Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 23: Divorce

Problems of the Age: 23: Divorce

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

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For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXIII. – Divorce

Growth of Divorce. – Easy and frequent divorce has become in the United States a scandalous condition. The state has always considered itself a third party to a marriage, and has therefore insisted that both marriage and divorce must be subject to the regulations of the law. While divorce can effect only by legal proceedings, the grounds for divorce have been so elastic, and judges so willing that unhappy marriages should be dissolved, that the daily grind of divorces in the Untied States has grown to enormous proportions, said to be one out of twelve marriages.

There has been a wide divergence of opinion throughout the world on the subject. Religious organizations have considered it a sacrament of the church and have undertaken to regulate it by a religious ban upon those who were divorced under certain conditions. They forbade remarriage and punished religiously those who disregarded church requirements. The churches, however, have become less and less an important factor in the matter of divorce. The question is one of growing difficulty, owing to the increased disinclination to marry. Where divorce is difficult, marriage is restricted, and even where marriage exists wives and husbands live apart without any intention to marry again. Such a condition leads of course to gross immorality. Sexual relations and the love growing out of them are dominating factors in human life. What was intended to be a blessing, becomes a curse through the misuse of passion. How to control a God-ordained instinct in its proper exercise has been a modest troublesome question from the dawn of history. There is of course only one proper channel of regulation, and that is marriage. Even marriage is no protection against the shocking abuses of human passion, and it often becomes a license rather than a right to be sacredly treated. Law cannot reach the most violent abuse of virtue in marriage relations; neither can it force man and wife to live together when they become obnoxious to each other. It can at best say that they shall not be divorced and that they shall not marry others. In England there has long been a partial divorce from “bed and table,” but while such a law may prevent either from marrying, it does not really remedy a great social wrong.

Unwillingness to Marry. – There is now an evil taking root in our social life more alarming than divorce, and that is the unwillingness of men to marry. It is estimated that fully one half of the men in the United States between 21 and 45 are unmarried. Late marriages are quite generally advocated, that is, late marriages for men. That fact gives rise to the so-called double standard that requires the strictest virtue in women and allows the greatest laxity in men. One of our metropolitan papers recently set up a justification for this standard by the argument that when a woman is untrue to her husband, he becomes intolerable to her and that she no longer loves him, while the opposite is true of man.

Divorce is evaded in some countries by what is called in Germany wild marriage. Men and women under this system simply live together. If they have children they style themselves husband and wife, and the children, who often know nothing of their parents’ status, address them as father and mother. The excuse of such a practice is of course the plea that divorce is impossible. Such a practice further admits of a great deal of shifting of men and women from one to another. The fact that women have lived with other men before marriage, and even where they have children, does not carry the same weight of objection in Germany that it does in other countries.

Partial Divorce. – The evils above described are not the result of the ease or difficulty with which divorces may be procured. They are the result of immoral natures which the conscience is unable to correct. In the absence of positive religious convictions, the conscience becomes a very elastic thing.

It may be said that the trend of modern state requirements is in the direction of easier divorces. How far the laxity in matters of divorce can be carried without breaking down the present marriage system it is difficult to say. There is a breaking point, however, in marriage where the state may become a party to it. At any rate the state may become an indifferent spectator. The Chicago Sunday Tribune, of August 26, 1917, prints the following from London:

That there are from 250,000 to 300,000 persons in Great Britain legally separated yet not divorced, is one of the statements in the report of the royal commission which has lately been investigating the divorce problem.

This, moreover, is only a beginning. Other multitudes of men and women who have been married continue not only married but without even legal authority, to live apart, although they do not and could not live together. Probably this second classification is larger than the first.

However greatly both husband and wife may wish it, they cannot be divorced unless there has been adultery on the wife’s part, or adultery and also cruelty, on the husband’s part. [Another instance of the double standard.]

Even advocates of easier divorce in some cases fear that this measure would make it too easy. But the people who have investigated do not. They describe fearfully immoral conditions widely existent because of the present difficulties of getting divorce. Immorality, illegitimacy, disease and a fearful number of cases of bigamy are numerated. Husband and wife legally bound to each other, yet legally separated, forced to lives of celibacy, lose all moral standards. The fact that they are commonly poor makes the results yet worse.

Wife Trading. – Wife trading is another divorce evil which easy separation encourages, and yet it is not so baneful to society as the conditions described in Great Britain. Now and then such trading is given in the public print, and generally given in such humorous vein that the matter is treated as a joke rather than as a warning. A large public sentiment is indifferent to it. As I write the following appears in a New York paper from Havre, Montana, of August 26, the date on which the conditions in Great Britain are described:

Usually when a man falls in love with another man’s wife there’s a shooting affray. And again, when a woman gets to liking another woman’s husband better than her own, there’s the deuce to pay. But not so here! When Mrs. T., a wife of a prominent Havre lawyer, felt she loved the husband of Mrs. J. better than her own mate, she didn’t hide the matter. Nor did Mrs. J. when she fell in love with Mr. T. Nor did Mr. T. when he took a liking to Mrs. J. Nor did Mr. J. when he became fonder of Mrs. T. than of his own wife. They all went to Boulder Hot Springs, obtained a divorce, and then by marriage made the trade complete. These neighbors each had a boy and a girl. After the trade one took the two boys and the other the two girls, and all parties were pleased with the new arrangements.

“May they live happily ever afterward, almost any one will hope,” is the closing sentence of this article.

Dangers of Childless Lives. – Such inroads made into family life are aided greatly by the absence of children in the home. It is an abortive attempt to substitute the pleasures of life for the God-ordained laws of our being. Some years ago a commission of eminent physicians met in Constantinople to make an investigation into the moral conditions of the Turks. The writer asked one of these physicians why such conditions as he described among the married women of France prevailed. “It is one of the simplest laws of nature,” he replied. “When a man marries he usually makes a harlot out of his wife by the prevention of offspring. It is an easy step from harlotry of the home to promiscuous harlotry. A man by such a course sows the seeds of a deadly suspicion in his own mind, and reaps the harvest of marital despair. He robs himself of contentment and domestic happiness and pays the penalty nature has in store for him.”

Secret Evils. – An external survey of married life and of the causes which led to divorce is at most only superficial. The grosser evils belong to the secrets of the home, they are a part of the immoral nature of man. The patent remedies of the world today do no reach the seat of the disease. The true remedy lies in the return of man to the true worship of God, a worship in which he feels a direct responsibility to his Maker. The most sacred rights of woman have been overthrown. They are not economic or political, they are domestic, and yet she pursues political and social remedies that do not solve the question of her happiness. Her fundamental, indispensable rights to happiness are found in wifehood, motherhood, and perfect freedom in the control of her body. Indecency in married life may not be so baneful as promiscuous sexual intercourse, yet it laws the foundation of a great multitude of divorces.

“Why marry at all?” is the soliloquy of millions of men who point to divorce and marital unhappiness as an excuse. The source of our present conditions must be sought in our own secret internal life. We can hardly say like the prophet of old: “Search me, oh God!” We do not need divine investigation. We have enough self-revelation to make us better if only we had the will and the faith necessary to bring us back into the paths which lead us to humility and righteousness. Increasing divorce is one of the strongest evidences of our departure from the way set by divine will.

After the war, when our present social, economic, and political institutions will witness a vast disintegration, there may come to the world a higher standard of justice and faith. Much of the old must pass, for it is already in a state of decay. There is scarcely a condition of life that the war does not touch in some vital manner. From it will come a period of reconstruction, a period every thoughtful man should study.

Law of God. – “the man is not without the woman in the Lord, neither the woman without the man.” In marriage is to be found the highest estate of man or woman. Divorces are permitted by the Church though they are greatly deplored. (Doc. and Cov. 42:22, 23; 49:15; 83:2; 132:18-20; I Cor. 11:11, 12.)


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