The past three weeks at the Church at Lake Guntersville have been insightful, heavy, liberating, and at times, downright overwhelming. We have studied the life of David, specifically his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the consequences of his sin found in 2 Samuel 11-12. The topics of adultery, divorce, and family reminded me of a book I read in seminary. I dug out the book review, edited it, and have posted it as a resource. I hope you enjoy the review and maybe the book!
1. The Book
The book, Children of Divorce, is an interesting look at the history of marriage, the newness of divorce, the destruction of divorce on children, and the opportunities that the Church has to help children of divorce. The book is written in clever, post-modern form; it presents facts and data primarily through a narrative of the story of Root and his wife.
The primary thesis of the work as described by its author is, “Divorce is an ontological issue, one that impacts our very being-in-the-world.” The author, however, makes another statement when describing his thesis. He says that he will look at divorce from a child’s perspective, not necessarily from an ethical perspective, which proves to be riveting. The author also frames his book with the works of social theorists such as Anthony Goddens, philosophers like Martin Heidegger, and theologians like Karl Barth. A foundational understanding for the author’s work is the understanding of his social, theological, and philosophical perspective. This perspective is grounded in the belief that being is being in community, therefore, humanity and everyone being is upheld in community. Thus if community fails to be community then people fail to be. This understanding and perspective is a driving force behind the entire work.
The work according to Root was produced out of his own personal experience as a child of divorce. He shares the story of his parents’ divorce while he was in seminary and the divorce of his wife’s parents just before their marriage. Therefore, the applicable side of the work focuses not on proving divorce to be ethical or unethical or a psychological, theological, or sociological issue, but rather an objective examination on the effects of divorce on children. The book, though loaded with philosophy, research, and theology, is about a story.
2. The Insights
The work of Root gives an interesting insight into divorce. It is an insight that takes into account what the entire Bible says about divorce, all that philosophy questions about divorce, and all that research reveals about divorce, and then weighs it not on culture as a whole but on individual lives. The book is contrary, but not combative with other ethical works such as Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Fienberg. For instance, Fienberg uses the Bible as the primary objective for arguing that divorce is unethical according to the authority of God. Root steps outside of this argument for authority to argue that divorce goes much deeper than just right and wrong. It is about being. It could be said that Root takes an ontological approach to divorce as compared to a deontological approach by Feinberg. This insight melts the debate over authority for morality and could possibly unite opposing views of authority. Root maintains, as does Feinberg, that God is authority, but he maintains it in a different way.
I would argue that this ontological approach to ethics is becoming more popular among post-modern evangelicals. The perspective that Root provides in his work attests to the fact that an ontological approach could bring unity and clarity to what God is accomplishing through society.
3. New Ideas or Challenged Ideas
Root gives historical perspective on marriage. His historical perspective gives history to our current misunderstanding of marriage and misuse of divorce. Root’s historical perspective reveals that the motivating factors for marriage have drastically changed in the past six hundred years. He divided the past six hundred years into three periods. Within these three periods he acknowledges that an overlap has occurred, but he generally reveals that as society changed economically and socially, so did the motivation for marriage.
He reveals that prior to the Enlightenment marriage was primarily orchestrated by families in order to merge power, property, and tradition. Thus marriage had very little to do with romance and affection, but was more like a business transaction. During this period Root reveals that the child was treated harshly, “If the child was seen as a sinful creature, then intense affection and care would not be offered until the child had shown commitment that reassured the parents (and others) of his or her benefit to the family’s future.”
Root’s historical perspective then reveals that motivational factors changed as a result of the Enlightenment. He describes this change that occurred during the Enlightenment as “Maintaining Tradition in a World of Needed Labor”. He states that because of a money-driven economy marriage began to occur for mutual labor. Marriage was less dependent on a large kin unit and more based on making and maintain money. Marriage happened not based on romance and affection, but on a person’s dependability and accomplishment. Children became employees for producing wealth.
Root’s historical perspective then reveals that marriage in the nineteenth century and through the mid-twentieth century happened for intimacy. During this time marriage was solely motivated on one’s romance and affection for another. Root says it this way, “The criteria of marriage transitioned from concrete operations to subjective feelings.” This motivation for marriage also changed the perspective on children. Children had moved from objects of lineage or labor to objects of affection. This created a warmer and cozier family unit, but a much more fragile unit. Root reveals that by the mid 1950’s married individuals began to negate marriage because affection for and from the spouse had ceased and thus the individuals self had ceased. By the 60’s marriage was disintegrating and so was the rest of the family. Root says during this time that “It was not love-based union that created divorce, but it was the love-based union that democratized it.”
Root’s historical perspective proved educational, but also challenging as he led the reader to understand the long misguided use of marriage over the past six hundred years and the current state that the marriage union is in.
As Root continued with this perspective, I was riveted by the misguided reasons for marriage that society had developed over the past six hundred years. As a child raised by both rigid and loving parents I was shocked by society’s misunderstanding of marriage and the shockwaves of divorce. I was pushed farther by Root’s question, “What do you do when the self-fulfillment of mother and father requires the dissolving of a marriage, but the security and self-fulfillment of the child depends upon its continuation?”
Root continued throughout much of the book as he looked at divorce from various perspectives such a sociological, ontological, and theological to pour salt, so to say, on my naive thoughts of divorce and its seriousness. He makes a strong statement about the motivation for divorce in parents and provides a strong argument for its effects on the children. He says, “Divorce itself, in late modernity, is a product of reflexivity. People divorce because they are free to imagine their identities anew outside of marriage.”(53) He continues, “But what about the children? The children are bound to their parents not by choice, but biology.”(53) He then lays out the effects of being bound by biology as compared to choice which proves convincing.
This understanding of biological binding proved to motivate me to farther hate divorce and to see the needs of those affected by divorce. It brought to mind friends, family, and children that are suffering from the effects of divorce from ten years ago to a month ago. I was challenged to see the child of divorce as a person in desperate need of Christ.
4. Interesting and Problematic Ideas
As described above, Root spends much of his book discussing the effects of divorce on children and he spends much of his time arguing that divorce is incredibly destructive to children. Much of his argument was thought provoking, eye-opening, and ground breaking for me as a child of a stable united home. In his chapter entitled Divorce and Theological Anthropology, Root took a look at research in a story driven format. He gives a few statistics on high school dropout rates that are as follows, “The risk of high school dropout is 37 percent for nonmarital offspring, 31 percent for children of divorce, and 15 percent for children who experience death of one parent, and 13 percent for children with no disturbance. He goes further to examine teen pregnancy and finds that 33 percent of girls of divorced homes get pregnant as compared to 22 percent who lose a parent. Root then takes these statistics and links them to individual stories of children who were so engulfed with the divorce that they suggest, “that they wished their parents had died.” (86) While presenting the statistics and stories, Root argues that in an ontological sense divorce is more detrimental to a child than even the death of a parent.
Root has strong evidence on his side statistically and narratively that divorce is more detrimental to a child than death, but it is hard to believe. Though this is hard to believe, Root goes further. He provides some logical observations of these statistics. He affirms that these statistics further assert the ontological issue of divorce. He says it this way, “Death promises eventual end of being; divorce questions if he ever should have been at all.” He continues, “Death (unless it is suicide, which opens up a whole truckload of issues) rarely if ever occurs through the agency of the dying person. Disease, accident, and tragedy happen to the parent over and against their choice and action. But divorce is an action, not a fate; it may feel unavoidable, but from the child’s perspective it will always come finally by the choice of one or both parents to end the union.”
I struggled here! It’s is difficult, but insightful.
At this time I will relate to the book in a practical way. The work is a well of information, philosophy, and theology; therefore the practicality is more in taking the argument and information and developing a plan of action. Root does that for the reader in the last chapter of the book entitled, “What is to Be Done”. This section of the book is helpful in determining how to attempt to fix the problem. It focuses not on divorce, but on the children and how to deal with the aftermath of divorce. I like this approach. Root suggests that the church can be the context, location, and field that make young people real. He further suggests that as the church, we can be with these children and stand with and for them. He describes four areas in which we can practically help them. He uses Karl Barth’s language; I wish to use my own and use personal statements and have added a fifth.
- I will spend time with kids of divorce.
- I will acknowledge the divorce.
- I will open myself to the hurt of the divorce.
- I will have compassion on children of divorce.
- I will remember how destructive divorce is!
The book, Children of Divorce by Andrew Root is a great book. What the book lacks in research and rigid statistics it gains in relating to our culture. The book has opened my eyes to the seriousness of divorce beyond the fact that God just hates divorce. It will prove an effective tool in my library and in reaching out to families of divorce. I recommend this book to children of divorce, parents of divorce, and pastors alike.
Join us at CALG Downtown Sunday Morning at 10 am. 336 Gunter Ave Guntersville, Al 35976