For awhile I’ve had it stuck in my craw that a number of our bible scholars – and even some pastors working in the sex addiction field – have been claiming that, from a biblical stand point, a woman whose husband is a habitual porn user has no (biblical) right to leave that husband.
Like many of you, I knew this was wrong. But it still ticked me off to see how many hurting women were being thrown into an unnecessary spiritual crisis because of teaching like this. Spiritual crisis is part of this journey anyway (see the Spiritual Crisis series for more) without “church experts” telling us God will “not approve of us “ (or worse) if we leave a situation with our porn addict husband and divorce him.
Now, it’s always easy for people “outside the club” to criticize those on the inside. So let me start by saying, that while I’m not in the elite club of bible scholars – I’m not anti-scholarship. Working four years to attain my BA (honors program in history), with distinction, I got the gist of academia. It’s hard work and that deserves some respect.
Moreover, I don’t want to suggest here that all (or even most) theologians have a very rigid take on what constitutes a biblical grounds for a divorce. Sadly, there are probably a few out there whose take is more liberal than I’d like. However, overly liberal stances on this issue don’t seem to be making much of an impact on women’s spiritual journey. The reality is, like God, most of us hate divorce; but we see it as a necessary — in instances where there’s ongoing evil.
The Gilkerson Scholarship
Thus, I was pleased to stumble across an article by Luke Gilkerson – former editor at Covenant Eyes – that presented some of the best, most well-balanced scholarship I’ve ever seen on the topic of habitual porn use as grounds for divorce. I wouldn’t call it flawless, but it looks to me to be thorough and sound.
Focusing predominantly on Jesus’ divorce discussion recorded in Matthew 19, he points out that the question “Can porn use be considered adultery?” is the wrong one. When we look at the Greek word Matthew (or his Greek translator) uses for adultery (pornei) we find that it is a broader term than “adultery.” It speaks to a broader type of sexual immorality. Moreover, it is not constrained to acts, but also an attitude of the heart. As I mentioned [a few weeks ago], Matthew 5 (which also speaks of pornei) is a passage about God’s greater concern for “the heart” than for “the line.”
Thus, looking at pornei in its full historical context, Gilkerson concludes that “persistent, unrepentant sexual sin is grounds for divorce.”
… some of you may be saying, and honestly, I don’t blame you. It’s kind of sad that some people have to have a Greek scholar dive deeply into the language for them before they get the obvious. By the obvious I mean, what is obvious to those who understand God’s character.
As my friend Briar Whitehead (a woman who gets God’s character) puts it in her book Craving for Love: “A point can be reached in a relationship when darkness and light become so polarised (regardless of the label Christian) that it is bordering on blasphemy to pretend it mirrors the holy, loving relationship between Christ and his bride.” Quoting theologian Allen Verhey she adds, “Preserving the external semblance of a marriage without the inner reality of marriage as God intended it to be and rigidly condemning divorce can be traced to moral pride.”
Over the next two weeks we’ll dig a bit further into this topic of legalistic thinking around separation/divorce… and the pain it’s causing wives of sex addicts.