For Better or For Worse

    "I would go days at a time without speaking a word." Even twenty-five years after her parents’ divorce, twenty-eight-year-old Karen could still feel the unspeakable pain. She’s one of the walking wounded; but Karen is not alone. Psychologist Judith Wallerstein found that the toll divorce takes on children can sometimes last decades. All too often, divorcing parents who place such pressures on their kids claim they really had no choice. But as Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite point out in their book, The Case for Marriage, "Divorce is not exactly a random event, striking some families like a bolt of lightening and leaving others miraculously untouched." Moreover -- as I’ve noted on BreakPoint over the last few days -- the evidence is overwhelming: marriage is superior to any other sort of family. It’s not just one of many alternatives, each of which are equally good at promoting the well-being of children and adults. Nor is marriage, as Gallagher and Waite point out, "merely a private taste or a private relation; it is an important public good." And the costs of failed marriages are borne by everyone through the costs of higher crime, welfare, education, and medical expenses. Our fragile families are at least partly the consequence of cultural ideas, the authors write -- faulty ideas about the importance of fathers, the nature of sex and commitment, and the obligation of couples to each other and to their offspring. These ideas have arisen from our obsession, since the 1960s, with personal autonomy -- the mistaken belief that we are free of obligation to spouses, parents, children, or even God. And that we are free of all moral restraints. What can we do to restore marriage as the normal, stable context for raising children? First, we can recover our biblical understanding of personal responsibility and help families to understand putting ourselves first always leads to disaster. Second, Gallagher and Waite suggest that we recognize the ways that our laws often undermine marriage through tax policy and welfare legislation. And we need to push for sound policies. We need to insist that family experts tell the truth about the importance of enduring marriages and that the government publishes information about the effects of marriage and divorce -- just as it does for unemployment and job creation. Then, we need a tax policy that's pro-marriage. We need to restore the value of the dependent allowance for children and eliminate tax penalties on married couples. The recent tax bill takes an important step in this direction. We can work to strengthen marriage by reforming no- fault divorce laws, especially for couples with minor children. And we can encourage judges and legislatures to hold husbands who abandon their families financially responsible. The church has a big role to play here as well. The Marriage Saver programs, developed by my friend Mike McManus, based on solid biblical teaching, have helped to strengthen existing marriages and prevent bad ones from forming in the first place. And I suggest you read The Case for Marriage. You’ll learn about the research that confirms what the Bible teaches. If we desire enduring love and safe havens for our kids, we can do no better than the structure designed by God for that purpose: the one that urges us "to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." For further reference: Gallagher, Maggie and Linda J. Waite. The Case for Marriage: What Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. New York: Doubleday,2000. Below is a list of organizations dedicated to strengthening marriage and discouraging divorce: For information on Community Marriage Policies and faith-based "marriage savers" strategies: Marriage Savers 9311 Harrington Drive Potomac, MD 20854 301-469-5873 For information on marriage preparation and marriage education: The Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education (CMFCE) Diane Sollee, Director 5310 Belt Road, NW Washington, DC 20015-1961 (202) 362-3332 For information on divorce law reforms intended to reduce divorce: Americans for Divorce Reform 2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 550 Arlington, VA 22201-3057


Chuck Colson


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