The Conflict Between Church and Divorce

One of the greatest obstacles to divorce that faces some people is the often perceived and real conflicts between divorce and their faith community. Some people are unable to resolve the conflict and choose to stay in both their marriage and their faith community. Others choose to end their marriage and while their faith guides them through divorce, they find another faith community that is more accepting. Others, like my present guest, RMJ stay in their faith community but may have to keep the true state of their marriage concealed.

RMJ is from Nigeria, was educated in the U.S. and now lives in another African country with her two children now aged fourteen and six. In February she will have been divorced for year. She says the conflict between her church and divorce has been one the hardest challenges she’s faced. Here’s RMJ:

One of my hardest challenges has definitely been identifying as a Christian, very much as a person of faith and the way that divorce clashes against everything that has been reached through respect for myself.

Your faith will guide you through divorceI’m the only openly divorced person in my church.  My church is quite central to my life and so I’m figuring out how to be a divorced Christian woman and figuring out what to do with me.

There isn’t actually much dialogue about it at all at church.  What dialogue there has been has been sparked by me.  I think they mean well but it’s such an anomaly that things are not quite straight up for anybody to even think about what you do with the issue.  Like I said, I’m the only openly divorced person in my church and my church is under the umbrella of a larger church organization.

For my own church everything is fine, but when we come together with the larger church, there’s sort of a strange feeling because anybody who is apart from their husband, it’s all quite hush, hush.  Some women haven’t seen their husbands in years and they’re separated, might even be divorced, but they’re still wearing their wedding rings. I’m really fortunate because my own little church has been quite supportive.

In my country, Nigeria, divorce was really a rarity while I was growing up.  It’s becoming more common, the prevalence rate is increasing now, but  marriage still really is everything whether you’re a religious person or not.  People really do try to do everything they can to maintain a marriage. It’s so important it’s part of religion.  I would say divorce is still not at the rate where every other person is divorced like you.  Absolutely not. This is still pretty unusual, especially for my ethnic group.

Now in the country where I’m living, there’s a lot more single parenthood.  The premium placed on marriage is not as high and that’s one of the first things that you notice when you move here from Nigeria. So, yes it is a different feel in this country.  There are a lot of single mothers.  So in this country, being divorced is not as big an issue and probably I’m having an easier time than I would if I lived in my own country.

A lot of us in the church happen to be Nigerian.  You’re obviously of a certain age and raised under the assumption that you’re married.  You’ve got to be. If there’s not a wedding ring on your finger that means that something has happened with the marriage but the overriding thought is that as long as you’re not divorced, or even if you are, there’s nothing that can’t be put back together. There can sometimes be pressure to maintain the order and pressure from people who feel God can do everything. People like me believe that he can, but nobody gives consideration to the fact maybe I don’t want him to do this particular thing.  Everybody expects you to be hoping for a reconciliation.

It’s just odd to feel without a husband as a Christian with children and even without children at this stage.  It’s sort of like, “We have to pray about this and ensure that, God restores this and you have to believe that God can do this.”

Getting divorced was something that I thought about very carefully.  I was separated for four and a bit years, so I didn’t go into this lightly.  The fact that I chose divorce doesn’t mean I didn’t pray about it.  It doesn’t mean that I made the decision without talking to God about it.  The fact that it messes up the order in the church doesn’t mean that this isn’t part of your spiritual journey.

A number of other guests have spoken about the conflict between their faith community and divorce. Rhoda’s father was a pastor and she grew up in an Evangelical church. She’s believes churches have to deal with divorce and deal with it with love and compassion. She kept her faith in God throughout her divorce and it’s stronger now than ever.

Vivianne was divorced after she left a physically-abusive marriage. She struggled with her decision because she knew her Catholic church doesn’t accept divorce. However, she still considers herself Catholic and she still goes to her church because it’s where she finds the most peace.

Carlos, one of the few men I’ve interviewed, shared that his faith played a major part in his being able to forgive his ex and that that forgiveness was an integral part of him being the man of faith he wanted to be.

The message that comes through to me from all of these guests is: don’t abandon your faith – your faith will guide you through your divorce.

RMJ blogs at Remembering My Journey were she writes, beautifully about being an African, a Christian and divorced.

Photo Credit: 2012© Jupiter Images Corporation

  • rmj

    Thank you for the work that you do, Mandy. I enjoyed reading this post.

  • Jane Doe

    I was told by my mega church right here in America that I did not have a “Biblical justification for divorce” even after my husband body-slammed me up over our balcony railing and after I was thrown through our screen door. I was told to go home and fix my marriage. After I had to call 911 for a second time I decided the church and I would have to agree to disagree.

    • Mandy Walker

      Dear Jane Doe – I think you made the right decision. Hopefully, you’ve found another church that is more supportive. Stay safe,

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