by David Sisler

The Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said last Monday he is "deeply sympathetic with the sorrow I know all of the Stanley family must feel over this. It ought to be a wake-up call for America that if something like this can happen to the Stanley family, it shows how much society has lost its bearings."

The marriage of Anna and Charles Stanley (pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta and speaker for Intouch Ministries) became front page news in 1995 when they separated. In 1998 there was a reconciliation. On February 16, 2000, Mrs. Stanley filed for divorce and on May 11, Judge Michael Hancock issued the final decree.

Rev. Patterson's comment strikes me as ironic. The wake-up call has been ringing "off the hook" for decades. We have just pulled the pillows up over our heads and gone back to sleep. We violate our marriage vows and the laws of God through adultery and call it "an affair." We flaunt alternative life-styles and call it human rights. Television and motion pictures popularize fornication (euphemized as "living together") and we call it art. The writer of Proverbs pegged us squarely: "a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep." And the alarm continues to ring.

The minister stood in front of the beaming young couple, she in her exquisite white gown, long train flowing out behind her, he in his rented tuxedo, looking for all the world like the maitre d' at an exclusive up-town restaurant. She looked as if she was born for that day. If it were not for the honor of the thing, and the expectations of the young woman standing beside of him, he would just as soon not have been there a private ceremony with a few friends would have been very adequate. But here they were, the dearly beloved, plighting their troth, not really understanding what a troth was, or even if they had a troth. More than that, how do you plight? Can one person do it alone, or does he have to have help?

If Mr. Webster had been seated in the front row, he might have whispered that "plight" is a transitive verb with roots in an Old English word which meant "to expose to danger." The groom would have understood that: the bride's father watching him from his pew, the inherent message in their early meetings being, "You are not good enough for my little girl, and I doubt that you ever will be." The groom needed to understand that he was giving his most solemn pledge (or as he said when he was younger, "cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye").

He snickered at the word "troth." "Sounds like a place where you feed the animals," he thought. And he was, in an odd sense, very close to the word's meaning. Troth is fidelity, or faithfulness, and for their marriage to survive, it would have to be their constant diet. But that was then. And now was different a court room, the bench, two tables, the judge, his lawyer, her lawyer, and his soon-to-be "ex-wife."

They did not start out to end there, but they did. Maybe they set there overcome with the grief of finally ending their marriage. When they told the preacher, and God, that it was "until death do us part," they really meant it, but their marriage died before they did. To look for blame would have only beaten the dead horse. If they could not salvage their marriage, at least they each fervently wanted to salvage their faith.

Let's check the record. What does the Bible say about divorce?

Through Malachi, God said, "I hate divorce." Centuries later Jesus amplified, "God's original plan never included divorce, but because your hearts are hard, he permitted it." But he still hates it.

Who initially and originally said a husband and wife should not get a divorce? God. Who initially and originally allowed a husband and wife to get a divorce? God. Is there a contradiction there? Yes, there is, and we need to understand what Jesus said. The contradiction is within us you and me not with Almighty God!

Is divorce outside of God's original plan? It is, unless Jesus lied.

Does it disqualify an individual from ever entering Heaven. It does not, unless Jesus lied, because Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me in faith, I will never cast out."

But what do the rest of us do with Anna Stanley and Charles Stanley and every other couple whose marriage ends in divorce? Keep right on loving them because they certainly need to know that someone does.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 6/03/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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