Why do some Christians shun divorced people?

We’re all sensitive to certain things. My sensitivity is for those who are divorced and towards the still-public impressions of those who have gone through this severe life-changing circumstance.

While much has changed in terms of morals and attitudes over the past half-century, one that apparently hasn’t in the minds of those in the church is the attitude towards those who are divorced. This is quite ironic since statistics bear out that the divorce rate in the Christian church in America is no different than outside its walls.

It seems that today people still treat divorce as a communicable disease that can be “caught” by simple transmission or proximity to those who are divorced. I’ve heard it explained, and have thought the same myself, that the divorced person feels like he or she is wearing a large, scarlet letter on their chest in the shape of a capital “D.”

It’s particularly disappointing and upsetting when these attitudes come from your friends in the church. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure that for the most part they do not mean anything malicious by it (or that’s what one would hope), but there still seems to be an underlying attitude among people that we are contagious and even (to borrow an Old Testament phrase) “unclean.”

You might recall the phrase. It was what lepers were required to shout to others as they passed because of the fears people had of the disease. This gave the other person ample opportunity to pass on the other side of the street and avoid any possible contact with the diseased person.

Divorce is a disease, but not the kind you’d think. It’s the product of a fallen, sinful world. It causes a whole host of very physical and psychological impacts in the adults involved, as well as their children. The pain of divorce has been described as that of a knife cutting through the body. This makes sense.

God’s Word talks about marriage between a man and a woman as the joining of flesh into one. This mystery isn’t fully understood, but can be made a little clearer as we discuss divorce.

If marriage is the spiritual joining of two into one, then divorce is the spiritual dismemberment of that God-ordained mystery. Unlike the clean severing of a destroyed limb by a doctor as the result of disease or accident, divorce tears; it rips. It does not separate neatly as in a piece of paper, perforated along a straight line. It’s a lot like one would expect it to feel if doctors performed heart surgery on you by entering your body through your mouth without anesthesia. At some point the doctor is going to have to perforate the lungs with his fingers to reach your heart.

That may sound a bit gruesome, but it’s pretty close to the physical pain one goes through in divorce.

If that weren’t enough, imagine the horror of turning to doctors to heal your physical ailment, only to have them avoid treating you out of some irrational fear.

I’ve heard the church described as a hospital where we go when we need spiritual healing. For many people it’s probably an involuntary response, almost like breathing. Something so bad goes wrong in our lives to where we feel we could sink no lower, and we’re somehow compelled to seek out a church where we believe we will find love, acceptance and help to heal. This fits well with French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal’s notion that within us all is a “God-shaped vacuum… which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” It certainly can’t be explained through a mathematical formula, it’s simply something we seek.

Why is it then that the one place we go to seek help and healing, particularly for those going through divorce, can be one of the more hostile and unfriendly places? Are we that insensitive to the pain and suffering of others that we’re unable to look at them through the empathetic lens of our own pain and suffering, or are we simply so arrogant instead because we’ve somehow found a safe place and don’t want anyone else to mess up a good thing?

Why do people who once were your friends as a couple, for example, suddenly avoid you? Could it be that they’re so afraid of appearing to choose sides that they choose to abandon you instead?

While I’ve personally not experienced it myself, I’ve heard stories of people who’ve felt compelled to leave a certain church because they were divorced from the spouse with whom they attended services. Instead of welcoming the person who’s pain is very real, those in the church shun the divorced individual, casting them out as if they were in Old Testament Israel and had discovered that they were inflicted with leprosy.

The last thing someone in that circumstance needs is the rejection by a group of people who Christ commanded to love as he loved.

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8 thoughts on “Why do some Christians shun divorced people?

  1. Pingback: Why do some Christians shun divorced people? « PointMan | Divorce Information

  2. Wow. I hope you’re just reading stuff into people that isn’t really there. Maybe they’re just awkward and unsure how to respond to your pain. Divorce changes the dynamics of relationships, like death. We don’t want it to, but it just does. That doesn’t mean we can abandon our friendship, but it is much more difficult to maintain. Friends can become emotionally involved in the divorce as well, depending on how bitter the circumstances. I don’t want to minimize the pain of the couple divorced, but the process hurts everyone in the vicinity. Your friends might be doing some grieving of their own. I’m glad you’re starting a support group. God has a way of using your pain to comfort and help others going through the same thing.

    • I’ve been very fortunate with my church Chris. It might be that I wasn’t clear enough in that. I’ve not been impacted by much of what I wrote here, but have come across those who have. I was struck recently by a video I saw and a conversation I had with someone.
      I have personally heard horror stories from a friend who’s divorce happened about the same time as mine. She said she felt compelled to leave her church because of attitudes by people. That’s the sad part. I did have the opportunity to share a bit with her about my own church and to invite her, but she indicated she had already found another church that she was comfortable with.
      Because my sensitivity to the issue is heightened as it is, I feel it’s important to at least probe the thinking of others to consider their attitudes and motives.

    • I don’t pick the icons that run with comments. You might check the settings available when you reply. I’ll try to check too by logging out and trying to leave a comment that way.

  3. One of the reasons that I will never attend a Baptist church as a member is because of the Baptist Church’ tolerance of divorce by the acceptance of no fault divorce which has the effect of turning the Sacrament of Marriage into the Sacrament of Adultery…My father was married and divorced three times while my mother has been married nine times yet both were allowed by their respective Baptist Church to remain as members in good standing despite their willful commission of the sin of serial marriage and adultery which devastated the lives of their children…

    • Dabir: I’m sorry that’s been your experience. I would agree that this kind of behavior is sin and should have been dealt with much differently than it was. In my opinion, allowing people to continue in church leadership who openly flaunt God in such a way does a great disservice to the church and ultimately does not bring glory to God.
      I am a member of the same Baptist church I’ve attended for the past decade. I still struggle with this decision because it’s the church me and my former wife attended. I struggle with it because of how I some people cause me to feel in relation to this divorce. But I attend because of my faith and because I’m committed to my local church, regardless of who may come or go.

  4. Loved your post. When my ex and I divorced I was basically shunned from our church. In addition, my teenage daughter was shut out of her youth group – the youth group that my ex and I were leaders of. Instead of reaching out to her, she was shut out. They did not offer her assistance in her time of need, but rather shunner her as they did me. I’m still leery of churches to be honest – I attend but won’t allow myself to get too close to people. I’m in the process of getting involved in church again, but it has taken me a long time to heal from the hurt from all of that.

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