I’ve been thinking about how women and men I know have suffered as their congregations part around them — not a God-driven parting like the Red Sea but a thunderous rupture as a huge crevasse opens in the congregation during the earthquake of their divorce.
“The most painful property division in divorce is the division of friends,” author Christine Benvenuto writes.
People Inevitably Take Sides
It’s almost inevitable that people will take sides. Some already were closer to him or her. Some find it easier to forgive whatever he or she did, or allegedly did, or is rumored to do according to the gossip that church people don’t admit doing.
I heard some “non-gossip” recently from a guy whose wife left him after his second affair. He was only passing along the information that a couple was separating. He wouldn’t relay what he’d heard about why their marriage had come apart — he said the details weren’t the kind of thing that another person needed to hear.
Really? So were the details, by implication, worse than what the hearer already knew about his own marriage? Did that mean that he was hoping he and his listener could cozy up on one side of a chasm and place the guy from “that” marriage on the other side? Does it maybe mean he thought that by suggesting how much more horrible the other guy he could be welcomed onto the “good boys” side of the “no bad boys here!” chasm?
The ladies can perhaps imagine that to the extent I have a “no bad boys” line, the guy who committed adultery two times has been living on the far side of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to the way God expects us to care for others, we don’t have a lot of freedom to draw those kinds of lines.
Which Side is God On?
I’m in awe of people who are able to look at people with God’s eyes and love all the people who are thrown apart by the chasms sin opens among us. I’ve known several prison chaplains; some victim advocates; specialists in mediation and conflict resolution. But the most remarkable I can recall is the pastor of a small church whose congregation was threatened with a soul-deep rift after a family crisis.
From the congregation’s point of view, it started as everyone was arriving for Wednesday night services. There wasn’t anything exceptional about that Wednesday night. There was no special event planned; no guest speaker; no large banquet that might require police to protect the parking lot in what was a not entirely nice neighborhood.
But police were there. They took one hard-working father aside before he entered the wide, double doors of the sanctuary. He didn’t make it to church that night.
When Incest Destroyed a ‘Strong’ Family
To anyone who knew them until that moment, the family looked strong. Mom and Dad both had jobs. The three children were all busy with church, academic and athletic programs after school. It had been just a few months since their first-time-homeowner mortgage was approved, and the family of five had moved into a new home in a moderate-income neighborhood.
And now Dad was being taken to jail for raping his 11-year-old daughter.
The pastor would have to serve God’s love to an incest survivor; her betrayed and outraged mother; her two younger brothers, who had discovered a very bad role model for being a man; and a father-rapist. The family would also face a move back to the old neighborhood because they were going to lose their new home. Without two incomes, there was no paying the mortgage.
Pastor’s Call to Serve All: Victims and Jailed ‘Perp’
I have never known a pastor who walked a more challenging path with more of God’s grace.
Those of us who can’t find it in ourselves to love him and her in a divorce need to ask ourselves: Am I letting God love through us? Or am I trying to use my own feelings about a particular kind of sin to shame and punish this person?
The problem is that there’s only one chasm between the bad kids and the good. It’s the chasm that divides all us boys and girls from God. We crack it open ourselves with every kind of badness we manage to come up with. So he comes up with adultery and she comes up with anger and he comes up with gossip and she comes up with overeating …
Whose Sin is Worse?
Our doctrines, whether Catholic or Reformed, almost always tell us that one kind of sin is worse than another. But in our Bibles, God tosses all our sins at us in great buckets full of every stinky variety of wrongdoing, large and small, daring us to call ourselves good. In one passage, God calls out those who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:1-4). In another, God challenges us over our “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder … impurity, sexual sin and debauchery” (2 Cor 12: 20-21).
Which ones of those does God think is worst?
As far as I can tell, the worst kind of sin is the kind of sin that God doesn’t like. That would be … great baskets full of stinky stuff, much of which I’m still struggling with, several decades into my journey.
So how can I dare to throw you across the chasm to the “bad boys” side just because I don’t like your particular kind of sin?
And … oops … forgot … I don’t get to do the throwing anyhow. All I can do is move away from you on the “bad boys and girls” side of the chasm where we all live. I can put you at arm’s length … or I can get even further away. That’s all the choice I have. I can choose to isolate from you so we are isolated from each other. But I can’t place you or me any closer or further from God.
Who Deserves the ‘Bad Kids’ Corner?
God knows that you and I both belong in the “bad kids” corner. And God is willing to forgive us both, if we ask. Even forgiven, we’re still farther from God’s goodness than the Milky Way is from earth. But we’re very close to each other. We’re close to each other in our weakness. We’re close to each other in our failure. We’re close to each other in our need of God.
And God reaches toward us with long arms of love. Then God expects us to use our arms of love to reach each other.
Dare to love another sinner today. Do unto to them as God has done unto you.