Do American Churches and “Faith” Communities discriminate against divorcing people?

Do religious communities discriminate against divorced or divorcing people? It is possible there is unconscious bias. A recent panel discuss at Fordham University in New York that brought together a bunch of religious schools from various religious groups and organizations including catholicism, judaism and islam, explored this very question.

The conclusion was that certainly at a minimum, the narrative needs to change so that instead of saying that divorce is a “failed marriage” something less negative could be said. Among other things, there was a call for more “compassion”:

Faith communities need to show more compassion to congregants who go through divorces, the panelists said. One improvement might be to eliminate shaming language used to talk about these issues—for instance, referring to a marriage “failing” when it ends in divorce.

“Take out the language of obligation from divorce, and the language of sin or right and wrong,” said Aristotle Papanikolaou, PhD, the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and the co-founding director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

“See it instead as a moment of brokenness and loss, a moment in which God meets you where you’re at.”

Such language is not only alienating, but in some cases is blatantly wrong, said Darlene Fozard Weaver, PhD, an associate professor of theology at Duquesne University.

“There is a misconception that divorce itself is understood to be a sin, which is not true. It’s not a teaching of the Catholic Church that you’ve sinned simply by getting divorced, but [that’s] the lay understanding,” Weaver said.

“You take a sense of failure and then layer on top of that this perception of divine disapprobation, and that’s an extremely heavy burden to bear. That makes it more difficult to speak about divorce in ways that are compassionate and humane.”

It is an interesting topic because for many centuries in the Catholic church, if a person is divorced he or she would not be allowed to partake in the Eucharist. It is possible that this rule has been recently nixed by the current sitting Pope. Still, there is this overarching sense of shame and untouchableness that underpins the religious handing of divorce in many if not all denominations. This can’t be good for people’s mental and emotional health. Or their spiritual health for that matter.

Do you think this is a form of “bigotry”?

 

Or is it defensible?

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