Egyptians have been recently embroiled in controversy over divorce in Islam, triggered by a suggestion by President Sisi that verbal divorce would be invalidated and replaced by official divorce before courts of law. But al-Azhar, the topmost authority on Sunni Islam, responded by issuing a statement insisting that verbal divorce is conclusive in Islam. The controversy, however, apparently led some to think that the topic of divorce was open for discussion; this whetted the appetite of some Christians to demand that the Church set lenient measures for divorce. These people went to the point of implying that the Bible includes provisions for divorce. I could not overlook this contravention since it has the detrimental potential of misleading Christians and Muslims alike.
In its effort to hold on to the Bible’s teachings which ban divorce, and at the same time protect its children against failed marriages, the Church takes serious legislative and on-the-ground measures before it performs matrimonial rites. It ensures that the conditions required for the success and stability of a marriage are in place before marrying off any couple, and requires couples intending to get married to attend compulsory pre-wedding courses in order for them to grasp the scale of the commitments and responsibilities needed for a successful married life. The Church has enshrined the Bible’s teachings on marriage and divorce in the draft for the Family Bylaws for Christians that is expected to be placed before the House of Representatives before the end of this legislative term. I would like to begin by establishing these teachings.
• In Matthew 5: 31 – 32 Jesus says: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
• Matthew 9: 3 – 9 says: “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
The teachings of the Bible are thus definitive about the only acceptable reason for divorce being adultery. What does the Family Law for Christians say about that? Chapter II, entitled “Bases and Conditions of Marriage” includes:
• Article (13): Christian marriage is a sacred religious permanent bond; it shall be performed in public between one Christian man and one Christian woman qualified for marriage, who both belong to the same sect, in order for them to form a family that would share daily life as one.
• Article (14): A religious Christian marriage that conforms with the
Holy Bible shall be recognised by the public, and by all Christian sects in Egypt. It shall not be dissolved except according to the texts of this law, as long as it was made with the consent of both parties through religious rituals performed by a Christian clergy member authorised by his religious leadership to perform these rites, according to the rituals of the sect.
• Article (20): Those divorced on account of adultery may not remarry, also those who converted to another religion or joined other sects not recognised by Christian Churches in Egypt.
Chapter V, entitled “Annulment of Marriage Contract” includes the following:
• Article (30): A religious Christian marriage shall be null and void in the following cases:
1. If it did not enjoy the true consent of both spouses.
2. If it was not conducted in public through religious rituals, and in the presence of at least two Christian witnesses.
3. If any of the spouses was not at the time of the marriage of legal age asstipulated in Article (15) of this law.
4. If any of the spouses had a blood or intermarriage kinship that is in contradicting with of the qualifications stipulated in Articles (17) and (18) of this law.
5. If any of the two who were party to the marriage contract had been already married at the time the contract was concluded.
6. If a deliberate murderer or his partner marries the spouse of his victim, once it is proved that the murder was plotted between them with the purpose of getting married.
7. If a Christian man marries a woman who belongs to a non-Christian religion or religious group.
8. If any of the spouses has any of the contraindications to marriage stipulated in Article (23) of this law, provided this was prior to the marriage.
9. If the husband was before marriage impotent. This shall be proved by an official medical certificate.
10. If one of the spouses was already divorced for adultery or conversion, or for joining another sect not recognised by Christian Churches in Egypt.
• Article (31): A marriage shall be annulled if the man kidnaps the woman or restricts her freedom within a certain place with the purpose of marrying her, in case the marriage was made while she was kidnapped.
In addition to the Bible’s teachings and the excerpts from the Family Bylaws for Christians, I would like to refer to a previous editorial dated 28 June 2015 which included Pope Tawadros’s reflections on the family bylaws[http://en.wataninet.com/opinion/editorial/problems-on-hold-new-family-law-for-christians/14164/]. I reprint here what the Pope said, to stress all the above and underscore the mission of the Church in venerating the family and protecting it. “The Church has exercised both right and empathy while drafting a new family law, known in Arabic as the Bylaws of the Personal Status for Christians. ‘Right’ was exercised in holding on to Christian parameters and the Bible’s teachings, and ‘empathy’ in coming to terms with the realities of modern life and communal and family needs,” the Pope said. “The central Coptic Orthodox Clerical Council in Cairo—the Church body hitherto exclusively concerned with resolving family cases—can no longer efficiently handle the escalating number of cases placed before it owing to the growing Coptic congregation inside and outside Egypt.Therefore,” the Pope said, “clerical councils will be attached to the various parishes to look into local family cases. Each of these councils will be headed by the parish bishop, and will include a priest, a legal expert, and a female doctor; together they should take decisions on the family problems placed before them.The decisions of the parish councils may be appealed before six higher regional councils; one will handle Cairo and Giza, another Alexandria and the Delta region, and a third Upper Egypt. The other three will handle cases of the Copts in the Diaspora,” the Pope said. He pointed out that the newly structured clerical councils should put an end to the dissatisfaction of Copts regarding unresolved family problems. Problems arising with newly formed families will also be swiftly tackled, he said.
This is the sacred legacy of faith regarding marriage as seen by the Holy Bible and the Church. Those who demand lenient Church divorce for Christians had better abstain.