Mike Cope's blog

Monday, December 12, 2005

George Barna has documented this fact: the divorce rate in this country is the same for people who claim to be Christians as it is for people who don't claim to be Christians. (I just read a summary of a Barna report that now says it's higher for Christians, but I can't locate that report.) Without stomping on those who've already suffered through divorces, isn't there a way we can address this? Is there a disconnect between our calling to follow Jesus and the high failure rate of our marriages? Doesn't the demand for family-friendly legislation and family values lose some steam when the people who claim to be Christ-followers have a higher divorce rate than those who don't? How can the church be hard on divorce while being gentle with those who have suffered through divorces? (They don't need to suffer again, made to feel like second class citizens of the kingdom!) What's the disconnect here? And how do we help local church leaders who are forced to deal with these issues all the time? Honestly, it's one of the most difficult parts of being a leader. What I'm especially interested in is how the church, the community of believers, can be more helpful in supporting one another's marriages. These ten thoughts come to mind quickly: 1. By faithfully holding marriage in the realm of discipleship (i.e., we keep our vows as a part of living out the deep inner goodness that comes from following the Way of Christ -- Mt. 5:31-32); 2. By refusing to make marriage a place where all needs are supposed to be met (which is idolatrous and forces it to bear a load it can't); 3. By learning to be more open with one another -- confessing, sharing, and praying -- so that we aren't afraid to say "we need some help"; 4. By fostering a greater sense of "first family" where the church -- married, divorced, single, children -- is seen as our primarily relationship; 5. By reminding each other that we relate to each other in marriage as brother and sister in Christ as well as husband and wife; 6. By offering whatever resources are available for prevention and intervention: wise elders, insightful therapists, caring friends and guides; 7. By encouraging each other openly to resist materialism and out-of-control debt; 8. By opening ways for conflict and conflict resolution that involve true listening, affirming, exploring, and forgiving; 9. By helping people to pursue a path of spiritual formation, expecting people to change through time into the image of Christ; and 10. By keeping alive and open the stories of older believers who can share their journey, thereby offering hope and guidance for troubled times. What other suggestions do you have?

38 Comments:

  • Good suggestions, but are we sure of those statistics? There are some other questions to ask: Was the spouse a Christian, did the divorce occur before they were Christians, were they raised in a Christian home where faithfulness was the example? Numbers aren't always black and white. My experience in church has been that the divorce rate is not higher than the secular world, and that comes from about 15 churches.

    By Blogger Angel, at 12/12/2005 05:04:00 AM  

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    By Blogger That Girl, at 12/12/2005 05:19:00 AM  

  • What is the rate of "living together" in the US? Isn't it more likely that church goers would get married as opposed to what used to be called "living in sin"? You can't get divorced if you aren't married. So don't make too much of those stats.

    My experience is that in conservative, "Bible" churches, our stout convictions about marriage are a strength that becomes our weakness. "We might kill each other, but never divorce." Meanwhile, some deep, negative emotions--resentments--can be growing, which have the capacity to overwhelm all of our mind and resolve. And when it happens, everyone gets surprised. It's the marital equivalent to a church that has all sorts of faith about the Bible, but doesn't know grace.

    I think that it's important in churches for the still-married to not make the mistake of thinking that they must be carrying on a marriage better than those who are no longer married. It's a subtle smugness that really reeks. Laws and standards being what they are today, a marriage ends when--for reasons that may be good, bad or indifferent--one of out of two says, "I'm not doing this anymore."

    By Blogger Frank Bellizzi, at 12/12/2005 05:30:00 AM  

  • Angel and Frank -- Good questions. In my experience, the Barna Group has been pretty reliable. Here's the latest info I could locate: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=170.

    And yes, I'm sure cohabitation is one of the factors. (In another update, Barna points out that cohabitation is slightly more common among those who don't claim to be Christians than it is among those who do.)

    While the questions about the stats are certainly valid, we should not miss his larger point--one that is verified by looking around: we are having a very hard time with our marriages.

    So . . . without casting stones to those who have suffered enough already . . . what suggestions do we have?

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/12/2005 05:43:00 AM  

  • I've wondered about those statistics ever since I went through my divorce six years ago. Personally, I don't think it's addressed enough in the church. Instead, we're hearing about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. What we should be hearing from Christian leaders is how to address some of our own internal problems.

    By Blogger Rick, at 12/12/2005 06:01:00 AM  

  • Just another question: How is it different for large churches (in many cases in the thousands -- the ones that people seem to think are somehow more successful) to address these issues at the nitty gritty level than for the house churches of the New Testament?

    By Blogger Emily, at 12/12/2005 06:07:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Seems like I read that the one thing that correlates with fewer divorces is younger marrieds having a significant relationship with an older couple, a couples version of Titus 2:3-5. (Sorry, don't remember the sources. Perhaps someone else can help with this?)

    Very young adults are said to be interested in being mentored. Maybe churches could take that openness and go marital with it?

    By Blogger Frank Bellizzi, at 12/12/2005 06:22:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Everyone of your suggestions are great, and absolutely necessary. However, they seem to lack something that the church has always neglected to address: healthy dating. About the best the church has ever done in this area is declare that it is wrong to have sex before marriage. Therefore we spend a lot of time on sexual "purity" talk, even including programs like "True Love Waits."

    But what we seem to continually miss are all of the other aspects of building solid foundations in relationships before we even get to marriage. What about solid friendship as a necessary precurser to dating? What about goal-driven dating - dating that exists to determine if marriage is right or not (not just a casual activity that gives hearts away and creates lasting wounds)? What about the message of loving God so much that dating is not a "necessary" activity, but one that God directs us into in his own time? What about the message of the power and joy of singleness and the wholeness we build in it? What about the message of not seeing members of the opposite sex as potential dating or marriage partners but first as brothers and sisters in Christ? What about loving yourself and what God is doing with you so much that the "need" to be with somebody disappears and standards are raised?

    It seems that addressing these kinds of foundations with passion will help build people who are more prepared to establish the kind of relationships that are healthy and lasting in the first place, rather than to only work on making people right after they've been married.

    By Blogger Cary, at 12/12/2005 06:39:00 AM  

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    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 12/12/2005 06:45:00 AM  

  • With reference to Frank's comment, some churches ARE "going marital" with mentoring. My husband and I are currently mentoring a young couple in their marriage as part of a program my husband has developed. We get together once a month to talk and share stories. It has been a blessing to our lives, both in seeing the growth of this young couple and in being reminded how our own relationship has grown through the years.

    By Blogger Rhonda, at 12/12/2005 06:47:00 AM  

  • Just a couple of thoughts as a preacher:

    - Preachers and elders, for the most part, are not equipped with the right tools for marriage crisis counseling. Too many times all elders or preachers know to do is go visit, pray with them, and that's about it. We have not educated ourselves with the right tools to help people survive in marriage. I am guilty of that and am trying to do better.

    - Many preachers and elders, mainly elders in my experience, are not committed enough to their flock to go and get their hands dirty and help couples work through their problems. It is hard, frustrating, time-consuming work that many don't care enough to get involved in, for whatever reason, mainly too busy.

    - We in the church have modeled a complete disregard for committment in relationships by church-hopping. We don't like something, we leave. Maybe that's why church goers possibly divorce more, they have that scene played over and over again right in their face. The churches I have worked with have been "severely" affected by divorce in their past.

    What to do?

    1. Better training for leaders, elders included, is a good start.

    2. Modeling committment in the leadership. Leaders being committed to God, to each other but mainly to the sheep, showing they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure spiritual wholeness in the flock.

    3. A commitment to the teaching and practice of grace, in its various forms. People are motivated to do better and try harder when they are shown grace, instead of being shown rules and regulations and threats and hell. In my limited experience, the people who have had the most problem with divorce struggle with the concept and acceptance and promoting of grace. Anybody else found that?

    By Blogger Brad, at 12/12/2005 06:47:00 AM  

  • We have been married 35 years, were involved in Marriage Encounter for many years, and are now "counseling" a young couple with two small children who are having difficulty in their marriage.

    Basically, when I heard from a parent that the couple was having trouble, I stuck my nose in and started asking questions and we have had dinner with them and trying to keep close contact. They have told us how much they appreciate our concern and help. They think they are doing better!

    Of course, we are praying with them and for them and that is the answer. But I think the last response by Frank of mentoring is a real key. But it has to be natural and we have to have a real interest in the couple. There has to be a relationship there.

    I also believe we need more teaching. I know I wish we could have continued with Marriage Encounter which was a super weekend, but was discontinued when most couples were not willing to give up a weekend! Maybe if teaching in smaller doses were done. I certainly believe we need classes and small groups to help all couples.

    Like we said in ME, everyone is trained to be married; whether the training comes from sitcoms on TV to watching our parents, we are all trained. We just need to make sure a good training model is available!

    Peggy

    By Blogger pegc, at 12/12/2005 06:48:00 AM  

  • Cary - Excellent words. You're right -- I wasn't going back far enough. And I think Frank has added something else important: the need for mentoring relationships (even before marriage). Thanks. And Stonebridge -- wise words, as always.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/12/2005 06:48:00 AM  

  • Mike, great post. I believe that marriage is one of the enemies’ top battlegrounds. Marriage is the pentacle of the 2nd greatest command. David Lewis always asked me, what could you give them to help them. It is easy to see what is wrong; it’s not so easy to find the answer. Thanks for asking the question and getting us started towards helping. As for me I have started with my own marriage and after 27 years I have been blessed. As for others the best I have been able to do is love and point towards love. Some times it helps and some time it does not. This weekend I am blessed with the opportunity to marry a great friend from one of my past youth groups. I do not think I will talk about the 50/50 chance he has. I believe I will focus on 1 Cor. 13 and Philippians 2. What ever it is that makes us a great Christian will probable make us a great spouse.

    By Blogger Clint, at 12/12/2005 06:50:00 AM  

  • "What ever it is that makes us a great Christian will probable make us a great spouse."

    That's exactly right, Clint. And I like the idea of Philippians 2 being a marriage text. Years ago Elizabeth Achtemeier wrote a book about preaching and family relationships. She urged ministers to draw from Christian texts that aren't specifically about marriage.

    And the reason is clear: marriage isn't the ultimate goal. Discipleship -- following Jesus through the power of the Spirit in the atmosphere of grace -- is. Marriage is a subcategory of that.

    Thanks, Peggy, for the story. That's what we need! And good words, Brad. You recognize what I said: what a vexing issue this is for leaders -- partly because we have to come to terms with our own marriages and partly because it demands our best pastoring skills for the church.

    All right . . . now I've got to get busy outside the blog world!

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/12/2005 07:01:00 AM  

  • I have some dear friends who are doing their part to improve marriages by addressing sexual intimacy, which is a chief factor in divorce. Their ministry website can be found here.

    By Blogger Travis, at 12/12/2005 07:12:00 AM  

  • Excellent thoughts and great comments. And thank you for your sensitivity to those of us who have gone through divorce. But ten thoughts (and 16 or so comments) in, Peggy is the only one who has even touched on the single greatest method the church has at her disposal to help stem the tide.

    We must lift up our marriages CONSTANTLY in prayer. When we know of a brother and sister who are struggling we must pray for them specifically. We must put our arms around them and get down on our knees together.

    Speaking as one who prayed without ceasing when his own marriage was in trouble I can say with certainty that God does not always work His wonders on marriages that are brought before Him this way. But I have seen Him intervene more times than I can count.

    Maybe this is incredibly obvious, and that's why it hasn't been mentioned more.

    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 12/12/2005 07:34:00 AM  

  • I also see great value in mentoring. I remember about 20 years ago when Jim and I were leading a small group that he made some comments about how tough marriage was and was very open with some of the things we were experiencing at the time. Several young couples just looked at us in amazement and then breathed great sighs of relief.

    By normalizing certain feelings and emotions we were able to give some of these couples a lifeline by changing some of their belief systems and expectations about marriage.

    Since that time, Jim and I have realized how much we need our own mentors to make it through the often merky waters of relationship and commitment.

    And as I look around, I see some of those who have been leaders and mentors for many falling prey to divorce.

    And I ask why.

    Could one tiny reason out of the many be that the very people who were leaders and mentors for others were never nurtured in return?

    And then others stay married and I ask why. Is it always a mark of godliness that keeps those couples married?

    When my parents divorced, it was one of the most honest and difficult things they had ever done. It took great courage for them to say before all of those who had seen their Godly example for years that things were just not working.

    But even with this "mark" on their spiritual walk, they still continued to reach out and help others. And I honor their commitment to God and their commitment to nurture my marriage.

    Both of my children married in to families in which there was no known divorce for several generations. While past success does not guarantee future success, these families seem to understand characteristics that go past simple window dressing.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/12/2005 07:42:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Good suggestions. The Evansville area started Community Marriage Builders around 1997 with the help of the National Organization called Marriage Savers. It was helped by the United Way and St. Mary's Medical Center Foundation. I served on the steering committee then as its first board president until 2002. Over 140 churches in the area signed a covenant agreeing to do certain things before performing marriages since 75% of all marriages still take place in houses of faith. Community Marriage Builders is even stronger today with an active board, a staff secretary and active coordinator, two annual community events, on-going mentor training, FOCCUS Inventory training, helping other counties start their own Community Marriage Builders, etc. See the web site at www.marryright.org. During this time the divorce rate has gone down almost 10% in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. I'm not as involved as I used to be but know it has helped our community and churches address the issue.

    By Blogger coy, at 12/12/2005 07:53:00 AM  

  • Thurman8er - Thanks. I was trying to underscore that in my suggestion about how we need to be "one anothering"--in sharing, confessing, and praying. But I didn't spell that out enough. And you're right: how critical.

    I'm reminded again of the insightful words of Larry Crabb in the books CONNECTING and THE SAFEST PLACE ON EARTH -- two MUST reads on life in the family of God.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/12/2005 08:14:00 AM  

  • Mike, Excellent points and issues that we need to be addressing. I have written about divorce and the church's condemnation of it and how it affects victims of abuse. We many times forget that many of the divorces today (1/3 in a Boston study) where children are involved happen because the husband is abusive. In our "taking a stand against divorce" we forget that some sins are not overcome by a submissive wife. What concerns me even more is that Focus on the Family's reaction to Barna's statistics has created a "no tolerance for divorce" mentality. All we end up doing is trying to "stop divorce" and yet never address the real issue. The reason divorce is increasing in our country and churches is because we teach people to "keep it together (for the kids)" rather than teach people to confront dysfunction and work for "shared submission" (Eph. 5:21) in the marriage. In my pre-marital counseling I find many couples living together because marriage, in their minds, is a bad relationship. They tell me that marriage is fighting, yelling, sleeping in separate beds, and believing that they are spiritual because they "kept it together." Could it be that they have seen this modeled in their parents' marriage?"
    Isn't this how God lived in covenant with Israel. Jer. 3:8 tells us that God divorced Israel after years of confronting their dysfunctional behavior. Divorce is an option when one spouse refuses to repent of any sinful behavior in marriage.
    I praise God for our divorced brothers and sisters who have told me that they cringe when we preach that people "just throw away marriages" without understanding that many spouses agonize for months and years trying to call a spouse to respect and love them. Divorce happened not because they gave up but because they knew that marriage is a place of respect and mutuality on both parties.

    Thanks for all your posts on a touchy subject.

    Ron Clark
    "Setting the Captives Free" http://www.wipfandstock.com/bookstore.cfm?bookID=2200&do=detail

    By Blogger KMiV, at 12/12/2005 08:35:00 AM  

  • "We must lift up our marriages CONSTANTLY in prayer. When we know of a brother and sister who are struggling we must pray for them specifically. We must put our arms around them and get down on our knees together."

    AND

    We must stop by and see these people. We must be long term committed. Not 3 phone calls or visits over 2 weeks then overwhelming silence.

    We must realize their pain does not leave when we feel better about it.

    By Blogger L, at 12/12/2005 08:42:00 AM  

  • Perhaps the issue reflects the unwillingness of church to teach relationships in general and relationship with God in particular--God, who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lvoe and faithfulness, maintaining lvoe and forgiving. Apart from relationship with such a God, marriage/divorce becomes just a law/labor issue.

    By Blogger eddy, at 12/12/2005 09:27:00 AM  

  • Leland makes an excellent point about the power of prayer.

    Cary moves in a helpful direction when he says that we need to address what the church is teaching about marriage, particularly the things that it is teaching to its youth. But teens have pretty effective BS meters, and I think they'll recognize a list of "do's and don'ts for dating" as ineffective at best and ridiculous at worst.

    From my own experience in the church, I suspect that many of our marriage problems arise from the way we teach marriage. Instead of talking about the inherent challenge and beauty of the marriage sacrament, we talk about marriage in terms of sex, as in, "you can't have sex until you're married."

    One way to help this problem would be to change what our churches teach about sex before marriage. We could move toward a more humble and (dare I say) Biblical view, stated succinctly as, "It's hard to tell what God thinks about sex before marriage." If we make this move, then libido will no longer be the primary motivation for making a lifelong commitment to another person.

    On the other hand, if we're committed to the idea that sex before marriage is sinful, we need to give the sacrament of marriage the same floor time (in our classes and from the pulpit) that we give other sacrements. We need to aggressively teach both the value of marriage and the value of singlness, as well as the value of the discipline that it takes to forego sex. And even though it might be scary, we need to admit that people who have sex before marriage are often better off than people who enter into a marriage because they can't wait for sex.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 12/12/2005 09:59:00 AM  

  • Mike, I met you last week in Louisiana. Eddie suggested I look at your blog to see what you said about the Hermitage. I am divorced. You asked what can the church do. I really don’t know. But I do think being a Christian presents some unique challenges in a marriage. How do you deal with partners growing in different directions? One partner grows more intimate with the Lord and deepens their commitment and the ways that play out in practical life, while the other sees most decisions as not that big of a deal and can’t understand the need to bring God into decision making. Over time choosing between one’s spouse and Jesus takes its toll on a marriage. It is a lose/lose deal. There were many other issues and dynamics in my marriage, including infidelity, but my part was I didn’t know how to respect a man whose choices were so very different from mine. So addressing questions like these might help. When is it better to be submissive, when is it best to hold on your convictions? How to do that with humble respect? How in a marriage do you take a stand without being judgmental and self-righteous? How do you deal with a spouse whose changes over time are unexpected and unwelcome? Addressing these things won’t guarantee more peaceful marriages, but I think it would still be helpful to talk about these things.

    I also think other relationships play a huge role. I have a great support system of Christian women who I can talk to, and confess to, with out fear of judgment. They will always love me and accept me, but they also are quick to give me a reality check when it’s appropriate. They will pray with me and for me, and they do very often. My ex-husband was never able to establish meaningful relationships with men at church. He often said, “If I was I non-Christian these men would be willing to spend time with me, but being a Christian who is struggling, everyone is too busy.” Granted, nothing is ever that simple, but it is true he needed relationships with other men besides his “secular relationships”. I should say he was active, he lead our small group on Sunday nights and taught the jr high Sunday school class, but he was never successful in developing a friendship with another man that encouraged his development as a Christian. I don’t think I was a better person than he. I think part of it is that in the church I found a safety net, while he didn’t find the support he was looking for. Would that have been enough to save our marriage? I have no idea. I do know that after he left there were men who reached out, but by then it was too late. Also the church was never meant to substitute for our own personal relationship with Jesus. We are all individually responsible for the choices we make. Blaming the church solves nothing. But when we are serious about being church we do commit to investing ourselves in others, and loving each other deeply. The Message puts I Thess 5:14 & 15 this way. “Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.” Living in a way what encourages others to live their best is the same thing that encourages stronger families. Mentoring relationships are great, but I believe it takes more than that. Is the church willing to be a loving community for all?

    By Blogger cgb, at 12/12/2005 10:24:00 AM  

  • I'm not married and don't expect to be any time soon, but two things I've found especially useful in any kind of relationship are forgiveness and temper control. The latter especially is something I think we neglect entirely too much in our society. We base our behavior entirely on how we feel at the moment, without stopping to consider the consequences of those actions. I've found that forcing myself to assess a situation through the viewpoint of what is ethical and logical, rather than what fits whatever I feel at the moment, can be very effective for helping me keep a cool head and not spout off something hurtful that I'll come to regret later.

    By Blogger Alex, at 12/12/2005 11:03:00 AM  

  • Having been divorced, my advice is to not be judgemental of either person.

    I sinned against my ex and he sinned against me. Unfortunately, I was scape goat of the marriage and was judged severly by many in the church. It was a living hell on earth. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors and somethings you cannot discuss as they are just too weird and bad. I choose not to because I have three children who would be devastated if I did. I quietly asked for forgiveness and I forgave my ex. We both were wrong and wronged each other. I take the brunt of the wrongdoings because I do not want my kids to suffer anymore than they already do.

    I have remarried, and we went through extensive pre-marital counseling with our minister and we took compatibility tests. I wish I had the done the same thing the first time, as the counseling and tests were excellent tools and indicators of what our strenghts and our weaknesses are.

    Divorce is awful, ugly and not something I would want anyone to go through. Just know it takes two to make a marriage and as thin as the pancake is, there are always two sides. Many years of agonizing whether to divorce is a hard place to be, knowing you will lose your family, your house, your kids, and everything familiar.

    My advice, no judging and love people who are damaged back into relationship with God.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 12/12/2005 11:44:00 AM  

  • One of the problems I see is that we too often judge the health of our marriages by citing divorce statistics. That's like describing the health of someone by citing how many times they got sick. It's one measure, sure, but it forces us to look at marriage as an either/or situation. We think if you're married, you must be healty until you divorce. Then we discover that you've been sick all these years! We need to have a more comprehensive way of looking at the health of marital relationships and examine just how "fit" we can make our marriages. What exercises do we need to be involved in? I'd much rather do that than simply let my relationship with my wife atrophy and then one day die of neglect.

    Another thing we don't discuss is the impact that children have on a marriage. When I took a marriage class at church, this emerged as one of the primary stress factors in marriages for a number of reasons. Children take time (and they should), they bring to bear conflicts regarding child rearing among other things. Mike, I know that you don't particularly care for Willard Harley's work and I agree with you to some extent, but his His Needs Her Needs for Parents book is an excellent resource for dealing with these issues. I'd love to see this material taught in all of our churches.

    By Blogger Joel Maners, at 12/12/2005 01:23:00 PM  

  • The best thing we could do for marriages and all sorts of other relationships is deeply contemplate, study, and seek to live a lifestyle of every-increasing selflessness. "Otherness" is part of that, but only part. Christ-likeness is the other part. When He matters more than anything else, it's easier for others to become more important than ourselves.

    I can say it so easily. Now if I could just live it....

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 12/12/2005 01:47:00 PM  

  • Early in my marriage, I remember two elders in my living room talking and praying with me and my wife as we struggled through some issues. We did not invite them to come. They simply came. With love, gentleness, and compassion, they listened and prayed making only a few suggestions.

    That said, I think we, as God's people need to be bold and love others enough to lovingly, with all the humility and compassion we can muster, invite ourselves in to others' lives when things get rough. I don't know how many times I have seen us sit back and watch from the sidelines because we don't want to interfere. I also recognize that to do so requires us to nurture relationships that allow us the priviledge to do so.

    By Blogger Chad, at 12/12/2005 01:48:00 PM  

  • A couple of thoughts:

    First, all the church-splitting a lot of us grew up with taught us that the first thing to do when you disagree with someone is to split up. We weren't taught how to reconcile differences.

    Second, it's not just divorce -- it's all the measurable stats that say Christians don't live that much differently from their non-Christian friends and neighbors (see Ronald J. Sider's book THE SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL CONSCIENCE: WHY ARE CHRISTIANS LIVING JUST LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD?).

    I think if you analyze these stats with some of Barna's other findings, it's related to a properly formed worldview. We're not helping our kids think about issues well. We've settled for teaching them Bible stories and memory verses rather than teaching them to think and act like Jesus.

    Marriage mentoring helps. Good counseling tools helps. Teaching married people helps. But until we rethink the way we define success for the kids growing up in our churches, we'll struggle with stats like these.

    By Blogger john alan turner, at 12/12/2005 02:41:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    Following your suggestions would eliminate most divorces. Also, a person doesn't have to get a divorce if their spouse is unfaithful (this may have already been said and I missed it). Adultery may be the catalyst to create a great marriage. Not that I would recommend it.

    "His Needs, Her Needs" should be mandatory reading for all engaged and married couples.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 12/12/2005 03:54:00 PM  

  • As a single woman, I'm definitely no expert or resource on the subject. But I had the thought...
    Mike, you've read at least one of Lauren Winner's works. Have you read Mudhouse Sabbath? I highly recommend this book to anyone who would take me seriously!

    Mudhouse Sabbath takes several things in the Jewish faith customs that Christians would do well to incorporate somehow into our faith. Examples are: keeping Sabbath, candlelighting, mourning, weddings, and several more.

    I want to highlight the wedding section. Something she said, about the Jewish customs within weddings sparked something in me, which I'm not entirely sure how to translate into my modern American life. But she talks about how Jewish couples do not get a honeymoon as we know it. They have a "wedding night" in order to consummate their marriage, but then for an entire week are not allowed to be alone together. Their friends host parties all week long, in their honor, every night for an entire week their calendar is booked. Some are elegant affairs, others are casual backyard cookouts or a night at a favorite restaurant.

    Like I said, to a modern American that's ridiculous. But they get something that we don't. They get the importance and necessity of community in marriage. They, when they want most to be alone, isolated, together in intimacy, are thrown into the reality that their marriage cannot succeed without the support of their community. It is those friends whom they will rely on when the toughness of marriage sets in. When they most want out, it will be those friends who challenge, encourage, and support them to stand firm and fight.

    I don't know. My husband may never go for it. But somehow, I want a little bit of that when I get married. I want the physical, tangible reminder that it's not only with God that my marriage will work and succeed, but with the support of my community, my faithful friends. And sometimes reminders like those need to be intrusive into what we'd prefer, like a week of isolated intimacy.

    Not a popular choice in our culture. Not to disregard that much of me, internally, would prefer a week alone together, on some island far away. But that's not reality. And maybe we do ourselves a disservice by giving our minds the freedom of living in that fantasy for so long - because contrary to popular belief, a week in a fantasy is a long time!

    By Blogger Kathryn Young, at 12/12/2005 03:59:00 PM  

  • Perhaps we are not letting marriage change. Over the year's of history, even among God's chosen, marriage has had different arrangements. We may be in a juncture in history in which individualism is the next step in the advancement of civilization. Accepting individuals for who they are requires us to look past our modern conception of marriage to the spiritual fruits of individuals. Two individuals can decide to move on with their lives separately so that God can be honored more clearly in each one's individual life or so that the individual can be of higher use to God than a relationship with someone allows. We should honor the spiritual value of the individual whether or not that person acts in concert with another person for all or part of his or her life.

    By Blogger WDS, at 12/12/2005 08:02:00 PM  

  • I am a marriage and family therapist. Through my many years of counseling people struggling because of marital difficulty, I have observed an interesting theme. Almost universally, during some point of the counseling experience, people share that they are CONFUSED because they have never felt closer to God and sensed His Presence more than "right now" during this horrible time of crisis. (It is as if they expect God to abandon them because of their struggle.)
    We are all (especially those going through divorce because they are told repeatedly) familiar with Malachi 2:16: "For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel...". One day while listening to a client tell me of their surprise that God was very Present with them while they were in the "ugly darkness," a new meaning of that scripture passage suddenly came to me.
    I thought of the most nasty place I could think of--such as the jail of a metropolitian city. Then I thought of how, if I found that my child was there, I would be there so fast and would be so full of concern. It then hit me: God had to tell us how much He hates divorce first so that when many of us found Him there, we would sense His incredible Love. To me, that verse has turned out to be one of the greatest love verses in all the Bible. God goes to the places He hates the most to retrieve and hold on to His children that He loves so much.

    By Blogger Counselor, at 12/12/2005 10:22:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    I believe the missing link is sometimes the "older woman." The ones who are commissioned to teach teach younger women to love their husbands and children. Hmm, think I read that somewhere.

    How and when could this take place? The primary place is in the mother daughter relationship.

    In the church, one on one is good. Small groups of women meeting for this specific purpose is very good. My passion is to teach young women to love their adorable and sometimes grubby mates, and cherish sleeping babies and whining toddlers.

    The young women I've encountered come to the table hungry for godly advice on the "nitty gritty" of marriage as Emily said.

    Funny, thing, too. No offense intended, none whatsoevah. Men don't qualify for the specific job of teaching the younger women. The commission is to older females.

    By Blogger Cathy Messecar, at 12/13/2005 05:31:00 AM  

  • Mike - The ten thoughts are a very good start toward supporting marriages. Based on this posting, I created a blogspot (marriagereconciliation.blogspot.com) because I have a passion for seeing marriages strengthened and saved.

    My wife and I were separated, reconciled, separated again, finally divorced, and remarried each other two years later.

    There truly is a magic formula for reconciliation - obedience to God's Word.

    I challenge anyone reading this post to provide one example, any example, of a divorce that is the result of anything other than unresolved conflict that accumulates over time.

    What is sad is that so many people today view church as a social organization rather than seeing it as a family and the very body of Christ - we don't take it all seriously enough.

    My wife and I work with many couples in crisis, sometimes even mediating their divorces - a very sad prospect, but we are often the only ones left who will speak the truth to them about the divorce they are speaking.

    In addition to God's Word, I found two resources that are tremendously helpful - I wish every minister, elder, and counselor would read the book "Reconcilable Difference" by Dr. Jim Talley (www.drtalley.com) because it is very powerful for helping Christians in marriage crisis.

    I not only read the book cover-to-cover several times, I applied the principles. I wanted to see my marriage restored - I have met and spoken often with Jim. His entire life ministry has been to help reconcile marriage and with somewhere around 45 years experience, he knows a tremendous amount about the subject.

    The next step in my journey was to learn peacemaking: I attended a Reconciler Practicum put on by Peacemaker Ministries (www.Peacemaker.net) and it started me down the path of reconciliation and remarriage to my wife. I continued on with their training and am now a Certified Christian Conciliator TM and work continually with those involved in conflict.

    A major factor to Christian divorce today is that we have never been given proper instruction on how to be peacemakers in our family relationships. Sure, we have read the verses that talk about leaving your gift at the alter or if your brother sins against you - - but where have we ever really been instructed in peacemaking?

    The newly-married couple settles down and eventually engage in their first conflict. Without understanding true reconciliation/peacemaking, somebody says, "I'm sorry about the thing I did" and the other party says "It's okay" and they move on. All too often, they both move forward carrying a small seed of bitterness of resentment that stays with them.

    Over and over, I see a couple heading for divorce after 20 or 30 years of marriage. They are divorcing because - and there are always a ton of reasons. When the truth can really be brought forward, you see that the things they are claiming as the reason for the divorce are not really the reason for the divorce at all. Given time and opportunity to work with both parties, you will almost invariably find that the real division between them starts years ago: Somebody hurt/offended the other and they never truly reconciled the issue at hand.

    That little unresolved conflict reamained in them both and allowed them to easily engage in critical judgments toward each other. They allow it to become calloused over so it really isn't painful, but the scar tissue continues to grow and grow until someone finally says they have had enough.

    Ken Sande, author of "The Peacemaker" has spent over 20 years of his life helping Christians understand peacemaking and his ministry has blessed my life beyond belief.

    So what is my formula? I followed through with becoming a peacemaker to a point where I hoped that my marriage could be restored. I also had a deep sense of peace about the fact that I would be okay regardless of what happened in that relationship because God would take care of me. That realization happened only about six months before my wife and I remarried each other.

    I plead with you to take some time and look at the resources I've mentioned above (www.drtalley.org and www.Peacemaker.net) because these resources help us better understand and apply God's Word on the subjects of reconciliation and peacemaking.

    By Blogger Jack, at 12/13/2005 10:19:00 AM  

  • Maybe I missed it, but I don't see anyone talking about choosing a mate. My husband and I have had our problems from time to time, but because we had similar backgrounds in regards to commitment and spiritual matters, we had a foundation to rest on while working out the problems. I truly believe there is something to the old "be not unequally yoked" business about marrying someone from the same religious heritage.

    By Blogger KathyGS, at 12/14/2005 05:02:00 AM  

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