What Does the Bible Say About Mitch Daniels’ Unusual Marriage?

Slate's Culture Blog
May 12 2011 6:27 PM

What Does the Bible Say About Mitch Daniels’ Unusual Marriage?

Many Americans learnedtoday about IndianaGov. Mitch Daniels' rather unusual marital history . In1978, Daniels married Cheri Daniels. In 1994, she divorced him, married anotherman, and moved to California leaving their four daughters in his care. In 1997,having divorced her second husband, she returned to Indiana and remarried MitchDaniels.

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David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, which both wrote todayabout the Daniels' marriage, their rocky history is a key reason perhaps the key reason why Daniels can't make uphis mind whether to run for the Republican presidential nomination. Neither henor Cheri relishes discussing their break. She apparently never talks about itto the media, and, according to the New York Times story , hehas mentioned their divorce "only once publicly, telling The Indianapolis Star in 2004: 'If you like happy endings, you'lllove our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems.'"

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Truly, you'd have to be a grinch to condemn this rescued romance,which reunited a mother and her children and repaired a broken marriage. Yet itturns out that there is one place where you'll find nothing but savagecondemnation of the Daniels' remarriage: The Bible.

When I bloggedthe Bible a few years ago for Slate , Icame across this passage at the beginning of Chapter 24 of Deuteronomy :

A man takes a wife and possesses her.She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and hewrites her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from hishouse; she leaves his household and becomes the wife of another man; then thislatter man rejects her, writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, andsends her away from his house; or the man who married her dies. Then the firsthusband who divorced her shall not take her to wife again, since she has beendefiled-for that would be abhorrent to the Lord. You must not bring sin uponthe land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage.

Sound familiar? In other words, according to the law of Moses, theDaniels marriage isn't romantic it's "abhorrent." (Incidentally, though this passageprescribes no punishment, acts described as "abhorrent" in the Torah aregenerally punishable by exile or death.) I did a little very little bit ofresearch about why Moses would condemn such a remarriage. The Biblical logicseems to be that the wife, having lain with another man, has been irrevocablydamaged, and so the first husband would be shamed by being with her again. 

Most Americans would agree that this is a stupid, cruel, andirrelevant law. Moreover, it is a 3,000-year-old Jewish statute, and MitchDaniels, a modern Christian, is in no way bound by it. Still, the next timesomeone cites the Bible to you as a rulebook for modern living, remember thatwith all its grand and lovely laws and there areplenty of them come archaic barbarities like this one.

Photograph of Mitch Daniels by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.

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