May 24, 2003
Presbyterians Send Wrong Message on Family
I believe the
central domestic problem of our time is the disintegration of the American
family. Half of all new marriages end in divorce. What's not known is that
the marriage rate has plunged 39 percent since 1970.
Cohabitation has soared to 5 million couples, diverting millions from
getting married at all. The number of never-married adults has risen
from 21 million in 1970 to 48 million in 2000. Cohabitors are 50 percent
more likely to divorce than those who never lived together.
However, these are
NOT major problems according to a key committee of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), which studied the issue for five years before writing a report to
be submitted next week to the church's General Assembly in Denver. The
report, "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition," comes to two
1. "Committed relationships" not marriage are the cornerstone of family
life. For example, it asserts, "It is in committed relationships that sexual
intimacy is best expressed." That puts marriage on equal footing with
cohabitation or gay couples. It argues, "There is no universal form of `the
family.' Further, "many forms of family (are) doing the work of families
well." In fact, the word "marriage" appears only once in pages of
2. Most "children of single-parent families, step- or blended- families are
doing just fine." If most children are "doing just fine," it makes no
difference if a child is brought up by a married couple, or by a mother who
Indeed, the denomination's Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, in
its report, urged its 3.5 million members in 11,000 Presbyterian churches to
take no stand: "Church and social policies should not discriminate among
these families, but support all such families equally."
Don Browning, director of the Religion, Culture and Family Project of the
University of Chicago, notes the report appears to be based on what the
social sciences and Scripture says. "Unfortunately, the report is mainly
wrong about both the social sciences and the Bible...On the whole, intact
married couples do a better job of it. Why? They are on average more
invested in both their children and each other."
Of course, "all
families should be accepted and treated with dignity," he adds. "But
shouldn't church and society go beyond acceptance? Is there anything to do
to also concretely aid families of divorce, address instabilities of
cohabitation, and reduce non-marital births? The report is astoundingly
silent in responding to these questions."
denominations should offer moral leadership. They should help churches
discern what is the best way, for example, to bring up children.
Children of divorce
and of unmarried parents are twice as likely as those from intact homes to
drop out of school, three times as apt to be expelled or to have a baby
out-of-wedlock as a teenager and six times more likely to be raised in
poverty. Unmarried women living with a man are three times more likely to be
physically abused that a married woman.
Therefore, the Presbyterian Church ought to be providing evidence that
divorce and non-marital child-bearing are harmful to children. It should
suggest steps that local congregations can take to save marriages and
create better homes for children.
should spotlight what some Presbyterian churches are doing right that
results in better outcomes for both parents and kids. For example, St.
Giles Presbyterian Church in Richmond, with 1,000 members, over a four
years, has had only two divorces.
How? It identified
15 couples in strong marriages and trained them to be "Mentor Couples." They
prepared 61 couples for marriage using a premarital inventory, in which the
male and female are asked whether they agree with such statements as "We
have some important disagreements that never seen to get resolved."
If either partner
says yes, Mentor Couples ask for examples and then help them talk through
those issues over five evenings. Premarital couples are also assigned
exercises designed to improve their skills of communication and conflict
resolution, to help them prepare a budget and to set personal and couple
goals. Only one of those couples has divorced.
St. Giles has also
mentored 29 married couples whose problems ranged from minor to a deep
crisis. Of that number only one has divorced, though another may do so.
Senior Pastor Randy
Bremer says Marriage Mentors "have provided effective guidance to those
preparing for marriage, those faced with challenges of a blended family, and
to marriages in crisis." They have even "substantially reduced my counseling
load and provided a more positive outcome."
reject their morally neutral family report, and develop a new one.