I’ve been asked this question a few times, and was asked it again last week: “Is heavy use of pornography grounds for divorce?”
Until last week, I’ve usually come down on the “No” side, but having seen and heard more and more about this kind of sin, last week, for the first time, I found myself moving towards a hesitant “Yes.”
Before I explain my reasoning, let me offer a few qualifiers.
First, I’m not saying porn use requires divorce. Just as in the cases of abandonment and adultery, the woman may divorce her husband on these grounds, but does not have to.
Second, with the already weakened state of marriage in the Christian church, none of us want to be responsible for further weakening of it by making divorce more common. However, as with adultery and abandonment, God gives biblical grounds for divorce not only to protect the innocent, but also so that husbands and wives may know that there are lines they must not cross, thereby strengthening marriage. If more husbands knew that their porn use gave their wives grounds for divorce, perhaps less marriages would be devastated by it.
Third, we’re not talking about one-off porn use or even a few times. We’re talking about unrepentant and heavy use of hardcore pornography which the man refuses to stop.
Fourth, this does not mean we pastorally abandon the man, but rather we continue to minister to him and counsel him.
Fifth, separation without divorce would still be my preferred option in most of these extreme circumstances, with an ultimatum to the man to cease using porn, a time limit on his compliance, a promise of the woman to return if the conditions are met, and an agreement that one further use of porn will mean permanent separation and probably divorce.
Sixth, I am aware that there is no explicit biblical verse to support this position, but I believe it is a valid practical application of biblical principles. However, with it being an application of principle, Christians are likely to have different views on its validity. Notice, I said earlier, I’m in the “hesitant yes” category. I’m open to correction on this.
Seventh, although for some this approach may be unprecedented, we have to recognize that we are in unprecedented times with the unprecedented use of porn by some professing Christian men. The church has been slow to recognize these changes and to work out how God’s Word applies in these circumstances. We need to catch up.
These are my qualifiers. Now, my reasoning. And it’s really quite simple. It’s adultery.
“Oh, but there’s no real woman involved,” says an objector.
Really? Of course there is. In fact in some ways it’s worse than “ordinary” adultery in that it involves multiple women, many of whom are nothing less than sexual slaves, forced to satisfy the adulterous desires of porn users.
“Oh, but this is all in the man’s mind, it’s not real adultery, involving two physical bodies.”
Well, it certainly involves his body; repeatedly. And it certainly involves many women’s bodies. Just because there is a screen between them, and many miles may separate them, does not mean that two bodies are not being used adulterously.
“Oh, but every married man commits adultery in their minds.”
Maybe. But this is different in kind and degree. Is there no line we can draw anywhere, when porn use eventually crosses into divorce-justifying adultery? No amount of porn, no kind of porn, eventually equals adultery that would permit divorce?
As I said, I’m open to correction. I’d like to hear your arguments for and against. I’ll be especially interested to see if there’s a male/female split on this, as my own “polling” has found women more in the “Yes” camp than men.
SOME RESPONSES TO THE COMMENTS
1. I used the example of a man, but obviously the principles equally apply to a woman.
2. Most helpful extra piece of information is that porneia/πορνεία in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 means more than just “ordinary” adultery (moicheia/μοιχεία). It covers a wider range of sexual immorality.
3. #2 means that we must use wisdom to distinguish between certain kinds of porneia when considering whether there are grounds of divorce. There is porneia, and there is divorce-justifying porneia.
4. The question of degrees of porneia applies to non-digital porneia as well. For example, if a married woman kisses a married man (not her husband) in a sexual way, porneia has taken place, but few would say it is divorce-justifying porneia.
5. On the other hand, divorce-justifying porneia can take place without going the full way of sexual intercourse (e.g. President Clinton & Monica Lewinsky).
6. Even in the worst-cases of porneia, we should use counseling and church discipline first to try to save the soul and the marriage before considering divorce.
COMMENTS NOW CLOSED
This has been one of the most helpful blog discussions I’ve seen in the Christian blogosphere. Thank you to everyone who contributed and for the generally respectful, moderate, and constructive tone of most of the comments. Lots of helpful insights for us all to consider as we seek the Lord’s mind on this vexing issue. As I’m not seeing too much that’s new in the comments, and I don’t want the good that has come from the discussion to be lost, I think it best to close the comments now. I didn’t answer all the questions raised, partly because others answered them, and partly because I don’t have all the answers.