Bride and Divorce

by Laura on January 28, 2014

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If the Church is really the Bride, I’ll admit I’ve wanted a divorce for a few years now. 

She isn’t who I thought she was 20 years ago when I said, “I do.”  She hasn’t been kind, either –to the people outside of her club, to those who question or doubt, to me.

And, so, I’ve essentially lived in an off-again-on-again state of separation from this dysfunctional being that is the American Church for a solid two years now. She tells me I don’t look or act or think or believe rightly. She sells me a promise of community, and then sits me in a pew facing forward. She takes my money, but hides the Jesus I adore. And every time I muster the hope to try again, she disappoints. So like a scorned spouse, I’ve walked away from her power, her manipulation, her legalism. Her abuse.

But here’s the thing about the disgruntled and hurt partner whom I’ve become, sitting outside with arms crossed and denying the inherent good mixed with the ugly, I haven’t found life or hope or joy in that space either. I thought I’d divorce and walk away completely to find nobility and freedom, but instead what I’m finding is cynicism, bitterness and a tendency to cast the stones right back.

But here’s the thing– the person this potential divorce is hurting the most is  . . . me. 

Disbelief in the Bride’s redemption is leaving me lonely, prideful and self-righteous. Cynicism of her role to play in my own life and in bringing light to the world has left me with my back turned in the counselor’s chair–closed, hardened. Done.

And try as I might to excuse it, this posture doesn’t remind me of Jesus, either. I don’t get to love the world and hate the Bride. I don’t get to cast unconditional grace on other lovers but deny it to my own family. 

Because Jesus had this wild plan for the evolving beauty of His church, and he wants me part of it. And I can’t claim to follow him if I divorce the one he’s redeeming for Himself– not the institution or the doctrine, the method or the damage– but the idea of her, the vision of her. 

Following Christ might not mean living under the same old roof, the same old system with the Bride; perhaps periods of separation can be redemptive.

It does mean, however, leaving the lawyer’s office with the signature line intentionally left blank.

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“There is a song for my family, Outside the walls of Sunday Morning from some within.

This is a song to confess our sins, Lay it all out, and try to begin again.

To hope again. 

Please forgive our ignorance, In looking down on you, 

Please forgive our selfishness, For hiding in our pews while the world bleeds.

While the world needs us to be what we should be.

This is a song for my family who, Just can’t believe in the Jesus that you’ve seen on Sunday morning.

This is a song for the cynical saints, The burned out and hopeless.

The ones that we’ve cast away, I feel your pain.

Please forgive the wastefulness of all that we could be
But don’t forget, there’s more than this
Her beauty still exists
His bride is still alive

His bride is still alive.”

Gungor, Song for My Family


On an unrelated note, this post gave me a new sympathy for our heterosexual brothers who struggle with the imagery of Christ as the Groom. I get it now, guys, I get it.

Also, an earlier, unedited version of this accidentally got into my RSS feed yesterday- sorry about that. Ignore that one, and thanks for your internet-grace. 

  • Gary Ware

    What could be said more than this, “I don’t get to love the world and hate the Bride. I don’t get to cast unconditional grace on other lovers but deny it to my own family. Because Jesus had this wild plan for the evolving beauty of His church, and he wants me part of it. And I can’t claim to follow him if I divorce the one he’s redeeming for Himself– not the institution or the doctrine, the method or the damage– but the idea of her, the vision of her.” Very, VERY True!

    • Laura Parker

      Thanks, Gary. :)

  • Grace Wisthoff

    Feeling your pain! I have been a “career” clergy spouse, church leader, area minister. This side of heaven, the Bride gives off any number of unflattering and joy-sucking views. Christ’s Bride will always be a straggling work in progress until eternity. I am sorry you are feeling so excluded from community. I am on my own private exile and learning to love it (!). Accompanying me lately has been Eugene Peterson’s “Under the Unpredictable Plant” on Jonah and pastoral ministry. It has fed me quite well as I continue my journey. Perhaps you would be comforted and encouraged by it as well. I pray your needed answers come at the right place and time!

    • Laura Parker

      Thanks, Grace– and YES, the struggling work in progress– reckon that defines us all, right? :)

      And I LOVE Eugene Peterson! Just his book title, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is enough to make me want to read him forever.

  • Jeni Mason

    Love you, Laura! So good. Let’s be the Bride together, in a community that loves the Lord and seeks to further His plans. I don’t know exactly what all that looks like, but I’m so glad to serve and love others alongside you and Matt!

    • Laura Parker

      Thanks, Jeni- love your heart for us. It’s the kind of YOU that helps me remember the beauty of the Bride. :)

  • Brandi Goff McElheny

    Yep. And I struggle with the how….how do I love HER but take out of my head what I think of when I think of HER? Can I love her and still struggle with the institutional church? People think maybe that means I don’t love her…. But my soul cries out that the reason I struggle is because I do so desperately love her and want her to be free to be who she was made to be. And how do we do so filled with hope and with grace for others who might find HER in different forms? Oh that we might love well as we grow and change and heal and become a part of His redemption….

    • Laura Parker

      Brandi- YES on a million levels to this. I am right with you, as you know. And I think its important to separate the institutional church and the Bride– they aren’t necessarily one and the same. I am still in the HOW? process, too– but yes, to offer grace everywhere, for me that can be the hard part.

      love you, lady. When I look at your life, I see that you “get” the organic Bride and her beauty– as I see you being her.

  • Teri Miller

    Oh wow. Yeah.
    Gotta remind myself that finding a new building and a new style and a new leader isn’t having an affair. The bride is the bride is the bride. And I think God leads me in different directions for different seasons.

    Ugh. Its still hard.

    • Laura Parker

      Teri, yes, “the bride is the the bride is the bride.” But, I agree, its still hard to deconstruct and build again something new. I think it can be a lonely place when you walk away from the comfortable to begin/embrace a different definition. Hang in there.

      Excited to hang out with you in two weeks!

  • Pingback: Did I Divorce the Church? | Wide Open Ground()

  • Alyssa J. Stanbery

    I feel you totally, here.. but I feel like my Divorce from the church has slowly started becoming a Divorce from Jesus and his love, too. And I’m not sure how to reconcile either one… If the church can be so broken and so hurtful, why would I want to be a part of anything like that? But I’m broken and hurtful too… and I can’t cast blame just on them without taking some responsibility myself. Thanks for posting this, it’s giving me a lot to think about tonight. :)

    • Lana

      Same with me. I would not go of bed with an abusive husband. I have no energy for church games anymore.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Oh I love this, refusing to get a divorce. You were incredibly honest, both in the wanting a divorce, and in the not wanting a divorce. I have this really lofty idea of church in my head, and it involves heaven, and love, and beauty. I’ve had lots of good experiences in church, so I have this generally warm fuzzy feeling, but I have to admit that those good experiences were mostly on a small scale. On a large scale, this beautiful heavenly ideal tends to fall apart — and has led to some very BAD experiences. But the Church works really well on a small scale. Why is that?? Oh, I wish it weren’t so. Because part of the allure is that it’s supposed to work on a large scale! But anyway, did you see Momastery’s video “From My Cold, Dead Hands”? All about grace, and the church, and what its rules SHOULD be. So good.

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