In the Coptic Orthodox Church, a divorce is hard to come by.
In the Coptic Orthodox Church, a divorce is hard to come by.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria -- one of the most popular sects of Christianity in Egypt and the Middle East -- dictates that couples may only receive a divorce in cases of adultery and when one spouse decides to change their religious beliefs. In modern times, there have been movements by Coptic Christians to relax the church's rulings on the matter.

About the Coptic Orthodox Church

Founded around 42 A.D. by Saint Mark during a visit to Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has played a major role in the fabric of the country for centuries. Though Islam has been the country's most popular religion, roughly 10 percent of Egyptians are Coptic Orthodox Christians. Coptic Christians are very devoted to the teachings of their church, especially when it comes to moral matters. The church has long held a rather strict position when it comes to divorce.

Scriptural Background

As with other Christian denominations, the Coptic Orthodox Church bases its position on divorce on several passages in the Bible. In Matthew 19:3, Jesus is asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" Jesus tells the pharisees that man only divorce his wife due to his wife's "indecency," or cheating. Furthermore, Corinthians 7:15 says that Christians are not mandated to stay with a non-Christian spouse; if a spouse changes religions, a Christian may seek a divorce.

Grounds for Divorce

In conjunction with the passages from the Bible, the Coptic Christian Church authorizes divorces rather sparingly, and only in cases of adultery and religious conversion. The deceased Coptic Pope Shenouda III was incredibly adamant about this, nullifying the 1938 bylaws that allowed Coptic Christians to divorce for reasons like attempted murder, a seven-year-or-more prison sentence, sexual aversion for three years, three years' insanity, sexual dysfunction, chronic illness, five years of abandonment or irreconcilable differences.

Modern Challenges

In recent years, there have been movements in Egypt by a group calling itself Coptic 38 that aims to loosen the restrictions that Pope Shenouda III put in place, seeking to restore the 1938 bylaws. Women's rights groups are especially invested in liberalizing Coptic divorce regulations, so that women who are abused by their husbands or forced into marriages against their wills can seek freedom from their situation. Some Coptic Christians have converted to Islam so they can be granted a divorce.