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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A New Year's Resolution: End Divorce

The following article was written by Mr. Nathaniel Pullman. He is the headmaster at Redeemer Classical School where I am the pastor. A graduate of St. Paul’s High School in Concordia, MO and Hillsdale College (BS and MA), he is the one of the best exegetes, lay or ordained, that I have ever known and an all around good thinker. For several years, while the rest of us have wrung our hands, he has been considering how Christians living in a country, such as ours, without just laws might police themselves out of necessity. Here is a bit of a thought experiment regarding pre-nups for Christians and perhaps a way forward.

The collapse of marriage in the West is an evil, like abortion, of such enormity that we - or at least I - cannot rightly understand it. It is like trying to estimate the full, worldwide damage caused by the eruption of Mt. Krakatoa. Its scope is beyond beyond our capacity to comprehend both in size and in evil.

The immensity of the damage should come as no surprise to us. God’s law describes the structure of the world and when we rip out the 4th and 6th pieces of that structure, we cannot expect it to stand. Abandoning the law of the Lord, we become like the chaff that the wind driveth away. This is not only true of the individual adulterer but the evil also increases when the sin is societally acceptable.

Despite this, we often throw up our hands and say, What can be done? I think this is, in part because we feel dwarfed by the problem. It is certainly because there are no easy answers. Anyone who has tried to convince a spouse to stay in a marriage that he wants to leave knows that there is very little in the way of hand-holds or leverage. The laws of the governing authorities have failed us utterly and so have the mores.

So what are we to do? We can certainly work to change the mores within our own families, churches and communities. We can, and should, speak plainly of the blessings of marriage and of the evils of divorce and adultery. We should teach them to our children, speaking of them when we sit in our houses and when we walk along the way.

There is also a way that we can work within the existing legal system to push the governing authorities to do what they ought to do, or at least push them closer. Traditionally, marriage law has been somewhat automatic: the couple applies at the courthouse for the marriage license and, in so doing, submits to all the laws governing marriage. Unfortunately, such laws are now nonexistent or evil.

There are, however, other legal means of enforcing agreements. We enter into many arrangements that are not automatically legally governed and we use contracts to make the government enforce the rules of the agreement. The marriage certificate is already much like a contract and spouses already make contract-like vows to one another during the marriage rite. We could write these vows into a contract, complete with penalties for violation, that would force the government to enforce marriage laws that they have long since abandoned. If we made these written vows a part of marriages in our churches, I believe that it would have a salutary effect on the marriages of our people.

You may object, as some have, that laws about this sort of thing do not work. However, the divorce rate was steady in the US at 25% before no fault divorce laws went into effect and has been steady at 50% ever since. I am not saying that the legal change was the only factor in this increase, but it almost certainly was the dominant factor.

You also may object, as some have, that this will not solve the problem. I am aware of that. I do not suggest this as a solution to the problem, but as a bandage that may slow the bleeding.

I do not know what the best form of such written vows might be, but I suggest something like the following. Obviously, lawyers would need to be involved in each state where this was used to write the thing so that it stands up in court, but I suggest as the point of departure.

1. If there is no fault, the person to file for divorce loses everything - money in bank accounts and stock accounts, house, cars, custody, etc. Additionally, the party who files would be required to pay child support for any minor children.

2. The only causes that would allow one party to file for divorce without the above loss of all assets and privileges are abuse, adultery, or abandonment.

I realize that "abuse" is likely to be used very broadly. I don't know if there is a way to write it so that it only means physical or psychological harm, not just transient or manufactured hurt feelings.

3. If any of the causes in 2 is proven, the offended party is legally able to divorce and the offending party has the same penalty listed in 1. This proof should be held to (if possible) the same standards as other criminal accusations e.g. the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

3.a. If the offending party is willing to go to counselling and is acting in a way that indicates a good faith effort to change, the offended is required to work toward reconciliation for six months before filing for divorce. Obviously, this does not preclude separation.

Please share any suggestions or objections. We must do something, and this seems to me to be a good place to start.