The Church and divorce

English: An illustration from Fables in Rhyme ...

In the process of the divorce I am discovering something very sad about our churches.  They are built for women and this is never more obvious than during the divorce proceedings.

I see statistics all the time about how men are not attending church as much as they used to and that women are still pretty committed to churches.  I think that is partly because of the wussy way we portray Jesus (meek and mild, holding little lambs, wearing a dress, etc.).  For those who have read John Eldredge, Walter Wangerin and Philip Yancey, you’ll understand a very different view of Jesus.  Most of the solid Christian men I know are NOT this kind of man, they are strong and wise and work out and love football and aren’t wimpy.

Yet in the church, we have a ton of women’s ministry things and very few men’s offerings.

We tend to overprotect our kids in the kids program and not allow room for adventure or (God Forbid) any kind of risk or danger.  As any boy knows, the memories we have of growing up always involve both risk and danger.  Why does the church have to be so safe all the time?  No wonder many men don’t want to keep coming back.  I’m not talking about safety things like sign-ins or security issues, but I am talking about how we sit and talk about everything, but don’t often experience things.  Guys are all about experience.  When we do sit and talk small groups, we get bored and want to do something about it.  Maybe mixing in the sit and talk with the get out and do in a 50/50 environment would be helpful?

Since this is a blog about alienated Dads, it might help to get back into the real reason for noticing this now.  Part of the “safety” of the church is convincing Dads to be safe and side with their wives during any divorce situation around them.  I joke with my (new) friends about “losing my church in the divorce.”  But it is not a joke.  I am serious.  I led a small group for 3 years for couples, I led a small group of jr high boys for 2 years.  I worked in the children’s ministry for 3 years.  I was INVOLVED in my church.  I knew a ton of people who were my friends, who knew my wife, who’s kids were friends with my kids.

Interestingly enough, as close as I was to the men in my small group, only one of them (my best friend) has reached out to me in any way over the months since the separation.

Please understand, I am not bitter about this.  I’m a bit saddened by it and frustrated with it, but I totally understand why.  I was in the same boat before my separation.  What is “safe” for men is to NOT get involved, to NOT try to understand both sides of the story.  Why?  Because that could breed conflict with their wives.  It didn’t matter that I was closer to the men than my wife was to the women.  I would do lunch with them, work on projects with them, go to retreats with them.  My ex-wife wouldn’t do any of these things.  She really only interacted with these women at church or in the shared events with the kids.

Yet when the separation occurred, I think largely because the kids stayed with their mom, all of these friends immediately rallied around my ex-wife, and completely abandoned me.  In the same way, none, literally NONE of the people I have worked under in ministry in the church have reached out to me one time to check on me or to help.

I think I’m finally writing about this because I’m not angry anymore about it.  I think I understand the whys behind it.  It’s less painful and scary to just have a “goat” in the equation.  “This marriage ended because of Jim’s actions.”  While we all intuitively know that there are two sides to one story, but it is much easier to live on one side of the equation.  There’s a lot less cognitive dissonance that way.

For those not familiar with the term, Cognitive Dissonance is the ability to carry two thoughts that are opposing in your head at the same time without your head exploding.  I’m a Celtic fan, but I can appreciate that LeBron is a great player.  I voted for Romney, but I see value in some of Obama’s ideas.  I believe in traditional marriage, but have friends that are gay.

It is much easier in churches to drink the kool-aid completely and not allow room for variance.  Even in the examples above, the people that don’t value Obama ideas, or don’t even like gays seem to be more acceptable than those who can live in a world that allows competing and different thoughts.  Here’s the aha about all of this.  Jesus LIVED this.  “Go and Sin no more” to the lady in adultery.  He LOVED her, yet encouraged her to leave her sin.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ loved us.”  Jesus does this constantly.  He is not only able to carry these competing thoughts in his head, he seems to relish it.  It is so countercultural and so unusual, it makes him stand out significantly from the rest of the world.  And this is the example that we should also carry.

I’m working on this with my ex-wife as well.  There were many, many things done against me and to help ruin our marriage that are very difficult to comprehend.  I can’t imagine treating someone I love in the way I was treated.  Yet I am working very hard to not see myself as a victim or to not blame her for the failure of the marriage.  It does take two people to make a marriage and two people to break one up.

I think the hard part of what I experience at the church is that this Cognitive Dissonance is a much harder road to navigate than the blame one, support the other road.  It is always easier to judge than to be understanding.

The church I have landed at is literally “designed for men.”  This is a quote I found online about it.  They literal floor plan and architecture is built to help men feel at home.  I do agree that it is very cool in the way it looks.  But this also extends to opportunities for men — to serve in traffic control, rebuilding cars, doing construction projects, etc.  There are also many, many places for Women, and I haven’t yet seen how the youth or children’s ministries are structured, but it is a good start.  I have mentioned to a couple of new friends about going through a divorce and the first comment both times was, “We’re not here to judge, just to help you get through it.”

How refreshing that is.  So I’m not giving up on the church, but I am struggling with how to advise churches about how to get out of this “siding with one spouse” tradition and helping them provide a place for both to work through the divorce and emerge stronger on the other side.

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