[Prior entries] Slim pickings in D: physical death, spiritual death, debt, and divorce. Maybe we can just generalize and just say: Avoid things that start with D. Divorce is the most interesting of the four entries, especially in light of renewed emphasis on LDS family values in this, the post-Proclamation era. The Church is against divorce, of course; the only question is whether divorce is nevertheless allowed as an acceptable or at least tolerated option for those who find themselves in troubled or failing marriages. It is the exceptions to the general policy against divorce that deserve our attention if we want to understand the current LDS policy on divorce as briefly communicated in the TTTF article.
The article itself is only two paragraphs long. The first paragraph declares that "the family is central to the Creator’s plan" and that the "growing plague" of divorce "is the work of the adversary." I guess you can add another D-word — "Devil" — to the list. The second paragraph takes a distinctly different and more understanding tone. "If you are married and you and your spouse are experiencing difficulties, remember that the remedy for most marriage stress is not in divorce or separation." That implies, of course, that divorce or separation sometimes, in some cases, is the remedy for marriage stress, a rather surprising admission following the blunt statements in the first paragraph. It’s fair to say the two paragraphs reflect a different perspective on whether there are practical exceptions to the general rule against divorce. One suspects the two paragraphs were written by two different people or by one person with two different personalities.
There are plenty of other published articles about divorce to draw into the discussion. A good sampling is available at the Teachings About Marriage page at All About Mormons. For example, the article "Divorce" from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism starts with this straightforward statement: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially disapproves of divorce but does permit both divorce (the legal dissolution of a marriage bond) and annulment (a decree that a marriage was illegal or invalid) in civil marriages and ‘cancellation of sealing’ in temple marriages." The article also provides some historical context for Mormon divorce:
For nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints, feelings about divorce were mixed. President Brigham Young did not approve of men divorcing their wives, but women were relatively free to dissolve an unhappy marriage, especially a polygamous union (see Plural Marriage). Such divorces were handled in ecclesiastical courts because polygamous marriages were not considered legal by the government. Records of the number of divorces granted between 1847 and 1877 show a relatively high rate of divorce for polygamous marriages.
The EoM article also notes that "[r]ecent U.S. data from the National Survey of Families and Households indicate that about 26 percent of both Latter-day Saints and non-LDS have experienced a divorce," and that "Church members who are divorced and the children of divorced parents sometimes report feelings of isolation or lack of acceptance because of the strong orientation toward two-parent families in the Church."
The All About Mormons site also posts an April 1945 Conference talk by David O. McKay entitled "Marriage and Divorce." I strongly encourage a quick read of this interesting talk, a fine contrast to the cut-and-paste presentation of Pres. McKay’s teachings from the recent RS/Priesthood manual. He presented a good deal of survey data in his talk to support his points about the rising tide of divorce but also showing that LDS marriages, especially temple marriages, fared better than average. He also showed some sympathy with the view voiced in the second paragraph of the TTTF article:
Unfaithfulness on the part of either or both, habitual drunkenness, physical violence, long imprisonment that disgraces the wife and family, the union of an innocent girl to a reprobate–in these and perhaps other cases there may be circumstances which make the continuance of the marriage state a greater evil than divorce. But these are extreme cases–they are the mistakes, the calamities in the realm of marriage.
Another comment on Brigham Young’s counsel on divorce is the following quote from Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History, p. 92-93 (citations omitted).
The extent of Mormon divorce was a concern to Brigham Young. … In an 1858 address Young argued, "It is not right for the brethren to divorce their wives as they do. I am determined that if men don’t stop divorcing their wives, I shall stop sealing." Though upset about the frequency of divorce, Young did not require unhappy women to stay with their husbands. His advice to a woman seeking counsel was to "stay with her husband as long as she could bear with him, but if life became too burdensome, then leave and get a divorce."
So, in light of the quotes above and especially with reference to the TTTF article, what is a fair summary of the present LDS position on divorce? The TTTF article makes it clear that divorce is only rarely recommended or encouraged; couples should "work to resolve difficulties," go "seek counsel from your bishop," and apply "repentance, forgiveness, integrity, and love." But even in the TTTF article there is a hint that in some cases divorce is appropriate. Oddly, there is no mention of divorce in the Proclamation, just this elliptical reference: "Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets." Seems like we’re due for a Conference talk on this topic in the next year or two.