What is Moody Bible Institute teaching about divorce?
I am a student at Moody Bible Institute at the Spokane Campus, Spokane, Washington, and am studying Biblical Exposition. My mother got herself and us kids away from our abusive father two years ago. My mother has emailed you before and she reads many of the ACFJ blogs, many of which she shares with her divorce support group that meets at the church. The blogs and articles have given her so much clarity with dealing with abusive people. The blogs have also greatly encouraged her especially when the church counselors have been no help, because they still push for “reconciliation.”
The church eventually did put my mom under church discipline for not going back. They did take her off that, but the shaming continues. She has had to leave the church I grew up in, the same church that my father had a leadership position in.
Today I came from a class. In it, the professor invited a local pastor in to speak on marriage. This pastor said at the beginning of the lecture that he wanted us to think for ourselves about divorce and remarriage. He then proceeded to go through the betrothal view of marriage, the same view that John Piper holds, without going through what any other views would say.
In the lecture, the pastor stated that if people filed for divorce, that did not mean that God would recognize the divorce. He then said that remarrying would be committing adultery. However, I figured following his logic that if divorce is not recognized by God, then remarrying would be polygamy, not adultery, wouldn’t it? Furthermore, why would God include passages in the Bible about divorce if divorce is not a thing in God’s mind and if God does not recognize divorce for any reason?
In one part of the lecture, the pastor read Luke’s and Mark’s description of Jesus talking about divorce and remarriage and said that there was no reason that allowed for divorce. He then went to Matthew and covered the clause for divorce. His explanation of the clause was that Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, and therefore, there must be something in the Jewish tradition that Jesus was speaking and Matthew was writing to. Then he proceeded to use Matthew 1 describing the birth of Jesus to say what the clause was addressing. He explained the passage saying that the clause was only relevant to divorce of the married, only the divorce of the betrothed, and that because the Jews saw betrothal as a solemn covenant between the parties,divorce was necessary to dissolve a betrothal. He said this applied to the situation where Joseph was looking to divorce Mary — they were betrothed but not yet married. The clause, he said, only allowed for divorce for people who found out that the finance(e) had sex with someone else before marriage.
In the question and answer portion that followed his lecture, he then proceeded to defend the betrothal view. One question that he answered was “In a marriage, if the husband starts committing homosexual acts, what should the wife do?” His answer was, “She should pray for him and stay with him through it.” Another question that came up was if a man leaves his wife on no fault of hers, and he remarries, then what should she do? He answered that he would encourage her to stay single and gather a group of supporters around her. Thankfully, someone asked, “it seems like the wife is being punished for something she did not do while the husband is getting away scot-free.” He basically repeated that the wife should stay single, implying that to remarry would be adultery. My thought was if the church encouraged the wife to stay with the husband in an abusive marriage, but the husband killed the wife, then the blood of the wife would also be on the church’s hands.
I was very shocked and triggered through this class. I had anxiety and nausea set in and didn’t want to finish the class period. We have been dealing with a church that has been pushing for my parents to stay together, to go through couples counselling, and to work for reconciliation. I was also horrified that this view of marriage would be pushed at Moody Bible Institute! I was sickened that they were teaching future pastors and ministry people that the abused (most of the time women) are to be good Christian doormats for everyone to wipe their feet on and not give a second glance. What would you suggest I would say to people who hold to the view that divorce on all grounds is not permissible? Do you have any general advice?
Thank you for reading this email. I thought you would like to know what was being taught at Moody Bible Institute, considering Moody is considered to be one of the top colleges for Christian education. There is one professor, however, that did believe that divorce was allowed under certain circumstances.
I am not surprised you were triggered!
In you email you mentioned:
… That pastor stated that people filing for divorce did not mean that God would recognize the divorce. He then said that remarrying would be to commit adultery. However, I figured following his logic that divorce is not recognized by God, then remarrying would be polygamy, not adultery, wouldn’t it? Therefore, why would God include passages in the Bible about divorce if divorce is not a thing in God’s mind if God does not recognize divorce for any reason?
You are quite right in your thinking here. If divorce did not ‘work’ (did not actually end the marriage) any future marriage by either party would be polygamy (for the man) or polyandry (for the woman). And of course God includes passages in the Bible that refer to divorce as having ENDED a marriage. E.N.D.E.D.
Have you and your mother read my book? http://notunderbondage.com/ It exposes and nails into the coffin almost all the wrong doctrines about divorce. But I chose not to rebut the betrothal view in my book, because so many people had ably rebutted it before me!
I did, however, touch on the ‘indissolubility’ argument which is close bedfellows with the betrothal view. Here is some of what I said:
The total indissolubility argument is manifestly absurd.
Consider the following proposition.
God’s design for marriage is that it be a lifelong commitment. Therefore, even if one of the parties persistently and grievously hurts the other party so the covenant is broken beyond repair, the marriage still exists in the sight of God.
This argument is as nonsensical as to say: “God’s design for Adam and Eve was for them to live eternally in the Garden of Eden, in unfettered communion with him and without shame. Even though Adam and Eve broke God’s law and rebelled against him, they still live in the Garden in God’s sight.” This is absurd. God recognized the reality that Adam and Eve had sinned. He gave legal remedies for that sin: Jesus’ death upon the cross (the spiritual remedy) and the sword of the state to punish and restrain sinners (the temporal remedy). God recognizes reality when a sinning spouse has utterly broken the covenant of marriage. He permits a legal remedy for the betrayal of the covenant — that remedy is divorce with full freedom to remarry.
(p. 59, Not Under Bondage)
The betrothal view is the one argued in Jesus and Divorce (1985) by Gordon Wenham and William Heth. Many people who have been persuaded by that book, but most of them are not aware that William Heth later changed his mind. Twice.
The student responds:
One part of that whole presentation that still gets me is that we were told that the pastor wanted us to think for ourselves, but he never presented any of the other views. If he wanted us to decide for ourselves, why would he not tell us what the other options are? Also, he kept repeating that the Bible stated that God did not allow divorce for any reason, which now that I think about it implies that all of the other views are wrong because they are contradicting the Bible according to him.
My mom and I have not read your book, although she has read your article summarizing the book. She said that the article was the first that stuck with her and really provided clarity. Thank you for the work you do! I’m just astounded again that pastors would push this view at Moody, and then not give any of the other views! I did read your review on Jesus and Divorce. I just wonder how many people have read that book and suffered because of it.
Also, even though the pastor stated that the betrothal view was a minority view, so far from our family’s interaction with our church back home and just the general unwritten rule of how churches handle domestic abuse, it makes me think that “God hates divorce” is a very popular view.
Another thought I had: Why is it that the people who push the view that divorce is wrong in any context, are people who are in a solid (or so it would seem) marriage and unlikely to get divorced any time soon? I would think that if you are going to have people comment on divorce, then people who have gone through it should be the ones talking about divorce, not those who have stood on the sidelines, unaffected.
Barbara Roberts’ one star review of Jesus and Divorce (2010) (the edition in which Gordon Wenham is named as the sole author)
(This is probably the better of my two reviews)