by Jim Reapsome
We can’t look the other way when divorced persons apply for missionary service.
Is there a place for divorced people in missions? The question begs simple answers. Probably no other issue has evangelicals so arrayed against each other. When the churches find it hard to know where to draw the line, so do the mission sending agencies.
One thing on which all agree, however, is that the sheer number of divorced persons has increased to the point where neither church nor mission can afford to look the other way. Similarily, along with the trend, there are more Christians taking recourse to divorce, more lenient attitudes toward them in the churches, and more divorced pastors in the ministry.
Taken together, these trends mean that mission boards meet more and more people who, having been divorced, want to serve. In the past, the general response was to say, Sorry, we don’t take divorced persons. But in some instances, the answer is not so uniquivocal. Mission agencies struggle to be biblical in the fullest sense of that word. But that’s not the whole story. Once the biblical teachings are taken into account, how does an organization apply them in its personnel policies?
In this issue, Robert Morris writes a helpful survey of the various biblical concerns and suggests how applicants might be screened. Three people with much at stake in missions, Emilio Nunez, Paul Toms and Warren Webster, contribute their insights.
Some mission agencies remain uncomfortable with the position of saying No to any and all divorced persons. Others recognize that there is biblical warrant for interviewing such persons, to talk about their spiritual pilgrimage, where they are in their walk with God, how divorce broke their lives, and how God might have a place for them in mission.
No one wants to pretend that divorce is not a tragedy, that in many cases it is being resorted to much too often by Christians, and that in our eagerness to be open, accepting and forgiving we sometimes steer clear of the biblical injunctions against divorce. At the same time, much unnecessary hardship and grief are added to divorced persons when they are effectively locked out of participation in the life of both churches and missions and treated as though divorce were unforgivable.
We must be careful that in trying to lessen the stigma of divorce that we given the impression that it really isn’t such a serious matter after all. Giving a person a thoughtful hearing in the initial interview for missionary service does not imply that divorce is irrelevant. The question is, How relevant is the experience of divorce to future missionary service?
Of course, the answer depends to some extent on the facts revealed in the interview. These facts must be faced. For instance, some applicants may get further toward service if they were divorced prior to their conversion, or if the reason for the divorce was either adultry or desertion.
Mission agency interviewers have a valuable mission to applicants who are divorced. They can show understanding without excusing, rather than being hard-nosed. Our plea here is that in the larger context of mission agency policies we must accept our ministry to divorced persons. The interviewer can do much to give hope and purpose, even though policies may not permit any or some kind of missionary service.
We hope that the converns expressed in this issue will lead to productive policies that are both biblical and pragmatic. Some agencies will revise their policies, some will not. But mission leaders and boards must look at them caringly, and, it is hoped, with a minimum of the kind of rigidity that precludes welcoming each applicant as a significant person who needs and deserves wise and loving counsel.
Copyright © 1984 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.