Teachings and Practice on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
A Statement of The American Lutheran Church, 1980
Adopted Sept. 10, 1982, by the Eleventh General Convention of
The American Lutheran Church as a statement of policy and practice
for this church (GC82.10.104). It replaces the statement "Teachings
and Practice on Marriage and Divorce" adopted by the 1964 General
Convention (GC64.26.84). Ballot vote tally: Yes 867; No 44.
A. Basic Understanding of Marriage
1. Marriage is a structure of human life built into the
creation by the Creator. It builds upon our creation as male and
female (Gen. 1:27). Sexual differences are of God s good design,
intended to bring joy and enrichment to human life as well as to
provide for procreation. The essence of marriage is that in the act
and relationships of marriage two persons become one flesh (Gen.
2:24). In this complementary nature of the two sexes as God created
them lies the basis for marriage and each new family.
2. Marriage exists within a world characterized
by our alienation from God and from each other; it therefore is
affected by human sinfulness. Nevertheless, being part of God's
creative and sustaining order, marriage continues to exist under
God's goodness and protection. It is a means by which God provides
men and women with an intimate relationship with each other, thus
giving one sign from God that we are not meant to be alone.
Marriage ceremonies serve as symbols of public acceptance of
responsibility of husband and wife to one another. Marriage
provides the framework within which children can be nurtured and
trained for living with others. Laws, regulations, and customs
which order and control marriage are a social and moral necessity,
and, when rightly drawn and administered, they serve God's good
3. Christian people recognize their marital
union as belonging to God's created order; it is not merely a
contract between two individuals, the essential elements of which
can be arbitrarily altered. Christian people seek also the
fulfillment of their marital union in Christ as they grow in loving
one another even as Christ has loved them, as they learn to forgive
one another in the spirit of Christ, and as they draw upon the
resources which the Lord of the church makes available to his
people. The faith of Christian people affects, often decisively,
every aspect of their marriage.
4. Marriage is not an estate in which all
persons should be expected to exercise their calling as Christians.
For some, the single estate may be that in which they can best
serve the purposes of God and the needs of their neighbors. Whether
married or single, a Christian s affirmation of God s calling
within God's kingdom liberates one from the need to conform to the
pressures of society.
B. The Unity of Marriage
5. The devotion to one another and the unity named in Gen.
2:24 are of the essence of marriage. Husband and wife ought to
become a harmony of personalities, a couple belonging together, "no
longer two but one" (Mark 10:7, 8; Eph. 5:31). They become a paired
unity-in sexual expression, in values and goals, and often in
6. The unity which God intends for marriage
requires a lifelong commitment of husband and wife to each other.
Such commitment provides the foundation for real freedom and
growth. The oneness of husband and wife, marked by unwavering
lifetime fidelity, is compared in Scripture to the oneness of
Christ and his church. Just as love, faithfulness, and service mark
the relationship of Christ and the church, so also they should
characterize the relationship of husbands and wives. Both husband
and wife are to be subject to one another out of reverence for
Christ (Eph. 5:21). Husband and wife yield to each other full
devotion and unselfish consideration. It is on this exalted level
that conjugal rights and obligations are granted and accepted.
Neither lords it over the other nor insists selfishly on rights or
duties. Together husband and wife become one in love, serving one
another within marriage. (See Gal. 5:22, 23; Eph. 5:21-25; Col.
3:18, 19; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
7. Every person has been created by God with
gifts that make him or her a unique personality. The strength and
unity of marriage come from mutual recognition and sharing of each
other's needs and gifts. This unity recognizes the freedoms of
husband and wife to express their own interests as well as their
duty to share in those relationships where sharing is essential to
the success of the marriage. The unique gifts of husband and wife
should be utilized, within the harmony of marriage, toward the
meaningful goals and purposes of human life assigned by God.
C. Love in Marriage
8. As God is love, so has God given to male and female,
created in God's image, the capacity to express love. Marriage can
be a prime opportunity through which we can reflect the divine
relationship of love. That love which reflects divine love is
mature, kind, considerate, self-giving, dedicated to the well-being
and the fulfillment of the other as of oneself, and faithful to the
beloved until death. Its characteristics are described in 1 Cor.
13:4-7. It seeks to give rather than to get. Such love is the goal
and gift of marriage, the quality in which the marriage partners
ought to grow and mature, even though our capacity for such love is
warped by human selfishness.
9. Sexual intercourse is expressive of the
unique union established between a husband and wife in marriage. It
provides a unique knowing of the other person which can be realized
in no other way. By its very nature sexual intercourse expresses a
commitment to another person which constitutes marriage. It is for
this reason that the biblical witness condemns sexual intercourse
outside marriage as contrary to God's intention. Sexual intercourse
should be an expression of love, but love is both richer and more
inclusive than the sex act. Sexual harmony, truly one of the joys
of marriage, nevertheless is not so much the goal of marriage as it
is a reflection of the total unity and love of the married pair.
The sexual relationship has often been exploited as an instrument
of power and aggression, or falsely portrayed as a magic panacea,
leading many couples to he disappointed with sex as they experience
it. Major marital problems may stem from or be reflected in such
unwholesome experience with sex.
10. Married Christians seek to fulfill God's intentions for
marriage. Even the marriage of Christians, however, daily falls
short of the Christian ideal. Hence the Christian husband and wife
daily need God's forgiveness for their sins of omission and
commission, followed by a readiness to be forgiving toward one
another. In gratitude to God they daily rededicate themselves to
God and to one another, realizing that their marital unity is never
completed but is always in the process of becoming.
D. Preserving the Marriage
11. Problems are inevitable in marriage. Conflicts and
problems can be used constructively to further communication and
understanding upon which marriage thrives, or they may become
destructive of the relationship of love between husband and wife.
When people become involved in marital difficulties, it should be a
concern of pastors, relatives, and friends to provide help and
understanding in overcoming the conflicts, thereby strengthening
and preserving the marriage. The total costs of disruption of a
marriage are high, not only for the husband and wife but also for
any children involved. Broken marriages are destructive of family,
congregational, and community strength. Therefore couples having
difficulties with their marriage should be helped to find competent
counsel before the marriage itself is threatened.
A. The Nature of Divorce
12. Divorce is never God's intention for our marriages.
The breakdown of a marriage relationship is the consequence of
human sinfulness, leading to a process of alienation from which
there seems to be no other way out. Divorce needs to be seen
realistically as the breaking of an order of God, the public and
legal recognition of an already broken marriage, the culmination of
a process of alienation.
13. Divorce, according to the teaching of
Jesus, is a concession to the fact and reality of sin in a fallen
world. Being the friend of sinners, Jesus did not condemn or drive
away a divorced person. Neither did he excuse divorce. Rather, he
declared, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put
asunder" (Mark 10:9). He spoke no word by which a man or a woman
might rationalize divorce into a righteous act. Jesus did, however,
explain divorce as resulting from the hardness of human hearts
(Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:5). Divorce arises from self-centeredness or
other obstacles the couple cannot or will not overcome.
B. Appraising Reasons for Divorce
14. Divorce is a consequence of human sinfulness.
Christians contemplating divorce do so with a sense of the
seriousness of their decision, and often with a sense of anguish.
Christian spouses will do everything in their power to restore
their marriage. Certainly before they decide on divorce they will
give themselves time and opportunity to evaluate the total costs of
the possible termination of their marriage, for themselves as well
as for their families and others involved. They will seek the
counsel of their pastor or other competent counsel. If after
careful consideration the marriage relationship is deemed beyond
repair, and the effects of continuing the marriage to be more
destructive of the welfare or persons than divorce, the decision
for divorce may be recognized as a responsible choice, the lesser
of several evils in a fallen world. Recognizing that each party
generally bears some responsibility for the failure of the
marriage, a decision for divorce may be made in reliance upon God's
C. Ministering to the Divorced
15. The church must seek to deal in an evangelical rather
than a legalistic manner with the problems of divorce and divorced
persons. Divorced persons will be fully included in the life of the
Christian church, which expresses God's spirit of love and
forgiveness. These persons should not become the victims of gossip,
ostracism, or undue attention. They need rather to be brought to
feel anew the bonds of human fellowship and the sense of God's
continuing presence, so that their divorce, unfortunate though it
may be, may lead toward a more mature Christian life. They continue
to be part of the Christian community of Word and Sacraments.
16. Remarriage of divorced persons is neither
forbidden nor automatically endorsed by The American Lutheran
Church. The second marriage of divorced persons may result in a new
union which faithfully witnesses to God's purpose for marriage.
Such remarriage will more likely result, however, if persons
carefully consider the dynamics which led to the dissolution of a
previous marriage. There should be a willingness to acknowledge
one's own failures in a spirit of forgiveness toward all involved,
and to work at correcting whatever personal characteristics may be
detrimental to a marital relationship. Legitimate obligations to
any children and to the former spouse must be fulfilled. When such
is the case, the church can add its blessing to the remarriage of
17. The remarriage of a person whose previous
marriage was terminated by death normally can be commended as a
sound decision, renewing the blessings of companionship which a
good marriage brings. This is as true for persons in the years of
retirement as for those in young adulthood or in middle years.
18. Because it regards marriage in such high
esteem, the Christian congregation is concerned about the character
and quality of marriages, both among its members and in the larger
society. Because persons encounter difficulties in marriage and
family life, the church needs to give special attention to this
aspect of its total ministry. While all members of the congregation
share this concern, and each has a part in the total ministry of
the congregation, pastors are called to carry a unique
19. In light of current trends and pressures,
positive Christian education and preparation for marriage and
family life belong in every congregation's ministry. The pastor
should be alert to opportunities in the pulpit, home, church
schools, confirmation classes, and auxiliaries for influencing
commitment to Christian standards in the choice of a marriage
partner and in patterns for marriage and family living. In
counseling sessions, persons can be led to see the implications of
their Christian commitment for the marriage and family
relationships they are experiencing. Programs for marital and
family enrichment can be developed. Pastors should encourage
members of congregations to assume a constructive attitude toward
the preservation and strengthening of marriage.
20. When officiating at any marriage the pastor
acts both as an agent of the state and as a servant of Christ.
Therefore the pastor should be satisfied that both the man and
woman desiring to be married know what is required in marriage and
earnestly intend by the help of God to live up to its obligations.
Normally the couple should be expected to participate in a program
of premarital education. In the case of remarriage of divorced
persons, pastors should discuss with the divorced person whether he
or she has come to an understanding of the failure of the former
marriage. If the pastor, in clear conscience before God, is
convinced that any particular couple is not ready to enter upon a
responsible marriage, that pastor should be supported by the
congregation in refusing to perform the desired marriage.
21. Requests to officiate at the marriage of a
man and a woman markedly different in such characteristics as
religion, race, age, and cultural backgrounds should receive
special attention. Such differences should not be understood as
constituting fundamental impediments to marriage. However, such a
marriage may present complex problems. The couple should examine
carefully the effects of their marriage for themselves, their
children, their families, their congregations, and their community.
If the pastor is convinced that the two are not sufficiently strong
and mature, both spiritually and emotionally, to overcome the
hazards to a sound marriage which their marked differences in
background, experience, and outlook may impose, he or she should
not officiate at the desired marriage.
22. In situations where young or immature
persons, under pressure of pregnancy, seek to be married, the
pastor may counsel strongly against marriage, which is an estate
for adults able to accept its obligations. The pastor may point out
that to marry may be to compound an already difficult situation.
Adults ought not to insist that the youth be married, whether "to
give the baby a name" or for other face-saving reasons. When
marriage of the couple is not desirable the pastor should work in
consultation with an appropriate social agency to see that the
needs of the couple are adequately met and the interests of the
child are protected.
23. Each pastor should become informed on the
marriage and divorce laws of the state in which he or she
ministers. Pastors also should take an informed interest in any
family life education programs which may be conducted in the public
schools, as well as in the work of agencies supporting family life
in the community. All pastors, as well as other church members,
should support sound legislation both to foster high standards for
marriage and the family and to correct the evils and abuses which
much divorce legislation now condones.
24. The pastor's ministry to persons
contemplating marriage, divorce, or remarriage should proclaim and
demonstrate both God's law and his gracious gospel. The pastor will
proclaim and demonstrate God's law by holding up God's intention
for marriage. The pastor will proclaim and demonstrate God's
gracious gospel by pointing to the resources of grace and
forgiveness. In this way, the pastor's ministry and practice in
relation to marriage, divorce, and remarriage will be consistent
with the total ministry of Christ's church.