How should we deal with divorced and remarried people?

Dear Dr. Heller,

My dad is a divorced man. He was married before he married my mother, and I have two half brothers. My parents have been married for almost 22 years and have a stronger relationship than anyone I know. In the bible it says that those who divorce are seen as adulterers. In addition to that, my dad has tried to hold certain positions at our church (such as deacon) and is told that because he is a divorced man he cannot be a part of it. I guess I am just confused. Where does the forgiveness factor come into play? My father is a great Christian man and it seems wrong that he shouldn’t be able to be a part of the church in that way. Do you have any way of maybe explaining this better to me? Thank you for your time.

– Bobby

Yes, there can be hard situations in Christian lives. First of all, you should know that your dad is a full member of the body of Christ, which is the universal church. This cannot be taken away from him, especially if he was baptized. Now, with regard to exercising a church office, this is not a question of forgiveness, but a question of example. People look up to those who are in leadership and hold church offices. That’s why they should meet certain standards Paul lays out in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Note in this scripture, “elders and deacons must not have been married more than once.” These standards are matters of church discipline; they do not pertain to faith or doctrine.

Already for Paul it was wise not to admit remarried men to church offices. These offices are not a reward for being a “good Christian,” however, to admit remarried men to church offices can confuse certain people in the community. They can interpret this fact in the following sense, “you can do bad things and still receive honors,” and therefore water down the gravity of divorce. I think this rule makes sense, but there should be exceptions to it!

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.

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