Contemplating marriage, divorce and genocide
Updated: Jul 12
• Commentary — Related News:
Today Magazine: February edition — MLK Day Bus Ride + Rwanda Genocide
• The beginning of the following commentary essay has been published as the Leading Off column in the February edition of Today Magazine
By Bruce Deckert — Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine
A WORD TO THE WISE — the February installment of Today Magazine is a heavy-duty edition, dealing with the Twin Tower topics of Avon High’s first Abrahamic Bus Ride Against Hate and the Rwanda genocide.
So once you’re seated, fasten your seatbelt and be prepared as this bus ride progresses for some tough turns, and even a “death trap” collision a la the rock classic “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen, my fellow New Jersey native.
Speaking of songs and the Abrahamic theme, a musical memory from my childhood is of my Mom singing the children’s song “Father Abraham Had Many Sons” a cappella. My Mom’s a-cappella version was of course devoid of the annoying (to me) techno-auto-backbeat in a few recorded versions I heard recently, so among the various aspects of my growing-up years that I’m grateful to my Mom for, her rendition of this song has risen higher on the list.
A FAMILY STORY
My Mom’s birth name was Anneliese Clara Stickel — by the time she died, her name had changed twice, and on the day of her death, a simpler version of her name was Ann (Deckert) Baker. Her first husband was my Dad, naturally — and she had a double-right to divorce him, unlike so many heartbreaking no-fault divorce stories, for my Dad had two affairs.
Despite his tragic marital and family decisions, my Dad was arguably my biggest fan as I embarked on my writing-and-editing career — one of the profound and heart-rending paradoxes of my life.
My Mom and Dad were New Jersey natives. My Mom’s second husband was Cliff Baker, also a Jersey original — and while they were married for nearly three decades and he was always my Mom's husband, I never saw Cliff as my stepfather because I already had a Dad and I was only a year-plus away from going off to college when they wed. Their love story was a rough road in some significant ways, but they remained committed to one another throughout their roller-coaster journey — and I believe it’s self-evident to everyone who genuinely understands love that such commitment is the bedrock reality of all true love stories.
At the time of her passing, my Mom and Cliff had 13 grandchildren — a Baker's dozen!
To this day, I wish my parents had stayed together — my experience is that my parents’ divorce has been at least somewhat similar to an atomic bomb that exploded in my mind and heart and life. When they split up, my heart somehow split in two, as far as I can tell. It has been said that when parents divorce, it’s like taking each child and sawing them in two.
Here in my middle-age years, I continue to sort through the wreckage of my broken home, even as new construction is (I hope and pray) ongoing. The book "A Hole in My Heart" and many other witnesses indicate that this is a pervasive experience among adult children of divorce.
UNIVERSAL BOMB BLAST
By the way, I see more clearly now that children from intact families actually wrestle with the same issues, but that topic will have to hold for another day and another essay and/or column. For now, suffice it to say that I think this bomb blast is a common ordeal for every child of every Mom and Dad. Intact marriages have too many fissures and fault lines to protect children from the atomic blasts of society and human history, never mind the issues from their own dual family histories.
Yes, I've wondered whether the above bomb-and-saw-in-two descriptions are fully accurate regarding children of divorce — or are they hyperbolic overstatements — but I've also become more convinced over time that these powerful metaphors indeed accurately describe the human enigma of every child, whether the home is intact or broken, given the conflict inherent in and woven throughout the fabric of human history. As the saying goes, every family is a broken family.
Yet let’s get this clear — I believe it’s far better to have an intact but imperfect marriage, as all marriages are, than to go the horrific way of no-fault divorce followed by another marriage.
Further, I want to be clear about this: My Mom’s marriage to Cliff expanded my family to include three step-siblings — his children from his first marriage, a union that was essentially severed by his first wife’s affair.
My Mom was intentional and kindhearted in planning an annual summer vacation that brought us all together for 15 years after Mina and I married and welcomed a son named Luke George and a daughter named Kayla Anneliese into our family. In that single summertime week — and at other family times around the holidays and such — we have built some strong bonds that I hope and pray will remain forever.
My blood-brother is named Glenn, my brothers-from-another-mother are named Cliffy aka Cliff and Robby aka Rob, and our sister and stepsister — as the lone female among us five step-siblings — is the proverbial rose among the thorns. Her name is being withheld because, if I understand correctly, she prefers privacy in the media and social media realm regarding sensitive matters.
HEARTACHES AND JOYS
All five of us have endured heartaches and experienced joys as adults in our respective roller-coaster marriages and families — each of us has inflicted heartache on others through the twists and turns and ups and downs of life’s journey, and we’ve also had heartache inflicted on each of us, along with giving and receiving joy.
Most of the time, I believe this heartache-inflicting has been unintentional and inadvertent, a byproduct of our jagged edges in a broken world. But we have remained committed to each other and have loved each other insofar as this is is humanly possible — that’s what families are for — and I pray that wherever hearts are hurting and divided in our family, healing will salve the wounds and hope will solve the riddle of our longing and aching and ever-hoping souls … welcome to the complexities and conundrums of a blended family.
Still, to this day, I hate my Dad’s decision to leave my Mom and my brother and me. And to this day, I still love my Dad — he died too young, at 52 years of age. Cliff hung on for three decades longer, dying at 81.
My Mom died at 72, and she was a quintessential model of the kind of love that keeps families together and growing strong — and I still love my Mom, and wish my parents were still here so I’d be able to ask them countless questions and share the success I’ve experienced in launching this Today Publishing media outlet, helping many local writers win SPJ awards as I’ve likewise received awards: 24 awards overall in four years of producing Today Magazine.
This includes tying 50-year-old Connecticut Magazine for the most first-place mag awards in the state Society of Professional Journalists contest in 2022 — seven apiece.
After 17 years of toiling as a news editor and talent-integration editor and copy editor at ESPN Digital Media, where I believe my God-given talents were underutilized, this journalistic success has definitely been gratifying. By the way, if I have to choose between producing a top-notch publication with a few committed advertisers and a sloppy publication with advertisers galore — you guessed it, I’ll choose the top-notch route every day of the week and twice on Sunday … money and revenue be damned. Though not totally, because yes, I have bills to pay too.
I wish my Mom and Dad — and another exceptionally significant person in my life — were here with me to share in this award-winning validation and joy.
Last year, I established a scholarship in their honor via Avon Dollars for Scholars called the Today Magazine Bart + Ann Memorial Scholarship — it is slated to be offered again this year. And as sure as the sun rises in the east: Without my parents, this publication that covers the heart of the Farmington Valley wouldn’t exist.
GENOCIDE OF THE HEART
By the way, are you wondering why I’ve devoted this space for a lengthy column focusing on my family history and marriage and divorce — by far the longest publisher’s Leading Off column in Today Magazine history — in an edition that deals with the horror of genocide?
Here’s why: I believe that divorce — whether caused by physical adultery or of the no-fault variety — is essentially a genocide of the heart that we as a society must avoid like the plague.
Maybe you believe calling divorce a “genocide of the heart” is going too far, and you are surely entitled to your opinion. Whether you agree or disagree, with my assessment here or elsewhere in this essay, I’m willing to have a conversation at a mutually convenient time so we can hopefully hear each other’s perspectives and grow accordingly. Safe to say, we all can learn something new every day.
When divorce occurs, restorative justice and reconciliation — as practiced in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide — are essential prerequisites for husbands and wives and moms and dads and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to heal and move forward the proverbial one day at a time. Absent restorative justice, punitive justice is evidently the final answer.
If we as a Valley community see divorce not only as a societal scourge but also as a genocide for children and families, then husbands and wives will be more likely to practice two family-saving protocols:
1. Keep your clothes on, period — except when you’re in your spouse’s presence.
2A. Whenever the divorce sentiment rises up in your inner psyche, don’t divorce your spouse — instead, divorce that appalling and atrocious divorce sentiment from your own heart and mind.
2B. Indeed, go further than that … find the source and KILL that divorce seed in yourself — the seems-so-appealing, grass-seems-greener divorce weed in your heart — at its root, every day, day after day.
That’s the ruthless commitment necessary for true love to survive and grow and thrive — and the good news is that when you kill that divorce weed-and-seed in yourself, the cut-off clippings can become compost and essential fertilizer, given the guidance of the best gardening practices for marriages and families, along with the best Gardener.
SELF-INFLICTED DEATH = LIFE
In other words: Instead of inflicting the genocide of divorce on your marriage and children, inflict your desire for a retribution-driven divorce on yourself — take your divorce-desire and turn it against itself, which actually means that as you kill that divorce-desire in yourself, you’ll set yourself free to live your best possible life in union with your first love.
As far as I can see, when husbands and wives decide to renounce their first-love choice and instead choose no-fault divorce, and then enter the confines and cauldron of a second marriage, those husbands and wives have essentially trafficked themselves.
Further analogies: Remove the divorce cancer-gene from your own marital heart so your first marriage’s healthy heart-cells can grow. Execute that creature-from-the-black-lagoon divorce sentiment whenever it surfaces in your own psyche. Cut off your arm whenever it even remotely begins to reach out and touch anyone except your spouse — your first and true love.
Sure, no-fault divorce may seem as appealing as a tantalizing bikini-body babe or a quasi-winsome beach stud — but after a short-lived “honeymoon” period, you can bet the farm and the barn that the bikini babe will show her true colors and transform into an ice-queen witch, and the beach stud will suddenly change into a wife-beating bully … maybe not literally, though it’s always possible, but in other abusive and harmful ways.
Two toddlers who have thrown tantrums in their first marriages and succumbed to no-fault divorce will likely find it quite difficult — if not impossible — to sustain the maturity and selfless love needed for true love to flourish in a bogus second marriage.
All the best love stories make this crystal-clear — haven’t we been paying attention to the classic romantic movies, novels, soap operas, poems and love songs? For starters, “The Princess Bride” comes to mind, an amazing storytelling exposition of true love.
I know, the siren song of divorce sings sweetly and alternately screams bloody murder — but let’s do our absolute best to pay attention to the true love stories expressed in all the genres mentioned above.
No-fault divorce dresses up and struts like a quasi-sexy single woman and boasts like a quasi-handsome single man, but get closer and pay attention, and you’ll smell the foul stench of self-centered self-interest and selfishness run amok.
True, selfishness lurks in the heart of every human in every marriage and must be dealt with every day — but when someone foolishly yields to selfishness via no-fault divorce or an outright affair, and then expects to ride off into the sunset happily ever after with a new partner … well, if you believe that con game, someone will gladly sell you a bridge in Brooklyn and leave you adrift in an ocean of regret, heartache and I-wish-I-had stayed-with-my-first-spouse syndrome.
ANCIENT WAY = BEST MODERN SOLUTION
The ancient way and adage — what God has joined together, let no one put asunder — is the genuine recipe for true love. It’s also the best modern solution for the treatment of our ongoing heart-wounds. A further analogy: No-fault divorce is like self-care on steroids. Genuine self-care is apparently a good practice, but misplaced self-care, coupled with no-fault divorce and another marriage, is ultimately a sad and hideous sight, as far as I can see.
You might be thinking — dude, enough already with this deluge of metaphors and word pictures and analogies about marriage and divorce. Stop, please — we get it!
OK, full disclosure, in case you’re weary of this lengthy essay: My heart is as dense and dyslexic as yours — if you aren’t familiar with the Paul Westerberg song “Dyslexic Heart” I recommend checking out the lyrics — so I hope and pray that all of these reminders are a safeguard for you and me and our families. Further, the corollary reality is really no secret: At a heart level, everyone is somehow guilty of an inner adultery.
Yes, we must avoid the descent into actual physical adultery like the plague — this is worth repeating — and also reject any tendency to pursue no-fault divorce. But since we all stray inside our hearts and minds, whether we’re coveting another body or a grass-seems-greener romance, no man or woman can point a condemning finger with any kind of self-righteous justification. We’re all lost orphaned children with deep heart-needs looking for the best way to our true home.
A caveat about these urgent divorce warnings — perhaps it’s possible for a married couple to agree to part ways, the proverbial mutual divorce decision, and then move on and rebuild on the wreckage and find love again. I suppose such a story has occurred.
SEPARATION IF NECESSARY — NOT DIVORCE
However, the no-fault divorce I’m describing is a one-sided and one-spouse decision, precipitated not by physical adultery or abuse or pornography but by simple (and ultimately savage) self-care: I’ve got to protect myself and do what’s best for myself, after all.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but since two people agree to get married — and promise to stay faithful through thick and thin, ups and downs, better and worse — how fair is it for only ONE person to end the marriage?
If a wife, for some reason that’s valid to her, wants to take a break from living with her husband — or vice versa — that’s a choice you can make, and more power to you. But if the other spouse is heartbroken and sees the inherent value of preserving the marriage union, don’t “reward” the selfish and love-clueless and toddler-tantrum-throwing spouse with a divorce — grant a legal separation so that the family stays intact and reunion is not only the common-sense goal, but also the only viable legal alternative.
A line from the classic Coldplay song “Fix You” applies here: “When you get what you want but not what you need” — that describes no-fault divorce to a T.
Now, what if you’ve already committed physical adultery or pursued a no-fault divorce? Hey, we all make mistakes, both major and minor, and we all fall down often. Yet how can we escape the wreckage of our self-inflicted and other-imposed wounds?
Evidently, the key is to keep getting back up, to keep making course corrections when needed, to somehow take the next best step with God’s help — to ask forgiveness and forgive and make amends whenever and wherever we need to. Indeed, forgiveness is available when we stumble and fall.
Let’s remember what Aragorn — the hidden king of “Lord of the Rings” fame — told the nervous young lad at the Helm’s Deep fortress in the face of a seemingly impossible emergency: “There is always hope.”
ON SCARLET LETTERS + ADULTERY
Remember the timeless novel “The Scarlet Letter” — perhaps from your high school or college English class? That scarlet letter A, which signifies adultery, is imprinted on everyone … yes, every human on the planet, bar none. That is evidently what Jesus of Nazareth means when he says that lust — and, by reasonable extension, sexual fantasy — is equivalent to adultery of the heart.
So based on the law of the land of Israel in the first century, every human being is guilty of a capital crime — everyone, for the first-century sentence for adultery was death, period.
However, does anyone in their right mind think that by saying this, Jesus is literally equating inner heart-adultery with physical adultery?
In other words, does anyone who understands that 10+10=20 really think that Jesus is saying a married person who finds someone else attractive and lusts for that someone and is tempted to pursue that someone — but resists the temptation and doesn’t commit physical adultery — is therefore guilty of physical adultery? And does anyone who realizes that 10x10=100 think Jesus is really saying that married people who struggle with lust, but don’t engage in a physical affair, have given their spouses even a remotely good reason for divorce?
Does anyone operating on more than two watts — and I mean anyone — truly believe this is what Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce and adultery?
Further, the overwhelming evidence in the magnum opus of Jesus’ life and teachings — aka the four biographies of Jesus, a collection of historical records typically referred to as the New Testament gospels — is that there is one God-honoring reason for divorce, and only one: physical adultery.
To understand this, here’s a simple recommendation for those who profess the Christian worldview — read the Old and New Testament Scriptures and interpret them accurately. And for those who don't give much credence to these documents, here’s a corresponding recommendation — for all those who share a common humanity as God’s self-described image-bearers, whether or not you attend church — simply read the law of love written in every human heart by our Creator since the beginning of human history. Students of the Scriptures know that the New Testament letters have more to say about marriage (and divorce) — this column isn't addressing the specifics of those letters, only what is clear based on how Jesus is quoted in the gospel-biographies. A closer look at the comments and instructions about marriage in the New Testament letters will have to wait for another day and another essay.
In any event, I digress … let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.
A confession of sorts: Even though I know 10+10=20, I still wonder at times whether Jesus’ instruction about lust indicates that He sees inner heart-adultery (aka lust) as a reason for divorce.
Yet every time I wonder about this, I attempt to think just a bit more clearly about the issue, asking for God’s logical heart-help as best I can — and then, once more, I reach the crystal-clear conclusion described above. To summarize: Yes, lust is heart-adultery, but lust obviously isn’t identical to physical adultery, and lust and/or sexual fantasy are never a good reason to pursue divorce — and the only exception Jesus gives for divorce in the gospels, the only God-honoring reason for severing a marriage, is physical adultery aka physical infidelity. Period.
Oh, a further word about the term “crystal-clear” — my experience is that sometimes a reality that’s crystal-clear isn’t always as clear as day, for some days are so foggy and confusing that perfect clarity is impossible to attain, at least on those given foggy days.
BEWARE THE AFFAIR + TOXIC TERRITORY
So a physical affair is a different story altogether — that’s a deal-breaker. If your spouse commits physical adultery, I believe it is basically self-evident that you as the offended spouse are free to divorce at will. Alternatively, you can instead choose to forgive and take your offending spouse back, as you wish.
Of course, Jesus of Nazareth places a premium on forgiveness and reconciliation in marriage and in other relationships — yet as clear as day, He identifies physical infidelity aka physical adultery as the sole God-honoring reason for divorce and a subsequent marriage, according to how He is quoted in the gospels.
By the way: A brief side note about appealing to Jesus of Nazareth as the best source and authority regarding the best way to navigate marriage-and-divorce decisions — God gives all humans amazing freedom to choose whose advice to trust and follow when it comes to marriage-and-family issues and every other issue people encounter on the proverbial journey of life ... and at the end of the day, we all will choose to follow someone’s advice about how to best live life.
Once more, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Sexual intimacy is like the most stunning natural landscape, inviting joy and connection and ecstasy, yet situated right on a hidden fault line with a sign that reads, “High Voltage: Deep Danger” — but the adultery-offending spouse misreads the sign, vis-à-vis the dyslexic heart referenced above.
The bewitching lure of an illicit affair fogs the atmosphere so the "Danger” sign is misread, and the adultery-prone husband or wife misconstrues the true elucidation and interpretation of the sign. Perhaps a vicious person who is jealous of another’s love has revised the language of the good sign so it sounds a false note.
In the dense fog, instead of “High Voltage: Deep Danger” the message becomes “High Voltage: Seek A Stranger” — and then if some utterly misguided friends and so-called experts, whether religious or secular or both, convince the vulnerable spouse that this alternate false message is legit, the horrific result is predictable. And when push comes to shove, aren’t we all vulnerable?
When an adultery-offending spouse taps into the sexual intimacy landscape on that hidden fault line, evidently a seismic event is triggered — causing a cascading heart-shaking and heartbreaking earthquake that devastates the marriage relationship.
Adultery is a misdirection into toxic territory — and this might be the most heart-rending analogy of all, because the nature of toxic territory is that at first there’s no way to detect the cancer-causing toxicity, except by trusting the people and principles who are advocating avoidance of adultery’s toxic sludge.
The sobering Love Canal story, one of the worst environmental disasters in American history, is an acute illustration: A dream community of homes in Niagara Falls, New York, became a nightmare because the beautiful neighborhood was built on a toxic waste site that, over time, caused birth defects and miscarriages and cancer. A delicious meal laced with arsenic will taste great but can nonetheless result in death.
CHURCH + MARRIAGE ISSUES
I surely and sorely wish a local vocational church pastor had encouraged a close friend of mine to stay committed to her marriage and her husband. Instead, his poor counsel essentially encouraged her to file for a no-fault divorce — she told me this herself. He recklessly went directly against God’s heart for marriage, while also ignoring his own church denomination’s protocol for counseling a marriage in crisis.
Further, his advice to my close friend went against all sound and sane teaching about marriage since the Church was birthed in the first century and, really, since marriage was ordained by God per the Genesis account. My close friend told this “pastor” that her husband had confessed sexual fantasy many years ago — and do you want to hazard a guess as to what his response was, according to my friend’s clear recollection of their conversation?
Believe it or not, this so-called pastor instructed my friend that she has a God-honoring reason for divorce — what is sometimes referred to in church circles as “biblical grounds” for divorce — and therefore he has carelessly and shamelessly led her astray, into the toxic territory of adultery. And this tragic story gets worse: Would you believe that an entire church leadership team backed him up — and has given this “pastor” a hefty salary increase, to boot?
Go figure … and c’est la vie.
What analogy can we use to describe such a travesty of religious misdirection and disgraceful advice?
How about this — when a male pastor, via so many misguided words, encourages a married woman to pursue a no-fault divorce and then that woman naively marries someone else, the “pastor” is no longer acting as a true pastor. Instead, he is acting as a pimp — perhaps tripping on his tragically twisted authority.
Such catastrophic church events have occurred before, and they’re virtually guaranteed to occur again because too often people in the church are clueless. And you’re right — too often people in the secular realm are also clueless. The Clueless Company is evidently an equal-opportunity employer.
Yet in a strange way I’m thankful that this “pastor” is fully responsible for his horrific advice, and I hope and pray that my close friend is forgiven and absolved of blame and protected from harm — for she is an amazing woman, among the smartest and most sensitive people I’ve ever known.
Is the real-life event described above comparable to any real-life situations in your church community? If so, I sure hope you’re doing everything in your power to make amends, and I hope I am too.
Yes, a case can be made that whenever someone commits a transgression, such as physical adultery or inner-heart adultery, it is a disgraceful travesty — and in that case, there are mea culpas all around. However, what is troubling about this situation is the distressing dynamic of a religious leader causing someone to stumble into harmful territory. When Jesus addresses the seriousness of this scenario, He issues a universal warning that includes references to millstones around necks and ocean depths and death by drowning.
A further query: Do you think it’s possible for church leaders to be guilty of encouraging the horror of genocide and cold-blooded murder and divorce? The sad answer is yes — it happened in Rwanda and Nazi Germany, and it happens far too often across our state and nation and world.
By the way, if it’s true that we’re all children at heart, then this local vocational pastor is internally a scared and hurt little boy who has made his own clueless and confused decisions, perhaps in a mistaken and misguided attempt to salvage his own heartbreaking family history. If this is the case, and he recognizes his wrong and repents and changes his tune sooner rather than later, he can of course be forgiven and absolved of blame as well.
The necessity of this recognition-and-repentance process is universal and global for every human — for me, you and all of our family and friends on this mysterious and sometimes macabre and sometimes magnificent journey of life.
When my Dad committed adultery again, the gifted vocational pastor of my New Jersey church was a straight shooter and told my Dad: I’ve never seen anyone more cold-bloodedly murder a marriage. Yet at the end of his life, after wandering from both his earthly and eternal homes, the evidence indicates that my Dad repented and corrected course and found his way home again, by the grace and truth of God. That, however, is a story for another day.
February is a month for love, as the Valentine’s Day holiday indicates — and in my better moments I believe in a Creator who is the source of true love … who can cleanse any and all toxic sludge … and who welcomes the prodigal wild child home.
I hope my close friend and soul sister is listening — especially to her One True Love and her ultimate Only One — and I hope and pray that she and I will find the Way to our heart’s true home. +
• Bruce William Deckert is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Today Magazine and Today Online — he has received multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his writing, editing and design work
• Bruce grew up in the Church and has attended services at local churches that represent the range of Christendom, from Catholic to Protestant, from Baptist to Brethren, from Pentecostal to Presbyterian — for most of his life, he has been an active participant in the Presbyterian tradition at three churches: in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut
• Bruce has worked full-time in the media realm since 1996 — most of that time as an editor at ESPN.com and ESPN Digital Media — and even though he is considered an adult now, based on chronological age, he continues to try to discern what he wants to be when he grows up ... and, especially and much more importantly, what God wants him to be when he grows up
Bruce William Deckert has written a book — for young people of all ages:
• Chosen for World Cup Exhibition at Nelson Mandela Foundation
While working at ESPN, Bruce launched a blog:
• FAST = Faith And Sports Talk
• Musings (hopefully coherent) on the intersection of faith and sports
• Three blog posts on the connection between sports and marriage:
• Related News
— Today Magazine — February edition:
— Today Online — single-URL version of February cover story: