Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everytime I download a tv show, I commit adultery on Comcast.

I got into a discussion today about when Jesus permits divorce. My friend is conservative protestant, and so I pointed out that Jesus really only permits the man to divorce when the wife was unfaithful. She said both abuse and adultery were acceptable reasons.

I asked about the abuse, as I couldn't recall any particular verses speaking to that. She said that it was explained as abuse was a form of adultery, in that the husband (or wife) was cheating on the covenant of marriage and the promises s/he made, and thus divorce was acceptable.

We moved on to a new topic as I pondered this. I then asked her about a situation where the husband is emotionally distant: he works all the time, does very little with the wife, doesn't listen to her. Isn't that also a form of adultery, based on her definition? And based on her definition, couldn't divorce then be justified in a lot of cases?

I remember that portion of the conversation concluded with how emotional situations were complicated. But in my mind -- and I didn't say this because it would've opened up a *huge* can of worms -- it sounds like a stretch. We have a clear-cut example of where Jesus says that someone can divorce, and it's not abuse. It's adultery. Not only that, but it's adultery as understood in the basic form: sexual unfaithfulness to the married partner.

And suddenly this gets stretched to include abuse as well? It adultery does include abuse, then why say there are two situations where divorce is okay? There's really only one situation, and that's adultery, only adultery means unfaithfulness to wedding promises. It sounds more like conservative Christians understand that they'd get a huge amount of flack for saying that someone would have to stay with an abusive partner, and so came up with a convoluted reason as to why abuse is an acceptable reason for divorce.

Now, to be fair, there could be a Biblical verse about abuse that's as direct as the adultery ones. But she didn't bring one up, and I can't think of one.


James F. McGrath said...

Actually it isn't even clear that Jesus permitted divorce in such cases. Only Matthew adds the exception clause, and he doesn't use the term 'adultery' but a more generic term for sexual impropriety.

atimetorend said...

And there are plenty of conservative Christians who, while allowing for escape through divorce in the case of abuse, seem quite reluctant to allow it, and seem to elevate the value of the wife suffering in her subservietn roles. Tragic.

Reg said...

Required or not, I have to sympathise with those who try to live their lives based on the proscriptions of something which may have been said 2000 years ago ina totally different cultural context.

Surely it's the love and compassion of christ which speaks most clearly to us. If we can open ourselves up to thatspirit and, accepting whatever help may be available, ask ourselves what we think, and act according to a sincere conscience, is that not more likely to yield results which don't require us, for instance, to expect wives to submit to sadistic brutes just because Jesus didn't put something in the manual declaring this to be a legitimate reason for terminating the contract?

Where does compassion lie? I think that's where the answer will be, not in the words.

OneSmallStep said...


**Actually it isn't even clear that Jesus permitted divorce in such cases.**

It's not. But I was in a discussion with someone who does take the Bible literally, and so would've harmonized those verses together and said that Jesus did permit divorce in those cases. Going into the area of if Jesus even permitted it in the first place would've segued my conversation with her -- and I was curious about the re-definition of adultery.

OneSmallStep said...


Are these Christians just as reluctant when it comes to matters of adultery? Because if so, and yet they are reluctant in terms of abuse ... I would think that lends credence to my claim of people making the Bible work for them in terms of divorce for abuse, rather than a clear-cut situation. If it were that clear-cut, why all the reluctance?

OneSmallStep said...


I hope I'm understanding your comment correctly, but it's possible my response won't deal with your comment head-on.

I would hope that compassion would lead people to conclude that people should not stay with their abusers. And perhaps the spirit of Christ would lead people to that conclusion.

Except I was having the discussion someone who follows a theology that says their conscious must line up with what the Bible tells them -- which is precisely why they have to find an exact Biblical precept for allowing divorce in the case of abuse. Otherwise, their love and compassion is leading them astray.

Reg said...

Thank you for this, and it does address what I was thinking about.

It's this which makes my first feeling one of sympathy, and I don't intend that to be patronising. My heart goes out to anyone whose faith puts them in that kind of position. Without any sense of superiority, I can only be glad that the Bible has never had that kind of monolithic significance for me, so I simply don't have this problem. However confusingly I would add "thank God".


Anonymous said...

"Actually it isn't even clear that Jesus permitted divorce in such cases" (James)

Huh? I have to ask - on what basis is this claim made?

Jesus is only citing (in that passage) that Moses was way too lenient with divorce - as his intro to this topic. Jesus seems to think people were taking advantage of the institution of marriage because of this - so he makes it a little bit more stringent. He is simply stressing 'start trying in your marriages'.

As for the abuse part, that is pretty much a no brainer in all honesty. No person is given the specific right to beat their spouse as part of the marriage neither appears in Adam's stories or the Torahnic law. The fact they tried to structure a society around the idea of 'loving their neighbor' should end all controversy on such an issue.

I don't get it - why does their have to be a teaching on something so obviously wrong (ie: beating your spouse)? I admit there is nothing specific when it comes to marriage (that I have seen) - but I have a tough time believing someone so non-violent in his teaching examples would become an adherent of it in marriage. It's just not logical in some ways.

Matthew addresses divorce twice in his gospel - Matthew 5 and 19 (19 being more full on the debate at hand).

Reg said...

"I don't get it - why does their have to be a teaching on something so obviously wrong
(ie: beating your spouse)?"

Exactly so. If Moses hadn't told us not to kill people, might some infer from this that scripture sanctions murder?

OneSmallStep said...


I believe James was referring to the first gospel, Mark, which does not allow for divorce, period. That command was "softened" in the later Gospels.

But the topic of discussion isn't whether or not Jesus permitted someone to beat his/her spouse. The topic of discussion was what Jesus allowed in terms of divorce, and the only clear cut example one can find is adultery -- and that depends on the Gospel.

It's not a matter of it being a no-brainer, or whether Jesus would turn around say it's okay to abuse a spouse or not, when he's non-violent everywhere else. It was a matter of whether abuse meet the criteria for whether someone could pursue a divorce, if someone was reading the Bible in a literal fashion.