Evangelicals, Homosexuality, and Divorce

At one time, evangelicals were clear in their denouncement of divorce. Citing both Old Testament (Malachi 2:16) and New Testament teaching (1 Corinthians 7), they were adamant that divorce was an evil that plagued our society. Laws were on the books that kept divorce from being an easy option, and Christians would see divorce as a reason for church discipline.

Jesus’ teaching is pretty clear. He taught, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

When asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

Therefore (according to JESUS!) divorce is a terrible sexual sin.

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the past 25 years, though. According to Randall Balmer, in his controversial book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament, How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, the Religious Right has moved the emphasis of sexual sin away from divorce and has emphasized homosexuality. It seems to be an an easier target. Why? Because it allows evangelicals to externalize the enemy, based on the supposition that no true believer could be gay or lesbian” (p. 26). Gay marriage has become a “hill to die on” for many evangelicals (p. 28).

Balmer even asks, “What should we read into the fact that evangelical conservatives dropped their long-standing denunciations of divorce about the same time they embraced Ronald Reagan, a divorced and remarried man, as their political savior in 1980?”

It seems to Balmer, and to me, that homosexuality (and all the talk of passing a constitutional amendment banning “gay marriage”) has simply become a political maneuver, a strategy to manipulate conservative Christians to vote. It’s easy to point our fingers at “those people” who want to “destroy our way of life.” It has a lot more political weight than saying that we want to pass a constitutional amendment banning divorce (after all, many of us are divorced!).

This makes the fall of Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, all the more telling. Haggard was caught in an illicit homosexual affair—cheating on his wife and showing the hypocrisy of his public denunciations of homosexuality. When this sin is so explicitly within the house of evangelicalism, we cannot use it for our political ends.

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Michael W. Kruse said...

I think there is a lot of truth in what you write but I also think there is more complexity. I have been in the mainline PCUSA for nearly 25 years now and the issue became an issue because activists decided to ignore the historic teaching of the church and take matters into their own hands, forcing church structures to respond. Then, as soon as the church reaffirmed its position, they orgranized over and over to overturn the church's position. After years of no success it has now become fashionable to accuse more conservative and Evangelical types of being obssessed with homosexuality and always "raising" the issue.

I realize you are talking about Evangelicals in the context of Evangelical denoms and institutions. But for Conservative Mainliners it is galling to be accussed of having an obssession with the issue.

Just a different prespective from another context.

Bob Robinson said...


I whole-heartedly agree with you. Thanks for your input.

Balmer's book will frustrate you a lot (as it does me), for he doesn't look at that other side of the equation much. It's a polemic against the Religious Right, which I agree with much of the time. However, I often write in the margins of his book, "unfair caracature," or "that's correct" right before writing "that's not correct."

The issue of homosexuality in the Western Church is often more about the authority of Scripture for our faith and practice. Which is a real problem. Homosexual activists in mainline denominations have sought to undercut that authority. And now, as you say, they are slyly saying that it is the conservatives that "raise" the issue all the time.

But that's a different issue from the politics of the Religious Right. I am not talking so much about how Christian denominations should handle this issue "in-house." I am talking about how the Religious Right (the political force) are using the homosexual issue for their political ends.

I agree with Balmer that the RR's manipulation of this issue into "one of the top moral issues for our country" while dropping divorce at the same time is suspicious.

It shows how the politics of making enemies of those "others" out there is always effective and used even by those who should know better. The point is this: There are NO "others" anywhere. We are all humans; we are all dealing with sin; we are all seeking to live in a civil society. America is a pluralistic society, and the Religious Right will never accept that.

Michael W. Kruse said...

I read Balmer's book awhile back and did indeed find it "frustrating." But your points about the RR as political movement I think have a lot of merit.

Ted Gossard said...

Bob (and Michael), I too found Balmer's book hitting me in the same way.

I am utterly amazed at how religious right politics carries more weight than Scripture itself. Or terribly distorts the reading of Scripture, in my view. I'm around some people who see the rr's position as "right" and "Christian". I can hardly believe my ears. (one example: Jesus is coming back on a white horse and his people with him to do battle. So that we can act accordingly, today.--And this is from people who really love the Lord, but are terribly misguided.)

But Michael's point is also well taken, as he comes from another perspective.