Dear Dr. Moore,
I’ve heard you say before that a pastor’s calling is to shape the consciences of God’s people toward conformity to Christ through the faithful preaching of the Word, and that this informs their callings in the everyday world. I agree. But here’s my problem.
I have a church member, a devoted Christian, who is an attorney specializing in divorce cases. Our church believes that divorce is (in almost every case) sin. If so, isn’t he empowering sin? Should I counsel him to follow Christ by walking away from this job and to do something else? If he won’t, should we discipline him?
Divorce Lawyer’s Pastor
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, you know. If you have a song bubbling up in your head right now, you probably grew up in an evangelical Sunday School somewhere. Even if not, you know the story, and I think it’s applicable here.
There is not much commendable about Zacchaeus’ occupation. He was a shill for the Roman occupation, in a role that was virtually always corrupt, defrauding oppressed people of money with the implicit threat of Caesar’s sword hanging over their heads.
When he came to know Christ, the Bible does not tell us that Jesus required that he abandon his occupation. Rather, the Spirit radically altered the nature of that occupation. He walked away from fraud and abuse, and made restitution to those he had sinned against (Lk. 19:1-11).
There are some jobs, of course, that no Christian can hold. One cannot be a Christian temple prostitute in Corinth or a Christian porn star in Los Angeles. Jesus died for temple prostitutes and porn stars, and invites them into his life, but following him will mean walking away from jobs that are inherently sinful.
That’s not necessarily the case here.
In a fallen world, do we need divorce lawyers? I would argue, yes. Our divorce laws, as they currently stand, are often unjust, but think of the lack of justice if we had no divorce laws at all. Men would still leave their wives (and vice-versa), take up with other people, and leave wreckage behind. Just divorce laws seek to minimize harm to the innocent.
Divorce proceedings then decide child custody and financial arrangements. A divorce lawyer working to see that an innocent woman is not left destitute by her abandoning husband is working for justice. A divorce lawyer who is working to prevent a sexually abusive spouse from gaining custody of a child can be working for justice.
I would look at precisely what kind of divorce lawyer this Christian is. If he is an “ABC easy divorce for $125” advertisement sort of lawyer, who is seeking to entice people into divorcing for his financial gain, then, yes, that’s unjust and outside of what it means to follow Christ. But I wouldn’t assume that’s the case.
It could be that this attorney has been given a ministry to wrecked families. In some cases, he can use his influence to try to keep families together, and to work toward some sort of mediation that could lead to reconciliation. In others, he could be a voice that seeks to shield innocent parties from being financially destroyed by predatory spouses and parents. And, after making sure that everything is done in accordance with the law and the principles of justice, he could try to help people see the hope of a new life on the other side.
God hates divorce. Divorce is always the result of someone’s sin and rebellion. But often, as the Scripture itself tells us, there are those who experience divorce as victims, not as perpetrators. These people have a divorce foisted upon them, and they need protection. That’s love of neighbor.
This takes a strong Christian, with a sensitive conscience. If he starts to see divorce as a commodity through which he can make money, he should walk away. If he uses the law to deprive justice for the weak and vulnerable, he should repent. But if he can see himself as standing for justice in a fallen world, and lives accordingly, there is no reason for him to abandon his sphere of influence to the conscienceless.
And, of course, he is waiting, like Zacchaeus and all of us, for a new creation in which our vocations really take off. There will be no divorce law practices in the New Jerusalem, but, then again, there won’t be any need for ethics Q&A columns either.
Remember to send me your real-life ethical dilemma at firstname.lastname@example.org.