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Is the church view on divorce and remarriage outdated?

Saturday August 3 2019

divorce

The Kenyan law allows for divorce on grounds of cruelty, adultery, desertion, and lack of conjugal rights. ILLUSTRATION | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SONI KANAKE
By SONI KANAKE
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Divorce is on the rise in modern times. Inevitably, a lot of the divorcees will seek to remarry.

But according to the church, once your ties are broken, you should remain single. Is the church's view not out of touch with our modern realities?

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Six nights ago, 32-year-old Mercy sat up most of the night nursing hot mugs of cocoa as she waited for her husband to come home.

When her husband finally got to their home in Nairobi’s Njiru in the wee hours of Monday morning, he was spoiling for a fight.

When Mercy, an ECDE teacher, asked him where he’d spent the night, he pounced on her punching her, kicking her and finally pinning her neck on the floor with his shoe.

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When it was all done, she couldn’t report to work at the kindergarten on that day. She shares that this wasn’t the first time this was happening.

While he was later tearful and apologetic, Mercy is also almost certain that it won’t be the last time.

She has thought about leaving this marriage to start again but she is worried that if she does, she will no longer have a community to support her.

You see, her three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with severe Down’s syndrome at birth and her church members have been her biggest resource.

“The church is a big part of my life, I got married there. My daughter is accepted there. If I am a divorced woman, will anyone want to come to my house for prayers?” she wonders aloud.

FEAR

The fear of rejection in her church is what is keeping Mercy in this toxic marriage.

Many, who perhaps did not have this fear nagging at the back of their minds, have made this step and broken off.

According to the 2009 Population and Housing Census by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, over two per cent of all legal marriages had ended in legal divorce while more than twice this number had been separated but not legally divorced.

And these numbers have risen in the last decade, a fact that Anne Muratha, a master of ceremonies and cake matron at many weddings for over a decade, attests to.

“Sometimes I call up a couple a month after their wedding to ask them for their wedding photos and they tell me they can’t share them as they have since gone their separate ways! Every year, at least two couples whose weddings I had emceed tell me they are divorcing. Others opt to stay in the marriage even though they are emotionally apart,” explains Anne, who does an average of two weddings per month.

CAUSES OF DIVORCE

We all know a couple or two who have divorced. It’s a new reality. Factors like infidelity, violence, internal conflicts, finance, cultural and tribal differences, and the general lack of commitment are cited as among the biggest causes of divorce.

Other contributing factors are substance abuse, lack of larger family support, religious differences, lack of premarital counselling and age.

But, should divorce mean the end of love? Remarriage is a big option among many divorcees who are mostly at the prime of their sexual lives.

That’s where the real contention with the church is. While many churches, apart from the Catholic Church, recognise that divorce is acceptable in today’s times, most do not accept remarriage.

A recent debate on social media puts this into perspective. Sparked by the sharing of a policy on divorce and remarriage by Nairobi Chapel, one of the churches in the city, many felt its stand on remarriage was punitive and outdated for today’s generation.

The policy states: “Where marital breakdown or divorce happens, God calls us to honour the permanent bond that was forged between a husband and wife, and remain single for the rest of our life or reconcile with our partner. To marry another is to betray this bond. God calls this adultery.”

SINGLE FOR LIFE

Many were irked, some outraged and many termed the policy unfair. “Yeah, so sad how we thrive in hypocrisy and condemnation in the name of the church doctrines,” quipped one Facebook user.

“Being divorced does not mean God cannot use you,” said yet another. “Do you wonder why people are leaving the church?” posed one user. “I’m amused that the only thing that meets the bar for a path to a ‘righteous’ divorce is infidelity.

You stay with your abusive spouse or live alone,” noted someone else. Others wanted all churches to declare their stand on the same to enable them to choose wisely.

“As a church, we care for people going through a divorce,” says Nick Korir, Nairobi Chapel’s Senior Pastor.

The Chapel, the pastor says, runs a 10-week divorce care programme that aims at making the emotional healing journey easier for church members going through a divorce.

“Divorce is a painful process and our objective as a church is to see that these individuals are whole regardless of the season they are going through in their lives,” Pastor Korir explains.

The church developed the policy and uploaded it online five years ago to guide those with a desire to remarry after a divorce.

SALIENT PURPOSE

The church however deals with each case brought before it on an individual basis, Korir says. He says the church’s key focus though is to reconcile the couple. “God hates divorce”, is the stated rule anchored by the Bible.

The Catholic Church's view does not recognise divorce, leave alone remarriage, unless the marriage is yet to be consummated.

“Marriage is a permanent bond and can only be nullified in special circumstances if consummation has not taken place, or it’s established it wasn’t valid from inception,” explains Father Sahaya Selvam (PhD), a Catholic Priest of the Order of Salesians of Don Bosco and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor designate of Tangaza University.

“Where the couple is facing challenges, the church could recommend a separation to help them work out their issues separately; but in principle, divorce is not possible,” Father Sahaya, says.

Wamaitha Karanja, who got divorced five years ago after a four-year marriage and who talks to women going through divorce about living life uncaged, feels that the church gives the wrong definition of divorce.

According to Wamaitha, marriage should be about a human being and their relationship with God as it was between Adam and God and Eve and God — each had an intimate relationship with God, not as a couple.

UNTIL DEATH....

She asserts that there is a place for divorce in marriage and that there are certain reasons, especially physical abuse, that make going your separate ways the only option.

“This is not to say that people should marry expecting to divorce. If I had my way, people would first sit psychometric assessment tests before marriage and possibly sign contracts at the beginning because people change and people grow,” she says.

However, it would seem her view does not fly with many from the mainstream churches like Christ Is the Answer Ministries (Citam).

“A person can only be allowed to remarry once their spouse is dead,” says Bishop (Dr) David Oginde, the Presiding Bishop Citam, and the Chancellor of Pan Africa Christian (PAC) University.

“In cases of conflicts, we walk with the couple, some change while some refuse to change," he says.

Femicide and domestic violence have been on the rise in Kenya. Does the church’s hard stand not expose women to tragedy and children to a life of misery?

"We are not lost to the fact that someone could get murdered and as such, we recommend for separation as we try to get to the real issue,” Bishop Oginde says.

As a church, he says, their role is to try and mediate between the two fighting partners to reconcile them. "Marriage is for life. We always make sure that the couple understands what they are getting into at the start. It should not be entered into lightly," Bishop Oginde cautions.

STIGMA

But what about remarriage, when all fails? “If such a person remarries, they will be living in sin since they will be committing adultery, according to the Bible," he says.

This, according to Wamaitha Karanja, is what brings in the stigma of divorcees, more so, the women.

“I have come across instances where you can’t be a bridesmaid at your friend’s wedding because you are a divorced woman. It is as if you are a lesser human being because you did not live up to society’s unrealistic expectations,” she says.

Some churches seem to be accepting the modern reality. This is more so for the smaller ones, which see some of those divorced or seeking remarriage finding solace in their congregation.

One of those who are from the new school of thought, is Pastor Richard Kiilu of Speak the Word Church, Kasarani. “Where is the value for the person to enjoy the institution of marriage if the union is killing him slowly?” poses Pastor Kiilu.

Open and honest discussions will bring in the much-needed reprieve among those in broken marriages. “The church needs to speak about the reasons people are divorcing. Let them openly discuss physical and emotional abuse, sex, money, raising kids and all the issues affecting married couples today and give them the relevant advice,” he advises.

“Advising them to stick against the odds is counterproductive. When we amplify one voice (God hates divorce), let’s also amplify the other voice (God commands us to love one another, thus treating each other with respect). God is the author of life. Let’s ensure the person in a physically abusive relationship is alive first,” he declares.

HUMANE

“Redefine marriage. Be more inclusive,” are just what others think the church ought to do. George Kamau, a 44-year-old, is for the view that the church needs to encompass all.

“Instead of the church seeing divorce as a problem, they should see it as an opportunity to reach out to its broken folk,” George, an engineer who divorced nine years ago, says.

When he divorced he noted he was unwelcome at his then-church, and so he stopped going to church. When he remarried he chose to go the traditional way.

“This grouping of divorcees in a church is a form of discrimination. I want to be an active member of a regular congregation, not a special group,” he says.

This lack of understanding makes many churches lose believers. “Very few dare to face their pastor and tell them that their marriage has failed. So, you will often find them leaving the church,” Pastor Richard explains.

“Divorce is a legal matter that does not require the approval of the church. And once they are divorced and have a divorce certificate and still desire marriage, they usually seek remarriage in a new church,” he says.

The Kenyan law allows for divorce on grounds of cruelty, adultery, desertion, and lack of conjugal rights.

If the marriage was monogamous, such as a Christian one and most civil marriages, one is free to remarry. One can also remarry if they had been married traditionally and later divorced.

AMBITION

Well, not all couples are divorcing for what is recognised in law too.

Lillian Muthiga walked out of her seven-year-old marriage for what she terms as her partner’s lack of ambition.

“He was OK with us living with his mum. My problem was stagnation and lack of growth. My ex-husband can attest to this,” explains Lillian, who is in her mid-40s.

Having got married at 21, today she says she is enjoying being single and sees remarriage as a great option when the time is right.

“The church’s view on divorce and remarriage is unfair and impractical. How can they be against both fornication and remarriage? I mean, we have needs. What is an adult supposed to do when they have sexual urges?” the financial planner poses.

Well, it would seem the jury is still out there.

Additional reporting by Joan Thatiah

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