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The Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” are so life giving and refreshing! This verse can be rendered “there is no death-sentence for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To condemn is to not only pronounce guilt but the adjudication of punishment. For Christians, there is now no condemnation because the righteous and fair Judge, God, arranged it so that Christ took upon Himself my (our) condemnation (1 John 2:2); He became sin that I (we) might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s all fine and good but…

Some colleagues that live in Kansas City, MO told me that a certain church was preaching through the Book of Matthew.  One advantage of preaching through an entire book includes seeing how individual units fit within the context of the entire book.  One ‘disadvantage’ is that you cannot pick your text; each week you take the next text in succession. A few weeks ago, the pastor, of this certain church, stopped and parked at Matthew 19:1-9: the passage on divorce. A colleague went on to tell me that as soon as the topic was introduced from the pulpit, a woman stood up and left the church (this is before the pastor really got into his sermon).

This action by this lady is very telling. Could it communicate that her wounds were fresh? Perhaps.  Could her actions communicate something else? Yes. Maybe her action is a ‘both-and’ or it could be an ‘either-or’; nevertheless, I believe it communicates that something is awry; something is severely broken in the church. Have we, those who are married, ‘condemned’ those who are divorced by our words and our non-verbal words? I think so.  These are some ways I think we have nullified Paul’s words in Romans 8:1 and subconsciously (or consciously) condemned those who have endured divorce.  Here are a few ways I think we, members of the church and those in the ‘married only club’, condemn those who are going through a divorce or have already suffered through the painful, treacherous and arduous journey of divorce:

  1. When we cluster ourselves into affinity groups.  You know the routine: married couples congregate with married couples. Married couples with kids congregate with other married couples with kids. What does such congregating communicate to singles? To singles with kids? To those who are divorced? To those going through the process of divorce? Churches need to be very aware that their culture might communicate, “we are a church of people that have it all together and one of the prerequisites for having it all together is being married with ‘awesome’ kids.” In other words, a church can pit one group against another.
  2. When we inquire about a person’s single or marital status.  It’s okay to inquire but I wonder how we react when we learn a person has went through a divorce.  Do we lament with them? Or do we say, “Oh” in a contemptible tone that communicates, “you are one of them”? Remember it is not what you say but how you say it. And while we think we might be genuine with our verbal words, our facial expressions or non-verbal words don’t lie.  Our non-verbal words are often more honest and truthful than our verbal words!
  3. When a couple is going through the process of divorce, we abandon the family as though they are a pariah or as though they have an incurable and contagious disease.  This actually happened to a close friend; her parents were going through a divorce and the church family was AWOL. News Flash: This is the time where families going through this “painful amputation” needs the church the most. And post-divorce, ex-spouses and kids are still picking up the pieces, splinters, fragments, etc.; we need to be there to serve as a ballast. And we must be mindful that journeying with such folks will take time and much patience.
  4. When a couple is going through the process of divorce, we overly punish them as though this infraction is more heinous, than say, over drinking or peeking at pornography. I know of a church that unfairly and overly punished a couple undergoing a divorce and it was very public and thus, quite embarrassing. So, we might say that their punishment was exacerbated.

In case you did not know, the church has an image problem: we are often viewed as being judgmental (for a stark reminder of this, see Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” p. 11, 1997 ). The church also can inadvertently condemn others verbally and non-verbally. I encourage us all to be gracious, winsome, generous and hospitable toward those who are hurting; especially those who have suffered through a divorce and those currently taking the steps toward a divorce. Divorce is never a ‘clean break’ – it can jack up a family – ex-spouses, kids, in-laws, etc. (For those who say, “the kids are resilient, they will survive…just don’t know!) Those who are divorced or going through a divorce inherit a stigma. May we practice the ministry of presence and be there for these dear people to lessen the sting of this stigma.  Better yet, may we love these dear people (‘our neighbors’) as we love ourselves. May we live out the implications “no longer any condemnation” in our local communities. Maybe then ladies like the one above will not get up and leave the church no matter how fresh or old her wounds are.

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