Divorce and A Loss of Faith

I think divorce is one of American culture’s greatest sins. It’s an epidemic and the church and Christians are by no means exempt. Sadly, divorce stats among Christians are exactly the same as the rest of society. I actually think that Jesus in his teaching on marriage allows for divorce but not for remarriage (except in some cases). [see Matthew 5 and Matthew 19]

As I’ve begun to study the LDS church there is a cultural phenomenon within Mormonism that leaves me perplexed. In countless stories I’ve read from Mormons who are thinking of leaving the faith they are constantly faced with the fear of losing their immediate families. (see this link for instance) It seems Mormon spouses are quite quick on the divorce trigger if their partner no longer believes. This is not something I have seen in Protestantism.

The reason this saddens and confuses me is because Mormons are Bible-believing. While Jesus does make room for divorce, Paul quite clearly counsels that believers should NOT divorce unbelievers.

I Corinthians 7:12-16
12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul does make it clear that these are his words and not the Lord’s. But is it still not good counsel? I understand what a difficult situation it must be, but I don’t understand how an ultimatum like that would help anyone with doubt. “Believe or I’ll divorce you.” Personally I would rather live with my wife in authenticity than conformity (you can never force anyone to believe, the best you can get is outward conformity).

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8 thoughts on “Divorce and A Loss of Faith

  1. Well, Mormonism makes the whole question completely different by throwing temple marriage/eternal marriage/etc. into the mix. In Mormonism, the eternal family is central, and if your spouse leaves, you don;t have that, which jeopardizes your own eternal salvation.

  2. I think popular notions among LDS people are like this. But I don’t think current doctrine really condones this practice. But, to be fair, I don’t see LDS leadership tripping over themselves to discourage it either.

    But, in a way, it makes sense. One thing that Protestants have a hard time understanding is how utterly encompassing the Church is for a believing Mormon (and even many “less believing” Mormons). The Mormon faith simply demands so much more of people than other religions do. I’m not saying a Baptist can’t be just as busy and committed in his own church as a Mormon, but I don’t think the expectations are the same.

    Mormons really are almost their own ethnicity in America. And the culture shock from traversing one culture to another is just as great. That can really put the strain on a marriage. Which is why non-Mormons need to be careful about marrying a Mormon. I don’t think most people have any idea just how big of a deal religion is going to be in the relationship. My experience is that when the non-Mormon husband (it seems to usually be husbands for some reason) finally discovers just how big of a deal this Mormon thing is, he often tends to become resentful.

    Interfaith marriage isn’t a really big deal for most religions in America anymore. But it still is for Mormons.

  3. Well, Mormonism makes the whole question completely different by throwing temple marriage/eternal marriage/etc. into the mix.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the LDS church teaches that Paul was a Mormon with full belief in temple/eternal marriage, right? I don’t know why it would be different for him than anybody today.

    Seth,
    I’m very much against inter-faith marriage. But this is a question of what to do with changing beliefs, not already established ones.

  4. I imagine I share your views Dando. I dislike the idea of divorcing a spouse simply because they switch religions midstream. I would never do that to my own wife, and I don’t think there is any real doctrinal reason to do so.

    I’m just saying that the Mormon culture is extremely powerful. I’d dare say more powerful than most Protestant cultures. You don’t leave it without some powerful wrenches in your life.

  5. My heart aches for all of the online post/ex-Mormon folks I have “met” whose spouses are not supportive of their quest for faith. When Kullervo first started questioning the Church, we had long talks about how we would work around differing faith systems. The idea of divorce was never on our minds. My thinking at the time was that if the Church was true (which I thought it was), then Kullervo’s prayers would be answered and he would come back.

    For what it’s worth, I think that the divorce rate for temple marriages are much much lower than the national average. However, the divorce rate for non-temple married Mormons is the same. But I think there may be some people who get a temporal divorce and remain sealed together (for reasons beyond my understanding).

  6. This is an interesting discussion. Despite Paul’s counsel to the contrary — which is used on occasion in the Mormon Church — the emphasis on eternal marriage is what makes Mormon marriages so vulnerable to changes in belief. There is the perception that if you stay married to a non-believing spouse, after death the marriage will be annulled and you will begin eternal life alone. Many members believe that a faithful wife, for instance, will then be “given” to another faithful man to become one of his wives. (Though polygamy is no longer practiced, it is still very much part of the doctrine.)

    I am not trying to belittle these beliefs, only to emphasize their significance. Because of this, disbelieving in Mormonism after being sealed in the temple is seen as one of the highest forms of betrayal to the believing spouse. I recently told my wife about my disbelief, and it utterly devastated her. Even though I knew it would be painful, I was not prepared for the storm of emotions that were released.

    Based on our experience — which may be different than many of yours — it was the loss of her dreams and hopes that was most difficult for my wife. This includes simple things like having priesthood blessings (for health and comfort), family scripture study, baptisms of our children by their father, attendance at the weddings of our children, serving a mission as a couple, payment of tithing, etc. These may not seem insurmountable individually, but cumulatively they add up to a crushing blow.

    I think there is another, more subtle feeling as well: If our marriage isn’t going to last forever, then why put so much effort into it now? What is worth saving in this life if I can’t take it with me?

    I should make it clear that I am not blaming anyone, even the Church, for these feelings. It is tragically unfortunate that the very vision which inspires so many happy Mormon marriages is the same one that ruins many others. Our wife and I are still working through these issues and believe we can overcome them, but the future is not as certain as it once was.

    I hope this is helpful to anyone going through a similar strain or seeking to understand this process.

  7. Eric,

    I truly appreciated your comments. I feel bad for both you and your wife for having to go through something like this. I feel bad for any marriage when religion becomes a dividing instead of a uniting force.

    I am glad, though, you were able to share both sides of this concern, for I have gotten the impression that it’s viewed as only difficult for the “leaving the church” spouse. I think some tend to forget just how much we incorporate church teachings into our daily lives. I would imagine my wife would react with similar emotions , because we’ve seen miracles with Priesthood blessings. In fact, that has got to be one of the most powerful testimonies that she has. To lose something like that of course would be devastating.

    I’m not making the other side any less important. I’m sure it’s difficult for that person as well. I’ve never been there and do not personally know anyone who has.

    As for playing the divorce card, I don’t think that’s right either. In spite of all that’s at stake, we’ve also been taught to love our spouse and families. If that spouse has been faithful to the marriage, and any form of abuse isn’t present, then I think there is something still great to work with and work for. The common ground that can be built on is our belief in and love for the Savior. Perhaps that’s something both sides can rebuild on, I think.

    On the flip side, how willing is the former, or soon to be former, member to allow the family, spouse included, to continue on in the things they love without trying to convince them they are wrong? My own mother went through this with my step-father. He having books that were highly degrading to the church, making her very uncomfortable, and soon became a great source of contention. She left that unhealthy environment and divorce was the result. Granted, she had already been sealed to her first husband who was killed years earlier, so the eternal driving force wasn’t there anyway. But my point is, if the differences in religious beliefs became a constant point of argument or belittling, then perhaps divorce might be the better route, unfortunately.

    Just a thought.

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