1 Million God-honoring Divorcees Cannot Find a Safe Church...and that's a shame because Evangelical churches care about outreach.
I'm one of the fortunate Christian divorcees. I attend a loving church with a smart, empathetic, and humble pastor. I tithe, serve, volunteer, and lead Bible studies at my church. But not all devout divorcees have the same positive experience. It's sad but true: Evangelical divorcees have difficulty finding a church that doesn’t treat divorcees as quitters who took the easy way out. They have a hard time finding a church that doesn’t stigmatize divorcees. They have a trouble finding a church that distinguishes between a frivolous divorce and a life-saving divorce for very serious reasons. And the problem is so significant, Christianity Today has reported on it.
Sad Story: One divorced mother tells about her search for a church home
I'm honored that this devout woman of faith shared her story of trying to find a church home for herself and her kids. She allowed me to include it in this post. Listen to the cry of her heart and her commitment to the Lord. She is not alone. Many many God-honoring divorcees have the same story.
I'm devastated. I visited another church with my children (15, 12 & 8) this morning and we were liking it. Then the pastor had to slip in that God hates divorce and he also made a very offensive comment about widows. I was taking notes so I could remember what he said. This is a church that is reaching out to the community in many ways to meet needs and share the Gospel. This is a church that goes to the abortion clinics to help save mothers and babies!
Do you know what my children are hearing when church after church says "No divorce for any reason," and "God hates divorce," and "Divorce destroys lives," over and over? They're hearing "Church is for everyone but us!" And "My mom must be a really bad person for leaving our dad, that the churches have to keep bringing it up."
I just want to crawl in a hole and never come out. We have been bearing the scarlet letter of another person's sin! [She had divorced because her husband was a serial adulterer, and a psychological, verbal, and financial abuser.]
The churches are missing out! I am a healed and very whole person! I will celebrate 3 years out of the marriage on the 24th of this month and I couldn't be happier! We've come a long way! I have tons of experience serving in many capacities in the church including planning and executing large events, directing 2 nursery ministries, church secretary, etc. Plus I love intercessory prayer!
So again, I say the church is missing out! They have no idea how much I long to plug in and serve and become one of them! They have no idea that I have really neat kids who are a lot of fun to be around and would love to plug in too! My heart just breaks for them as they keep hearing these sermons about divorce, when it wasn't even in the text! Ugh! Jesus, please come now!
Look at her story:
1. She loves the Lord. She wants to go to church.
2. She’s a conservative Christian.
3. As a mother, she takes her responsibility seriously, and she wishes to raise her children in the church.
4. She and her children know the divorce was justified. (Due to her husband's serial adultery, psychological, financial abuse.)
5. She winces at the messages from the pulpit with no distinction between frivolous and life-saving divorces:
- “God hates divorce” (meaning “All divorce is sin.” That is a mistranslation of Malachi 2:15-16. NIV, ESV, and CSB don’t translate the Hebrew that way.)
- “No divorce for any reason” (meaning there is no just and righteous reason for divorce)
- She is worried the church will make her children doubt her reasons and condemn her.
6. She feels it’s unfair to her—the innocent spouse—to wear the stigma of a scarlet letter. She wasn’t the one who committed adultery or abuse!
7. She has a heart to give and serve the church. She’s got experience doing large events. She’s directed nursery ministries, twice! And she’s a prayer warrior.
8. She knows her kids love the Lord and are fun to be around, but now they are being told there’s something wrong.
A million or more “innocent” Evangelical spouses who are divorced have this same experience
She loves the Lord and takes church commitment seriously. She’s ready to sacrifice her time, effort, and expertise to serve. But she’s not attending. She cannot find a church with a wise pastor who understands divorce and doesn’t treat her like a moral failure, a quitter who took the easy way out.
This Problem is so Big, Christianity Today has Reported On It.
I first saw this problem documented in a 2020 Christianity Today article “Despite Stigma, More Divorced Evangelicals Are Going to Church.” Despite the cheerful title, this article includes data from a nationwide study that shows a huge attendance gap. The graph illustrates the number of Evangelical divorcees who don’t attend church regularly. It shows the difference between the Evangelical divorcees we would expect to find attending church frequently, compared to the actual attendance. It’s a huge gap, especially when you compare it to other types of Christian groups. (If you want to dig into this, I’ve already written and done a video about the “Evangelical Attendance Gap.”)
The author of the article, Dr. Ryan Burge, is both a sociology professor and a pastor. He writes:
“The gap in church attendance among married and divorced evangelicals is at least twice as large as any other Christian tradition, at 20 percentage points. Even more worrisome, the attendance gap between the two has actually widened among evangelicals in the past decade. So, despite more divorced evangelicals coming to church, they still aren’t as eager to show up as their married counterparts.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). If churches want to continue to see growth in their attendance, then equipping workers to welcome, include, and minister to the divorced and separated people in their communities could be a wise use of resources.”
We Need to Accept that Divorce Can Be Lifesaving
And as a Christian divorce recovery leader for the past 20 years, I believe this says a lot about our Evangelical churches —and not in a good way. Other types of Christians don’t have that gap because, in my view, they have a much more nuanced view of divorce. They accept that sometimes divorce is necessary to protect the life and safety of the other parent and children.
Our Evangelical churches need to distinguish between a frivolous divorce and a life-saving divorce. And they need to accept that there are more dangerous marriages than we were told. (About half of divorces in the U.S. are for very serious reasons, such as a pattern of adultery, sexual immorality, domestic violence, emotional abuse, severe addictions, abandonment or neglect.) We need to realize that good Christian spouses are being exposed to danger every day. They are driven to despair, depression, and suicide, and they are being murdered.
In fact, When “no fault” divorce laws started passing one state at a time, starting with Governor Ronald Reagan in California in 1969, researchers wanted to see the effect. Over the years, they saw the suicide rate for wives drop about 20%. And the domestic violence rate by and against both men and women dropped 30%. The homicide rate of women murdered by an intimate dropped 5-10%. (You can read more about this in Chapter 2 of my book, The Life-Saving Divorce).
But demeaning and stigmatizing people who divorce, we are inadvertently promoting abuse, depression, suicide, and homicide.
“We divorcees woke up and smelled the coffee. Evangelicalism was no longer safe for us. Our leaders no longer cared if we lived or died. They didn’t care about despair or suicide. Our lives didn’t matter. Our kids didn’t matter.”
We need to accept that some divorces are for very serious things that are condemned in the Bible and given as valid reasons for divorce. If we do not, we will continue to watch Christian divorcees and their children leave because our churches aren’t safe for them.
The harvest is plentiful.
These divorcees and their kids want to come back to church.
Now it’s Evangelical pastors’ job to make their congregation
a safe and welcoming place.
 Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics (Feb. 2006): 267, 286.
Examples of 150 examples of types of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and neglect) and explaining the term "gaslighting," along with many first-person stories, read Chapter 4 in the Life-Saving Divorce.
For a diagram of the Duluth Wheel of Power and Control and The Abuse Cycle, read Chapter 4.