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February 26, 2010

What to Watch: Sanfords to Divorce

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's divorce from his wife of 20 years will become final in mid-March, a judge ruled today. He and his wife Jenny Sanford have spoke openly of their Christian faith.

In a recent FocusFamilyINSIGHT from Glenn Stanton, he juxtaposed Jenny Sanford with Gayle Haggard, both of whom recently published best-selling books on their husbands' infidelity.

Given the shattered marriage covenants due to the husbands’ infidelities, both women have biblical grounds for divorce.

Is one’s decision more right, more virtuous than the other? Good question.

Both women have important, honorable and ultimately pro-marriage and family reasons for their very different decisions.

Gayle Haggard recently told Christianity Today her reason for staying,
“I stayed because I believe in the teachings of Jesus, that if we choose forgiveness and love, our relationships can heal. …I wasn't going to let the struggle that had been going on with him disqualify or undo the 30 years of life we had built together… I wasn't going to let this thing deny all of what we have spent our lives invested in.”

That is a remarkably beautiful statement of profound faith and commitment in the face of a very real and very broken situation. Jenny Sanford said publicly she was committed to and very much wanted to save her marriage. But she later concluded that would not be possible because her husband refused to end his adulterous relationship. She made the love-must-be-tough decision that both love and dignity required for herself, her four boys, even her husband.

Other items from the week's news:

-- The President met with congressional leaders yesterday for a health care summit. Tobin Grant rounds up reactions in his weekly Political Advocacy Tracker for CT.

-- A Texas tax appraisal district will begin exempting a $3.3 million jet owned by Kenneth Copeland Ministries from property taxes.

-- A group of Ohio ministers complained to the Internal Revenue Service that a house on C Street in D.C. connected to the Fellowship should no longer be granted a tax-exempt status granted to a church. Here's more from Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times.

-- New York Gov. David A. Paterson is planning to announce that he will not run for governor in November after revelations of his alleged intervention in a domestic violence episode involving a top aide, The New York Times reports.

-- The Andrews Air Force chaplain's office rescinded their prayer luncheon invitation to Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, CBN's David Brody reports. Perkins had criticized President Obama's call to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell."

-- James Dobson will give his final Focus on the Family broadcast today before he transitions into his new radio show.

-- Obama administration officials will meet with about 60 people from the Secular Coalition for America 10 member groups, including the American Atheists and the Council for Secular Humanism.


Obviously jenny had no idea about her options. I know Mark cheated in public but she didn't have to have it aired on court TV, for the whole world to see. She should have done it in a more professional and godly way, and the cheaper and private way check the story out


Strictly speaking, I don't think the two wives have much in the way to claim that they have Biblical grounds for divorce. Only men have such grounds for divorce, I think. Adultery was a property crime, and women were the property involved in that crime. Women had few grounds, if any, in which to claim a divorce.

So, having a mistress who wasn't married or betrothed to another man, as Gov. Sanford apparently did, wouldn't technically be adultery. He wasn't stealing the property of another man for his own use. Unmarried, unbetrothed, "independent" women were essentially in the public domain, which could be used, abused and discarded as a man pleased...and so, not independent at all.

Jesus' condemnation of divorce was in the context of keeping married women from being divorced for any or no reason, and then tossed out on the street with no respectable means to support themselves; if their paternal families couldn't or wouldn't shelter them for the rest of their unmarriageable lives. As children were the sole property of their fathers, custody wasn't an issue in a divorce.

Rev. Haggard, of course, technically didn't commit adultery either...no women of any marital status were even involved. While the Biblical era ancients had an antipathy against same-sex sexual activity, especially by priests; associating such acts with the same-sex fertility cult rites of "seed sacrifices" with other males (usually, I think, accepted for their gods by cross dressing priests and male temple "prostitutes"), the Bible doesn't actually forbid such activity...but what did condemn same-sex sexual acts was the tradition of going to great lengths to not even appear, in the slightest, of doing as the Egyptians and Canaanites did, or were thought to do. Idolatry was an "unnatural" act, not sex itself.

After the Book of Exodus, that's understandable.Why would one want to do as one's former slave masters did in their religious practices?

Another reason for the antipathy to same-sex sexuality was perhaps the concept of not mixing, eating, touching, doing things that contaminate one with idolatry, or were just associated with Egyptian and Canaanite practices and traditions in general. You know, Leviticus 19:19, not touching certain things or people, such as one's own wife, under certain situations, dietary laws etc.

The "scientific" rationalizations for the dietary laws as being health based are obvious, to me anyway, backward projections based upon modern "common sense." They more likely existed because pagans did them, or were though to do them, especially as religious rites. And, some could have been just age old traditions with origins lost in the depths of time. So, to remain uncontaminated by idolatry, Jews didn't do a great many things...The socio-religious politics of identity. To be Jewish, aside from being a monotheist, was apparently to not be not-Jewish.

However, Galatians 3 might suggest that going to such extreme lengths to adhere to the letter of the Law might be a curse, an idolatrous act of sorts, itself...worshiping the letter of the Law instead of loving God and doing God's will --The Golden Rule, loving one's neighbors and enemies, kindness instead of animal sacrifices etc. My reading of that chapter and others: Try to use some good sense and good will in your everyday life...appearances do indeed count, but as the Parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates, keeping up appearance by strict adherence to the letter of Law can kill people.

Morally speaking then, and with today's redefinition of adultery as a non-legal breaking of a marriage vow of sexual fidelity to one's spouse, regardless on the spouse's sex chromosomes, the two men certain did commit adultery by their apparent confessions of such.

As our legal system today goes to great lengths to make sure that women aren't tossed out on the street with nothing, thereby creating a sort of extra-legal system, from a Biblical viewpoint, of bigamy (which strictly speaking, is condoned in the Bible, at least under some situations) that isn't unlawful bigamy.

And so, if one reads the Bible in such an expanded, context sensitive, more universalized, here and now light, the two wives would seem to have Biblical grounds for divorce, I think...in the way I read the Bible. If that's also the way they read the Bible.

Or, as they can today, just choose to ignore what they wish to ignore in the Bible, from a legal standpoint. There isn't an inquisition to force theological conformity, after all. As long as they follow acceptable legal practices, their consciences, not any letter of Biblical Law reading, is what ultimately counts.

I would certainly understand and condone their divorces, if they chose to divorce...but I'm not speaking for God and I'm not their consciences.

However, as conservative Evangelicals denounce people who read the Bible the way I have read the Bible on divorce; say to support full citizen equality for GLBT people...then no, the two women wouldn't really have Biblical grounds for divorce...for their own protection, and for the protection of all married women.

But, do they need, today, any marriage at all as infinitely better than living on the streets? Well, some women may (or at least feel that way), I would imagine, it's still a cruel world...but I really hope, far fewer women in America today than in the biblical era Middle East. Still, in a literalist, plain sense, chapter and verse reading of the Bible, only men would seem to have biblical grounds to divorce a spouse for adultery, a crime that happens when another man abuses and contaminates his property, his wife.

With respect, Gregory, your reading of "Biblical" marriage is missing the forest for the trees. Fundamentalists tend to ignore the crucial impact of culture in the writing of Scripture, but get that Scripture's Truth is universally applicable, and so they miss the trees for the forest. But when you limit Jesus' teaching on marriage to his culture and miss His teaching's universality, you're you're missing the forest for the trees.

In addition, your view of the trees is not entirely accurate. The concept (if not the word) of marriage in its most fundamental biblical sense is a man and woman becoming one flesh, in Genesis chapter 2. This sexual union is sanctioned not merely by a culture or even by a divine command, but by God's creative action. This is Jesus' reasoning in Mark chapter 10: "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate". Jesus' point is not just about economic security, but about God's will for all sexual unions. (And Jesus does mention women divorcing their husbands as well, Mark 10:12.)

On point, I agree that Jenny Sanford and Gayle Haggard both are following the teachings of Christ and the rest of the Scriptures. Let us allow for different applications of the same principles, for that is the very heart of the Scriptures: various particular humans in a relationship with the God who is universal. There is a time for everything says Ecclesiastes (chapter 3), and I boldly propose that following infidelity there is a time for staying married and a time to divorce.

Don't always agree with Gregory (OK, seldom agree), but he always makes me think, and forces me to go back and see, Did Jesus really say that? One of the points he brought up that continues to confuse me - the gospels don't discuss what happens or is to happen when a woman divorces her husband. I'd love to have a good explanation on that. Having sad that, I am full of sadness for both of these marriages. In Mrs Stanford's situation, there seemed to be no repentance (regret, maybe) on the part of the husband, and that makes a huge difference in one's ability to salvage a marriage.

I'd like to offer an overview of what the scriptures say about divorce and "remarriage". The book of Matthew mentions an exception clause for divorce. Only the Jews would have understood what Jesus was saying because only they had a betrothal period before the actual ceremony. If a couple were betrothed, they did not live together but were considered husband and wife. Joseph called Mary his "wife" BEFORE they were actually married. If Mary were found to have not been a virgin during the betrothal period, Joseph could legally divorce her. Remember the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof"? The scene after the actual wedding ceremony showed the happy and excited young groom exiting the "consummation" tent with a blood stained cloth, proving the virginity of his bride. No stain---He could have divorced her. If she had "cheated" on him during betrothal, she could have been stoned to death. That's why Joseph thought about putting her away "privily" when she became "with child." The one flesh principle holds throughout scripture. Two become one, NEVER to be twain again. The Greek for "put asunder" means man is not able to unglue or rip apart the oneness. The covenant between the wedding couple and God, with the saying of their vows,to God, completes the "till death do us part" union. God cannot pull out of a covenant He makes, neither can the couple. That's why "remarriage" is a misnomer. In God's Word, there is no such thing as "remarriage". When out of alignment with God's Word, adultery is the result. Marrying another person's spouse(see John the Baptist and Herod's so called wife, Herodius,) can only lead to being "in a state of adultery," and if not repented of, meaning removing one's self from the illicit relationship, puts one outside the gate of God's forgiveness. He only forgives sins we are willing to forsake. Read about adulterers NOT inheriting the kingdom of God. Separate first. Remain single until reconciliation takes place. Don't "remarry." There is no such thing in God's Word if you consistently interpret the scriptures properly. Just because some pastor or evangelist thinks and acts contrary does not make it right. There are a ton of good web sites on biblical divorce.

The outlook on divorce here is mixed. I feel that a couple should seek all forms of help or counseling before divorce is even considered. If, after all options are exhausted, then divorce may be considered.