Session Delegates Consider Divorce/Remarriage
by Olson Perry
Delegates to the 57th General Conference Session discussed a proposed revision to the “Divorce and Remarriage” section of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. After two days of debate, and suggestions for modification, an action was taken to table the proposed document for further revision by the Church Manual Committee. On the final day of business, South Pacific Division delegate, Garry Hodgkin, president of the South New Zealand Conference, made a motion to rescind the action taken two days earlier “to return the document for further revision, and accept the recommendations made to the Church Manual committee.” In a second motion, Hodgkin proposed accepting the document in its entirety, including the amendments voted the first day of discussion to the first section of the document. Both actions passed unanimously.
The document more clearly defines causes for divorce, such as “abandonment by an unbelieving spouse” and “physical violence.” It does not alter the Church’s previous position on divorce and remarriage. As stated in the Church Manual, the only allowance for remarriage is adultery/fornication, which now includes “incest and child sexual abuse,” as well as homosexual practices.
The document allows divorce and remarriage when one’s spouse commits adultery/fornication. The amendment also includes “abandonment by an unbelieving spouse”
(1 Cor. 7:10-15) as cause for divorce, but not remarriage unless the spouse commits adultery/fornication. Likewise, physical violence is cause for separation or divorce, but not remarriage.
Lowell Cooper, General Conference vice president, said, “We do not have a perfect document.” He said, “It does not answer every question. We are trying to affirm an ideal, while at the same time recognizing situations that are much less than ideal. But this will be a significant step forward.”
Delegates argued that the document doesn’t go far enough, questioning why unfaithfulness to the marriage vow was limited to adultery/fornication. John Fowler, associate director of the General Conference, emphasized, “Part of the marriage vow is to ‘love, honor, and cherish. Physically abusing one’s spouse is a breaking of the marriage vow.”
Others questioned how to determine and prove physical abuse. Some disagreed with abandonment by an unbelieving spouse as cause for divorce. “1 Corinthians 7:10-15 does not convincingly support abandonment as a reason for divorce,” said Tunde Ojewole of the African-Indian Ocean division. “Abandonment for how long? One week? One month? One year?”
“This text did get a lot of discussion,” explained Lowell Cooper, General Conference vice president and chair of the Church Manual Committee, “but it survived the scrutiny of the Church’s theologians.”
During the 1995 General Conference Session an action was voted that the World Church reconsider its position on divorce and remarriage as expressed in the Church Manual. An international commission submitted its report to the General Conference Administrative Committee, which sent it to the Church Manual Committee.
Olson Perry is the editor of Southern Tidings.