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Summary: An appeal to extend Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to the divorced and remarried children of God.

LET’S REMOVE THE SCARLET D

Matthew 23.4

"They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

INTRO: Let me say up front that I believe that marriage is meant to be a permanent covenant between one man for one woman, forever. Although I have experienced the terrible trauma of divorce, I am not a proponent of it. I contend that no one hates divorce more than a Christian who has been through one. But I have a concern that goes beyond the breakdown and collapse of a Christian marriage.

A. For example, what do we do with William S., whose wife abandoned him, filed for and gained a divorce and then remarried her adulterous lover? Rather than his church embracing and comforting him, he now lives alone in an empty unfurnished apartment and is no longer allowed to hold his volunteer office as Boy Scout director in the church he has been a member of for more than twenty years "until he gets his personal life sorted out." He is lonely, confused and angry and readily admits his culpability in the attitudes and failures that led his wife to her life-shattering decision to leave. He is a man virtually without family, friends or church. Although he is assured by his church that "we are praying," no one calls or visits. William feels twice wounded, once in his own home and again "in the house of his friends" (Zech.13.6). He sits alone in depression and remorse night after night and has confessed that he has fantasized about suicide more than once. Meanwhile his church indifferently goes about the business of church, a business in which William no longer has a part. He is, in practice, shunned and ostracized, stigmatized by a personal failure he regrets more than anyone else. "I feel like an outcast, or something," says William. "It’s like I got this big capital ‘D’ tattooed on my forehead so that everyone can avoid me, something like that big Scarlet ‘A’ I read about in college."

B. More painful stories.

1. In reply to a recent article concerning divorced Christians, here are some response letters to the editor of a denominational publication revealing the depth of frustration among divorced people toward the church and its ministry to them:

a. "I wish [the church] understood how much I needed them, how hurt, troubled, lonely and spiritually vulnerable I was and how their silence built a wall that separates us. . . . I didn’t realize they needed to see my bruises to believe there were abuse issues. Most of all, I wish they understood how much they could have helped, how desperately I longed for someone to pray with, someone to touch, to talk with, to hear my pain. Not acknowledging my presence and tears as I sat by them in the pew pierced my soul so that it is now safer to worship at home in front of the TV. I still need to hear from them." --Bonnie, Wisconsin

b. "Why should divorce be viewed as different from any other sin? Singles are on the fringe of the church; divorced singles are on the outer edge of that fringe. . . . Is there a stigma that congregations don’t want to catch or have influence their children?" --Ennis, Michigan

c. "Divorce is the death of a relationship. No one brought me divorce casseroles, sent sympathy cards or put a book in the library in memory of this death. But I truly grieved this experience." --Sandra, Pennsylvania

d. "My divorce happened 15 years ago. But I remember that I felt as if the church had abandoned me and my ex-wife. We needed to be surrounded with God’s forgiving love.’" -- Tom, California

e. "I’ve lost a lot of family and friends due to their ignorance about divorce. I wish they could lean on their faith and use it to open a door in their hearts to support, love and understand. Love from God, family and friends makes it possible to rebuild our lives and self-esteem. . . . At times I feel very alone. The extended hand of someone who cares would be a great lift". --Debbie, Pennsylvania

f. Our congregations ignore those who have gone through divorce and tend to drive them away. In 1988 I struggled with whether to continue to make church a part of my life. Since then I’ve been part of three congregations where the nuclear family orientation has often felt oppressive. At one the pastor clearly expressed, ‘We are too small to service those who are not part of a nuclear family.’" --James, Illinois

B. The divorced/remarried Christian has become the modern leper -- the person everyone feels sorry for but no one wants to touch. They are the outcastes of evangelical Christianity, the forever dishonored and perpetually stigmatized, the Hester Prynnes of the Church, forced to wear their nefarious scarlet "D" just as Hester wore her scarlet "A." It is as though the divorced and remarried Christian is a threat to the idea of the nuclear family advanced by the church and are, therefore, in many Christian circles, treated as adversaries and not allies in the cause of Christ.

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