A Christian approach to divorce and re-marriage

Apr 10, 2019 by

A new government proposal.

by Martin Davie, Reflections of an Anglican Theologian.

The lead story on the BBC news this morning was an announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the Government plans to introduce legislation in Parliament to change the law relating to divorce in England and Wales.

Should the proposals become law, the sole ground for divorce would become the ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’ and the current possibility of seeking divorce on the grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour would be abolished. If this happens, then England and Wales will move to a totally ‘no fault’ system of divorce in which the sole criteria for ending a marriage will be that one or both parties in a marriage wish to end it and in which it will be impossible for that desire to be legally challenged by a spouse who wishes the marriage to continue.

Although the current proposals for a change in the law seem to have been driven largely by the legal profession, what is proposed can be seen to be in line with the way in which the thinking of the Church of England about divorce and re-marriage has changed since the 1960’s. A significant feature of this change has been the replacement of a distinction between guilty and innocent parties in divorce with an emphasis simply on the fact that a marriage can be seen to have failed.

There have been two reasons for this change. The first is the perception that ‘it is unwise and may also be uncharitable, for those outside the marriage to attempt to say precisely where the fault lies in any case.’[1] The second is the perception that what really brings a marriage to an end is not simply the performance of certain specific acts (such as acts of adultery) but the fact that the couple involved are no longer able, for whatever reason, to fulfil their marriage vows by providing each other with a relationship of ‘mutual society, help and comfort,’ It is a relationship of love that is at the heart of marriage and when this dies then the marriage dies with it even if it still formally exists.[2]

What the government calls the ‘irretrievable breakdown of a marriage’ and what the Church of England calls the ‘failure’ or ‘death’ of a marriage mean the same thing. The government and the Church of England can thus be said to be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ on this matter. Thy have both moved to the position that when a marital relationship can be seen to have broken down then a marriage can rightly be said to have come to an end and divorce (and re-marriage) is thus permissible.

What I want to look at in the remainder of this post is what God thinks of the issue. Does he agree that relationship breakdown is a legitimate reason for divorce? To answer this question I shall look in turn at what God says about the matter in the Old and New Testaments.

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