The Church Has Been Right on Divorce All Along

I would like to weigh in on Ross Douthat’s on-going dialogue with theologians employed at nominally Catholic institutions. Like Douthat, I am not a theologian. However, we don’t have to be theologians in order to be good Catholics or people of good sense. I think us “amateurs” can contribute two very solid points that the theologians sometimes seem to overlook. We can point out that Jesus was and is the Son of God. And we can point out that he was correct about divorce. We cannot make these two points too often.

Anyone who is blathering about Jesus being limited by his knowledge and his social context, does not really believe that Jesus is God. Such people are not Catholics or Christians of any kind. I don’t care whether they teach at an institution that calls itself Catholic. Jesus is who he claimed to be. If he wasn’t the Son of God, he was a fraud or a nut-job. As C.S. Lewis pointed out years ago, the so-called “moderate” or “middle-ground” is completely illogical.

Even if one does not accept the claim that Jesus was and still is who he claimed to be, we can evaluate the soundness of his teaching about divorce. I believe the evidence shows that he was correct about divorce. The American experience with no-fault divorce since 1968, proves this beyond any shadow of a doubt.

No-fault divorce removed the presumption of sexual exclusivity within marriage. When adultery is no longer considered a marital fault, who benefits? The adulterous partner. Think about that: the law takes sides with the adulterous party. The so-called “exception” clause in Matthew 19 is completely irrelevant. No serious person of any Christian denomination believes that Jesus intended to allow an adulterer to run off and remarry their new sweetie.

No-fault divorce also removed the presumption that marriage would be permanent. This harms children. We know this from a vast amount of social science evidence. The committed Sexual Revolutionaries are well aware of this evidence. They are also aware that the continued “progress” of their movement requires that none of its negative consequences be reported or even acknowledged.

So we take the kids to therapy. We give them medication. We have chipper features like “Blended Family Friday” to celebrate positive stories.

After forty years of this, the kids can now speak for themselves. The adult children of divorce number in the millions. I have lost track of how many people have told me, “Dr. Morse, you are the first adult I have ever heard say that divorce is hard on kids.” At the Ruth Institute, we have a blog called “Kids Divorce Stories.” When we give the children of divorce a chance to speak, we get an earful.

Of course, Jesus foresaw all this. In Matthew 19, verses 3-9, is his well-known and much-analyzed dialogue with the Pharisees about divorce. But the scene shifts in verse 10. The disciples exclaim, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.”

I like to imagine what went through the mind of Jesus at this point. Being the Son of God and all, he could instantly picture millions of intimate moments for millions of people across time and space. In the split second between the time the disciplines whined at him that this was too hard, and his reply, Jesus may have pictured the wounds that children would experience from the loss of their parents’ love for each other.

He saw the little flower girl at her mother’s remarriage, silently heartbroken: her mother’s remarriage means her mother and father will never get back together again. Jesus saw the teenaged boy, watching his mother have a parade of boyfriends through the house. The boy is simultaneously protective of his mother and disgusted with her.

Jesus saw boys and girls going back and forth between their parents’ homes, never feeling completely at home in either place. Jesus saw their mother and her new husband having new children together. He saw them hang the photos of their new family on the wall. Jesus saw the hidden pain the children of the original marriage would feel when they see those photos, and never see photos of their complete family in either parents’ home.

Yes, in that split second, Jesus knew perfectly well that his new commandment for marriage was revolutionary. And he saw that it was good.

He basically told the disciples, “You’ve got your choice. Lifelong fidelity to one woman or lifelong celibacy. Get over it, buckaroos.”

I know that many people have gotten divorces that they regret. I realize that many spouses did not want to get divorced in the first place. I know many of these people are wounded, and perhaps bitter. The Church knows it too.

The Church has something for all of us: the confessional. Go to confession, even if you were the wronged party, the abandoned spouse or the innocent child. The grace of the confessional helps us let go of our woundedness, and move forward in love. After all, Jesus wants us to love even those who have harmed us. He gives us the grace to do what may seem to be impossible. And of course, if you yourself provoked an unjustified separation or loss of love between yourself and your child’s other parent, you absolutely need to go to confession.

In short, the Church is far more reasonable and humane than her self-styled “progressive” opponents. This is the deepest reason that the Church should not change its teaching: the teaching is good. The evidence is all around us.

The Catholic Church is the only institution that has even attempted to stand up to the modern Sexual State. Even the Catholic Church has not done enough to provide justice to the millions of abandoned spouses and children in our country, as Stephen Baskerville has pointed out multiple times on this site. It would be tragic indeed, if the Catholic Church abandoned her ancient and still-relevant teaching, at the precise moment that it is obvious she has been right all along.

(Photo credit: Courtesy of Shutterstock)

Jennifer Roback Morse

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Jennifer Roback Morse is the founder and president of The Ruth Institute, a non-profit organization focused on keeping the family together, protecting the rights of children and helping the millions of people who have been harmed by family breakdown. She is the author, most recently, of The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims (2015). To hear more from Dr. Morse, sign up for her e-newsletter here and receive a free gift.

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