Setting Marriage Asunder

What would it take to bring together 300 pastors and lay leaders from 30-plus denominations? The church leaders—Protestant and Catholic, black and white, Hispanic and Chinese-American—gathered for lunch recently in the ballroom of the elegant Stouffer Renaissance Hotel in Austin, Texas. Despite their confessional differences, these church leaders all shared the same, determined goal: to help strengthen marriages and bring down America’s out-of-control divorce rates. By the end of the luncheon, most of the pastors had pledged to establish church programs designed to repair the cracks in damaged marriages and help singles make wise choices before they walk down the aisle. The document was also a recognition of an unpleasant truth: the church is partially responsible for America’s divorce epidemic—and it’s high time for the church to get serious about finding a cure. Marriage expert Mike McManus, the keynote speaker at the Austin event, puts it bluntly: "Almost 75 percent of all weddings are performed by clergy," he says. "But too many churches have become little more than wedding factories." McManus is right. It’s not unusual for churches to spend six months helping couples plan elaborate weddings, compared to just a few hours counseling them on how to have lasting marriages. The result of this negligence has been divorce and devastation, even among church families. Even secular authorities now acknowledge that divorce is no "quick fix" to family conflicts—that broken marriages can cause lasting harm to everyone involved. Psychologist Judith Wallerstein tracked 60 families of divorce for 15 years. Her conclusion? Eighteen months after the breakup, "we didn’t see a single child [of divorce] who was well adjusted," she told Time magazine. And, she adds, "we didn’t see a single child to whom divorce was not the central event of their lives." Divorce damages adults, too. Wallerstein found that up to 10 years after divorce, many former spouses still suffered from loneliness, depression, and anxiety, and were swamped with financial problems. Psychiatrist David Larson has even found that divorce "puts people at much higher risk for [both] psychiatric and physical disease." No wonder God says in the Book of Malachi, "I hate divorce." The good news is that churches are recognizing their complicity in America’s divorce epidemic, and they’re doing something about it. Many are turning to Mike McManus’s book Marriage Savers for help. McManus teaches couples how to prepare for lifelong commitment—and what to do when the marital ship hits rocky shoals. Couples in good marriages are advised to make them even better by attending a Marriage Encounter weekend. And McManus describes how community marriage policies can help entire towns lower their divorce rate. These programs have proved so successful that secular observers have begun to sit up and take notice. In the past few weeks alone, the Wall Streeet Journal, Newsweek, and ABC News have all spotlighted church-run programs designed to preserve marriages. Why don’t you read the rest of this special series about how churches are learning to keep marriages from foundering. You’ll discover how you and your church can become marriage savers, too.  


Chuck Colson


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