Divorce and remarriage among Christians: What’s God saying?

In a world where marriage mess is besetting both believers and non-believers alike, the need to choose the Bible over the law is becoming rather urgent

                                                                       Gospel singer Betty Bayo

In a world where marriage mess is besetting both believers and non-believers alike, the need to choose the Bible over the law is becoming rather urgent

Four years after separating with her pastor-husband Victor Kanyari, gospel singer Betty Bayo says she is ready to remarry. Bayo, best known for her song, Eleventh Hour, left Kanyari after a 2014 Jicho Pevu expose on KTN revealed how the Salvation Healing Ministry pastor faked healing miracles and coached his staff to tender phony testimonies.

Although the two had lived together as husband and wife for three years – and even had two children – Bayo said she was never legally married to Kanyari. But Kanyari told Daily Nation on November 4, 2014 that Bayo was his wife and that the scandal could not separate them. The two have since been living apart.

Over a month ago, Bayo told Standard’s Sunday Magazine that she was too beautiful to remain single and that she planned to remarry soon. She added that even if that doesn’t work out, “I’ll still be happy. I will be Betty. I’m wiser now. I do not cling to relationships. It is only that I am too beautiful to be single.”

Bayo may have been a victim of circumstance, but her current casual attitude towards marriage is a reflection of a bigger problem besetting an institution started by God Himself.

In a country where divorce and remarriage rates have been steadily spiralling over the years, Christians are not spared. The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey showed that six per cent of women aged 20-24 had already divorced or separated, a proportion almost double from two decades ago.

Men in their late 20s who married their younger girlfriends in 1998 reported a rise in divorce and separation from 2.4 per cent at age 25-29 to 6.2 per cent by the time they were in their early 30s.

Although the report lumps Christians and non-Christians together, Christian counsellors concur that divorce, separation, and remarriage among believers has spiked.

Marriage experts and gospel ministers say handling issues of divorce and remarriage is not easy because marriage is a decision between two people and when they decide to part ways, it becomes hard for outsiders to stop them.

“As Christians, in such circumstances, we have to stick to what the Bible says rather than what the law or the aggrieved parties,” says Bishop Daniel Matheka.

He says the main reason for rampant divorce in the society today is what Jesus told the Pharisees: a hard heart. A heart not willing to forgive wrong-doing. A heart not willing to pay whatever price it takes to ensure marriage union lasts.

“We are in a society that values rights more than what the Scriptures say. But that doesn’t negate God’s Word. When all is said and done, we have to go back to God and ask, ‘What do you say on these issues?’ And the answer is very clear as Mark 10:1-12 says that divorce is not His will for the family institution,” says Matheka, who has just released a new book, Home, the Leader’s Base Camp, in which he advises married couples to put family first even as they seek success in other fields.

On remarriage, he says that once someone gets it wrong in the first place by going the divorce way, remarriage is no longer an issue for them. “If the first wrong is not sorted out, then remarriage will follow. I will not criticise those who divorce and remarry, I will only talk on what God says – that He hates divorce and that no one should separate what He has joined,” he says.

He says handling conflicts in a marriage is complex even for pastors. He cites the case of Jackline Mwende, the woman from Machakos whose hands were chopped off by her husband in 2016. Mwende’s pastor is said to have advised her to remain in her turbulent marriage.

“Some of these issues are thorny and once you hear a couple has irreconcilable differences, apart from prayers, tell them to do what is safe but ensure they live in accordance with the Scriptures, which prohibits remarriage when the other partner is still alive,” he says.

According to Lois Kagwe, a lecturer and counselling psychologist at International Leadership University, infidelity is mostly to blame for divorce. She says human beings are controlled by nature and nurture.

“By nature I mean conflicts arising from one’s inherent features, character, or qualities and also inborn or hereditary characteristics which influence or determine one’s personality. Nurture has to do with upbringing,” she says.

She says most premarital counselling is never deep enough to prepare candidates for stable marriages. She says some churches give counselling raw deal maybe due to lack of experts who can handle marriage-related issues.

In her career spanning 15 years, she has counselled married couples and realised that most people who come from broken homes don’t take marriage seriously. “They don’t attach much value to sustainability of a marriage maybe because their parents divorced and life went on. A slight disagreement is enough to make them want to part ways. Those who come from stable families tend to value every counsel they get. That shows how marital break-ups affect generations,” she says.

Kagwe has counselled several divorced or separated couples, including gospel ministers. She normally advises them to have patience and self-control. “Even if your husband or wife leaves you, don’t rush to remarry. You need self-control and time to heal. Some couples end up realising their mistakes and seek counsel on how to restore their marriage,” she says.

She tells the story of a couple she once counselled and remarried after being divorced for 15 years. The divorce had been caused by infidelity on the part of the husband.  “Jesus Christ said if one spouse is unfaithful, then the other partner is not obliged to stay. That means the individual has gone against marriage vows by not being faithful to his or her partner. But even then, if the two are willing to sort out the mess, God supports their initiative,” she says.

Kagwe partly blames the high rate of marriage break-ups in Kenya to Western influence where some church ministers divorce, remarry and continue with ministry. “Some of these preachers are very influential. And since they seem to be doing well even after divorce and remarriage, some Christians get carried away by such “successes” without thinking about the implications,” she says.

She, however, says there is hope for those who respect God’s Word and value marriage: “The fact that there is divorce everywhere doesn’t mean there are no stable marriages. Divorce has terrible consequences and should be avoided at all costs.”