At 12:01 pm, an email arrived in my inbox. It read, “My husband and I have been married for nineteen years. We both entered into this marriage knowing that he was gay, although what that has meant has changed over time. The last couple of years have been extremely difficult. When we began our journey, we both believed in a Biblical ethic of sexuality and marriage, but that has shifted for my husband to such a degree that I am fairly certain he is going to choose to leave our family.”
This woman’s story and mine are eerily similar. Ten years ago I could have written those exact words about my own husband. I don’t know what this woman’s future will be, but my marriage didn’t have a happy ending.
Just four years into our marriage, I found text messages and pictures on my husband’s phone that confirmed multiple affairs. I confronted him and he just shrugged. Instead of repenting, he reminded me of the times I had failed him as a wife and asked how he could possibly stay married to me when I wasn’t what he expected when I wasn’t good enough for him. He began to sleep in the guest room, and eventually, he refused to be seen in public with me. He’d google “divorce lawyers good with custody battles” and wouldn’t bother to clear his history. He stopped coming home after work, sometimes staying out until 3:00 a.m.
I kept most of his behavior a secret, believing that somehow if I could change into what he wanted, I could fix us. I tried harder. I kept the house cleaner. I went on a diet. I cooked his favorite foods. I squashed my own desires and needs. But he told me he didn’t love me, and that he’d been using our marriage to hide and make himself acceptable to a world that valued opposite-sex attraction.
And then, unexpectedly one Saturday, he left. After a two-day absence and no answers to any of my calls or texts, he called and said, “I think it’s time for me to move out. I’m coming by to pack a bag.” I sat on the couch in stunned silence, with pressure in my chest so intense I could hardly breathe.
Our toddler asked, “Where’s Daddy?” and I had no answer. I prayed for God to bring him home, for restoration of our marriage, for some sign of hope. But divorce papers arrived by a special courier who asked my name, asked me to sign, and then handed me a thick envelope.
He moved to a new city, hundreds of miles away, eager to start over and begin dating the men he met on an app. Eager to get away from the family which hinders the life he wants to have.
After countless conversations about how we’ll share parenting duties and who gets the house, and after thousands of dollars spent on lawyers and mediators, we sat on opposite sides of a courtroom. A judge asked him one question: “Does this marriage still suffer from irreconcilable differences?” He answered, “Yes.” And the judge said, “I grant this divorce.” And that’s it. Legally, our marriage is over. With four words. The same number of words we said when we married: “I do.” “I do.”
After my husband chose to leave, I was left to pick up the pieces of my shattered world. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for three years, but now I had to find work. I ended up with three part-time jobs, trying to make ends meet while wrangling a toddler and battling depression so deep I could barely get out of bed.
Christians didn’t quite know what to do with me as I struggled through the dark, turbulent waters of divorce and its aftermath. They were sad, yes. Many cried with me and prayed for me. But I felt the intense shame that divorce brings, especially as a member of a church. I lost some of my friends because they found it too awkward to be around me–or found it too difficult to be in a close relationship with a person buried in despondency and grief. I felt the deep ache of loneliness that comes when your forever companion isn’t forever anymore, and I sat in the pew alone on Sunday mornings, struggling to stand and sing about finding joy in Christ when my soul felt dead.
In some ways, Christians failed me after my divorce. Not out of malice or neglect; they just didn’t know what to do as I worked through a two-year process of divorce. They didn’t know how to respond to a gay ex-husband. So, is the solution to offer better care for divorcees? That’s not a bad idea, but I think a better solution is this: prevent divorces before they occur. How can churches do that?
I often wonder what might have been different in my life and my ex-husband’s if, when we were in elementary school, the Church had been intentional about teaching kids God’s design for family, marriage, and committed singleness. If instead of picking up the message that we had to get married to find family, we had learned that we’re all made for the intimacy that family provides, regardless of our marital status. If we had been taught how to enjoy deep friendships with multiple people, rather than focusing on finding a forever companion to complete us. If we had known that marriage, while beautiful, is hard work and full of sacrifice and even loneliness sometimes. Or if we had understood that marriage is for the purpose of displaying the gospel and raising kids, not for our own personal fulfillment.
If our children’s minister had spoken about God’s goodness for gay people and how God’s designs for sexual stewardship are good for all people. If my ex-husband had felt safe enough to tell someone that he experienced same-sex attraction when he was eleven rather than hiding it and becoming a “super spiritual Christian guy” until he couldn’t suppress it any longer at age twenty-seven. If I had felt confident enough to discern with God about whether I should get married, rather than looking to marriage to give me worth. If we hadn’t been taught that Christians who weren’t married were less mature and not fit for leadership. If we had both seen people in our churches thriving in committed singleness for the sake of the kingdom. Could the Church of our childhood have prevented our divorce had those things happened?
Church, what are we teaching our kids about submitting all of our lives to King Jesus, including the decision to marry? About faithfully stewarding our sexualites according to God’s designs? About the purposes of marriage and the permanency of such a union? About the option of singleness for the sake of kingdom work? Because it matters. What we teach our children now will deeply impact the way they view relationships and where they find contentment later on. And may even prevent a few divorces in the future.
I don’t want any kid who grows up in the Church to come away with the idea that they must marry to find family. Any child who experiences same-sex attraction must hear from pastors and parents that God’s wisdom is good for them, too. None of the kids in our churches should grow up to feel that they must go outside the Church to find the best things in life.
Church, our best work on behalf of marriages is preventing divorce before it happens. And to do that, we must teach our kids about family, intimacy, marriage, singleness, sex, and sexuality in theologically accurate and compassionate ways.
Amber Carroll is the Director of Operations and the Parent Content Specialist for Equip, a ministry dedicated to helping churches become places where LGBT+ Christians can belong and thrive according to a traditional sexual ethic. She has written extensively on how to lead younger kids in conversations about sex and sexuality in theologically accurate and compassionate ways.