On Tavner Smith, Marriage, & Divorce

In a recent blog I discussed the situation of Pastor Tavner Smith, he’s a mega church pastor out of Chattanooga, TN, who was recently caught in a compromising position with another man’s wife. Although he initially denied any wrong doing, after a brief sabbatical, he’s returned to the pulpit and confessed to his congregation that he has had in fact an inappropriate relationship with the woman, identified as Lexi Elisha.    

The Times Free Press obtained and leaked some audio of a December 17th church meeting with the pastor in which he revealed some details of the relationship. In one segment of the leaked audio, Pastor Smith indicated that as long as Mrs. Elisha is married, that they were not going to pursue any type of romantic relationship. However, in the audio, Pastor Smith admitted that after she’s no longer married, and he’s no longer married, that they hoped to pursue each other.  

Now, I believe that this statement gives us a great glimpse into Pastor Smith unfortunate view of marriage and divorce, and provides for us a good opportunity to learn something.  It would seem that Pastor Smith sees a divorce decree as the moment in which new relationships can be pursued.  This is a common view, not only for those of the world, but sadly, in the church today. I find this extremely disheartening, and so I wanted to discuss this topic.       

In Matthew 19, the Jewish leaders cornered Jesus and asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for “any reason.” Jesus launched into a brief teaching on what marriage was, and then suggested that if God had joined two people, they were not to be separated by man. The Pharisees replied by pointing out that Moses commanded that a man give a woman a certificate of divorce, and wondered then how it was that God did not want them to be separated.  Jesus replied that God permitted a man to divorce his wife, but that this was because of man’s sinfulness, not because it was part of God’s original plan.    

And then Jesus gave a stern warning. He said in verse 9 that “whoever divorces his wife, expect for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”     

It’s this statement that I believe causes a lot of confusion.  However, it’s this statement that also gives us a great insight into what God wants for us.   So, the question we have here is why would a divorced man, or woman, commit adultery by marrying someone else? If they’re divorced, aren’t they free to remarry? If adultery is a violation of the marriage covenant, how can marrying someone be adultery – when you’re divorced?        

Jesus gives an exception here, one that I’m not going to discuss in detail, but He says that if you divorce someone because they were sexually immoral, and you marry someone else, then you may not be committing adultery. But, how can it be that someone who’s divorced, for another reason, who marries again, commit adultery?     

Well, to understand that we’d have to understand what marriage is. If marriage is just a civil institution, governed by our court system, then I don’t think Jesus would really care that deeply about it. And, I think that’s our problem today. I believe that many Christians today look at marriage as something that can be ended by a local judge sitting in our local courthouse. But Jesus said what God has joined, let not man separate.  You see, marriage is something that God does, not man.

Therefore, when a man and woman get divorced for reasons other than legitimate ones, what they’re doing is being separated in the eyes of the civil system, but not necessarily separated in the eyes of God. That’s why when a man and woman get a divorce for reasons other than what is permitted, and they marry another, they are committing adultery – because in God’s eyes the first marriage isn’t over!     

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of marrying many couples. Generally, this starts with a phone call. Someone will call me up and ask if I could marry them before God. I’ve learned never to say ‘yes’ on the phone. I always say, “well, let’s sit down and talk first.” Then, when the three of us sit down to talk, I ask them to tell me about themselves, and in particular, if either party had ever been married. If either of them had been married before, I then ask them to tell me about how that marriage ended. The reason I’m asking these questions is because I want to know if both parties are proper candidates for marriage. In other words, are they free to remarry?     

I believe that I have a responsibility before God to only marry couples who are proper candidates for marriage. One day I will have to answer to God and so I need to be careful.       

Now, if one of them says to me, for instance, “well, I was married for a few years but my previous spouse and I just drifted apart, “ or “I divorced him because he never put the toilet seat down,” or “she never put the toothpaste cap back on,” well, then, we have a problem.     

You see, that would suggest to me that the divorce that they have may not be a legitimate divorce in the eyes of God. ’ In that instance, I would only be promoting adultery if I married a couple when at least one of them was still married to someone else.  Sure, a judge somewhere in some courtroom stamped the divorce final, but the questions that we all should be asking is ‘what does God think?’  ‘Is the marriage over in God’s eyes?     

Remember, Jesus gave us one condition, sexual immorality, that could justify a divorce, and we believe that Paul gave us another reason in 1 Corinthians 7. And again, I’m not going to go into detail about those reasons in this blog. That’s not my purpose. My purpose is to discuss how God views marriage.

When we stand at the altar and take a vow, we should remember that we are taking a solemn oath. God keeps His promises, and so those of us who want to be like God should keep ours. And none of us promise to love honor and cherish the other person until we drift apart.  While it is true that God does permit divorce in certain cases, what is far greater than divorce is repentance and forgiveness. What God would really love for us to do is to repent of the sin that separated us from our spouse, and for the other spouse to extend grace and forgiveness, so that we can keep the promises that we made.      

Pastor Tavner Smith said that as soon as he is divorced from his wife, and Mrs. Elisha is divorced from her husband, that they plan on pursuing one another. This suggests to me that they both must see the civil divorce decree as something that God needs in order to authorize their relationship. It places the local county judge in a position over God. I couldn’t imagine attending a church where the pastor has that kind of attitude about marriage and divorce.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.




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