Ethics & Religion
A Column by Michael J. McManus
 

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August 28, 2004
Column #1,200 

                               My 1,200th Weekly Column
                                                    
      This is my 1,200th weekly Ethics & Religion column. That's 23  years. This anniversary gives me the opportunity to share the column's purpose.

     I began Ethics & Religion in 1981 as the result of a sermon by the Rev. Terry Fullam, who asked, "What are YOU doing to serve the Lord?" he asked. "Don't tell me you are an usher. That is insignificant Christian service." As an usher, he got my attention!

     "What are you doing to take your talent and experience that makes you
unique -  to serve the Lord?" I was writing a syndicated economic and political column called "The Northern Perspective" suggesting solutions for the sagging economy of the old industrial states. And I was selling it myself to editors.

     What could I do as a columnist and a salesman to serve the Lord? That's when I got the idea for Ethics & Religion.

     I sent editors a Prospectus in which I noted the odd paradox that America
is the most religious modern nation and its least ethical. Gallup reports two-thirds of
Americans are members of a church or synagogue, and 43% attend services weekly. In Europe only 10% do so. Yet we have the world's highest teen birth rate, highest murder rate and highest divorce rate. 

     I proposed to write a column suggesting an answer each week for the toughest moral problems of our time. My goal was nothing less than showing how to raise America's ethical standards. How? By pointing to the relevance of Judeo-Christian Scripture. I also pledged to cover major religious trends, and to be timely.

     My 4th column in 1981 quoted George Gallup Jr. on why a million teenagers became pregnant: "Young people appear to be spiritually restless; they want a strong religious faith but find organized religion to be spiritually lifeless." His answer, "The young indicate that they want to go deep into the great places of God through prayer, Bible study and personal discipline." Yet he said most churches have no special ministry to teenagers, and urged churches to create one.

      Now virtually all churches have a focus on youth. In July I reported Southern Baptists alone have a True Love Waits abstinence pledge signed by 2.5 million kids.
Another 460,000 TLW cards were displayed at the Olympics this week. Many schools now have federally funded abstinence-only programs. Teen births have fallen 31 percent but 900,000 teens still get pregnant.

     My 10th column spotlighted Chuck Colson's meeting with the head of the federal prisons where he noted that four of five crimes are committed by ex-convicts. "Prisons do not rehabilitate," Colson said.. "One person can make a difference: Jesus Christ. His love and power to remake lives is the answer...Give me a chance to prove it." 

     Colson created Prison Fellowship to mobilize volunteers to respond to Jesus' call: "I was in prison and you came to me." By 1981 he had 5,000 volunteers going into the prisons. Today 50,000 do so, the impact of which will be explored in an upcoming column.

     In 1981 the number of divorces hit an all-time high of 1.2 million. I proposed that
churches create rigorous marriage preparation programs that offered a premarital
inventory, that can predict with 80 percent accuracy who will divorce. A tenth of couples who took one decided not to marry. Studies showed they had the same scores as those who married but later divorced.


     Thus, they were avoiding a bad marriage before it began. Another column reported that couples who attended a Marriage Encounter weekend fell back in love.

     I could not see any impact of those columns. But in 1986 I was invited by "The Modesto Bee" to speak to local clergy. I challenged pastors to implement such reforms by creating a "Community Marriage Policy" with the conscious aim of cutting Modesto's divorce rate. "Why not require any couple getting married here to take a premarital inventory and meet with an older couple to discuss their results? Why not have an annual marriage enrichment event?" I asked.

     Modesto pastors did adopt a Community Marriage Policy. As an outgrowth of the
column, my wife and I have created Marriage Savers, a ministry which helped the clergy of 186 cities adopt a CMP. An independent Institute for Research and Evaluation study concludes that the first 114 Community Marriage Policies reduced the divorce rate by 14% more than comparable cities over seven years, saving 31,000 marriages or perhaps 50,000 in all of the cities.

     I am very grateful to the newspapers which allow me to suggest answers for tough problems. And I want to thank you for reading it!

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