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Helping the divorced pick up the pieces

God hates divorce, the prophet Malachi proclaimed.
But scan the rest of Malachi — or anywhere else in Scripture — and you’ll find no mention of God hating divorced people.
Were that the case, God would have little use for any of us. We’re all participants in the greatest divorce — separation from God because of our sins.
Malachi points to broken faith, the willful separation of Judah from its creator. But God continued to love his people and redeem them, just as he loves us despite our estrangement from him. The father’s undying love for humanity is the message of Scripture.
Why, then, do our churches have a miserable reputation when it comes to helping people whose marriages have ended in divorce?
Our congregations reach out to all kinds of struggling people. We sponsor substance abuse programs, offer counseling to sex addicts and, through our prison ministries, help thieves and murderers find forgiveness in Christ.
Why is it easier for us to minister to drug addicts than to show love and compassion to divorced people? Is it because the latter has become a fellowship issue for some?: Either you agree with my interpretation of Scripture on this subject, or we can’t be brothers.
Differences surface, tempers flare and our fellowship is separated. We’ve even exported our division. In some parts of the world, Christians are forced to choose sides in an ongoing controversy among churches that take one stance on divorce and remarriage while decrying all others.
Some worry that, by accepting divorced people, we’ll negatively impact other marriages. We want to show compassion, but we don’t want to condone sin or blunt our churches’ strong emphasis on permanent and lasting relationships. It’s tempting to ignore the problem.
Divorced people will tell you that if they stay in the church, often they become invisible, second-class citizens. So do their children. Being ignored or ostracized by a church family only adds to the suffering and anxiety that accompany divorce.  
It’s important for churches to separate their feelings about divorce itself from its victims — the wounded people who desperately need encouragement, fellowship and acceptance.
Indeed, congregations that offer divorce recovery programs for adults and children are seeing firsthand the blessings that come from reaching out to hurting people. They’re modeling Jesus to people who most need to see healthy relationships and feel care and concern.
• DivorceCare and DivorceCare for Kids seminars, support groups and classes are being offered at several congregations across the country. The video seminars focus on recovery from a biblical perspective, blending Scripture and insight from counselors. Group sessions often are held in conjunction with a Bible study.
• Conferences and support groups designed to minister to stepfamilies are becoming more common, with some churches in larger communities partnering to host events. A few congregations have launched stepfamily ministries.
• Small-group ministries at some congregations are trying to meet the needs of divorced members and visitors, offering a choice for those who are divorced or widowed.
Examples like these are proof that churches can stand for permanent marriages while still lifting up the hurting.
But we still have a long way to go. Let’s continue to value marriage and do more to point others to lives of compassion, forgiveness and encouragement.
We must acknowledge the reality that no one is without sin. In one way or another we all are victims of — and participants in — divorce from the divine.

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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