How should we deal with divorced and remarried people?

By Contributor Dr. Karin Heller

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.


Dear Bobby,

Dr. Karin Heller

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!

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.


7 responses to “How should we deal with divorced and remarried people?

  1. He has been married for 22 years, presumably faithful and devoted. Shouldn’t that count for something? This seems like an interpretation that forsakes the spirit of the law for its letter.

  2. Well, you write “presumably” … If he was married “presumably faithful and devoted”, then why does it end up with a divorce?
    Karin Heller

    • Well, Bobby’s letter says, “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.” Sounds like some mistakes were made in a previous marriage, and whatever it was he needed to learn, he did.

      Being married myself, I know how much love and commitment it takes from both people to stay married for that long.

      • Hanane Neff-Loutf

        If his previous wife turned out to be a very bad person and was harming him and their relationship for instance, why would he be responsible? Isn’t divorce a good solution in that case? Life goes on…

  3. I agree Hanane. I have seen husbands live in misery because of wives who were just not good people for them.

  4. What if his first wife had died? Would he then be allowed to hold a position in his church if he later remarried? I can’t see how one could argue that he “had done bad things.”

  5. When the link to 1 Timothy is followed to the NIV, it does NOT say “must be of one wife”. One might hope the modern church would recognize that those who volunteer their time to their church are giving of their own personal resources, and not seeking personal acclaim.
    Indeed, divorce is a grave matter I would not wish on anyone. I have no background in theology, and yes, I have been divorced.
    These offices are not a “reward”, I would hope the church could show some gratitude for those who devote their personal time and energy to them. Perhaps he was always faithful and provided toward his first wife, yet she still left him. She was not his property that he could force to stay, 22 years ago was 1990.
    I do not understand where Dr. Heller seeks to offer, or proclaim that the Christian church offers forgiveness. Her response saddens me.

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