Return to the past?

Feb 29, 2016 by

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Recent letters in MWR call for authority and accountability in the church while bemoaning the advocacy of beliefs and behaviors previously seen as sin. A look at the 1950s may shed some light on such calls: Prior to that era, Mennonite doctrine disallowed church membership for a person divorced and remarried while the ex-spouse was still living. Faithfulness to Scripture — the clear words of Jesus — required people in that circumstance to separate from the second spouse. If there were children in the second marriage, the family was devastated. Doctrinal accountability would cause the breakup of families equal to the breakup of divorce.

Some Mennonite leaders began to ask whether Jesus would want his declarations to create such familial chaos. Some came to believe that God cared more about human well-being than about rigid rules. However, others accused those leaders of ripping apart the church and wrecking the authority of Scripture.

Should we return to declaring people divorced and remarried to be living in sin? If we insist that same-gender unions are never validated in Scripture, should we likewise insist that the Bible never allows divorce and remarriage? Or should we recognize that human understanding of God’s grace should be flexible?

Ray Elvin Horst
Harrisonburg, Va.


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  • Aaron Yoder

    Just because previous generations of Mennonites have done a poor job of handling the full theology around divorce and re-marriage doesn’t mean that we should repeat and likewise do a poor job of handling the full theology around same-sex attraction. Likewise, Mennonites shouldn’t give up talking about the beauty of God’s design for marriage (or church discipline for that matter) just we tend to make a mess of things. Divorce, like every other form of covenant breaking, is very painful and
    complicated. It needs to be addressed relationally and with good theology that has been cultivated with all Scripture in mind.

    • Charlie Kraybill

      Aaron, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that “full theology” around divorce and re-marriage does demand strict obedience to the clear words of Jesus on the subject. In other words, you believe the church went astray when it loosened membership standards and allowed divorced and remarried persons to get in.
      Once I hear you begin making as much noise around the divorce/remarriage issue as you do on LGBT issues — calling for a return to the clear teaching of Jesus on divorce/remarriage — I will gain some respect for your position. But not before then.
      Please, I beg you: Start a movement for the exclusion of all divorced and remarried persons from Mennonite churches across the country. Do it for the sake of consistency. Do it as an exercise in personal purity and obedience. Otherwise, stop talking.

      • Daniel Hoopert

        No, Charlie. A “full theology” around divorce would involve looking at Jesus’ statements on “adultery” and seeing what the statements mean. It would also mean looking at what “covenant” means, both in the Old Testament and in the New, and what the ramifications of breaking a covenant and making another would be. It would also involve what God’s chosen apostles wrote on the matter of marriage and divorce which are included in what the church recognized as canonical Scriptures.
        Meanwhile, the question of what the church says about homosexual practice can go on without being side-tracked by questions on divorce.

        • Rich Preheim

          So why can’t we take the same thoughtful approach to LGBT matters that you would apply to divorce and remarriage?

          • Daniel Hoopert

            We can do it. When we do, we must take words and statements in their immediate, near, and total canonical context. We must also take the words as they were used in the literary context of their time and society.

      • Bruce Leichty

        No, I for one will not stop talking. Nor will I insist that you stop talking, Charlie. As a divorced and remarried man, and a sinner, and at the risk of being labeled inconsistent or a hypocrite or an adulterer — or worse? — I remain opposed to same sex marriage even while I wish to remain brotherly with those who are attracted to persons of the same sex. And yes, I wish to remain part of the church. Aaron is right that we in the church can make a mess of things. But in allowing those who are remarried to be part or to remain part of the church, we are are not giving them a license to sin. We are effectively forgiving their sin. This should never be done lightly, or reflexively. But are there circumstances that justify this forgiveness? the answer is yes. (A bigger problem is sometimes being able to forgive oneself.) Forgiveness is simply not the issue in same sex marriage; indeed neither party proponent is seeking forgiveness. In any case, however, the argument against same sex marriage should never be based solely on the New Testament scriptures and is in fact not based there, but is instead writ large in God’s good work of creation.

      • Steven Stubble

        Internal consistency is a valuable commodity, Mr. Kraybill, and I’m sure Mr. Yoder is working on it. However we’d all be more disposed to listen to your critisicm if you weren’t a Theist (who affirms the existence of a supernatural being) espousing secular humanism (which rejects the existence of a supernatural being). Explain how you assess the nature of God based on the assumption that He/She/It is not even there to begin with. Otherwise— well, you know the rest.

      • Phil Schroeder

        Much can be learned from the topic of devorse. In days long past as families were affected by divorse, they began to advocate for the normalization of it. We all want to think that our loved ones are all right. The same thing has been going on in the church for several years in regard to the issue of homosexuality. We want to be assured that our friends and loved ones are OK in God’s eyes. If we are looking for forgiveness following repentance, that’s great, but for many, that’s not enough. We want the church to teach that the Bible either got it wrong or God has changed His mind. In both cases, the tragic results of both of these issues being proclaimed as “clean”, is the false sense of God’s approval that is sent to the future generations and the pain pain of children who’s parents give up on marriage or the confusion that they go through when daddy or mommy leave their spouse for someone of the same sex. God’s instruction was for the bennifit of society as much as it was for the individual.

      • Aaron Yoder

        This is what I mean by “fuller theology” relating to divorce. Scripture condemns divorce in some instances and remarriage in some instances (i.e. Matthew 19:9, 1 Cor. 7:10). Likewise, Scripture gives permission for divorce in some instances and remarriage in some instances (i.e. 1 Cor. 7:15). This is why divorce and remarriage cannot be summed up in one verse or one written statement – especially in relation to church membership. However, the situational distinctives don’t mean that God is not grieved by every divorce (Malachi 2:15-16). Indeed, He is!

        • Charlie Kraybill

          So the Bible gives us mixed messages on a very important issue. Thank you for your willingness to state this plainly and openly, Rev. Yoder. I would make this into a mantra: The Bible Gives Mixed Messages on Important Issues!!
          You say: “God is grieved by every divorce.” Well OK then. As a lifelong single person (the status St. Paul desired for all his followers, by the way), I’m not going to argue with that. In fact, I would suggest that you turn your statement into a personal mantra. Every time you are inclined to make a statement calling into question the legitimacy of LGBT persons in the church, you should also make the following assertion aimed at straight married persons: “And let’s not forget: GOD IS GRIEVED BY EVERY DIVORCE!”

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