Blended families make for great sit-coms, but the challenges that real blended families aren’t as funny or able to be resolved in a 30-minute episode.
This past Sunday (September 30) we wrapped up a series called, The Elephant in the Family Room, at our church. In the series, we covered some of the “un-talked-about” things that keep our families from being all that we would want them to be (you can check out the podcasts here).
We wrapped up the series talking about blended families. A blended family is any household or family that is made up of parents and kids that are not all biologically related. According to the Family Life ministry and their leader, Ron Deal, there are 67 different blended family configurations. When a widow and a widower with kids get married, they become a blended family. When a woman who has had a child while unmarried, ends up marrying someone else, they become a blended family. When someone (or maybe two someones) that has gone through the pain of divorce remarries, they become a blended family. Blended families face the same challenges that other families face, but they have the added complexity of trying to blend two families together, interaction with ex-spouses, etc.
During our series, we have asked people to text in questions that we would try to answer at the end of the message. We had a few questions that came in during the blended families message and I wanted to respond to them. Thanks for taking the time to read.
QUESTION 1: WHEN WE TALK ABOUT BLENDED FAMILIES, WHAT ABOUT WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES ABOUT DIVORCE? ARE WE SAYING THAT IT’S OK?
That’s a great question. First of all, I made a statement during the message that I want to share again here. I said,
“As a church, we do more than accept blended families, we embrace blended families. And we want to be a blessing to your family like every family. We understand your unique challenges and we want to be a place where you are affirmed and encouraged so you can thrive as a family.”
And I stand behind that statement 100%. This statement and the entirety of the message on Sunday was to offer help and encouragement to people who are navigating blended family challenges. Regardless of how they got there, they got there. It’s not different than how we want to help people who are dealing with other areas of their lives. When someone comes to the church and says. “I am struggling with alcoholism,” our response is not to sit down and read them all of the Bible passages about the sin of drunkenness. Our response is to help them get free. In the same way, there has been a lot of pain and soul searching for most people who are in a blended family and we want to help them thrive. We try and take our cues from Jesus, who would say to a woman caught in adultery, “I don’t condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”
Secondly, our desire to help blended families (which make up a significant percentage of our American population) does not diminish our Biblical position that in many circumstances divorce is sin and should be avoided at all costs, just like other areas of sin. Jesus, Himself, challenged His followers to live at a higher standard in this area. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
“You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32).
At that time in Jewish culture, a man could divorce his wife easily and freely. At one point they were doing it REALLY easily and freely, so Moses, in the Old Testament, told them that they at least had to give their wives a divorce certificate so she could be accepted back by her family. Jesus changed the game. He said don’t do it. The exception that he made was if there was adultery on the part of one of the spouses. Then, Jesus said, it is acceptable.
I, as the lead pastor, and Journey Church, as a church, would never encourage people to end their marriage in divorce (except for biblically allowed cases or verifiable abuse). We will always encourage people to fight for their marriages and offer support and resources to help them. At the same time, if that decision is made, we will continue to walk along side of them in love and grace. As a pastor, I have sat with many couples struggling in their marriages, and sadly, I have seen some of them divorce. And one thing I can tell you is that not one of the couples I have worked with made that decision hastily or easily. Dime-a-dozen marriages may be popular in Hollywood or other celebrity cultures, but in real life, divorce is painful and problematic.
QUESTION 2: HOW IS IT MORE ACCEPTABLE TO HAVE A BLENDED FAMILY AFTER DIVORCE THAN A HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE? THERE ARE MORE VERSES CONDEMNING DIVORCE THAN GAY MARRIAGE (I ASK THIS OUT OF CURIOSITY, NOT JUDGMENT)?
Thanks for your question! I am not sure these are comparable issues. I realize they are both about marriage, but the issue of divorce and remarriage and the issue of homosexual relationships are different, and, I think, should be looked at separately. These are not the only issues that people use the equivalence argument with. People often say, “Why is ‘A’ wrong, when there are only 17 verses about it in the Bible, but ‘B’ isn’t seen as wrong, even though there are 84 verses about it?” Or another argument that is often used is, “How can __________ be wrong if Jesus never said anything about it?” So I would like to talk about each issue individually.
Blended families after divorce: As I stated in my response to Question 1 above, the Bible teaches us to avoid divorce and identifies divorce as sin. An exception, as noted above also, is in the case of adultery. Get married, stay married. That’s God’s plan, that’s the ideal. But because we live in a broken and fallen world, we don’t always live up to the ideal. People lie. People steal. People look at pornography. People mistreat others. People act selfishly. The Apostle Paul consolidates it all in Romans 3:23 when he writes, “All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” We all fall short. And for some people, that means getting divorced. And many of those people choose to re-marry later in their lives. Does that make it “acceptable”? If the church comes alongside those newly formed families, embraces them, and wants to help them thrive (so they don’t end in another divorce), does that mean we are “accepting” divorce and remarriage? If we are erring in that approach, then we would need to identify the appropriate response. I am not sure what that would be. Shunning those families? Discouraging them from being a part of the church? Wishing them luck in figuring out the complexities of a blended family, but asking them do it somewhere else? I don’t think that’s what any of us would endorse. One last comment: when people choose divorce for a “wrong reason” (according to Biblical guidelines), they make a decision. They are not choosing a lifestyle or pattern of behavior, unless they are a serial-divorcee - and then they probably need to refrain from re-marriage. And one last, last thought, while the Bible does “condemn” some behaviors, it doesn’t condemn many people.
Homosexual marriage: The Bible consistently calls homosexuality sin. There is no Scripture in the Old or New Testament that speaks about homosexuality as anything other than sin. Whether you believe that people are born with homosexual tendencies or that some people choose a homosexual lifestyle, there is not a biblical scenario for that desire to be acted on without it being sin. Having those desires is not sin, acting on them is. So there is not really a scenario where homosexual marriage can be endorsed biblically.
There’s a lot more that could be said about both parts of your question, and I would love the chance to talk to you about them, but that’s a small response to a really big and important topic.
3. QUESTION 3: WHAT IF A STEP-PARENT WON’T ENGAGE AND ISN’T NICE TO YOUR BIOLOGICAL CHILD? KEEP REACHING OUT OR GIVE UP AND PRAY?
Wow, that’s a tough and I’m sure painful question. I want you to know that I am now praying for you and your child, and I don’t think praying means we’re giving up. We can work and pray!
My answer to your question starts with a question of my own. Did you (biological parent) see any of this non-engagement and unkindness before you made the decision to marry or re-marry? Or was there a change at some point in your marriage/family? I agonize with you either way.
If you have not already done so, you have to start by having a direct and clear conversation with your spouse about what is happening. That conversation needs to happen when things are “cool” around your house, not in the “heat” of the moment. Don’t have that conversation in front of the child. Just the two of you. Healing and reconciliation usually begins with hard conversations. You can share your observations or perceptions with your spouse and you can hear their perspectives. They also need to be reminded that when you two married, the family came with, it’s a package deal.
If you are struggling to progress with this issue, I would encourage you to spend time with a Christian counselor that works with marriages and families. We have a couple that attend Journey and I would be glad to get you connected to them. Just shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The outside perspective of a trained counselor can often make a HUGE difference in reconciling relationship issues.
That’s it for the questions about blended families from this past Sunday. Thanks for taking the time to read my responses. If any of them left you with more questions or you would like a “deeper dive” into any of them, feel free to reach out. I’d love to get together and talk about them.
Pastor Darrick Young
Lead Pastor, Journey Church