Homefront Tactics Roundtable I: Your Sister Divorced Her Husband

We needs solutions and I have top-notch commentors on Christian family life. I have an idea.


Your sister divorced her husband.

He was shiftless; quick to relax, slow to work and often slow to replace a lost job. An apathetic father, he didn’t discipline their two children much, but he didn’t abuse them either. Your sister was safe from him as well since his response to conflict was to go watch television in another room.

What do you do?

Edited to add: I should clarify that I’m not asking for a prediction. I don’t want to know what you think you would do. I want to know what you think a man should do.

49 thoughts on “Homefront Tactics Roundtable I: Your Sister Divorced Her Husband

  1. Since “I’m not happy at his financial performance” isn’t an acceptable reason to divorce by any standard – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant – I would take the very difficult tact of saying that they’re still married and treat them as such.

    But hey, I’m weird that way. I know what most people would do. And so do you.

  2. I should clarify that I’m not asking for a prediction: I don’t want to know what you think you would do. I want to know what you think a man should do.

    @orthros

    I would take the very difficult tact of saying that they’re still married and treat them as such.

    Can you elaborate on the bolded part? What are the actions you could take?

  3. The problem with the descriptive paragraph is it is full of judgments – which is fine if it is “God’s eye view” where the husband was indeed shiftless, apathethic, etc. or it is the “Sister’s eye view” justifying the divorce. Who is the witness to the maritial conditon? Beyond that…

    Did the sister have to work? By “shiftless” not working overtime at some awful job so they could buy an SUV? Was there any lack of necessities (i.e. not iPhones for all with unlimited data plan)? Did the sister have to deal with collection agents all day (which would be borderline abusive)? Or was she upset that the husband was happy living a modest lifestyle (economically unfulfilled)? Another missing data point.

    Simply knowing if she was educated and/or working (how is she supporting herself after the divorce?) would clarify things.

    How did she come to marry the guy? Was he a biker but a nice guy but without much ambition? This needs to be reconciled first. If she married a known violent man, then it would be clear. Did she marry a known slacker? What is the difference in responsibility?

    And did she help or simply criticize – he’s trying to hold things together and instead of helping and encouraging and – as she stay at home saving money doing the cooking? – instead of encouraging him, she nagged him driving him to his man-cave. Every time he tried to discipline the kids, did she complain, interfere, or undermine the discipline? “I want you to discipline, but don’t do anything harsh! Not even timeouts or loud words!” Or was it truly passive?

    His response to conflict? Besides it being normal for men, who is initiating the “conflict”? I don”t know men who go up to their wives, pick a fight and then retreat (but most women do that).

    That said, Marriage is blessed and holy, there is no gurantee of hapiness.

    Do we reject and “divorce” Jesus when some misfortune arises, or similarly, we muddle along waiting years for our prayers to be answered?

  4. My grandmother is living with a man (my grandfather died several years ago). They are not married.

    I regard it as fornication, of course, but I have said nothing about this to my grandmother.

    The answer to what I would do if my sister divorced her husband must take into account that it is my sister, who is very opposed to divorce. I would be opposed to it, even if hewere worse than the description provided (and he would have to be, for her to divorce him), but I would feel somewhat guilty, not having voiced my opinion on divorce before the marriage. (I know: it’s not a matter of “opinion,” but that is how it is regarded, so, it is.)

    I guess I’m uneasy about the question as posed because it either does not respect the excellent job I’ve done as a brother beforehand, or gives me a free pass on having been a lame one.

  5. Is the sister a believer? If so, then you go through the process in Matthew 18.

    If the church refuses to discipline her (which is likely), or if she’s not a believer, then you disassociate yourself from her. You don’t invite her over to your house. You don’t go to her house. You don’t meet her for lunch.

    My question is; do you still invite your nieces and nephews over to your house? I lean towards “yes”, but I suspect the sister would refuse anyway.

    In the mean time, you should counsel your shiftless, passive brother-in-law. Whether he’ll listen, or not, is up to him.

  6. The presence of a man is better (even if he doesn’t initiate churchgoing).

    I read such stories every month, where a Mother is in crisis over her child, but what is glaringly, flashing-neon-sign conspicuious by its absence is any mention of a Father

    https://stream.org/daughter-went-transgender-powerless-stop-doctors-harming/

    From the pevious post about Fathers not being strong enough or taking the lead, when they are absent they can’t even provide a template.

    There are degrees of decay and degeneracy.

  7. My own sister has married and divorced twice, and is now engaged to a third man. My mother is also divorced and remarried.

    My own response was to refuse to participate in the second weddings. They are aware of my reasons.

    In the hypothetical, I would simply tell my sister that she did not have scriptural grounds to separate from her husband.

  8. I’d tell my sister in no uncertain terms that she is committing a terrible crime, not only against her husband but her kids. Having said that, I’d try to be available to help the children as much as possible.

  9. A man/brother should do the opposite of what my ex-father-in-law did when his daughter decided to divorce me because she was unhappy. The brother should do all he could to talk her out of the (unbiblical) divorce before it happened, warning her of the entirely negative consequences for her, her husband, the children, the cause of Christ, and society. Also getting her church’s leadership involved in opposing the divorce and pursuing church discipline as necessary. A brother should counsel her husband as much as possible and be his ally in the situation. Post-divorce, unless and until she remarried (adulterously), a brother should continue to remonstrate with her, advocating reconciliation, and should continue to be the husband’s friend and ally. Shunning isn’t appropriate for a family member’s sin, but neither should the sin or its consequences be ignored — they should be pointed out to her on a regular basis, always toward the end that she’ll acknowledge her sin and reconcile. (Obviously, she might choose to withdraw from the sibling relationship rather than deal with the truth, but that’s her choice.) A brother should not support any subsequent relationships of hers, nor attend her wedding if she remarries. It would be similar to the issue of whether to attend a homosexual family member’s “wedding” — the answer should be, “I love you, enough to tell you the truth, and I want to maintain my relationship with you, but I’m not going to vouch for or celebrate an unbiblical wedding.” If her kids ever ask for a brother’s assessment of the situation, he should speak the truth about it and mourn with them.

  10. My BILs are better men than I, but going along with the hypothetical:

    “Let man not separate” means that my Christian sister should not have divorced.

    What I should be doing is applying pressure on her to return to her husband. I would need to convict my parents and other siblings, also Christians, on the truth of the matter, and recruit them to apply steady social pressure to mend. The situation reminds me of a broken bone – prompt attention and firm pressure could allow the injury to mend without too much harm, while neglect will result in a permanently crippled family life.

    I do not attend her church, but there would be a need to identify any religious support for her divorce and cut it off. I would also need to talk to my BIL to goad him into protecting his family, both his wife and kids, by being leader and head.

    If a second marriage is a possibility, that would require strong disapproval from our family, and if invited I would I have to object to the marriage. Perhaps crashing the marriage if uninvited.

    One more thing is a need to repent for not providing pro-family support in prevention, before the need to execute these strong reactions for healing.

  11. I believe I would be obligated to tell my sister what she is doing is wrong, and to offer as much support as possible to my brother in law to help him get his life back on track.

    That being said, I had a somewhat similar situation in my life that was not at all theoretical. My first cousin was married to a man who had a good career, made a decent living, was a good father to their two children, and who faithfully attended church with her. At some point she began an affair with her boss at work, who was married as well. She divorced her husband, and he his wife, and then they “married” each other.

    To my surprise, the church she and her husband attended fully supported him, to the point of publicly reading her out of the church. Nevertheless his wife and children were gone.

    The following holiday season, as my family was making plans for where we would get together and who would be travelling, my father announced that we would be celebrating along with his brother, my uncle, and his full family, including my adulterous cousin and her new “husband”. After some discussion, my younger brother and I both advised our parents that we would not take part in any such celebration, and instead would observe Paul’s admonition “with such a one know not to eat.”

    To say my parents were surprised, and my uncle and aunt outraged, would be an understatement of epic proportions. My brother and I stood our ground, however, and eventually acceded to my brother and I. I do not know if they really believed we were right, or if they decided it was preferable to see their grandchildren to their adulterous niece, but they did give in, and I’ve not seen the harlot since. I’ve also since lost touch with my uncle, to whom I was close. There are scars that will not heal in this life, but someday they will be healed.

  12. @Oscar

    I’m not sure how her church’s disciplinary action bears on the case because in the hypothetical she got the divorce anyway.

    you disassociate yourself from her. You don’t invite her over to your house. You don’t go to her house. You don’t meet her for lunch.

    What scriptures do you rely upon for this decision?

    @David J

    Shunning isn’t appropriate for a family member’s sin

    1) What do you mean by shunning?
    2) Is this true? I am open to hear your argument.

    @Okrahead

    I would be a little surprised if the scenario was only theoretical to more than one reader. The relationship to the female might change, but most of us have at least one female divorcee relative. I have…seven, I think, of the blood. I didn’t even start on cousins.

  13. @tz

    The problem with the descriptive paragraph is it is full of judgments – which is fine if it is “God’s eye view” where the husband was indeed shiftless, apathethic, etc. or it is the “Sister’s eye view” justifying the divorce. Who is the witness to the maritial conditon?

    None of those. In the hypothetical it is assumed that you, the reader, made those judgments. You judged that the now ex-husband is shiftless and apathetic, but otherwise harmless.

  14. @seriously

    but I would feel somewhat guilty, not having voiced my opinion on divorce before the marriage.

    Would that guilt stop you from doing or saying something? What would you do or say if you didn’t feel guilty?

  15. I don’t want to know what you think you would do. I want to know what you think a man should do.

    A man should completely refuse to associate with her, pending repentance.

  16. Keep your family away from her future, adulterous boy-toys. Also, kill your tee-vee.

    A.J.P.

  17. @ Cane

    I’m not sure how her church’s disciplinary action bears on the case because in the hypothetical she got the divorce anyway.

    you disassociate yourself from her. You don’t invite her over to your house. You don’t go to her house. You don’t meet her for lunch.

    What scriptures do you rely upon for this decision?

    What do you mean by “I’m not sure how her church’s disciplinary action bears on the case”? I doubt she’d care if the church kicked her out, but it should happen anyway.

    As for scriptures, I rely upon 1 Corinthians 5; specifically…

    9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

  18. So I am in a very similar situation. Sister had child out of wedlock. She is currently unrepentant over lifestyle and not caring for child. I have told her on multiple occasions she needs to repent. I do not associate with her or talk to her.

  19. @Oscar

    What do you mean by “I’m not sure how her church’s disciplinary action bears on the case”?

    Your initial comment read to me as if your response to her would depend on what her church did, but your last comment clears that up.

    As for scriptures, I rely upon 1 Corinthians 5

    Thanks. Why shouldn’t family be excepted from that discipline?

    @David J

    Why should family be excepted from that discipline?

  20. This is hard to answer a couple of different ways.

    From the full blown Catholic view, they are still married and the “divorce” has about as much real force as a “gay marriage”. The course of action is to encourage her to reconcile with her husband as soon as possible, and failing that at least counsel the lesser of evil of encouraging her to provide full and unfettered access to their children. A shiftless father is still better than an absent one, and provides some level of protection for the children’s sake.

    From a more orthodox Protestant view, a divorce, even if done for the wrong reasons is actually real and the marriage has been dissolved. Illicitly but still dissolved. She may need to repent, but this need not mean that she must be reconciled to her husband. In the OT, divorced persons may not remarry each other; the divorce was as permanent as a good marriage should be. Best you can hope for is again encouraging her to let her husband be as much of a father to their children as you can.

    In all cases, under the circumstances you should have been doing what every Christian should be doing to every other Christian all the time; whatever it is reasonable for you to do to help them be a better Christian. It’s no good just going with the flow, it’s also no good being a hard bitten bastard. It’s no good expecting someone to tough it out if you can’t give them a reason why they should. Just yelling at someone is, I think, the opposite error of “whatever your decision, I’ll support you”. The best tack I think, is explaining to everyone involved what exactly is at stake in this matter and how grave it is for everyone involved.

  21. @GMH

    From a more orthodox Protestant view, a divorce, even if done for the wrong reasons is actually real and the marriage has been dissolved. Illicitly but still dissolved. She may need to repent, but this need not mean that she must be reconciled to her husband. In the OT, divorced persons may not remarry each other; the divorce was as permanent as a good marriage should be. Best you can hope for is again encouraging her to let her husband be as much of a father to their children as you can.

    I am confident that nothing in that paragraph is actually true. For example, under the law of the OT a man could not remarry an ex-wife who had married and then been divorced from another man. That’s a big difference; aside from the fact that while the OT law is instructive to Christians, it is no longer in force.

    It’s no good just going with the flow, it’s also no good being a hard bitten bastard. […] The best tack I think, is explaining to everyone involved what exactly is at stake in this matter and how grave it is for everyone involved.

    So you explained it to your sister and she divorced anyways. What do you do? Emphasis on the second “do”.

  22. @ Cane Caldo

    Why shouldn’t family be excepted from that discipline?

    Do you mean why should the children be excepted from being shunned?

    I’m not 100% sure that they should. I lean toward excepting the children from being shunned because it’s not their sin.

    Ezekiel 18:20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.

    But I know myself well enough to know that I may be contaminating the Biblical principal with my own sentimentality.

    Ultimately, the rebellious sister will most likely react by never allowing her children to speak to their “misogynistic”, “self-righteous” uncle.

  23. @Oscar

    Do you mean why should the children be excepted from being shunned?

    No, sorry. Let me rephrase.

    Some people believe that the instructions in 1 Cor. 5 (“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”) shouldn’t be applied to sinners who are blood relatives.

    I am asking why do you think it should be applied even to blood relatives.

  24. @ Cane Caldo

    Some people believe that the instructions in 1 Cor. 5 (“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”) shouldn’t be applied to sinners who are blood relatives.

    I am asking why do you think it should be applied even to blood relatives.

    Really? I honestly hadn’t run into that argument. I hadn’t considered it, because I hadn’t heard it, and because I’ve never seen anything in the Bible that led me to believe that 1 Cor 5 should not apply to blood relatives.

  25. @Oscar

    Above, David J. said, ” Shunning isn’t appropriate for a family member’s sin”. Greenmantlehoyos said, “it’s also no good being a hard bitten bastard.”, which could be interpreted as rebuke against shunning family members.

    The only passage I know of that could be construed as a prohibition against shunning a family member is 1 Tim. 5:

    3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    But the context is 1) old widows 2) who are members of a church and who should support them her church or her family.

  26. @Cane, in fairness I didn’t mean shunning is off the table, I just mean there’s are big differences in why and how you do something like that. Two people can do the same thing and one is doing it out of love and another is being hateful and cruel about it. The difference between “I love you and when you come around I’ll welcome you with open arms” and “hit the bricks you stupid cow, I don’t want to know you”.

    You may be right about the OT. I may be thinking of levites and their marriage restrictions, I’ll have to look it up. I know the OT is no longer “in force” but I think it provides a good rule for justice.

  27. @ Cane Caldo

    Above, David J. said, ” Shunning isn’t appropriate for a family member’s sin”.

    I missed that somehow.

    The only passage I know of that could be construed as a prohibition against shunning a family member is 1 Tim. 5
    ….
    But the context is 1) old widows 2) who are members of a church and who should support them her church or her family.

    I could see financially supporting an unrepentant parent who is too old to support him/herself. That would fall under “honor your father and your mother”. Even then, depending on the sin, it might be wise to send a check, and still not associate with the unrepentant parent.

    I see no reason why 1 Cor 5 would not apply to a sister.

  28. @ greenmantlehoyos

    The difference between “I love you and when you come around I’ll welcome you with open arms” and “hit the bricks you stupid cow, I don’t want to know you”.

    By “come around”, do you mean “repent”? If so, you might want to use the actual word “repent”. You don’t want to leave room for weaseling out.

  29. Tell her she is a dumb and selfish bitch, but she’s still my sister and I’m down with doing whatever I could for my nieces and nephews.

  30. And of course, that she need to repent for the shit she pulled, and advise that she needs to remain single.

    (I’d bring scriptural receipts, of course..but that’s my initial reaction)

  31. Thanks for the clarification. I assume would have told her NOT to marry such a man, but if she insisted, she would be stuck and I would be nice about it but not support any divorce. I might have attempted to pull the husband into shape with family gatherings, camping, etc.

    I would not support the divorce in any way.

  32. Cane: In response to your question “What do you mean by treating them as such?”

    Well, if two people are married, then they are married. It doesn’t matter that they and the rest of the world want to play Let’s Pretend and treat their ongoing fornication partners as their spouses. I certainly won’t.

    If, for example, my brother-in-law is my brother-in-law, he’s family. He’s invited to family events, I’m there to support and help him, etc.

    If it angers my sister, my brother-in-law or both that they made a permanent commitment (no backsies!) that I’m holding them to, that’s on them. Perhaps they shouldn’t have gotten married at all. But they did. No amount of Pharisaism can offset the reality that they are still married.

    I’m not a jerk about it. I don’t go out of my way to rub their noses in it. But I also certainly don’t avoid or shun the “ex” spouses of my blood siblings. Because they’re not “ex”s at all – they’re truly married. Even if the state of Idaho or New York or Kansas later decides to declare that, for monetary purposes, they’re not.

    This is why – to completely derail the convo – marriage should be taken out of the hands of the State for serious Christians and put before the Church alone. The Church alone has the authority of God on the binding of man and wife. In super-duper, hyper-rare instances, they also have the power to dissolve, break up, annul, whatever said marriages.

    Hope this answers your question.

  33. If not shunning, contempt, because it is fitting, and she might respond by repenting and being reconciled to her husband. At least, make sure you’re not the surrogate provider. She has to need him.

  34. Scott’s classic post reminded me that divorced or separated women are tempted to blow off their custody obligations. https://web.archive.org/web/20150325131117/http://courtshippledge.com/2014/05/the-story-of-jim/#comment-18182

    So I think a christian man should try to keep his sister accountable to her custody agreement. If you see her with your nieces and nephews in tow on a weekend when the custody agreement says they should be with your ex-brother in law, you should speak up. If she claims that the agreement was changed, you should verify that with the ex.

    Conventional wisdom says that you should step in as a father figure because their father is not around. That’s nonsense. Your nieces and nephews already have a father. They just need to be with him. That will help them reject any of the lies about him that their mother is likely to tell.

  35. I haven’t read everything in detail here. But Oscar’s answers are the best, most biblically sound ones.

    To me, the point of this exercise is to illustrate how difficult and taxing and trying it can be to treat divorce and the divorced how the bible says we should. And also to show how “accepted” divorce is now.

  36. Thedeti is right – divorce (like all sins) doesn’t merely affect the person who does it, but splashes out and mars the world.

  37. It should not, but candidly, it might.

    I think DavidJ’s response above is in the right vein: warning that this is contrary to God’s will and will harm her, her children, and her husband. That, I think, would be my responsibility, as well as being available to help my BIL. After that all else is tactics—Dalrockian questioning/remdinding on future marriage prospects certainly seems appropriate.

  38. There needs to be at least one conversation with your sister where you tell her in no uncertain terms that she should reconcile with her husband.

  39. I want to know what you think a man should do.

    It’s not helpful to put it as ‘your sister’ or ‘your mother’, because sentimentalism and solipsism takes over.

  40. It’s not helpful to put it as ‘your sister’ or ‘your mother’, because sentimentalism and solipsism takes over.

    I think that is part of the point of the exercise.

    If you can’t even handle your own sentimentalism/solipsism in a hypothetical, how are you ever going to handle it when there is real pressure and real stakes?

  41. Fair enough.

    Scripture is really clear that we should dissociate from Christians who unrepentedly commit certain specified grave sins, “do not even eat with such people”. There is also no exception made for biological family.

    To be fair, I think it is a valid question to ask whether divorcing and remarrying is as grave as being a serial philanderer.

    My grandmother is living with a man (my grandfather died several years ago). They are not married.

    I regard it as fornication, of course, but I have said nothing about this to my grandmother.

    The two have cleaved together, so even if they refrain from getting a legal document, having a ceremony or publicly behave as they were married, the reality is that they are married. Therefore the position is to treat them as married, because they actually are.

    I wouldn’t regard it as active fornication, but to avoid scandal and for other reasons they should make it public.

  42. @Sir Hamster

    I think that is part of the point of the exercise.

    If you can’t even handle your own sentimentalism/solipsism in a hypothetical, how are you ever going to handle it when there is real pressure and real stakes?

    Exactly. As well: These thought experiments are everyday situations for many American Christians.

    @GJ

    The two have cleaved together, so even if they refrain from getting a legal document, having a ceremony or publicly behave as they were married, the reality is that they are married.

    So everyone cohabiting is married if they aren’t already married to someone else?

  43. So everyone cohabiting is married if they aren’t already married to someone else?

    Yes. And if they are already married. cohabitation forms a new marriage. This breaks the old marriage.

    Cohabitations are de facto marriages. The main difference from the unions that were recognised by common law is that modern cohabitation couples have some aversion to declaring themselves married. Yet they in acting and being they are in essence the same as couples who have undertaken the formal ceremonies and legal procedures.

  44. It is reasonable to disagree with my position by arguing that there is a major distinction between true marriage and mere ‘shacking up’, and that is the declaration of permanent union (or possessing the intention of permanent union). However, many cohabitating couples would declare if asked that they are ‘in love’, intend to be together forever, but just want to delay the legal procedures for various reasons. What then is the essential difference between them and formally married couples?

  45. @Cane

    Declaration by a legitimate authority.

    Wait … Cane, who gave authority to either church or state to unite men and women in matrimony? “It was not so in the beginning” … or for many, many years after the beginning either.

    There are certainly good, Christian reasons to do it the traditional way, like avoiding the appearance of evil and setting a good example, etc. But when both churches and the state are marrying men to men and women to women, the time is coming when to have a Christian marriage, we may need to step away from acknowledging the authority of the “official” ceremony altogether.

    I’m not saying I’d go all the way with GJ about those who are currently living common law, but he’s raising a legit question that shouldn’t be handwaved away with nothing more than “a legitimate authority”.

    Should it?

  46. @Tom

    Wait … Cane, who gave authority to either church or state to unite men and women in matrimony? “It was not so in the beginning” … or for many, many years after the beginning either.

    God. Adam did not present himself with Eve.

    I’m not saying I’d go all the way with GJ about those who are currently living common law, but he’s raising a legit question that shouldn’t be handwaved away with nothing more than “a legitimate authority”.

    Should it?

    To talk about legitimate authority isn’t to distract, but to cover a broad category. All authority comes from God. It is more true to say that you are trying to handwave away authority by the phrase “church or state” as if they were inconsequential. God instituted the church, and He gave authority to men over other men long before there were states. Legitimate authority exists even in the family itself. It exists in clan, tribe, nation, and all organizations of man whether natural or artificial.

    That being said: You’re right that GJ raised a good question. In fact I’d go so far as to say I planted it with these posts. Does every woman have the authority to declare herself married by her actions and, if so, are we all to act as if she is married or as good as?

  47. @ Cane

    Does every woman have the authority to declare herself married by her actions…

    No.

    … and, if so, are we all to act as if she is married or as good as?

    No.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.