Here's a quick weekend footnote to comments I made this week about the U.S. Catholic bishops and the topic of divorce: in the posting I've just linked, I wondered why the Catholic bishops want to continue pursuing an expensive, high-profile campaign against marriage equality when the biggest threat to the stability of marriage in American society is far and away divorce.
A reader responded to my posting by contacting me and asking me whether I'm perhaps being unfair to divorced folks. I appreciate that feedback very much, and also the comments UrsulaL has made in response to the same posting, and want to offer a bit of clarification--since I don't by any means intend to bash those who are divorced.
Here's my point: there's a misappropriation of focus and resources, it seems to me, among conservative Christians who see same-sex marriage as a singular threat to the institution of marriage. Divorce is clearly a much more serious threat to the institution of marriage, and one would think that if the real motivation of those expending so much money and energy to attack same-sex marriage is to assure the stability of heterosexual marriage, these folks would think more about spending their money and energy on the issue of divorce, and not same-sex marriage.
If people of faith working to outlaw same-sex marriage have no qualms about dictating moral principles to a pluralistic, secular democracy and expecting those principles to be enshrined in law--if they have no qualms about insisting that their peculiar religious scruples be written into secular law (and they clearly don't)--then one has to ask why they aren't working to outlaw divorce. And to dictate to secular society moral regulations regarding divorce and its availability.
Please understand that I'm not advocating that conservative religious groups take this approach to divorce--any more than I advocate that these same religious groups try to outlaw same-sex marriage. What I'm pointing to here is a glaring discrepancy in the treatment of the two issues, when the claim underlying the attack on same-sex marriage is that these groups are acting out of an intent concern to protect "traditional" marriage.
Here's my own thinking about divorce: it should absolutely not be prohibited by law. Nor should those who choose divorce be stigmatized or excluded in any way at all by communities of faith. I'm of the opinion, in fact, that some marital situations positively demand divorce, and for that reason alone, it would be deeply unjust for societies to try to outlaw divorce.
My own parents were mismatched and unhappily married, and I honestly recall no time during my childhood in which this was not clearly apparent to me--and in which there was not serious pain throughout our family due to their unhappiness with each other. Because it was also clearly apparent to me that the primary source of the unhappiness was my father's behavior (he was alcoholic, he gambled chronically and took bankruptcy at one point in our childhood after he had abandoned us for a year or so, and he was unfaithful to my mother throughout their marriage), I encouraged my mother for many years to divorce my father.
I saw divorce as the only possible way in which my mother could have a chance at happiness, as I was growing up, and I also frankly wanted away from the misery that it seemed to me my father was primarily responsible for inflicting on all of us. Divorce seemed like a way out, a solution to a serious problem.
Given this life experience, I can't comprehend advocating for laws that would make divorce impossible for anyone, or would make it very difficult to obtain. (My mother never did divorce my father, by the way; he himself decided to take that step at the end of his life and after he had met a woman with whom he wanted to make a new life. He died within a month of telling her that this was his intent, however, and so he was not ever able to take the step of breaking their marriage.)
So please understand that my comments about the U.S. bishops and the matter of divorce aren't an appeal for the bishops to try to outlaw divorce, or to treat divorced Catholics even less kindly than they already do. I'm simply pointing to the discrepancy between how the bishops deal with the matter of divorce as a threat to "traditional" marriage, and how they deal with the question of same-sex marriage as such a threat.
For my money, the bishops should develop structures with a much stronger and clearer intent to help couples facing serious conflicts. I think there should be much stronger support networks within Christian communities for people whose marriages are in trouble, for women being abused by their husbands, for families struggling to make ends meet on insufficient income (since socioeconomic stress yields marital and familial stress).
I also think that divorced and remarried Catholics should not be excluded from communion, and should be welcomed fully as members of the Catholic community and incorporated fully into parish life. I think our business and that of our leaders ought to be with healing the world, not making its pain and divisions stronger.
(Quick footnote: how are the bishops going to deal with the fact that they are now out on Front Street, along with the most rabid elements of the evangelical right, as the Mormons step out of the business of attacking gay folks and trying to snatch rights from us? The U.S. Catholic bishops have placed themselves in a very unenviable position, it seems to me, if they expect credibility as moral leaders and promoters of human rights, while they continue to single out and attack their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay.)