Is Pornography Grounds for Divorce?

God’s Perfect Plan 
According to the scriptures, and contrary to conflicting opinions in today’s society, God ordained marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, in which “the two are united into one”(Genesis 2:24). During his earthly ministry, Jesus also taught that, “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Mark 10:9-10). One man, one woman, united as one flesh, forever — this is God’s desired will, out of his infinite wisdom and because of his great love for His children.

Our Broken Reality
When sin entered the world in Genesis 3 and tainted all that was pure and good, this picture of marriage would not be immune to its devastating effects and consequences. Because we are sinners who marry sinners, and live in a sinful world, it is not difficult to understand why God’s perfect plan for marriage is often not realized even among Christians. Jesus himself references the fact that Moses granted the concession of divorce because of the people’s “hard hearts” (Mark 10:5). In fact, born again Christians are “indistinguishable from the national average” in that one out of every three who has married becomes divorced (Barna Group, 2008).

Biblical Grounds for Divorce
Though the issue of what constitutes a justifiable divorce is debated among pastors and theologians, a general point of consensus is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32). It is important to note that the original language translated “unfaithful” here has a much broader connotation. The Greek word “porneia” in this context is commonly translated as “fornication” or “sexual immorality.”

Does Pornography Qualify?
Whether or not pornography qualifies as a biblical justification for divorce depends upon how one interprets the meaning of “porneia.” Generally speaking, religious liberals hold to the narrow definition of fornication, which is restricted to actual sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to expand the meaning to include various other sexually immoral acts. If the latter is the case, then it could be legitimately argued that viewing pornography is biblical grounds for divorce.

God’s Standard for Purity
While Christians tend to categorize sin and use others’ behavior as a standard to measure their own performance, the Bible repeatedly calls us to look to the righteous requirements of the law of a holy God alone. Jesus took the scope of “porneia” to a new level in his Sermon on the Mount by declaring that “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). What does this tell us? According to God’s perfect standard, when it comes to sexual immorality, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). The sad reality is this: we are all adulterers.

The Good News
The good news of the gospel is that, in spite of the fact that we struggle with lusts of the flesh, Jesus Christ was victorious for us in his sinless life and, therefore, the perfect sacrifice for our sexual sin — all sin. For those who are in Christ, the price was paid on the cross. No matter what the degree or frequency of immorality, Christ’s record is the believer’s record. Sanctification is a process — one over which God is sovereign, and one in which we can be confident that “God, who began the good work…will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).

Statistics and the Church’s Response
Until that day, the body of Christ must face the realities surrounding today’s pornography epidemic and seriously consider the impact the church’s response will have upon individuals and marriages. The statistics are alarming. With the nature of the internet, numbers are constantly changing, and survey reliability varies; however, it is estimated that up to 50% of Christian men and up to 20% of Christian women have some kind of struggle with pornography. 47% of families said pornography is a problem in their home (Focus on the Family Poll, October 1, 2003). 51% of pastors say internet pornography is a possible temptation; 37% say it is a current struggle; and 4 in 10 pastors have visited a porn website (Christianity Today, Leadership survey, Dec 2001). Depending upon its response, the church’s view regarding pornography as a grounds for divorce — or even for breaking an engagement — will have a far reaching effect upon the chronic singleness that exists in our society, as well as the potential for skyrocketing divorce rates because of the prevalence of the problem.

The complexities of the nature of this sin call for prayerful consideration of approaches in individual situations. There are many questions to ponder in the search for biblical solutions. How will we bring sin to light without condemnation? How will we model the truth that it is the Lord’s kindness that leads to repentance? How do we counsel, equip and properly care for spouses wounded by the devastating effects of pornography? How will we fight and become victorious over a thief that seeks to steal, kill and destroy? The church has an advantage over secular society in the battle against the problem with porn: we know the real enemy. “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We also know the only victor: our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The battle is his, and he has already won. May we live in such a way that demonstrates we believe that.

Dawn blogs regularly at Follow her on Twitter at @dawn_coates.

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