Columns Opinion Richard Mouw: Civil Evangelicalism

Divorce is tragic — but there is hope

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum at a premiere of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" in London on Sept. 18, 2017. The couple has separated after nine years of marriage. Photo by Star Max via AP

(RNS) — There have been — or so it seems to me — an unusual number of announcements of celebrity divorces recently. And several of them have been reported with a tone of surprise, even bordering on shock. Here is a headline I just saw on HuffPost: “Channing Tatum And Jenna Dewan Tatum Split, And People Are Worried Love Is Dead.”

As has been often the case in these reports, the couple in question try to reassure us that it is not about the loss of love between them. Here is the statement by Channing and Jenna: “Absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another, but love is a beautiful adventure that is taking us on different paths for now.”

I have a hard time believing that there is not more pain there than they are letting on in their rather glowing comment about a love between them that endures as they go their separate ways. And I do hope for some healing for each of them in that pain. I prayed for that — and for their 4-year-old daughter, Everly, as well — when I read the story.

Divorce happens. I am no hard-liner on the subject. The late Rev. Richard Neuhaus once remarked that there is at least one good sign in our growing divorce culture these days: Not only are there a lot of divorces, but there are also a lot of remarriages. Commitment is a serious matter, and when it breaks down between people who had promised to stay together “for better and for worse” it leaves wounds. But it also often leads to a deep desire to try it again.

A friend of mine went through two divorces before entering a marriage that flourished. He told me about his very different experiences with churches when his first two marriages failed. The first time, he and his wife belonged to an evangelical congregation that frowned upon divorce. When he went to his pastor to tell him about the impending breakup of his marriage, the pastor told him that God was going to have a very hard time forgiving them if he went through with the divorce.

The second time my friend faced a marital breakup he belonged to a more liberal church. When he went to this pastor with the news of the intention to get a divorce, the pastor basically said: “No problem. Things like this happen. You still have a good future ahead of you.”

My friend’s assessment of these two pastoral approaches was memorable for me. “What I really needed,” he said, “was a combination of the two. I needed a pastor to tell me that I was experiencing a horrible thing. Divorce is a real failure — a violation of what God intends for two human beings who have claimed to love each other. But then I also needed the pastor to tell me that there is hope — that God wants healing for both of us as we go our separate ways, and that love can happen again in our lives!”

My friend had it just right. Divorce is a deep failure. But people can find healing and the renewal of love.

The HuffPost story about the Tatums goes on to report that in spite of the couple’s positive spin on their breakup, their fans are saddened. The sadness is appropriate. This is one of life’s tragedies. But it is not futile to lift up prayers of hope.

About the author

Richard Mouw

Richard Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also served as president for twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

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