February 17, 2001
VALENTINE: DIVORCE RATE PLUNGES 47.6%
Day four years ago, Curt Seigfield received a call in Arizona, where he
was living with his parents, from his estranged wife in Modesto, Cal.
They had been separated for six months because Debbie discovered her
husband was so addicted to gambling he had squandered $50,000 of family
assets. And he concedes ''There was a lot of deception and lying.''
Debbie said, ''I forgive you and I want you to come home, and begin
working on these issues. I will stand by you no matter what.''
What moved on
her heart was not a new compassion for him, but the taking of a course
called ''Reconciling God's Way,'' created by Joe and Michelle Williams
at Big Valley Grace Community Church. First, Debbie realized the Bible
gives only one reason for divorce, adultery, and Curt had not been
unfaithful. Second, she says, ''I came to the point where I cared more
about what God wanted, and got my eyes off what my husband was doing.''
divorce,'' says Malachi. Therefore she had to hate it too. Yet,
ironically, when she told Curt she would stand by him, no matter what -
he began to change. They have now not only rebuilt their marriage, but
are leaders in the course that has reached 793 people since 1997.
God's Way is a small reason why Modesto's divorce rate has plunged an
astonishing 47.6 percent in 15 years. The deeper reason is that 95
pastors signed America's first ''Community Marriage Policy'' in 1986,
pledging to take steps ''to radically reduce the divorce rate among
those married in area churches.''
American city has slashed its divorce rate in half. If the nation could
achieve that goal, nearly 600,000 marriages a year would be saved.
And 134 other
cities have adopted a Community Marriage Policy (CMP), patterned on
Modesto's pioneering model. In only three years, divorces have fallen 19
percent in Chattanooga, 31 percent in El Paso and 32.5 percent in Kansas
City, Kan. and its suburbs. The divorce rate is falling faster in these
cities than in Modesto.
I should say, at
this point, I've been involved in these efforts, and am not
disinterested. I made a speech which challenged Modesto clergy to create
the CMP, and now direct Marriage Savers (marriagesavers.org) which helps
clergy adopt reforms to cut divorce rates.
What reforms? As
Modesto clergy put it, ''It is the responsibility of pastors to set
minimum requirements to raise the quality of commitment in those we
marry. We believe that couples who seriously participate in premarital
testing and counseling will have a better understanding of what the
marriage commitment involves.''
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy agreed to require a ''minimum of
four months'' marriage preparation that includes a study of biblical
doctrines and the taking of a premarital inventory, such as FOCCUS or
PREPARE. Either can predict with 80 percent accuracy who is likely to
divorce. A tenth of couples who take this step break their engagement.
Studies show that those who do have the same scores as those who marry
and later divorce. Thus they are avoiding a bad marriage before it has
also provides a way that older, solidly married couples can mentor the
younger couples, talking through the issues they have identified as
being areas of conflict. In my home church, for example, since 1992 we
trained 52 Mentor Couples who have helped 308 couples prepare for
marriage. Of that number, about 50 broke off before a wedding. But there
have been only six divorces of more than 250 who married in eight years.
principle of CMPs is that the churches pledge to take steps to
strengthen existing marriages in churches. For example, hundreds of
couples are taking a course in Sioux Falls, S.D. called ''Ten Great
Dates,'' sparked by a video series by David and Claudia Arp. Churches
are providing babysitters while their parents enjoy fun exercises that
help them rediscover each other.
commitment of clergy is ''to create a Marriage Ministry of mentoring
couples whose marriages once nearly failed to work with troubled
marriages,'' as Peoria pastors put it. Finally, churches pledge to
reconcile the separated and to help stepfamilies be successful.
100 people attend Reconciling God's Way, with the men and women on
opposite sides of the room. Each gender faces similar issues and both
sexes feel freer to talk if their spouse is not present. In fact, the
course has developed two manuals, that are being used across the nation
by thousands of hurting spouses and by a same sex Support Partner to
help hold them accountable. To order a set for $27, call 209 578-4357.
The clergy of
Modesto meet weekly for prayer. Clearly, those prayers are being
Copyright 2001 Michael J.