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Friday, July 4, 2014

The wholesale abandonment of marriage in general and traditional marriage in particular is one of the greatest threats to our country. What can we do?

Apologies in advance to my readers outside the US. Chances are, however, that what I'm about to say probably has bearing on your own country. In fact, I'd love to hear how the state of marriage compares in your own country.

It is not popular to stand up for marriage in the US these days, especially if you take a more traditional and sacramental view of the institution. If fact, those who do so, especially if they have any kind of public profile, often face severe chastisement and abuse by those who disagree. There seems to no longer be space in our society for courteous public discourse about the important topic of marriage.

Here are just two recent examples of the kind of vitriol I'm talking about:
  • Brandon Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox browser, was forced to resign over outrageously insane reactions to the revelation that he donated money to support California's proposition to define marriage as between one man and one woman. What free speech?
  • In a recent Harper's Bazaar interview, actress Kirsten Dunst expressed her personal views that support more traditional gender roles in marriage. Her suggestion that females might actually be feminine prompted vicious and profane attacks from the left. Most of what I read is not fit to print.
I could offer more, but I'm sure you get my point.

Good News?

Is it really all that bad? Is marriage in the US really in trouble? I believe so.

Shaunti Feldhahn has a new book out called The Good News About Marriage. In it she debunks some common myths about divorce and marriage statistics, such as the oft-quoted 50% divorce rate. She counters that "according to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse." That is good news.

However, it's a definite good news/bad news story. One of the trends contributing to a lower divorce rate is that young people are delaying marriage or doing away with it altogether. According to the The National Marriage Project's (TNMP) Knot Yet report, the average age of marriage is higher than it has ever been (27 for women and 29 for men). In 2011, there were more unmarried females than married females for the first time in US history. Along with that, cohabitation has soared from about 1.6 million people in 1980 to 7.6 million in 2011.

Another alarming trend is fatherlessness.  In their State of our Unions 2012 report,  TNMP reports that the rate of out-of-wedlock births is now approaching 50% for low-to-moderately educated women, almost twice what it was in 1982.

If we ignore or try to whitewash these statistics, we do so at our own peril. In the foreword to The Good News About Marriage, pastor Andy Stanley states the following:
We have been both accepting and adding to a deep sense of cultural discouragement about marriage. A discouragement that instead of motivating people, leeches hope from marriages. A discouragement that, it turns out, is based more on myth than reality.
Admittedly, I haven't read the book yet - it's in my reader, but I've read enough of the promotional material to give me pause. I'm a little concerned with the apparent premise that marriage in our country really isn't in trouble. Yes, the divorce rate is down, but the underlying reason is that marriage is in an even deeper decline. And that's not good news at all.

Where is the Hope?

These trends are very disturbing to me as a marriage blogger and as an American, I'm an unashamedly patriotic individual, and I happen to think America is a unique force for good in the world. However, as I observe our steady slide away from marriage, I can't help but wonder what the future holds for my children.

Shaunti Feldhahn's book notwithstanding, I think we are in trouble. Yet we are not without hope. I agree with her statement in a recent article for Catalyst, Everything we Think We Know About Marriage is Wrong, which is obviously a book promo piece::
What marriages need today is hope. And of all people, we in the Body of Christ should be the most ready to offer hope – not just for our spiritual life but for our marriages. And now, we can.
We, as believers have the inside track on marriage. We hold the hope. We have a close, personal relationship with the One who created marriage before time began. We have also been given the relationship of Jesus and the church as a model for marriage. I often say that the marriages in the church should be so compellingly beautiful and strong that people should get save just by observing how we do marriage. Yeah, I'm a bit of an idealist.

The National Marriage Project supports a pro-marriage legislative agenda to reverse some of the deleterious trends in marriage. I don't think government policies are the answer, though they may help stem the tide.

Only the church can save marriage.

Happy Birthday from the Church

So here are the seven gifts I think the church should give to our country to help re-establish marriage as the strong central pillar of our society.
  1. Be more proactive in supporting and strengthening the vast number of okay marriages, and stop focusing so much on divorce/crisis intervention and divorce recovery. The goal should be for every marriage to be great, not just okay.
  2. Speak boldly about the sacred, holy and wondrous nature of marriage from the pulpit, not just to married folks in marriage seminars, but to everyone in the church. Often.
  3. Be willing to talk frankly about sex in a healthy and open manner. When we drive sex into the shadows, all kinds of unhealthy fruit grows in its place, such as porn use, extra-marital affairs, and sexless marriages.
  4. Begin giving young people encouraging messages about marriage, even in their teenage years. The media and society are speaking loudly and clearly to kids with false and counterfeit messages. We need to be louder and clearer.
  5. Hire more marriage pastors. Why do most churches have children's pastors, youth pastors, teaching pastors, outreach pastors and pastors of every kind except marriage pastors. What does a marriage pastor do? See number 1 above.
  6. Start and/or promote marriage small groups using excellent curriculum and strong, well-equipped leaders. Encourage organic marriage mentoring programs, where every married couple is connected with another couple or two.
  7. Every pastoral/leadership couple should work hard to make their marriages a stellar example to their congregations, but at the same time, should be transparent about the realities of married life. It is well known how the demands of pastoring often wreak havoc on these marriages. It may require a little less focus on their congregations and a little more focus on their marriages. 

What else do you think the church can give our country on behalf of marriage? Share your thoughts with a comment.

photo credit: a fabulous fruit flag treat made by my daughter


tbright said...

I would say to #1, focus more on marriage and not so much on fighting same sex marriage. That would address two aspects of the issue. First, if the divorce rate looks little different inside the church compared to outside, how can the church speak with any credibility on the topic? Second, far more marriages are destroyed by divorce on demand, no fault divorce than we'll ever dream of being destroyed by same sex marriage.

I'd add stop disproportionately blaming men. We keep hearing how men are not committed to their families. Yet when you look at who is choosing divorce, by and large, it's not husbands, but wives who are choosing no-fault divorce and tossing out their husband.

Don't mis-understand. I'm not saying there are not things husbands can do. What I'm saying is that in most of those cases, the husband is NOT engaged in any of the major marital misconduct that people argues gives the betrayed spouse a get out of marriage card. Most of these abandoned husbands are not abusive, adulterous nor addicted.

On mother's day, we hear how mothers walk on water just like Jesus and Peter. On father's day, we keep hearing how men need to step it up.

When my ex-wife had her affair, instead of our pastor confronting her, he asked me what I did to force her to have an affair.

Come to find out, his response is not atypical of what men who find out their wives are cheating and/or has filed for divorce receive from their churches.

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