Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Divorce Culture

Preaching is not easy. Not because of the study or the public speaking. It is not easy because you are required to speak plainly and truthfully about subjects that are sometimes uncomfortable.

The sermon today, from Malachi 2, was one of those difficult sermons. Once the words leave my mouth, I know that I have no control over what is heard. My prayer during my study has been that God's grace and love would be evident in every sentence even as I declared the unbridled truth that God hates divorce. Perhaps what has made the task of preaching such a text and subject so difficult is the tradition of hellfire and brimstone, toe-stomping preaching. My aim in preaching is not to "sweat the sinners" or give the guilt-ridden a half-hour of catharsis. My vision for preaching is to do what Paul describes in Colossians: "To proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."

Combine the tradition of condemnatory preaching with the fact that so many divorced people have, quite regrettably, felt alienated by or "kicked out of" the church and perhaps my trepidation at preaching the text of Malachi 2 is clear. I should mention that I was helped by a reliable and astute conversation partner: Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's book, The Divorce Culture. I found her work to be unique. Instead of building an argument against divorce, she brilliantly surveys the ideological foundations of what she calls our culture of divorce. We are all stakeholders in the institution of marriage and divorce impacts all of us. Her survey speaks for itself and her closing chapter recommends that we begin to reframe our concepts of social institutions, such as marriage, with the ethics of virtue and community rather than the ethics of individual expression.

After reading the book I began to see that Malachi 2:10-16 is implicating a culture of divorce in Israel. They had exchanged the ethic of covenant with an ethic of faithlessness. Perhaps in rediscovering covenant we can begin to heal the brokenness of our American culture. So, what do you think?


CJR said...

I wonder if this shift in culture - from covenant to faithlessness as suggested - is better understood as a shift towards consumerism? Jeremy Rifkin's book, The Age of Access, proposes that our culture is shifting from an ownership culture to an access/experience culture. For example, the huge surge in high-end luxury cars on our highways is due not to a robust economy, but to the concept of the leased vehicle. People are paying not to own property, but to access the experience of driving a luxury car. This concept is even being carried out in entire housing subdivisions - with appliances and major equipment remaining the property of the developer or the manufacturer and the residents paying a monthly fee based on, say, the number of cooled cubic feet of air.

In this vein, could not our upsurge in divorce be in part attributed to this shift to a transitory, experiential perspective on life which might posit that each marriage is tied to the fulfillment of the experience and that when the experience is gone ("where has the love gone, baby?"), it's time to trade in on the new model. This seems consonant with the emergence of the "life stage" marriage concept as well.

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