by Melodie Davis
for release January 14, 2000
Divorce: Reversing a Trend
A colleague of mine just returned from a few days in Japan. One of the things that intrigued him was the popularity of "western style" weddings there. As he listened to church leaders and pastors, he learned that many couples were wanting and choosing a "church" wedding in a Christian church with bridal parties, flowers, pews, aisles and all the trappings. In most cases, the couples have little idea of what the Christian faith is even about (only about 0.7 percent of the population is Christian).
While this is an interesting cultural note, it also presents a dilemma for most pastors who want to maintain some integrity for the wedding service-they don't want to just become a rent-a-chapel wedding factory no matter how lucrative that could be. They want to know the couples they marry, and feel like they can bless the union and believe the couple has a good chance of making the marriage last. They also feel couples should at least have some idea of the faith represented by the picturesque "churches" they seek out for weddings.
Some pastors in this situation have wisely required couples who want to get married in their churches to not only receive pre-marital counseling, but also attend church services for a certain number of Sundays.
Of course, those of us in North America could use better pre-marriage preparation as well (the U.S. divorce rate more than doubles Japan's; Canada's divorce rate is not quite as high as the U.S.). Syndicated columnist Michael McManus has been very concerned for a number of years about divorce rates, and has a solid, somewhat proven method for lowering the divorce rate. The Marriage Savers institute he founded (www.marriagesavers.org) takes a community-wide approach to the problem. The idea is to get churches across denominational groups to institute a "community marriage policy" whereby the leaders of those churches covenant to insist on certain minimum requirements for weddings they perform. The covenant might include pre-marital counseling, use of a pre-marital inventory, and providing training and a program for older married couples to mentor bridal couples after the wedding as well.
Divorce rates have actually fallen in a number of communities where the "community marriage policy" was implemented. In some cases the divorce rate has fallen as much as 63 percent, and in some areas less dramatically, 4 or 6 percent. In this day when so many of our youth and young adults are choosing not to marry because they have seen so few good marriages working, it makes sense to provide programs where they can learn from couples who have made marriage work.
In some places the divorce rate has fallen because the marriage rate has fallen-which may sound okay until you learn that the rate of cohabiting couples has risen enormously in both the U.S. and Canada, (from 430,000 in the 70's to 4.2 million couples U.S. and from 700,000 in 1981 to 2 million today, Canada). The problem with this-aside from your personal morality beliefs-is that cohabitation does not reduce the risk of divorce-in fact it increases it, according to McManus and the numerous references he works from.
The goal of Marriage Savers is not only to give better pre-marital counsel, but also to strengthen existing marriages, and save 80 to 90 percent of troubled marriages. Persons may give up on troubled marriages too easily, without fully realizing there are always problems in any marriage. Why not try to work out problems in an existing marriage rather than start all over with someone else? When couples go through divorce, even if they and the children come out okay eventually, there is tremendous stress, upheaval and cost to everyone involved: children, friends, family, teachers, co-workers, churches-the entire social system of our communities.
Mentor couples are extremely helpful for troubled marriages, McManus says. "Adultery breaks trust; so if there is a couple who has already gone through that, they can relate better to a couple who is experiencing this breech of trust and says, 'Yes, it breaks trust, but you can go on from there, we've done it.' That sounds more believable coming from someone who has been there," McManus says.
It makes sense to do all we can to help marriages at every level.
For more on Marriage Savers, visit the web site, (www.marriagesavers.org) or check at your local bookstore or library for the book, Marriage Savers, Michael J. McManus, Zondervan Publishing House.
Comments? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 740 words; end material = 105 words
We would appreciate it if you would include the "Globe Syndicate" bug at the end of the column.
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