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November 3, 2001
Column #1053

(Last in a 5-part series)

COMMUNITY MARRIAGE POLICIES DRIVE DIVORCES DOWN

     On Halloween a fourth person died of anthrax. Another dozen are infected.

     However, a larger tragedy has been quietly destroying vastly more families. George Gallup, the famous pollster, writes: "If a disease were to afflict the majority of a populace, spreading pain and dysfunction throughout all age groups, we would be frantically searching for reasons and solutions.

     ''Yet this particular scourge has become so endemic it is virtually ignored. The scourge is (ital) divorce, (end ital) an oddly neglected topic in a nation that has the worse record of broken marriages in the entire world. Divorce is a `root problem' in our country and is the cause of any number of other social ills.''

     Gallup is right. Just since September 11, more than 150,000 families have been extinguished not by anthrax, but by the selfishness of one or both spouses. If no children are involved, it is one thing. But a million children a year see their parents walk away from each other and from those kids. 

     Children of divorce are twice as likely as those from intact homes to drop out of school, three times as apt to have a baby out-of-wedlock, six times more likely to be in poverty and are at 12-fold greater risk of being incarcerated. Why? Two-thirds of children who see one divorce will experience ''many cohabitations and brief love affairs'' and additional divorces and remarriages of one or both parents, according to Judith Wallerstein, author of the landmark book, ''The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.''

     Children sadly conclude that ties between men and women ''can break capriciously, without warning,'' leaving many without confidence they can build a marriage as an adult. Thus, the impact of divorce on kids ''increases over time and rises to a crescendo in adulthood.'' They find it very difficult to bond with someone of the opposite sex.

     Average Americans can do nothing about anthrax. But members of a church or synagogue can save marriages. For four weeks, this column has put a spotlight on how some congregations have virtually eliminated divorce by training couples with good marriages - to mentor couples preparing for marriage, or those in crisis.

     Furthermore, in 149 cities, groups of clergy have jump-started these reforms in hundreds of churches with dramatic results. They have created ''Community Marriage Policies'' which have helped bring down divorce rates by 20 percent or more in Chattanooga, Peoria and Cedar Rapids, by a third in El Paso, by 44 percent in Kansas City, Kansas and 48 percent in Modesto, Cal.

     The clergy of the Albany, N.Y. area will create America's 150th Community Marriage Policy Nov. 16 in which they are requiring a minimum of four months marriage preparation that includes six premarital sessions with a Mentor Couple utilizing Scriptures and a premarital inventory ''to prepare couples for a lifetime of marriage.'' Pastors will ''actively promote marriage enrichment events'' and pledge to ''initiate programs with a proven potential to restore troubled marriages and stepfamilies.''

     Finally, clergy point to the glue of it all: ''Identify and train mature married couples who have weathered storms in their own marriage to serve as mentors for those who are engaged, newlyweds, married couples seeking marriage enrichment or experiencing marital difficulties.''

     Consider two CMP cities whose divorce rates have nearly plunged in half.

     In Kansas City, KS and its suburbs, there were 1,520 divorces in 1995, the year before 40 pastors adopted a CMP. By 1997, there were only 1,001 divorces and in 1999, only 863. Across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri, within the same metro area, the number of divorces actually rose from 3,585 in 1995 to 3,725 in 1997, dropping slightly to 3,457 in 1999.

     What accounts for the difference? No clergy in Missouri signed the CMP. And the Kansas City Star wrote many stories about what pastors and mentors were doing, but the stories only appeared in Kansas editions of the paper. Missouri residents did not know what was going on. But how could 40 churches cut the Kansas divorce rate 44 percent?

     They couldn't. I believe that people in tough marriages read about the Community Marriage Policy and were encouraged to persevere.

     In Modesto, ironically, Gary Condit's city - not only did the divorce rate plummet 48 percent, saving 1,250 marriages a year, but the area's marriage rate rose 14 percent, while it was falling across America. Modesto created 880 more marriages annually. That's 2,100 families a year being formed or held together in a county of 450,000.

     The result? Fewer children are at risk. School dropouts plunged 20 percent and teen births by 30 percent. To learn more, see marriagesavers.org.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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