With this Ring, I Thee Divorce

  The ceremony had everything you’d expect at a wedding: a bride and a groom, rings and vows, candles and music. But this was no ordinary wedding. In fact, it wasn’t a wedding at all. It was a divorce ceremony. As Phil Penningroth gave his soon-to-be ex-wife a non-wedding ring, he solemnly vowed: "Barbara, I release you as my wife and will love you as my friend." "Phil," Barbara replied, "I release you as my husband and I will love you as my friend." Well, as columnist and marriage expert Maggie Gallagher put it wryly, "Life is sometimes better than parody." Maggie Gallagher recently wrote a book about how destructive divorce can be. So when the Penningroths appeared on a television talk show recently, Gallagher was invited to come along, too. She listened to the Penningroths talk about their attempts to reach healing and forgiveness with their un-marriage vows -- but she wasn’t impressed. As Gallagher later commented in the Washington Times, "There’s something brutal at the very heart of the divorce process that Phil and Barbara . . . were trying very hard to deny with their prettied-up ritual. Divorce says: ‘I’m not going to take care of you, I won’t be responsible for you. I’m free to find someone better to love.’" After dumping his wife, Phil Penningroth seemed to be saying, "Make me feel better about this," Gallagher wrote. The spurned spouse is not the only one who suffers. Children of divorce fail in school at higher rates than children whose families are intact. They also tend to abuse drugs more and commit more crimes. And it gets worse. Children of divorce are also at higher risk of poverty, child abuse, mental and physical illness, premature sexual behavior, and suicide. No wonder God says "I hate divorce" [Malachi 2:16]. As for the couples themselves, studies reveal that the stress of divorce puts both men and women at significantly higher risk for a whole host of physical illnesses -- not to mention emotional problems. "How," Gallagher asks, "can a few words mumbled over a candle . . . somehow massage away the sting of divorce?" Clearly, they can’t. Studies that document this destruction put the lie to the secular teachings of the past thirty years. These teachings claimed that the route to happiness was putting personal desires above everything else -- including marital and family commitments. The effects of divorce, we were told, are minor and short-lived. Well, Maggie Gallagher’s book, The Case for Marriage, gives us a chance to do a little worldview witnessing. The book documents that couples who stay together are happier, healthier, and financially better off. In this matter, as in so many others, biblical teachings are being proven true. The claims of the Bible, you see, are rational propositions well supported by empirical evidence. And all other teachings are, in the end, deeply destructive. The Penningroths have written a book telling couples how to plan divorce rituals. But the evidence exposes just how "healing" these ceremonies really are not. If we really love our neighbors, instead of encouraging them to plan elaborate divorce ceremonies, we ought to help them figure out how to keep their original vows: the ones they took on their wedding day.


Chuck Colson


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