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May 29, 1999
Column #926

THE COVENANT MARRIAGE MOVEMENT

     Twenty-four Christian organizations with 31 million members are launching a new Covenant Marriage Movement with a dream that millions of married couples will sign pledge cards with this simple but eloquent statement:

     ''Believing that marriage is a covenant intended by God to be a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, we vow to God, each other, our families, and our community to remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation, and sexual purity, while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.''

     The Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination, will feature the Covenant Marriage pledge at its June national convention that draws 10,000+ ''messengers'' from local congregations.  The SBC has demonstrated the power of a similar pledge, ''True Love Waits,'' signed by two million teens, which has been so successful that for the first time in 20 years, a majority of high school students are still virgins!

     Phil Waugh, who is with SBC's LifeWay Christian Resources, the nation's largest Christian publisher, hopes the Marriage Covenant will be a similar instrument ''through which God can speak with one voice to all those trying to strengthen marriage. In signing a couple can stand with thousands of couples with one voice and one heart affirming God's design of one man and one woman for life.'' He is one of the movement's organizers.

     The Assemblies of God convention in Orlando this summer will also spotlight the Marriage Covenant to its 10,000 attendees.  Others doing so are such radio ministries as Focus on the Family, the Moody Bible Institute, and FamilyLife, an organization that also sponsors weekend retreats that attract nearly 100,000 people a year.

      FamilyLife has also pledged to organize four one-day arena rallies for married couples called ''I STILL Do.''  Promise Keepers has attracted hundreds of thousands of men, and Women of Faith events gather many women, but no one has organized couples to celebrate marriage.  FamilyLife will help couples rediscover the passion of their marriage vows in San Diego on June 19, San Jose on June 26, Washington, D.C. July 10 and Houston Oct. 23.

     A number of outstanding speakers will talk about the meaning of the marriage vows. ''I Take You'' is a message on commitment   how to give and receive unconditional love.  ''To Love, Honor, Cherish'' will explore what love is, how we can fulfill the promise to communicate, offer forgiveness and reconciliation.   ''To Have and To Hold'' is a message on emotional, sexual and spiritual intimacy in marriage. ''To Be Your Husband/Wife'' focuses on how we are to complement and not compete with our spouse and enjoy a more harmonious marriage.

     The rallies will end with husbands and wives restating their marriage vows.  And they will be given a four week HomeBuilders Bible study designed to involve other couples. Family Life founder Dennis Rainey says, ''It is no mistake that the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage.  It is the first institution that God created.''  To learn more, call 1-800-358-6329.

     One of the creators of the movement is state Rep. Tony Perkins, who persuaded Louisiana's Legislature to pass a Covenant Marriage Law creating a two-tiered marriage system. Couples getting married have a choice between a standard marriage certificate written with disappearing ink, if either partner walks away in a no-fault divorce; or couples can choose a Covenant Marriage, a fortified marriage intended to last a lifetime, in which both relinquish the right to a no-fault divorce.  They agree to take premarital counseling, and if their marriage hits rough waters, to seek professional help.  Divorce is possible, but only if one partner proves a spouse has committed adultery, been physically abusive, etc.

     However, Perkins found the ability of government to promote marriage is limited. Only three percent of couples marrying in Louisiana are choosing a Covenant Marriage. Therefore he urges America's faith community to ask couples to ''renew their vows to one another.''

     The final organizer is Rev. Leo Godzich, associate pastor of Phoenix First Assembly, America's largest Assembly of God, and creator of the National Association of Marriage Enhancement (www.nameonline.net), churches working to get back to biblically-based, Christ-centered marriages.

     He believes it is important for couples to ''affirm that in this climate of divorce that their marriage is permanent and lasting.''

     Dennis Rainey adds, ''This is the beginning of the end of the culture of divorce. It is the first time I know of that a number of denominations and parachurch ministries have joined together to raise the standard of the Marriage Covenant back to its rightful place.''

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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