Ask Dr. Fraser: Divorce and Shunning

I’m going through a divorce and find that my Christian friends are shunning me. The divorce is not what I wanted. I tried to save my marriage but my wife has made it very clear to me that she will not do anything to meet me even part of the way. Still, some in our circle of friends hold me responsible and are telling me about judgement, shame, how my Christian witness will be ruined…while other friends say they are supportive but have excluded me from church and Christmas gatherings. How should I respond to them? Do I confront them? Try to start a new life?

I am truly sorry to hear about your marriage situation and the painful response from some of your friends. Firstly, I hope that you’ve consulted a credible lawyer such as jennifer croker to assist you in your divorce process as it can be a long and complicated journey to take. If you’re being forced to get a divorce then you want to make sure you protect what’s rightfully yours. In answering your questions, I must first clarify that I don’t know the full situation and imagine there are two sides to the story of which I only have yours. I’m sure there are a number of important details leading up to the divorce, so I want to be careful not to assume the worst regarding your wife.

That being said, Jesus gave only one “exception clause” as a legitimate reason for divorce and remarriage on the part of the innocent party, that being sexual infidelity on their spouse’s part (see Matt. 19:3-9). Paul taught for married believers to remain with their unbelieving spouses for the purpose of having a godly influence on their lives (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

However, being the realist he was, Paul also states in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 (ESV), “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Thus, Paul recognized extenuating circumstances where divorce without remarriage was necessary. I believe these situations could include such things as abusive relationships, addiction issues, emotional disconnection, chronic lying, and fiscal irresponsibility, etc. And the foremost step one should take is to know the divorce process in uk or the country of your residence!

Okay, so again I don’t know your precise situation, but I can confidently say that without proof of sexual infidelity, remarriage is definitely out of the question. However, divorce itself is not the unforgivable sin! Sometimes it is a necessary action in order to remove oneself from a toxic and unbearable marriage that is destroying one’s self-esteem and sense of physical and/or emotional safety and security.

If your reasons for pursuing a divorce are legitimate, it’s sad that you are being unfairly shunned and excluded from church and holiday gatherings. I can only imagine how much it must hurt you to be treated in this way. I have found that when the chips are down, you typically discover who your true friends are. That being said sometimes you need legal assistance for family disputes, to provide support and ease your concerns, especially if there is little communal support.

Maybe it’s time to find some new friends and a new church family where you will be loved and accepted, rather than being unfairly criticized and judged. It may be an uphill battle trying to persuade certain individuals to change their minds regarding your actions if their minds are already made up. I suggest that you try talking to them to explain your reasons, but understand they may not see your perspective or agree with you.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to live your life the best way you know how and, like the apostle Paul declared, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12b). Your main goal ought to be to please God to the best of your ability. There are many divorced Christians who have great hearts and perform many good works in the kingdom of God.

Hold your head up with dignity and continue serving Christ, no matter the circumstances!

God bless,
Dr. Fraser


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Dr. Ryan Fraser
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Comments 10
  1. I was referring to this man’s “friends”. Some of them seem to have chucked him into the rubbish for something that may not even be his fault. Haven’t been married, but I pray that if I were ever in that situation there will be Godly friends who will stand by my side and not condemn me. Peace!

  2. Thank you for responding to my critique. I strongly disagree that I did what you charged me with. All I did was apply Proverbs 18:13 to the situation “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” the only one who is passing judgements are you beloved. I did not judge the author or Saint asking the question. I simply said there is obviously much more to the story and it is wisest for the brother to seek specific counsel from the God appointed spiritual leaders in his life and not as wise for one who is not his pastor to assume upon the situation according to information they do not know. Especially on issues as serious as divorce. No one said anything about this dear brother making the unpardonable sin… Not sure where you got that from. God however does say in scripture that he hates divorce and breaking Covenant is not something that should be taken lightly. I’d encourage you to re-read my comments and reconsider whether your charges are gracious. Especially in light of Proverbs 18:13 which is all I was calling the writer to. I did not intend to right a full scale response pertaining to how I would’ve counseled the brother. I wasn’t asked for counsel so I didn’t offer it. I have done much marriage counseling and by God’s grace I have seen marriages restored. To me, the counsel given in the post seems to encourage divorce more than offer hope that because Christ is risen there is always hope for a marriage to be restored in a way that far surpasses what either spouse can imagine. Grace and peace

    1. Whether my charges are gracious? He was asking how to respond to his friends’ rejection of him, not if divorce is a fun lifestyle change. You seem to have rolled two persons’ comments into one, but for my part, tying heavy burdens to those who can scarce bear the ones they are carrying is not biblical or Christlike. This is the type of dangerous judgmentalism that drives people away from the loving arms of Christ, not toward. Based on your responses, I would assume your background is very legalistic.

  3. Hey dear brother, most of your advice I think is solid but some of t potentially unhelpful. First, Paul’s stipulation of Dovorce and Remarriage was not a pass for a believer to divorce for all the other reasons you mentioned and simply not remarry. I think you are inserting a whole lot into that text beloved. Also, not sure if it’s the wisest to potentially encourage this brother to seek a new church or “friends”. He could very well be under church discipline for seeking a divorce from his wife on unbiblical grounds. I think the best encouragement that can be given to him is to seek to live like Jesus who pursues his bride even when she does not meet him halfway. He should also seek to submit to his elders and congregation. What have the elders said regarding the situation? Is she a believer? Have they done counseling? Is she being called to repentance? There is a whole lot to this situation and judging by the language used in the question, it appears that much of t is written via a man’s perspective of the situation. Therefore, best counsel that I think can be given is for him to seek a multitude of counsellors who walk beside him and know him best (Proverbs 15:22). Finally, I think the secondary causes you have as possible reasons for divorce would be better stated as possible reasons for a seperation. Divorce is the final absolution of a marriage while a seperation gives opportunity for repentance to take place and a marriage to be restored and Christ glorified. Grace and peace dear brother, thanks for your service to the church!

    Coram Deo,
    Kyle J. Howard
    (another Biblical Counselor)

    1. Dear Brothers (whom at this moment I see as Job’s Comforters!),

      Just a perspective from a woman counselor. I’m astonished at your response. You both are dangerously misguided in your advice and are only heaping more guilt and shame on the victim, which are issues he has already stated he is struggling with. The question from the brother in Christ is an appeal for help. You have written “sinful” and “suspicious” all over him and condemned him without even taking his word to be true. “We only have your word for it,” etc. Of course it’s written from one man’s perspective. He is the one reaching out here, regarding a divorce he clearly stated he did not want. If you can’t offer any encouragement or helpful advice, only patronizing admonishments on the basis of your own vastly superior opinions, then I suggest you do that somewhere else. Not on this man’s time. This is a real person in a real situation—not a multiple choice on a Bible pop quiz. While we’re busy throwing the first stones, someone’s life as they know it has just ended.

      I’ll take this man’s question and trust that his is the question of an honest person, seeking counsel. The world we live in is imperfect. Our situations are imperfect. Our relationships are imperfect. We make mistakes, misjudgments and sometimes sad and terrible things just happen, even when we try not to let them.

      To the person who asked this question: If divorce is the long path that you must walk, then God will meet you there. Endings are difficult. There’s no way around that. But Christ does not condemn you, so no one else should. If these “friends” of yours are shunning you, then maybe these people never were your friends? Divorce is difficult enough to go through without heaping on top of everything the betrayal of those you held most dear to you. But don’t despair. There will be a bright, shining, wonderful sunrise on the other side of this dark valley. That I can promise you. This is the Gospel. This is grace. This is the Jesus of second chances—not a stern, dour, unhappy and condemning god waiting to “get you” with one misstep. Your story is not over. Let God walk hand in hand with you, and it will have a beautiful ending.

      1. Your answer is very poetic and uplifting. However, let me caution you as a counselor about automatically siding with the “client.” It is not the loving thing to do without hearing first from his wife. Perhaps there is some countertransference taking place on your part resulting in pity. Neither you nor I know the full details in this person’s case. Is there perhaps a valid reason for his wife “checking out” emotionally? Maybe not — but you simply don’t know this for a fact. Yes, I believe in God’s grace and the power of forgiveness, but grace without God’s perfect law and justice is hollow. Dietrich Bonhoffer spoke of “cheap grace.” As humans, we tend to want to present ourselves in the best possible light. Being naive and blindly supportive as a counselor is not helpful, but could result in much damage. That being said, in my original answer I tried to offer a balanced approach to proceeding without making unwise and potentially unethical assumptions on the front-end. In the end, only God knows the whole truth of the matter and sees into the heart of man and woman. And no matter what, God’s love remain unconditional though our actions have real consequences in this life.

        1. First, I should clarify that my response was largely a reaction to the second gentleman, who commented. Second, my “clients” do not pay me for poetry, but for real help and advice, and I did not necessarily side with whoever asked the question. What I did was not to immediately treat him as guilty until proven innocent. Obviously neither of us know the full details of the case, and I wasn’t saying he is faultless. There are two sides to every story. Again this is obvious. My point was only that he came to someone for help on a specific issue and received not one but two guilt trips, which is something he’s apparently already had from his friends (and something Christians are very good at doing). I should also have clarified that I thought your answer, particularly the latter part, contained some good advice, but the Biblical warnings and judgments against divorce sound like what his friends have been throwing at him already, and I’m sure he’s weary of it. The other gentleman suggested wrong meanings were inserted into Paul’s text, that the man posing the question should remain in his circle because he may need to be disciplined, etc. – and again, the man who posed this question was not asking if he should get a divorce, but how to respond to the rejection he is feeling from his close friends.

          I did have to laugh at your countertransference comment! A personal attack on me and my qualifications as a counselor, and still not helping the issue at hand. I probably should not have mentioned that I am a woman; I likely would have received a less patronizing response. Pity? No. But I don’t think compassion (over throwing the rulebook at someone who has clearly already had the rulebook thrown at him/her) is amiss. Let’s not forget that the Pharisees followed the law with perfection.

          Thanks for your reply. Enjoying your column. Christmas blessings.

    2. If she’s the one who wants out of the marriage why would he be under church discipline? Wow, you make Job’s so-called friends look pretty good!

    3. I see nothing wrong with him seeking church friends that don’t treat divorce as the unpardonable sin. Last I checked it wasn’t.

    4. Kyle, you state that I am inserting a lot into Paul’s text. Perhaps you can enlighten me then. What do you think Paul is speaking about regarding divorce? Also, do you believe that individuals must stay in a marriage where their or their children’s physical safety are in danger? Some situations may be deadly. Also, while Paul discusses separation for a season earlier in 1 Corinthians 7, in the text I referenced he uses the word “divorce.” That being said, I do agree with you (and I did recommend to the person with the question) that they move slowly. There may be more to this than meets the eye and receiving godly counsel is always a good idea. However, we have no idea what the theology of this individual’s church is or its leadership structure and resources. These types of situations are always complicated at best. Thanks for your comments!

Comments are closed.

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