you born again?," the evangelical
asks. They take pride in their being born
again, which to them means that when you
accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, then
you are saved. Even when you sin, and
sin grievously. Look at those well-known
evangelical preachers that are embroiled
in sex and money scandals. And now, for
evangelicals in general, there is the
scandal of divorce.
Evangelicals are strong in their insistence
on their singular focus on the Bible.
Well, what do they have to say about Jesus'
strong stand against divorce. From the
beginning it was not so. Moses permitted
it due to the hardness of heart of the
Israelites. Now it is the evangelicals'
turn to be hard of heart. And since Jesus'
words thunder so clearly, they are also
hard of hearing.
Divorce — The Scandal of
the Evangelical Conscience
by Albert Mohler
Albert Mohler is the president of
the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- the flagship school of the Southern
Baptist Convention and one of the largest
seminaries in the world.
September 30, 2010 (AlbertMohler.com)
- Mark A. Smith, who teaches political
science at the University of Washington,
pays close attention to what is now commonly
called the “culture war” in
America. Though the roots of this cultural
conflict reach back to the 1960s, the
deep divide over social and moral issues
became almost impossible to deny during
the late 1970s and ever since. It is now
common wisdom to speak of “red”
states and “blue” states,
and to expect familiar lines of division
over questions such as abortion and homosexuality.
the most general sense, the culture war
refers to the struggle to determine laws
and customs on a host of moral and political
issues that separate Americans into two
opposing camps, often presented as the
religious right and the secular left.
Though the truth is never so simple, the
reality of the culture war is almost impossible
yet, as Professor Smith surveyed the front
lines of the culture war, he was surprised,
not so much by the issues of hot debate
and controversy, but by an issue that
was obvious for its absence — divorce.
the standpoint of simple logic, divorce
fits cleanly within the category of ‘family
values’ and hence hypothetically
could represent a driving force in the
larger culture war,” he notes. “If
‘family values’ refers to
ethics and behavior that affect, well,
families, then divorce obviously should
qualify. Indeed, divorce seems to carry
a more direct connection to the daily
realities of families than do the bellwether
culture war issues of abortion and homosexuality.”
logic is an indictment of evangelical
failure and a monumental scandal of the
evangelical conscience. When faced with
this indictment, many evangelicals quickly
point to the adoption of so-called “no
fault” divorce laws in the 1970s.
Yet, while those laws have been devastating
to families (and especially to children),
Smith makes a compelling case that evangelicals
began their accommodation to divorce even
before those laws took effect. No fault
divorce laws simply reflected an acknowledgment
of what had already taken place. As he
explains, American evangelicals, along
with other Christians, began to shift
opinion on divorce when divorce became
more common and when it hit close to home.
the Christian right was organized in the
1970s and galvanized in the 1980s, the
issues of abortion and homosexuality were
front and center. Where was divorce? Smith
documents the fact that groups such as
the “pro-traditional family”
Moral Majority led by the late Jerry Falwell
generally failed even to mention divorce
in their publications or platforms.
the 10 years of its existence, Falwell’s
organization mobilized and lobbied on
many political issues, including abortion,
pornography, gay rights, school prayer,
the Equal Rights Amendment, and sex education
in schools,” he recalls. Where is
divorce — a tragedy that affects
far more families than the more “hot
button” issues? “Divorce failed
to achieve that exalted status, ranking
so low on the group’s agenda that
books on the Moral Majority do not even
give the issue an entry in the index.”
the real scandal is far deeper than missing
listings in an index. The real scandal
is the fact that evangelical Protestants
divorce at rates at least as high as the
rest of the public. Needless to say, this
creates a significant credibility crisis
when evangelicals then rise to speak in
defense of marriage.
for the question of divorce and public
law, Smith traces a huge transition in
the law and in the larger cultural context.
In times past, he explains, both divorce
and marriage were considered matters of
intense public interest. But at some point,
the culture was transformed, and divorce
was reclassified as a purely private matter.
the church largely followed the lead of
its members and accepted what might be
called the “privatization”
of divorce. Churches simply allowed a
secular culture to determine that divorce
is no big deal, and that it is a purely
Smith argues, the Bible is emphatic in
condemning divorce. For this reason, you
would expect to find evangelical Christians
demanding the inclusion of divorce on
a list of central concerns and aims. But
this seldom happened. Evangelical Christians
rightly demanded laws that would defend
the sanctity of human life. Not so for
marriage. Smith explains that the inclusion
of divorce on the agenda of the Christian
right would have risked a massive alienation
of members. In summary, evangelicals allowed
culture to trump Scripture.
even greater tragedy is the collapse of
church discipline within congregations.
A perceived “zone of privacy”
is simply assumed by most church members,
and divorce is considered only a private
Smith is concerned with this question
as a political scientist. Why did American
evangelicals surrender so quickly as divorce
gathered momentum in America? We must
ask this same question with even greater
urgency. How did divorce, so clearly identified
as a grievous sin in the Bible, become
so commonplace and accepted in our midst?
sanctity of human life is a cause that
demands our priority and sacrifice. The
challenge represented by the possibility
(or probability) of legalized same-sex
marriage demands our attention and involvement,
divorce harms many more lives than will
be touched by homosexual marriage. Children
are left without fathers, wives without
husbands, and homes are forever broken.
Fathers are separated from their children,
and marriage is irreparably undermined
as divorce becomes routine and accepted.
Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, but
it is sin, and it is a sin that is condemned
in no uncertain terms.
Christians are gravely concerned about
the family, and this is good and necessary.
But our credibility on the issue of marriage
is significantly discounted by our acceptance
of divorce. To our shame, the culture
war is not the only place that an honest
confrontation with the divorce culture
is now the scandal of the evangelical
article reprinted with permission from
to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."