I seriously dated a brother in Christ last year who happened to be a divorcée. Before then, I never thought much about divorce–let alone remarriage. Frankly, I didn’t know what either of these meant from a faith-based perspective.
I honestly didn’t think it mattered.
Yet, as I began to pray, study God’s word and talk with Christian peers who have experienced divorce and remarriage, I came to realize that my courtship could not move toward matrimony.
Don’t get me wrong. Being divorced isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for me. But I do believe there are important spiritual and practical matters to consider when dating Christians who have been previously married.
KNOW WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT DIVORCE
God tells us in no uncertain terms that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). God’s perfect will is that divorce never occurs because husband and wife are ONE flesh in His eyes (Matthew 19:3-6). It is His intention that marriage be for life and that no man separate what He has joined together. Ultimately, the law of marriage is a bond that should only be broken by death (1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2).
CONSIDER THE STATISTICS
Statistics show that remarriages have a higher fail rate. While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, the number rises to 67 percent for second marriages (and 73 percent for third marriages). These increases are due to remarriages entered into on the rebound, spousal comparisons, children, and individuals not being fully healed from their previous unions.
These stats don’t mean a remarriage can’t succeed. But you must know what you’re up against so that you can watch for the stumbling blocks; then proceed with wisdom, caution, and lots of prayer.
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO
Marriage is a blessing, but as my friend Trish admits, “It’s hard.” This is especially the case with remarriages involving young children, she says. In fact, she finds the experience of her second marriage to be more challenging than her first. “No matter how bad a [first] marriage is–yes, even with adultery–when children are involved, it is best to forgive and reconcile [with your first spouse] than to remarry and try to blend a family in a new marriage,” Trish says when thinking of her own situation.
My friend Kathy, on the other hand, shares that her second marriage has been restorative. “My first marriage was a nightmare,” she recalls. Kathy’s first husband was unfaithful, abusive and manipulative. She was extremely reluctant to remarry after him.
When she met the man who would become her second husband, she thoroughly examined his character and was eventually won over by his faith in Christ and kind spirit.“He took to my children like they were his own, and my family loved him,” she says. “I fought remarriage until they wore me out.”
And after he proposed? “The ring stayed in the box for six months until God told me to stop acting silly.”
Yes, Christians should date with the intention to marry. Nevertheless, marriage isn’t possible if your intended belongs to another in God’s eyes. As we date those who have been previously married, ask questions to learn where they stand with Christ and in their previous marriages. Then, seek the Lord to determine if you would be permitted and willing to stand with them in holy matrimony—until death.
Urban gun violence is an entrenched but not intractable problem, evidence shows. Since the 1990s community anti-violence initiatives – many of them run out of churches – have reduced crime locally, at least temporarily, by “interrupting” potential violence before it happens.
One such program is Cure Violence, previously called Chicago CeaseFire. Founded in 1999 with Illinois state funding, CeaseFire employed community members with street credibility – that is, status in their community – to identify those at highest risk of being shot or being a shooter, then intervene in feuds that might otherwise end with fatal gunfire.
Working with churches, schools and community groups like the Boys and Girls Club, CeaseFire also helped gang members and at-risk youth move beyond street life by finishing their studies, finding a job or enrolling in drug and alcohol treatment.
A local pastor, Frederick LaMarr, offered his Family Missionary Baptist Church to host the group’s anti-violence work, giving rise to Ministries for Movement. In 2010, having studied Columbus’ crime data, I invited the group to implement a local CeaseFire program.
CeaseFire Columbus adopted many of Chicago’s violence interruption tactics, but the guiding philosophy of Pastor LaMarr and Brother Ahad was to meet everyone with compassion and openness, whether they were a grieving mother or a gang member.
To convince high-risk young people to stop killing each other, they used positive motivation – not threats of jail time, as some CeaseFire programs do. Evidence shows young people trapped in a cycle of violence are often willing to drop their guns for the chance of a better life: a high school degree, say, or a job offer in a field of interest.
LaMarr and Ahad also encouraged perpetrators of violence to take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, that meant turning themselves in to authorities. Other times, it meant making amends through community service.
Ministries for Movement has helped several hundred young Columbus residents escape gangs. My evaluation for The Ohio State University found that between 2011 to 2014, CeaseFire Columbus helped to reduce shootings by 76% in our 40-block target area. For one 27-month period, no one was murdered.
The first homicide after those two years of peace was heartbreaking. The victim, 24-year-old Rondell Brinkley, had been turning his life around with the help of Ministries for Movement. Days before his murder, Brinkley had inspired attendees at a community event with his personal story of change.
Gardening for change
Violence interruption works, but it takes intensive and sustained effort. That can be difficult with a volunteer staff.
CeaseFire Columbus achieved its best results after getting US$125,000 in grants to expand its street outreach, community mobilizing, public health messaging and conflict mediation. Funding came from The Ohio State University, the Ohio attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
Ministries for Movement is still active in South Side Columbus: It leads a healing march on the first Sunday of each month, among other activities. But CeaseFire became a casualty of lost funding and city politics. With gun violence quieter in our area but spiking in other parts of Columbus, Ministries for Movement is now sharing its approach with community members and faith leaders in those areas.
It is also trying something new to stop the violence: gardening.
In 2015, with Department of Agriculture funding, I worked with Ohio State to launch the Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability program and planted a garden at Pastor LaMarr’s church, replacing the overgrown rusty fence line of an abandoned neighboring house.
Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability helps young people build skills, strengthen social connections and improve health in their communities by growing and selling fresh food. Many of the program’s 300 participants have witnessed gun violence and deaths. Many say they find gardening therapeutic.
Surveys I’ve conducted find that Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability improves participants’ eating habits, problem-solving and leadership skills, persistence and workforce readiness.
“Personally, it has taught me a lot of things: How to eat healthier, how to grow produce,” said Nasir Groce, who is now 13 years old, back in 2017. “It’s taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to.”
People raise their fists during a rally, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Las Vegas, against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Locher)
For decades, “racial reconciliation” has been the language many white evangelical Christians used when they talked about cultivating improved race relations. “Racial justice” — the term often heard in recent months in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people in police custody, was avoided.
When it comes to multiracial evangelical churches, a recent study finds, the use of the two approaches has been particularly evident of a divide between catering to the comfort of white congregants and answering the calls of Black people and others to remedy racial injustices.
Michelle Oyakawa, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Kenyon College in Ohio, studied the responses of dozens of evangelical leaders of racially and ethnically diverse congregations in the U.S. to the two “racial frames” and found that using racial reconciliation is a “middle route.” It does not favor segregation but also does not advocate for civil rights, thus downplaying religious divisions that many people of color in multiracial congregations want to see confronted, she said.
Oyakawa wrote a paper based on findings from 121 in-depth interviews with pastors of multiracial churches for the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, led by sociologist Korie Edwards at Ohio State University. Of those, Oyakawa said, 54 were evangelical, and “the overwhelming majority” chose the frame of “racial reconciliation” instead of “racial justice.”
As an example of how talking of reconciliation can frustrate progress on racial issues, Oyakawa, who is Japanese American, cited a white clergyman who visited Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, a young Black man shot by a white police officer in 2014. In an interview, the clergyman said the gospel is “bigger than politics” but he spoke of the struggles of leaders of multiracial churches when they strive to be neutral.
“So we have to address (Brown’s killing) with the humility of Gospel and lead the way without picking one side or the other, but holding both sides together for conversation and movement beyond where we’re at,” he said. “And it’s a very difficult thing.”
Oyakawa, a former research assistant with the Religious Leadership and Diversity Project, said, “It might be hard for people to truly come together across race when these racial inequalities exist and aren’t being addressed.”
Mark DeYmaz. Courtesy photo
Stewart said he remains dissatisfied with the growing discussions since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under a white officer’s knee.
“The conversations are centered simply on conversations,” said Stewart, now a graduate student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a minister at an Augusta, Georgia, congregation affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a historically Black denomination. “The conversations don’t deal with the given system of injustice that we’re trying to live in, and not simply try to live in, but also trying to be Christian in.”
The official statements from white evangelical churches or multiracial churches and Twitter hashtags in recent months, he said, only go so far. “Public proclamations without public change is public performance,” said Stewart. “So people can say, ‘Black lives matter’ but then in the same breath they can say one of these fundamental organizations that are fighting for Black lives to matter in society — they say that ‘I don’t agree with the organization.’”
After the recent deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and others, DeYmaz said that more predominantly white churches and some multiracial churches are looking to foster cross-cultural relationships within their congregations that go beyond talk.
“They want to move beyond the racial reconciliation; they want to begin to think about structural shift,” he said. “They’re coming to recognize justice is not peripheral, but intrinsic to the gospel.”
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation.
Mark DeYmaz, co-founder and president of Mosaix Global Network, said part of the problem is that many evangelical multiracial churches may look diverse in the pews, but are dominated by white staff and a white viewpoint.
“If you’re in a church of 2,000 people and it’s evangelical and you looked out on the crowd and 30% of people are nonwhite, but your whole staff is essentially white, the way you lead worship is white,” said DeYmaz, whose organization offers support and training for multiracial churches. “The structures and the systems of your church are what we might call a white church.”
Since 1998, recent data shows, evangelical multiracial congregations rose from 7% to 23%.
In the years after the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin and the start of the Black Lives Movement, Danté Stewart, a Black writer and speaker, often acted as a volunteer consultant to the predominantly white evangelical churches where he attended. Pastors and other leaders sought his advice on racial issues, or how to become more multicultural. He eventually grew tired, Stewart said, of their emphasis on “unity talk” about racial reconciliation instead of “seeing black people as full citizens.”