Question:

I have recently divorced my husband for sexual immorality and abuse.  He watched pornography, read Playboy magazines, is a nudist around other nude men and women, and also paid several times to have phone sex with real women. These actions have been going on for about ten years or more. I consider these actions to be grounds for divorce.  He has taken the intimate sexual relationship that is only to be for me and has given it to other real women. He had sex verbally with other real women. 

The church where I attend tells me that sexual immorality is only intercourse and that I have no grounds for divorce, therefore I am sinning.  And my husband can come back in ten years or so , if I am with someone else (which I feel that I have a right to be), and he then can say that he mentally divorces me now and that I will be the adulterer and he will be free to remarry.  My husband does not think that he has done anything wrong because it was over the phone and not in person.  I am told that even if he had a webcam and could see the other women, that it is still not grounds for divorce because it was not in person. I disagree. (I understand sexual immorality and unchastity to mean immoral behavior of a sexual nature).

I have kept pretty much silent about my divorce being final.  I am afraid what will happen when the church finds out.  I should not have to be put in this position.  Please tell me how you feel about phone sex and grounds for divorce.


Answer:

Since it appears that your mind is made up, I don't know how showing you what the Scriptures state is going to help. But since you asked, I'll do my best.

Your ex-husband is very much wrong about his lifestyle. He is directly violating Jesus' statement: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). He is guilty of lust and sensuality (or lewdness, or lasciviousness, depending on the translation). For these sins he ought to have been withdrawn from by the church.

However, you make it clear that he didn't actually engage in sexual acts with these women. I know you want to broaden the definition of porneia to include what he had done, but personal desire doesn't change the definition. Jesus stated, "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). The phrase "sexual immorality" in this translation is translating the Greek word porneia. The word originally meant "prostitution" in classical Greek but over time it was broadened to apply to other acts illicit sexual intercourse.

Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:9 does not mean that fornication is the only reason for divorce. There are two conditions cited which leads to a conclusion:

  1. If a person divorces for a reason other than fornication
  2. And marries another person
  3. Then both the person who remarried and the one who married this person are both guilty of adultery.

If the second condition never happens, then the conclusion is not reached. Paul talks about this, "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). In general, husbands and wives are to remain married for their life. All efforts are to be given to see that this happens. However, there are going to be times when a husband or wife insists on leaving, such as what happened in your case. When this happens the two must remain unmarried or eventually reconcile and return to their original spouse.

Since you decided that your former husband's sins were too disgusting to remain with him, you decided to leave him. But that choice comes with a consequence of remaining unmarried. Whether he or you remain faithful to God and remain unmarried doesn't change the requirement for yourself or him. There is no such thing as a "mental divorce." You cannot divorce someone to whom you are currently not married to. If your husband's sins were too much to live with, then God allows you to choose to leave, but the restriction is there to encourage you to resolve the problem with your former husband so that you can return to being husband and wife. If he refuses to leave his sin or you refuse to forgive him if he did repent (which also would be a sin), then the only choice is to remain single.

No one put you into this position. You chose to marry this man. You chose to leave him because of his sins. When you chose to marry him it came with consequences -- you had to stop dating other men. When you chose to leave him it came with consequences -- you must remain unmarried or be reconciled to your former husband.

Thank you for your quick response.  My husband has been disfellowshipped 15 years ago.  The church is the one that says that the marriage bond still exists and that he can come back years down the road and say that he is mentally divorcing me. 

I cannot believe that he can do these things and it not be looked at as being unfaithful to me.  He has not been a husband or father for most of our marriage.  I have asked about moving back and he has told me no.  I have mentioned to him six times, that all he has to do is be my husband and we will not do this, he says no.  He doesn't want to be married.

He plans on leaving the state and camp at nude beaches.  The wife should not be punished for the sins of the spouse. 

Since Paul stated, "if she does depart, let her remain unmarried" unmarried states that the marriage bond does not exist.. Yet, the restriction on remarriage remains. I understand the reason the Lord placed it there. Just look at the world and the mess families are in because of the free-for-all and the restriction makes a perfect balance for deciding whether to go or stay.