Tag Archives: Divorce

We need more men (and women) to be outraged

This week, Hannah Baxter and her three children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were murdered by being burned alive in their car on what was supposed to be a routine school run. The murderer was Hannah’s ex-husband and father to the three children.

Something like this happens every week here in Australia. In other countries it is more often. Here in Australia, this is relatively ubiquitous news but every so often, as was the case with this one, the country is shocked. There is a conversation about why our domestic violence statistics are so high. There is a vigil. Then nothing happens. Until the next time a woman is murdered.

As I read the opinion pieces, I feel myself swinging between sadness over such a senseless tragedy, anger and outrage that nothing ever seems to happen and so nothing ever changes, and heart-soreness and despair over the lack of voice for women. Are we so dispensable? Are we just to accept that this just the kind of thing that can happen to us?

Is verbal abuse, put downs, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and possibly murder, just something we have to accept as being part of the female existence?

How can this be? How can we be OK with this as a status quo?

The opinion pieces are largely written by women who are expressing their outrage. Unfortunately, outraged women can be sidelined easily – they are banging on again. Of course they are outraged, they are always outraged by this kind of thing.

Women’s anger is seen as un-womanly. It’s screechy and inappropriate. It apparently shows we are overly emotional, irrational and out of control. But women’s outrage and anger has been, throughout history, channeled to effect enormous social change. Women’s outrage has awarded women the vote, it has changed legislation that is discriminatory and unprotective of the disadvantaged, it has started charities, it has opened orphanages and hospitals.

But when it comes to the protection of women in society, women’s outrage can only achieve so much. We need the men to be outraged too.

Where are all the outraged men?

Seriously, where are you?

I need to be clear here – there are many outraged men, and there are many men working tirelessly in the background to make a positive and lasting change, in individuals lives and in our culture. We won’t hear from these people necessarily, but they are there. And many face this issue head on every day in their jobs. I can’t even imagine what they go through and how they process those emotions.

What I mean by this is a call to action for men who could do something but might not be currently – for varied and valid reasons.

If anything is going to change, we need more men to be outraged by this status quo too. If its just women publicly outraged by the abuse and murder of other women, the whole debate can be put on one side as a “women’s issue”. By its very nature then, the issue can be largely ignored.

But this is an everybody issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s our sons and brothers and fathers and nephews and Bible study participants and co-workers and friends. This is not about women protecting women but everyone protecting women. It’s also about all of us together, and with men leading the charge, modelling and teaching other men what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. It is about men calling out other men when they are saying words or displaying behaviour that is not OK. This is about men being real men.

This is even more so for Christian men. Let me explain.

The death of Hannah Baxter and her children, the death of those other women every week, the beating and violent oppression of women breaks God’s heart. It is contrary to everything He wants for us and it is an injustice that carries the full weight of God’s outrage.

God made men and women equal in dignity and value. This alone should make men feel equally responsible for their lives (and equally outraged at their murder). The Old Testament is full of God’s view of justice (Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18 are prime examples of God’s exhortation to care for the poor, disadvantaged, fatherless and alone). In the New Testament, men are to care for their women like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the church. That’s how sacrificial the love of woman is in God’s eyes.

Many of our men are absolutely trying to live to these principles. My words are are a plea to those who may not be, or may not be thinking about it.

God gives men a higher bar. He gives men the bar that Christ himself stretched to – sacrifice of total self.

That being the case, how can we support outraged Christian men to act and to speak publicly as many women are doing? Many aren’t, for many reasons. I wonder if partially it might be that the news is ubiquitous. It might be that feeling that it’s someone else’s story and doesn’t really have anything to do with them personally. It might be a sense of “What can I do?”. I get that. That’s understandable. For all of us.

But it is your story. It’s all of our story. It’s your responsibility because God has called you to be a leader and protector. We can’t do this on our own. We need you.

I don’t know what you can do but perhaps, you could talk about it with your Bible study – just raising awareness and the level of discussion among men (particularly Christian men) would be a great start. Talk about it with your spouse – how can you parent or be friends in a way that starts to correct culture?

Can you start raising your own voice? Can you, as a group of Christian men, talk to your ministers and ask, as a community of God’s men, what you can do? What can your church do? Can you, as a church and as individuals, write to your local member? Exercise your democratic voice? I am going to start writing to my State and Federal members and anyone else I can think of. It’s only me and it’s a start. But what if we all did it? And what if it wasn’t just women but hundreds of men raising their voices too?

What can you do in your workplace? Can you be the one to ask if there is a domestic violence policy? Can you champion it? Can you open the discussion with other men in your business to talk together about what you can do to be aware, protective and supportive of women?

What else can we do? Do you, or your business, have any influence or contacts that could support channels of change?

I don’t know what the answer is. But the more men that make themselves seen and heard being outraged by this issue and willing to stand up against it alongside women, the greater the waves of change will occur.

But I know that something needs to happen. If Hannah Baxter and her poor children’s death goes the way of all others, we’ll be upset for a bit but then nothing will happen until another woman is brutally murdered. The only way things change is to show that men will no longer tolerate this, and are wiling to stand up and do something about it.

Anger that leads to the kind of violence we are talking about is so wrong. But anger that is channeled through outrage to effect change is so positive. We need all of us to express outrage publicly that I’m sure so many have inside. We need you to show it publicly. We need you to feel compelled to stand and act.

We cannot do this alone. Please – let’s work together to change what breaks God’s heart.

Why aren’t there more divorced people in our churches?

Here’s an interesting thing – based on the 2016 census, there is 12% of our population who are separated or divorced. Based on the 2016 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), 6% of our church population is separated or divorced. Half! Does this mean that churches are amazing at supporting marriages? Or does it mean that people feel that our churches are not welcoming to divorced and separated people?

Is there a stigma attached to divorce? And if there is, does that come from the church congregation, or from the church leadership and culture?

My personal experience is to have felt as though I was morally tainted in some contexts, and welcomed and supported in others. In the former, I think this was brought into sharper relief by my own feeling of failure. A divorced person is highly sensitized to any sense of rejection, moral failing and stigma. It’s hard to walk into a church as a single-again. If it’s your own church, then it’s a very public declaration that you are now on your own. Everybody knows (or at least can see the evidence of) your business.

If its a new church you’re going to, one of the first questions is always about your family situation. What do you say? Will they judge me? You become acutely aware of being a lone parent checking your kids in at kids church. You become super paranoid that people can see the paler band of skin on your finger where your wedding ring used to be.

In addition, churches are largely set up for families. 65% of the church population is married (NCLS) compared to 48% in the general population. So what is “normal” in the world, is “abnormal” in the church. You stick out.

So, if people are even remotely cold or seeming to lack in grace, the separated person will go running for the hills.

In some ways, its understandable. Throughout all cultural changes and world movements, the church has remained steadfast. With no-fault divorce and the explosion of divorce rates subsequently, the church remained focused on the centrality of the family and marriage as the bedrock of a Christian community. That’s a good thing. Our churches cannot move with the times just “because”. We have to stay true to what we believe.

But one of the things we believe is grace.

If churches are havens of the broken, why are there not more single-agains in them? Churches should feel like a safe space for the lost. And yet they are not – or at least, not seen as being so.

There is a biblical phrase that has been bandied around very unhelpfully. “God hates divorce.”  This comes from Malachi 2:16 which is translated either as ““The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,”” or as ““I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “because the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with violence”” The context of this passage is covenant breaking on the part of the priests that Malachi is rebuking. Notwithstanding, it provides a clear indication of what God appears to think of divorce.

But here’s a thing everyone should know – all divorced people understand completely why God hates divorce. Because its terrible. It’s painful and torturous. It hurts whole families. It is horrible for the children. It tears up families, friends and can even split communities. We know intricately and agonisingly why God hates divorce. We know better than anyone.

When Jesus is asked about marriage and divorce, he relates his answer to Genesis and comments “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate” (Matthew 19:6). When asked about this unequivocal stance when Moses allowed divorce, he says “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8) Divorce was never the plan. Perfect harmonious relationships are the plan – but we are human. So divorce is not a gift, but it is a gracious provision in the face of our human rubbish-ness.

Now that doesn’t mean we should be like the world and dash about marrying and divorcing with impunity. It does mean that we need to treat each other with grace because we are imperfect.

Unfortunately, church history and tradition have over-layed the “God hates divorce” thing. For the Romans, divorce was terribly functional. Like the dissolving of a business partnership that no longer worked, divorce had no moral taint attached to it. In the early church, there was a speedy move to the indissolubility of marriage except in certain circumstances (on the basis of Jesus’ teaching), but they didn’t really get involved unless one of the parties wanted to re-marry. As the church gradually took over jurisdiction of marriage, by the early Middle Ages, divorce became far more regulated and commented on. Divorce was even deemed to be criminal. That attitude pervaded until at least the 19th century and we still have hangovers of it today.

Divorce is a very public “sin”. If you are divorced, you must have done something wrong. There is a presumption of sin and sinful behavior. Even if it wasn’t your fault, you let it happen. You failed.

Here’s what Kevin deYoung said of divorce: “Is every divorce the product of sin?  Yes.  Is every divorce therefore sinful?  No.”

Its a helpful reminder. We can never assume what the story is. Undoubtedly there has been sin somewhere but we do not know what and by who. We cannot and ought not, to assume guilt. Assuming guilt throws shame on the broken. If there is sin, then surely we must walk with people to help them repent? People don’t repent because they’ve been judged by other humans. They repent because their hearts have been moved by God. If there is no sin, then we must envelope them with the love and warmth of Christ.

Above all, we must help people to know that they have a place in our church, that they are welcome there, that they belong.

I would gently challenge churches to consider how a single-again would feel if they turned up to your church for the first time. What is the culture? Would they feel welcomed as though they had a place there? What about if one of your parishioners marriages imploded? What support mechanisms are there? Would they feel they can talk freely and honestly?

The main thing here is to be aware of how over-sensitive single-agains can feel, and that perception may be out-weighing the reality. In which case you may have to over-compensate to change pervading attitudes and assumptions as to what the church thinks.

Also, lets think about how the world sees us. We know that we are havens for the broken. But the world often sees us as oases of homogeneity. We are either nice white middle class community centers for families with small kids, or we are stern ivory towers of judgement on anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. That’s how we are seen. How do we change the perception, so that at the worst possible time in someones life, they know they can turn to the church for support and love?

I don’t have all the answers, but it seems to me that we need to think about this if we are to help the lost to feel as though church is a safe space for them to come and find belonging in the arms of Jesus and find his love in action in his community.


NOTE: Many churches are starting to offer Divorce Care. This is an excellent course and you can find a group here or even find more information on how to set up a group in your church.

Use my label to reach me, not to judge me

Church is a place of labels. Some are logistically useful – we wear name tags so we can engage with others in fellowship. Some are purely organizational, categorizing us into ministries so we can be pastored more easily. But some labels are signs above our heads for all to see. These labels are burdensome to the bearer and scary or embarrassing to the reader – unless you know what to do with them. Then these labels become a signal as to how you can love and care for that person. It becomes a bridge into their life where you can sit with them.

“Single mum” is just such a label. Of course, there are “single dads” as well – but I can’t speak for them, I can only speak to my own experience. But I’m assuming a lot of what I say here will resonate with them too.

The best first step in ministering to single mums is to recognise (and therefore help them not to feel) that they are a rare thing: that its just “them”. Sadly, in Australia, 22% of families are single parent families, and of that 22%, 87% of them are lone mother families.[1] It is unknown how many single mums currently make up our church congregations. It is likely that it is lower than the general population average, given that the number of divorced/separated people outside of church is 48% and 12% within the church. This is a big gap, but not so big that a single parent should feel alone. If your congregation is 100 people, there could be up to 12 people who are struggling with this reality and this label.

The next step is to understand a little of what a single mum might be feeling (again, I can only speak for women here):

  • There is terror. This is real. A single mum faces financial, social and logistical challenges that place her in danger of poverty, unemployment and homelessness, and this is not just in the poorer areas we imagine. At one point in my post-separated journey, I had no job, no money, no prospects and came closer than I realized to losing my house. I live in a pretty cozy middle-class area. I was absolutely terrified. The worries crowd in, one on top of the other and there seems no end or solution in sight.
  • There is loneliness. We can be surrounded by beautiful Christian community. But at some point, they go home to their families and you are left alone. You wonder who your family will be.
  • There is exhaustion. The logistics of taking care of kids can be easy and it can be hard, especially when you are working full time which most single mums have to, to make ends meet. The physical tiredness can’t be pushed aside. What is important to get a picture of though, is the emotional exhaustion. Doing all the parenting – the discipline, the counselling, the loving, the teaching, the cheerleading, the supporting, the bed times, the dinner times, the school drop off, the pickup, the bath times, the bed times – and there’s no back up. It’s exhausting emotionally and it’s intense and sustained.
  • There is love. When it’s just you and the kids, the kids become everything and, speaking for my own, my heart pumps for their kindness and joy and humor.

So, all that said, how can our churches better minister to single parents? Perhaps even encourage more single parents to come to church for the eternal perfection of a relationship with Jesus and, in the meantime, find a new community of family.

I am incredibly blessed to say that many of my pointers here are not because this is what I realized I needed, but my community of sisters (and brothers) who just appeared with these supports to me during my time, and still do. These are people who are living out the biblical principles of kingdom community:

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” Psalm 133:1, 3

  • Sometimes we need your material support: Before I got another job (and sometimes after) and I was in need, every so often I would come home to an envelope or bag of groceries on my doorstep. Another friend from time to time tells me she’s bringing dinner over. She doesn’t ask me if I need it, she just brings it and drops it off with a smile and a hug. Trust me when I say Centrelink does not stretch far so these gifts got us through many a week.
  • Open your home and your family: Every second Friday is a hard one for me. I come home to an empty house. I have beautiful friends though who bring me into their home. Its not a dinner party, I just join their family at their table. It’s inclusive, it’s normal, it’s joyful.
  • Give us a reason to put our bras on: Some days it can be easy to sink your head down and let the depression take over. A friend of mine one Saturday asked me if I’d like to join her and her friend for coffee. I didn’t feel like it, but I went. We started meeting frequently after that. It gives me a reason to get up, get dressed and get out into the world.
  • Cut us some slack on the “hallmark” days at church: A lot of churches do things for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even Valentines Day. These are hard times for us. We probably won’t come to church those days.
  • Don’t assume we can’t or don’t want to serve: OK, it’s going to be hard, but there are things we can do. Some might not want to but helping us to find a serving niche supports us in the church, it keeps us connected (because it is very easy to become isolated). It also tells us that you value us and that our “label” doesn’t also say “Failure – not to serve”.
  • Sometimes we need “dad jobs” done: I have learned how to do a lot of things that I never knew how to do before. But sometimes there are things that just stump me – putting new door handles on, replacing a kitchen cabinet door, replacing windscreen wipers. Sometimes we just need a Christian brother or sister to help us with practical around-the-house things.
  • Don’t assume we are looking for new husbands: The first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice could have been written for the modern church – here it is amended for people like me: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single [woman] in possession of [children] must be in want of a [husband].” I personally decided very early that I would not be in another relationship, partially for theological reasons and partially for personal reasons. Others may decide differently. Single mums don’t come to church (on the whole) like it’s a weird singles bar. We come to be with Jesus. Help us to do that. Because ultimately, in our time of need, he is what we need.
  • Help us to live in our singleness for the gospel: Whatever people decide to do, there is a period of time when they exist in singleness. Singleness in the church can be difficult whether you are a never-married, a single-again or a widow(er). We need help to discover the potential and purpose in our singleness so that we can grow as disciples and live for Christ.

Jesus says his community of believers is his family (Matthew 12:49-50) and in the book of Acts, we see the community of first believers living with strong bonds of unity. I have this family of believers around me. They saw the sign above my head and used it as a bridge to come into my life and treat me with grace and gentleness and understanding.

The thing that unites and bonds us though, is Jesus – the most gracious and gentle person of all. Help us to stay in church. Help us to stay connected. Everything I have mentioned here helps women like me to survive and get stronger. It helps us to not become isolated from church. It may help to build strong bonds to church because it shows how the church can reach out to people where they are without judgement or recrimination. Ultimately, it helps us to keep our eyes fixed Jesus. The kindness of his community, shows us a present and real picture of God’s love in action.

[1] http://www.hisheartministrytraining.com.au/one-together/

Free and fabulous or just single and sad?

I’ve known from the beginning of my separation that I would not be in another relationship. For me there were several reasons. For starters, I have some pretty massive trust issues and while I love the idea of a Hollywood style romantic love that is deeper and more pure than anything, I don’t really believe that’s true. I also have kids and I worry about bringing another male into their lives in a position of influence over them. I am also Christian and my theology informs my conscience which says I should remain single now. I make clear that this is my conscience because this is between me and God. Other people come to a different view and that’s between them and God. I can’t judge. I can only talk about what my conscience tells me about my situation. And for me, singleness is what I have always known will be my future after separation and divorce.

I’ve had to come to this through a process of thought and prayer. In the beginning, it was easy for me to say “I’ll just be single now” because I needed time to heal, and after a breakup I believe its a wise and healthy thing to be a alone for a while.

As time moved on, I had to keep developing my idea of singleness. This was because as I healed, I needed to be sure of what I was thinking. Partially because of my own clarity of thought as the fog thinned, and partially in response to other people’s treatment of my situation.

I’m sad to say that some treated me as though I had become morally tainted for life.  That takes some coming to terms with. You can do your business with God, you can weep and pray. You can be right in the eyes of God. But you can’t be right in the eyes of some humans.

This all goes into the mix. If people judge you as a failure, it plays into how you see yourself. This can drive you away from God, or towards Him.

Praise God that he met me in my mess and when judges were loud, God was louder.

So does that make me free and fabulous? Not really.

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The telly tells me that if I am single I am supposed to be larking about with other single fierce and fabulous women. We would do lunches and go on crazy holidays and call each other while we watch the TV like we’re a conference-call-Gogglebox family.

My life looks like a continuous episode of a really boring TV show. There’s work and parenting and cleaning and cooking and forgetting school presentations and eating toast for dinner. This is not “Sex and the City” this is “Slogging it out and the Suburbs”. Life is good – but it’s relentless.

So am I single and sad? Well that’s a no too. I still choose singleness, but now I am more sure of it, I am more confident in it. The turning point was reading the book of Ruth (which seems somewhat cliche but there you go).

Ruth is a foreigner. An outsider. She has nothing. She is nothing. Boaz, her kinsman protector, shows her special kindness and “She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”” (Ruth 2:10).

This is how I felt with God after I was separated. I was an outsider. I had nothing. And I was nothing. And he showed me special kindness. Who was I that God should notice me?

I pondered this for a long time. It resonated deeply with me. But it seemed also familiar, and it drove me to Psalm 8 where a similar line to this sits within a psalm of David. I’ve put the psalm in full below so you can also ponder. It’s a psalm about God’s big-ness, his amazing huge-ness, his absolute glorious infinite powerful massiveness.

Who is my authority? Human judges? Or this God of infinite sovereignty? My authority comes from him. Everything I have and everything I am comes from him.

I am single for the gospel. I am not free and fabulous like the world tantalizes me with. I am not sad and single – I am fabulous and single. I will be single and celibate and proud of it. It won’t be easy. It will be (and already has been) difficult. But God is my rock and my kinsman redeemer. His love and protection are astonishing gifts of grace and I will use my singleness in any way he leads me.

And any time someone judges me for being divorced, I’ll read Psalm 8 and remember where my authority lies.

 

Psalm 8

For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!