In light of recent discussions in the United Methodist Church regarding sexuality and how it relates to ordination and the rite of marriage, some have attacked the denomination’s allowance of divorced clergy. The argument basically goes like this: If you are going to say that a practicing homosexual cannot be an ordained member of the clergy, then neither should divorced people. By and large, most people simply ignore the argument. I, however, have to confess that I agree with the argument. I, personally, do believe that divorce is a disqualifier for pastoral ministry – with a couple of exceptions.
Exception #1: The divorce is the result of marital infidelity, and the person that was faithful to the marriage covenant is the one seeking ordination.
Exception #2: The divorce preceded conversion.
Now, this second exception gets pushback because it is not spelled out explicitly in Scripture. However, the Bible does teach us that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17 NKJV). If it is true that “old things have passed away” and that “all things have become new” when we are in Christ, then I do not see why a divorce that precedes conversion should prevent ordination. If we say that it does, then we are essentially saying that the convert is not a new creation.
I should add here that I do believe worldly consequences do remain regardless of conversion. So, if you have committed a crime, conversion does not negate the consequences of your actions. One relates to our standing before God, and the other relates to our standing before our worldly laws. God has given us the ability, and responsibility, of creating governments and enforcing laws.
I am beginning to digress… So, back to the subject at hand. As I read and understand the Bible, it seems clear that divorce is a disqualifier for ordained ministry (1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:5-6). While an argument can be made that Paul is teaching not about divorce, but polygamy, I would say that his teaching applies to both polygamy and divorce. The person seeking to be an elder or deacon is to be the husband of one wife.
So, why do so many pastors stay in the ministry after divorce? Simple: economics. It is hard to start over in life. I am sympathetic to the hardship that is faced by someone whose marriage has dissolved, perhaps against their will, and is now faced with having to leave what they have known and felt called to. Pastorally, my heart aches for people in such a predicament.
Now, you may be asking yourself: why do you stay in a denomination that will ordain divorced individuals? Excellent question! I read several years ago about a distinction that can be made between Biblical and personal convictions. Simply put, Biblical convictions are those that are rooted so clearly in Scripture that to deny them is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture. These are mostly things that Christians around the globe agree on. However, there are also those convictions that have divided the Body of Christ into so many denominations. Many of these convictions we hold as Biblical, and simply can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t agree. In a nutshell, that is how you end up with so many different denominations.
Personal convictions, however, are those convictions we hold that do not quite rise up to the level of planting a flag on a hill and asking others to conform to our way of thinking. These convictions should be informed by Scripture, and should be supported by Biblical texts, but they aren’t so solid that we’re willing to die on a hill for them. Alcohol consumption is an example of a personal conviction. Many people believe that Christians should refrain from consuming alcohol, while others have no problems with it. There are very few people who are running others out of the church because someone drank a beer, and some will even wave at you in the liquor store.
For me, I feel strongly about the issue of divorced clergy, but this is not an issue on its own that will cause me to leave the church. The opposing view has well enough developed answers to most of my objections (though not convincing), that I am willing to tolerate, and peacefully coexist with, those I disagree with. Even though they’re wrong 🙂