I got an email last week from someone who knows someone who knows me. She cautiously admitted that she's considering a divorce and had heard that I had been through one (Was that right? she hedged respectfully, non-intrusively, covertly). She wondered if it was okay to ask me about it. I recognized the tone. A familiar tentativeness—trying to determine if the audience will understand that you don't want a divorce but that you might still get one. It's a hard thing to admit out loud in the homeschooling world we come from... that you aren't able to sustain the image of healthy family, and that you feel awful about it, and even embarrassed by it.
She and I talked on the phone today. In that "back from the trenches at different fronts" kind of way, we traded stories, even laughing at what isn't laughable. I got around to asking her what support she has in her life right now. She quipped, "Well I have my non-Christian friends who take me downtown for dinner and drinks. Thank God for them."
Oh that made me laugh. I know just what she means. In the churches we come from, it's almost like two-shall-become-one is not just a spiritual, mystical union, but a fact of identity. When you go back from "couple" to "single," it's hard not to feel like half a person, half a soul, half-saved. While outside the church, people just look at you as, well, you!
I remember years ago when a couple who led our home Bible study group filed for divorce. They were a little older than I am now. The home group disbanded because the husband moved out. At the time, it disturbed me. Why couldn't we carry on with the wife heading up the group? She was still in the house. She hadn't asked her husband to leave her for someone else. But the policy of the church was that "couples" led groups with other couples in them. Sure singles were welcome to participate in the group, but they couldn't lead groups (unless they limited themselves to singles). We all accepted this unwritten code, as though the nature of true spirituality is a married heterosexual pair.
Once you declare that you are more interested in a healthy life than in propping up an institution, the others on that underground railroad find you. It's an interesting community down here. A major shared characteristic is how many have moved away from their original church communities. When they most needed support, they felt abandoned or worse, persecuted. I've heard from women who have had to endure pastors defending violent husbands, calling them repentant or provoked. For what? I can't think that pastors are excusing violent behavior because they, too, are violent (though some may be). I don't think they want wives to be smacked, shoved, slugged, or forcibly restrained, either. So why do some pastors go to such lengths to keep marriages together after a wife finally gets up the courage to admit how bad it's gotten?
My guess is that marriage is so critical to the reputation of the evangelical church (at least the white churches I've been in), they feel the need to protect it at all costs. Successful marriages (in America anyway) have become the chief evidence that the Spirit of God is still a vital force in people's lives. Divorce has become the great evidence that the Spirit of God is lacking in our culture, and consequently, in the lives of individuals who choose it.
Seen that way, no wonder those of us in the divorced camp huddle together in cover of email and get drinks with non-Christian friends away from the suburbs! It's not pleasant to be seen as one who is no longer responsive to God's Spirit... or worse, perhaps was never filled with that Spirit to begin with!