EDITOR, The Tribune.
I took note of Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander’s statement concerning support for the tightening of laws against rape between legal separation and divorce. In the rarest of rare cases would a level-headed woman give up her body to an estranged husband who has deep pockets. In such a case, the philandering estranged hubby would use his finances to blackmail the financially distressed woman. In the case of physical coercion, it should definitely be classified as rape.
Marriage is a sacred institution which must be jealously guarded by the state. I can appreciate the apprehension of certain traditionalists within the church concerning this matter. However, what I find befuddling is the inability or sheer unwillingness to concede to the reality of marital rape. In arguing against the possibility of marital rape, these traditionalists typically resort to committing the slippery slope fallacy.
But there’s another pressing matter that many prominent clergymen won’t touch with a ten-foot pole: Divorce and remarriage. I would like to know the official position of the BCC on this sensitive subject.
I was hoping for a definitive answer in Dr Myles Munroe’s Single, Married, Separated, and Life after Divorce book, but the late renowned writer seemed to have skirted the issue. I know of several divorced and remarried pastors in The Bahamas and in the US. The state allows for remarriage once a person has legally divorced. If he isn’t, his subsequent marriage wouldn’t be recognised by the state. He would be guilty of bigamy.
In Bahamian jurisprudence, the nuance of “irreconcilable differences” is grounds for legal separation and divorce. I imagine that this legal nuance covers a wide spectrum of legitimate reasons for the annulment of the marital covenant, such as infidelity, physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, deprivation, neglect, etc. In the New Testament, however, Jesus seems to only permit remarriage in the case of fornication. “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9, NIV).
The issue of divorce and remarriage is also discussed in Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. In the Authorized Version, the word fornication is used in Matthew 19:9, rather than sexual immorality in the NASB. In the Greek, the word porneia means illicit sexual intercourse. Consequently, it is a broad term that can mean adultery, fornication, porn, incest, masturbation, homosexuality, zoophilia.
Based on my understanding of the aforementioned quoted text, Jesus was correcting the Pharisees’ misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In New Testament times, the two main schools of thought on the matter of divorce and remarriage were Hillel and Shammai. The former took the more liberal position on divorce, arguing that it was permissible to annul a marriage on virtually any grounds. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria agreed with Hillel. Conversely, Shammai argued that the only biblical ground for divorce was adultery.
Jesus seems to have supported this view. So according to the New Testament, if the Bahamian state grants a man a divorce from his wife based on their “irreconcilable differences,” which has absolutely nothing to do with infidelity on her part; and he marries another woman, he would be an adulterer. Moreover, if the same divorced woman were to enter another marriage, that too would be considered adultery. Granted, there are odds and ends that the Bible does not address, such as physical abuse, although Paul admonished husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).
In my personal opinion, I believe that the Bible allows for legal separation in instances of physical and sexual abuse or marital rape. However, if the abusive spouse never engaged in an extramarital relationship, I would caution the aggrieved spouse not to enter into another marriage, as that would be adultery. My main issue here is remarriage. Would the New Testament permit remarriage under the foregoing circumstances? The answer seems to be no. I rather you err on the side of caution, as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Another issue would be a devout Baptist with a spouse deciding to join the Kingdom Hall. The Watchtower elders would do everything possible to drive a theological wedge between the couple by encouraging her to divorce her Baptist husband for a faithful Jehovah’s Witness. That too would be adultery for the Jehovah’s Witness newlyweds. Based on my understanding of the Bible, the wronged ex-husband has biblical grounds for remarriage. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that Christians must not be unevenly yoked with unbelievers. Paul, however, was not giving Corinthian Christians license to divorce their pagan spouses on the sole basis of them not being of the same faith. According to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, if a spouse abandons the marriage for religious reasons, without entering into another marital relationship, remarriage would be sin. Again, the only biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage is adultery. Another thorny subject would be a divorced pastor who has remarried. Was the divorce biblical? If not, does that then mean that the pastor is unqualified for his position? Bahamian jurisprudence would answer no, while I believe Jesus, based on His response to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:8-9, would say yes.
Divorce, under most circumstances, is an emotionally painful ordeal. Small wonder Malachi 2:16 says that Yahweh hates divorce. Bahamians must understand that while we are obligated to obey the civil laws of the state, we are biblically mandated to obey a higher moral imperative. Having said a mouthful, I would greatly appreciate the BCC addressing this matter that, I believe, is far more urgent than the matter of marital rape.
Freeport, Grand Bahama
June 21, 2022.