save us from the world. But if we are ready to pay the price to truly become His disciples — rather then waging war with this world’s weapons — then I dare to believe He can still save the world through us.

We may have already lost the war for biblical marriage. But the battle to demonstrate what it means to be married to Christ has barely begun.

Who’s with me?

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