In the Bible, Lepers are thought to be highly contagious. People go to great lengths to avoid contact. Rules were written on top of rules in order to keep the Leper at bay. Even the Lepers themselves were required to shout “unclean” when they came near the normal population. This image struck me powerfully when, as a new member of a church community I became aware of how awkward it could be inside a congregtion for couples dealing with marital difficulty.
I began to see a connection. It seemed that many people reacted as if divorce is somehow contagious. That would place the people in the midst of the struggle in the same place as Lepers. I pictured thoughts like “Perhaps if I get too close to them, the crap in my own marriage may be exposed” or “If Mary can break free of John, maybe my spouse will get the idea she can set me adrift
While this “contagious” idea made great sense to me, I denied that divorce could be in anyway really be contagious. Recently I changed my mind. A close pastor friend, with decades more experience than me, blew my assumptions out of the water. Her take on the situation was “heck yah!, divorce can be very contagious!” she challenged. “Picture this: a woman in an abusive relationship notices one or more of her peers successfully breaking the cycle of oppression through a divorce. Isn’t it likely the abused woman will check out the divorce option for herself?” she questioned. “Sometimes Bible interpretation on submission, reinforced by misguided teaching, can help make church a safe haven for an abuser and a very un-safe place for those being abused. If this pattern is broken, even through something as painful for the church to accept as divorce, then the ‘bug’ may in fact be planted.”
I didn’t want to believe her right away, but her logic was impeccable, and of course, all I had to do was look more closely at the experiences of those around me for corroboration.
Now I’m left thinking that divorce can be somewhat contagious. But I’m still very convinced we do no good treating our friends having marriage difficulties as Lepers*.
What so you think?
* Long ago medical science concluded leprosy is not a highly contagious disease.