About ten years ago I was sitting at the dinner table with my daughter Mary and son Willy along with dear friends and spiritual mentors, Ken and Deborah Loyd. The Loyds were in town from Portland to preach the next day at Bainbridge Alliance Church on Bainbridge Island. Sometime between courses and wine flights, the conversation shifted to the subject of divorce. Two very close friends, who had led me to my first church and personal leap of faith, were in the throes of marital difficulty. I was struggling with the observation that this couple was coming to church less and less at a time when I thought they needed their church family more and more. Ahhhh, the simplicity of a new believer.
Stories went around the table about how Christian communities sometimes send conflicting signals around the subject of divorce, and often those signals make those in the middle of marital difficulties feel judged, condemned or unwanted, rather than loved.
Ken and Deborah shared similar experiences from their personal lives and long time service as pastors. A common observation was how there seems to be a feeling that if church folk get too close to our friends with marriage issues, maybe we too could catch the same dreadful affliction. A big question was why it was easier to ingore and avoid the pain and uncertainty than to embrace with love those who need us?
At that point, Mary, about age 13, interjected, “Wow, it sound like you are describing divorced people the way the Bible describes Lepers. You shouldn’t go near them, and it you touch them it may be contagious! Maybe divorced people are the new Lepers of this age.”
At that point I knew I was going to have to run that subject down with a lot more energy. And true to form, in the ensuing years God had brought into my life a good many people who were wounded, ignored or misled by their church families as they went through the painful process of a marriage in trouble or a divorce. Based on what I had learned about Jesus, I knew there had to be better responses to the plight and pain of divorce than what I was seeing. There had to be better ways for all us in the Christian community to respond to this very common distress. So, I went looking for their stories, recently joined by Dorothy Doyle who I married on December 11, 2010. We continued seeking out the stories, the good and the painful. Stories of how church families rallied in love, and stories of how church friends often got the response wrong and amplified the pain, anguish, shame and damage.
The New Lepers is a conversation that shares those stories in order to be instructive, inspirational and useful. We invite you to join in the conversation with you own story, your questions or your challenges. Our goal is not to glorify or promote divorce any more than it is to condemn or judge those caught in the sad phenomenon of a marriage breaking up. We simply want to help our community of followers of Christ to do a better job responding to a reality of life: people do get divorced, and statistically the Evangelical Christian communities don’t fare much better than the population at large.
We look forward to hearing from you.