Can Mormons get Divorced?

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February 16, 2009
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Q. Can Mormons get divorced?

The simple answer to the question is yes, but this is no place for a simple answer.  Let’s expand the question to:  “What is the religion’s stand on divorce?“  The answer in this case is:  The church wishes couples would work through their problems and stay married, but accepts the fact that divorce happens.

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Marriage is a multi-level arrangement. In our current society it is a symbol of true love, the establishment of a new household, a legal partnership, and an economic contractual relationship. In other cultures a marriage may be the combining of two families households, or the woman may be nominally sold into the keeping of her husband and his family. Due to the uneven or unequal potential in the marriage relationship, religions and social customs have attempted to modify the power of the husband over the wife.  For example:

” Under Jewish law a man can divorce a woman for any reason or for no reason. The Talmud specifically states that a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, the woman’s consent to the divorce is not required…This does not mean that Judaism takes divorce lightly. Many aspects of Jewish law discourage divorce… According to the Torah, divorce is accomplished simply by writing a bill of divorce, handing it to the wife, and sending her away. To prevent husbands from divorcing their wives recklessly or without proper consideration, the rabbis created complex rules regarding the process of writing the document, delivery, and acceptance. A competent rabbinical authority should be consulted for any divorce” (Judaism 101: Divorce).

When Jesus was being tempted by the Pharisees (Matthew 19), they asked him if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause. He answered with two important statements; in verse 4 he replies, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female.” And then in verse 8, “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” ["Putting away" was another term for giving the wife a writing of divorcement.]
From his reply one could get the insight that God didn’t make one sex to rule over the other, he made them both, male and female and that what Jesus was hinting at was that equal regard should be given to both. From the second comment we can see that the cultural beliefs were pretty deeply embedded among the Jews and they probably weren’t ready for the introduction of a doctrine of equality of the sexes.

In our enlightened culture we have legally, at least, attempted to deal with both sexes equally. In the last 100 years laws have changed in most countries to allow marriages to be dissolved, the immediate result is generally a rapid increase in divorce as people free themselves from relationships that were not acceptable to one or both partners. Currently in America 50% of all marriages end in divorce. In a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, he tells of the sorry situation in the Philippines:

Dallin H. Oaks is a living Apostle of Jesus Christ.“When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it. I saw examples of this in the Philippines. Two days after their temple marriage, a husband deserted his young wife and has not been heard from for over 10 years. A married woman fled and obtained a divorce in another country, but her husband, who remained behind, is still married in the eyes of the Philippine law. Since there is no provision for divorce in that country, these innocent victims of desertion have no way to end their married status and go forward with their lives” (Divorce, Dallin H. Oaks)

A cornerstone in Mormon doctrine is the concept of the free agency of the individual. If the church were to make a hard and fast rule or policy condemning divorce then members of the church would be in similar circumstances as people in the Philippines. They wouldn’t be able to remain members in good standing while attempting to deal with life’s problems that a bad marriage might present. The church has increasingly spoken out on the issue of divorce. Elder Oaks continues:

“I have felt impressed to speak about divorce. This is a sensitive subject because it evokes such strong emotions from persons it has touched in different ways. Some see themselves or their loved ones as the victims of divorce. Others see themselves as its beneficiaries. Some see divorce as evidence of failure. Others consider it an essential escape hatch from marriage. In one way or another, divorce touches most families in the Church. Whatever your perspective, please listen as I try to speak plainly about the effects of divorce on the eternal family relationships we seek under the gospel plan. I speak out of concern, but with hope.”

Many other leaders have spoken on the subject, for further material please go to LDS.org and search under “divorce”. A general attitude of the church leaders is that two rational people should be able to work through problems if they pray for guidance, are humble, and are willing to work hard to preserve their marriage.  As Elder Oaks says, “A good marriage does not require a perfect man or a perfect woman.  It only requires a man and a woman committed to strive together toward perfection.”  However it is not advocated that a person should stay in a marriage that is abusive or dangerous. Since the church has emphasized family so much in the last half century there is a feeling that divorced people are somehow failures and don’t fit the mold.  In the past decade there has been a greater effort toward greater inclusion and acceptance of people who are divorced.

Happy marriages take time and effort

Temple marriage adds yet another level in the complex relationship of a marriage.  It secures for the married partners certain blessings and expectations, including the promise that the marriage will last beyond the grave.  Marital fidelity is stressed and expected. Sadly, some of these marriages end up in divorce as well.  Individuals that have gotten a civil divorce can also apply for a temple cancelation of their marriage.  For anyone in that situation your local bishop can provide you with more information.  For those not in that situation, don’t worry about it, just live up to the covenants made, whether civil or religious.  Give 100% to improving the marriage, treat your partner with respect and love, and you will grow as an individual as well as a couple in the greatest adventure you’ll ever embark on.

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13 Responses to “Can Mormons get Divorced?”

  1. Shawn

    It seems that your post has negated the direct words of the Saviour as found in Matthew 19. While you give the beginning of His words in your post above you neglect to give the second part of His statement. The only permissible reason for divorce in His eyes is found in Matthew 19:9. He did not condition His statement or allow for fluffy reasons like we do today. Divorced relationships ARE failed relationships. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    19:3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
    19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
    19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
    19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
    19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
    19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
    19:10 ¶ His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
    19:11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

  2. Thaddeus

    Perhaps I misunderstand you, Shawn. What are you referring to in Bus’s article?

    Taking verse 9 at face value, would you advocate that abused wives stay with their husbands as long as no fornication is committed?

  3. Shawn

    Thaddeus,

    I am not advocating anything. I am merely stating that we (both as Church members and as a Christian society) have totally twisted the very direct and explicit statement of the Saviour to match our need to cover up our selfishness in marital relationships.

    Your question about abused wives is a question for the Saviour, not for me. He was very specific in the Celestial standard. I do not know if He would allow for other exceptions. He did not mention them when He gave the standard. I can’t presume to know how He would rule in a particular case.

    I do think that we underestimate the horrific damage that has been inflicted upon our society by allowing divorces so easily. Especially on the children of broken homes. If government is going to define marriage then it should recognize its ultimate author and authority. If the government is not going to recognize its ultimate authority, then it should get out of the business of regulating marriages.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. Thaddeus

    You are suggesting that we impose a celestial standard on terrestrial and telestial people. Government is not involved in enforcing tithes or making people fast. Celestial principles must be followed freely, motivated by love, and without compulsion.

    Saints who know the Lord understand that divorce is detrimental. They do everything in their power to strengthen and maintain their marriages, because they know the Lord’s promises to them. And they are largely successful, but they arrive at happy marriages through understanding the Lord’s plan. It wouldn’t work if they were just told that they can’t divorce.

    Do you think Elder Oaks was wrong to admit that there are circumstances beyond fornication that necessitate divorce?

  5. Shawn

    Thaddeus,

    Good points. I will recognize them as such. But then why did we just spend millions of dollars as Latter-day Saints in trying to impose a Celestial law upon the citizens of California? We declared that marriage is only for a man and a woman in order to raise children. Any thing less than that was deemed unacceptable for our society and unfair to children. That was a Celestial position (and we were very vocal in presenting it as such). However, it denies the opportunity for consideration of circumstances beyond heterosexual orientation. Are we not therefore imposing a Celestial standard on terrestrial and telestial people?

    I don’t see that your argument would allow for consistency across all our positions.

  6. Bus

    I know I could get castigated for this opinion but when the Church attempts to help people live the commandments it could be seen as an act of compassion for them.
    Perhaps the Mormons don’t want California dealt with like the Lord dealt with Sodom in the Old Testament?

  7. I think Shawn is right. The easiness of divorce has caused a lot of people to treat marriage lightly. Marriage has always been a contract, both in the government (because it was a fundamental part of society) and with God. And as with all contracts, there were very few and very specific circumstances that allowed you to break the contract without severe consequences, (both from the government and from God). I think we’ve lost a lot of that mentality, and the phrase “irreconcilable differences” has become a get-out-of-jail free card: a way for us, like Shawn said, to match our need to cover up our selfishness in marital relationships. We need to be careful as church members to stick with the reasons for divorce that the Lord has provided, and not let the general standards of everyone else creep in.

    On the question of whether there exist other valid reasons besides adultery, I definitely agree with Elder Oaks that things like abuse and abandonment are well within the Lord’s acceptable reasons. I ask myself: if He were here, would he seriously say “stay in your abusive or abandoned relationships?” I have a hard time believing he would, especially since His prophets have explicitly preached the contrary.

    I come from a “broken home” myself, and I know a good number of Mormons who do also. From what I’ve seen, I think that the church does an exceptionally good job at judging acceptable circumstances for church divorce. But perhaps that’s just because the prophets and apostles are the ones who have to make the judgment call every time.

  8. Diana

    Well, I am definitely not the best critical thinker. But, Bus, I think you wrote your article very well. It just helped me step back and see the bigger picture of marriage. And it just encouraged me to be a little better. Sometimes that’s all I need.

  9. Bus Gillespie

    Diana – I must disagree with you, if you agree with me then you are a great critical thinker.
    On another level, the Sunday School lesson today was about the establishment of the church as an official body. There were gathered together in that small home 50 baptised members, 6 of which signed the papers required by the State of New York to form a church. The thought I had was that there is a difference between the church and the gospel and we shouldn’t confuse the two. The church is an instrument the Lord uses to propogate his gospel message. It is a handy instrument both for the Lord and for the members. When Christ was teaching he apparently made some evangelists and some teachers, etc., but we don’t read about a formal church established during his three years of active preaching. It seems a bit more organized when Paul is sending off epistles to the various churches and when they are referenced in Revelations.
    When the church was re-estabished on the earth in these days it was after such ordinances as baptism and sacrament were already being practiced. Today the church is a mega corporation that has to deal with a lot of chruch property, temples, and farms. As well as controlling the preaching of 50,000 young missionaries, run a world-class humanitarian project, and keep religion professors at three different universities from straying too far from the doctrine of the gospel. And it has to do all this while staying “established” in about 100 different countries. Sometimes it has to play by the rules of the existing culture but it never has to compromise the basic teachings of the gospel.

  10. Aaron

    Bus, when you said ‘Perhaps the Mormons don’t want California dealt with like the Lord dealt with Sodom in the Old Testament?’, are you saying that God would choose to destroy the entirety of California just because Proposition 8 was passed? I do not agree with that.

  11. Bus

    You are probably right Aaron, I doubt if God would utilize the geo/political boundaries to determine who is punished. It would be nice to think that only the sinners get their just rewards, but I’m reminded of the story of Abraham arguing with the Lord who is about to destroy a city.
    But I’m getting off topic, I was originally just puzzling over why the church would stick its neck out on such a volital issue that would end up only bringing public condemnation on them?

  12. aqua

    do mormons think that african american people are even?

  13. Thaddeus

    We don’t think they’re odd, if that’s what you’re implying…

    Or do you mean “even” as in, they’ve finally “gotten even” or “broken even” with the oppressive Anglos? I don’t think that’s a question at all addressed by Mormon theology.

    Maybe you’re asking whether we believe they are level-headed decision-makers. I suppose they are; maybe not every one. I’m sure most are good, honorable Americans, but an American’s ancestry isn’t the best indicator of “even-ness”.

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