Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Divorce for benefits?

Q. A pastor found out that if he and his wife get divorced, the wife would get full Social Security benefits. This would allow for much-needed extra income into the family. Estate planning specialists have advised them that getting divorced is a smart move. Should this pastor and wife divorce, yet remain married “in the eyes of God”? Is this being deceitful in order to get money from the government? Is this a legitimate way to get what is rightfully theirs?

A. First, a few related comments. Most governments set and acknowledge legal requirements regarding marriage. A marriage in the sight of God does not require government approval (Cf. Genesis 2:21-24, Genesis 24:63-67, for examples). A man and a woman who make a marital covenant to each other are married morally and in God’s eyes (Malachi 2:14, Proverbs 2:16-17).[i] As regards Social Security, I am ambivalent toward whether this is “bilking the government” and/or what might or might not be “rightfully theirs.” The U.S. Social Security system is messed up. Those who are getting money now are probably getting money that someone else is putting in right now (not “their” money that was saved for them with interest, as they may think). Some paid in a little and got back a lot; some paid in a lot and got back a little. It is unfortunate that politicians and bureaucrats have often encouraged bad behavior (e.g., better benefits for not being married) in the ways they design our nation’s aid programs such as Social Security and Welfare.

Second, regarding the action of divorce for better Social Security benefits, my answer is “No, I don’t think they should.” While a couple does not need a government certificate to be married, in this case they have chosen the government’s recognition of their marriage. When it became a negative in their eyes and the eyes of their advisers, they seek to dissolve the marriage in the eyes of the government, yet maintain the marriage in fact. They were married not only in the eyes of God, but also in the eyes of government, and now this solution of “legal” divorce engages in playing not married on the one hand, and playing married on the other hand. It is deceitful. It is telling one group of people you are not married, and telling another group you are. It is “double-minded.”

Jesus said, “let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay...” What the divorce/married Christian says doesn’t fit either the letter or spirit of Jesus’s exhortation.
Government: “Are you married?”
Christian: “Nay, Nay!”
Church: “Are you married?”
Christian: “Yea, yea!”
“Therewith [the tongues] they profess one thing and do another. Out of the same mouth proceedeth marriage and divorce. My brethren, these things ought not so to be!” (Cf. James 3:9-10.)

In a “post-Christian” society, perhaps Christians should rethink the whole concept of “government marriage.”[ii] In the meantime, it is a bad testimony for Christians to accept it when it is beneficial to us, but then reject it when it is not. Such actions are double-minded deception, which violate biblical precepts coming and going.

[i] Marriage is a covenant that a man and a woman make between themselves and before God. Men and women have been doing that since the beginning of time, without the benefit of the government’s stamp of approval.
[ii] That is, covenant and commit to marriage before God and one another, without any need to involve the government.

No comments: