In this episode of TGC Q&A, Russell Moore and Mika Edmondson address the question, “How should churches biblically address divorce?” They discuss:
- Spiritual warfare in at least two directions (0:28)
- How God speaks about divorce (2:34)
- When the home is not safe—abandonment (4:55)
- Divorce as a weapon and Jesus’s response (6:15)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of divorce.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Heather Calvillo: Welcome back to TGC Q&A, a podcast from the Gospel Coalition where each week you’ll hear conversations between members of our council and friends who provide their unique perspective on your most pressing spiritual questions. On today’s episode, Russell Moore and Mika Edmondson discuss the question, how should churches, biblically, address divorce? Let’s listen in.
Mika Edmondson: In societies in which no fault divorce is socially acceptable, how can churches talk about the teaching of Matthew 19?
Russell Moore: Well, I think we have to be careful to realize that we’re always with the word during spiritual warfare in at least two directions. And so what you’re typically going to be dealing with is one group of people who may be are sinfully divorcing or have sinfully divorced and who don’t want to repent of that, and you wanted to [inaudible] of sin for the purpose of healing restoration. And then you’re going to have another group of people who have been through divorce and the devil’s working in their life through shame. Well, no way that God could forgive you for that.
So you have to hit both of those two things. So I think that means a church that lays out clearly, this is what our understanding of what Jesus means when he says the two shall become one flesh and what God has joined together, let no person tear us under. So different churches are going to sometimes have different convictions about what, for instance, I think that the scripture does teach some exceptions where divorces is biblically allowable. But I think it’s the responsibility of the church and some Christians don’t and some Christians think that that’s not the case. Well, you need to explain what your view is from scripture.
And then also, even in the exception cases, most divorces that happen in our culture don’t happen because of that, they happen because of people who don’t forgive each other or who don’t just give up too soon. And that really requires church.
Mika Edmondson: Yeah.
Russell Moore: Because we need not just to say, this is what Jesus expects from marriage, but also we’re going to help you bear your burdens as you walk through a difficult time when it comes to it. Keeping marriages together through the church, as much as we can, actually is more important than just knowing how to deal with it on the other end.
Mika Edmondson: Yeah.
Russell Moore: And what about you when you’re teaching and preaching through marriage and divorce and those things, how do you frame that?
Mika Edmondson: Yeah. Great question. So I was actually riding in my car with my daughter, my oldest daughter about, probably, a month ago. And we listened to the Bible on CD when we ride to taking her to school. And this passage came up on that portion of what we were listening to. And my daughter sort of cringed when she heard it. And she looked at me and she said, “Daddy, what about women who are abused? What about women who are just at their wits’ end and perhaps it’s a very dangerous situation? What does this mean for them? And I thought about that for a while and I said, God speaks in different ways about marriage in a sense that sometimes people are using divorce as a weapon against one another, okay?
So for instance, within that, you look for instance in the context of Malakai, where God says, “I hate divorce. So within that context, you had a bunch of men who were coming back into the land from exile. And essentially, what they did was they looked at the women in the land and they essentially put away their wives. They used divorce as a kind of a social weapon as an excuse to sort of abandon their wives. Even the context of them doing that, that God speaks into that situation is I hate divorce. You can’t use the allowances that I gave under the dispensation of under Moses to just kind of throw your wife away, because you see the newest thing come along, you shouldn’t do that. There are other times in which people sort of also use marriage like a weapon.
Russell Moore: Yeah. Absolutely.
Mika Edmondson: And in the case of domestic violence, in the case of those kinds of abuses, there are people who just they inflict this kind of abuse on one another and then they say, “Well.” But you’re bound you can’t leave.
Russell Moore: That’s right. Yeah. I think that when Paul says in first Corinthians seven, that if that persistently unrepentant person abandons you, then you are not bound.
Mika Edmondson: Right.
Russell Moore: I think that applies in terms of cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, those sorts of things, where if the home is not safe for someone to be in, then that is a form of abandonment. And even if people have different convictions about that, you’re exactly right. People can use even Bible verses to cover over awful sin. So there can be abusive situations where somebody will say, “Well, the Bible says that you can’t leave.” Which means you have to live through all of the sinful and unjust things that I’m doing to you. And that’s not what the Bible teaches.
And so we really need churches that are sensitive to what’s going on. And if we don’t teach and say, hey, this is what will happen. If you come to us and say, I’m in an unsafe situation, or I’m in a marriage that’s falling apart, then they’re going to be a lot of people who just aren’t going to come to you. And you’re not even going to know they’re there. Maybe they just stopped coming to church or something like that. We need each other when it comes to that.
Mika Edmondson: Exactly. Exactly. So the context of Matthew 19, I think is very, very similar. People were essentially using divorce in that case as a weapon against one another. You could divorce your wife if she didn’t make your soup right in the first century. And people, they were appealing to a kind of a tradition of interpretation that said you could divorce your wife for any cause. And I think that’s the reason why they sort of asked that in that question, can you divorce your wife for any cause? So that’s a particular kind of divorce that he’s speaking into. And he’s saying, this is not permitted. You can’t throw your wife away just because she burns your soup. God’s covenant is much deeper than that, much more important than that.So yeah. So God uses the context of marriage and that teaching in Matthew 19 to protect people, actually, and to protect their lives.
Russell Moore: And to protect the gospel, the image of the gospel that we see in that one flesh union so that when that’s being torn apart, it’s communicating something. That’s the reason why even people who think marriage and divorce are really casually entered and casually exited, emotionally, they’re no different. There’s a reason why this is so painful. It’s because there’s something really at the core of that.
Mika Edmondson: That’s exactly right.
Heather Calvillo: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A. To submit a question that you would like to hear answered on this podcast, send us an email @askattgc.org and remember to subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks again for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A.