Dave Brisbin 10.10.21

Nearly thirty years ago, my fiancé and I asked our Pastor if he would marry us. I can only imagine how our faces looked when he said no because we’d both been married before, and he didn’t know that we had the biblical justification for our divorces. The church’s reading of Jesus’ sayings on divorce and remarriage was that the only legitimate reason for divorce was adultery, without which any remarriage was an act of adultery as well.

Already in church leadership and pastoral training, he further told me that a leader in the church had to be the husband of just one wife, which they interpreted from Paul’s sayings as being in a series rather than all at once. I remember wondering just when they planned on telling me all this. Having seen pastors send wives back into abusive relationships, which seemed risky and wrong, I’d rationalized it as making every attempt to save marriages. I didn’t realize how deep the scriptural rabbit hole went until I fell in myself.

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The shock morphed into a full court press of study to find out whether Jesus really said such things, because how valuable is a faith devoid of common sense and the ability to protect those most at risk? I found a book on Christian divorce and remarriage in which four scholars commenting on the same scriptural passages, came to four different conclusions within the same cover. The light went on above my head that scriptural interpretation was at best an educated opinion, not a mandate from God. It was a hinge moment from which the entire trajectory of my faith has proceeded. Ancient scripture was not written for us. It was written for those into whose eyes the authors looked. Those who lived a common culture and language. We’re reading their mail, and the burden is on us to step into their world, especially if we are giving these passages the authority to govern vulnerable lives. When we put Jesus’ sayings back into their ancient context, they make perfect common sense, always protect the vulnerable, and always point to the Father’s love. I can follow that for the rest of my life.

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