Divorce and the good of the children

May 27, 2014

Some of my brothers bear the marks of our family crest inked into the skin of their bicep, shoulder, or thigh. It is a thistle and a bee with the words Dulcius ex asperis, Sweeter Through Tribulation. 

Our surname may be the only thing they inherited from our father, whom they do not call father any longer. They use his first name or “that man” or some other choice and charged words inappropriate for print. Ferguson means “Son of the Angry Man,” and some of these sons seem set to make good on it.

My parents divorced in 2003. I was living in Central America teaching English when the voice came through the phone, and it felt another world away. They had been separated for nearly two years, but really, who was counting? They'd been fighting for a few years by then and, like the nails in my 14 year-old brother's coffin, their marriage was buried.

Divided children

In divorce two people divvy up belongings, houses, finances, and finally children. But before all that, they divide themselves. I came home to our white farmhouse on the hill, the grass now overgrown, antique family heirlooms disappearing, my teetotaler mother drinking wine and shrinking away. A house divided by a divided mother.

“To be human is to have our being, to be made real, as this person belonging to these people. And this is what’s so painful about divorce. It ruptures the ‘this people’ that provides children the strength to embrace their own ‘this person.’ It ruptures ontological security,” writes Andrew Root in Young People, Divorce, and Youth Ministry.

Dividing children—what does it even mean? Are we dividing children from their parents? From one another? Or dividing them even from themselves? Even at 23 I felt the division of my soul when the subpoena papers were delivered once, twice, three times to my apartment door. The custody battle wasn't just for the bodies of my youngest brothers, it was for the allegiances of their older siblings, too. Legally a child can choose which parent to live with at a certain age—but there is no age when that choice doesn't cut through the identity and marrow of the child they both made with one flesh.

Before divorce we were a family; after divorce he became “your father” and she, “your mother,” as though we children bore the weight and responsibility of all their sins because he was mine and she was mine, and they were one another's no longer. As if it was our fault we were the progeny of two people who couldn't make flesh stick.

“This is one of the most difficult consequences of parental separation. It throws division into a student’s identity… the young person now needs to figure out who he’ll be in the future and who he’ll be now that there is a division in the union of the communion that created him.” (Young People, Divorce, and Youth Ministry)

Divorce, to the children, is not a gift as much as the gathering of the wrapping and bows for the garbage. But for so many parents, divorce is the gift, the ticket to freedom and newness. With the added benefit of legal permission to war against someone they promised to love, honor, and cherish until death—sometimes a battle with all manner of ammunition, including their children.

I have met few who would say their parents' divorce was for the best—their mother was being abused or their father was a serial philanderer. Almost every person I have asked would say it wasn't in the best interest of the child, and they know because they are that child.

The forgotten casualty

Yet in all this, the forgotten casualty was not the child himself—most divorcees try their best to minimize damages to the children—no: the forgotten casualty of divorce is what might have been.

Because we believe the goodness of God keeps us within the safe and pleasant boundaries of His will, we can trust that what is is also what might have been. But all it takes is a look at my holiday calendar to dwell on what might have been.

Family traditions—seared.

Holidays together—severed.

Family portraits—always lacking.

Weddings—one parent always missing.

The list goes on.

From here to as far as I can see in the future, there is division. That division is never not there for the child of divorce. For the rest of their life they feel that division constantly and acutely. God can heal, and indeed does, and there are testimonies of those who say they wouldn’t be where they are today without the wounding of divorce. Jesse Chaney, whose parents divorced when he was in middle school says, “Because it happened, I know it to be the better situation, because I have seen God’s sovereignty at work.” But what could we say had it never happened? That is the forgotten casualty of divorce.

For the good of the children

For the good of the children means to account for the rest of their lives during the heated argument. For the good of the children means to flee from adultery and the boastful pride of life—that which offers short-lived pleasure and long-lived pain. For the good of the children means when the fighting won't stop, the anger won't abate, the manipulation can't be avoided, the finances won't get under control, you press on. The dissolution of the marriage covenant puts the full weight of those sins on the child alone.

Please think of that, parent, if you cannot see any way out of this difficulty but through divorce. Think of your child bearing the full weight of your spouse's sin on their own shoulders—without you, by himself, by herself—because they will. For the rest of their lives they will bear the weight of what you decided you could not—and they cannot divorce themselves from it, hard as they try. It will be branded on them as clearly as my brothers' tattoos; they are the sons of an angry man, and that's all some of them know to be.

For the good of the children, do not get divorced if you can help it. For the good of the children, bear on your body the mark of covenant, the suffering of your own flesh for your own flesh, the sacrificial example of a parent who stays. Bear the name you took or gave, bear it well. For the good of the children who will someday be mothers and fathers considering the weight of their own marriages.

Dulcius ex asperis. Sweeter through tribulation.

Note: Like most evangelicals, I understand that the Scriptures make some limited provisions for divorce in a fallen world. The safety of any children involved needs to be a top priority.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24