Ethics & Religion
A Column by Michael J. McManus
 

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July 26, 2006
Column #1,300
25 Years of Writing This Column
by Michael J. McManus

This is my 1,300th weekly column. I have completed 25 years of writing "Ethics & Religion." Perhaps you'd like to know what my goal is.

I write Ethics & Religion in the midst of a paradox.  America is the world's most religious modern nation - and its least ethical. Gallup says two-thirds of Americans are members of a congregation, and 43 percent attend services weekly. That's four times church attendance of Britain, France or Germany.

Yet America's divorce, teen pregnancy and murder rates are the world's highest. 
Therefore, my major goal is to suggest how you, your congregation, community or the nation might move to higher ethical standards.

Last week's column noted that the percentage of couples who believe they "should stay together for the sake of the children" has plunged from 49% in 1962 to a meager 19% today.  I  hope to encourage more parents to be selfless regarding their children rather than self-absorbed.

Another recent column describes how many churches ignore prayers for healing, which were central to the ministry of Jesus and his followers for 300 years. Entire denominations, such as Assemblies of God, feature healing as a part of their ministry, while it is virtually nonexistent  in most churches. "What seminary teaches how to experience divine healing?" I asked.

I also report and comment on America's major denominations. I noted that the Episcopal Church is splitting. A majority are ordaining and marrying homosexuals, while a more orthodox segment are fleeing.

In May, I recounted the story of an ex-gay who became a heterosexual, married and is now a leader in the movement to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

In a Father's Day column I confessed that I had not thanked my father for his contribution to my life and urged readers to do so with their father (or mother) avoiding my mistake.

A February column praised an "Evangelical Call to Action on Climate Change," a statement by 86 evangelicals such as leaders of a score of denominations and universities.  In contrast to Dr. James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, who don't believe climate change is a problem, I said the report documented persuasive evidence.

Certainly, the most important theme of this column has been how to strengthen marriage.  I applauded the first law in generations making divorce harder to get.  Louisiana now requires a couple with children to live apart for a year, rather than only six months, before a divorce is granted. I noted that Maryland, which requires a year's separation, has a divorce rate 20% below states with 6 months. Why? More time engenders more reconciliation.

One of my first columns in 1981 spotlighted how some churches require couples they marry to take a premarital inventory to assess their relational strengths, and where they had to grow.  A tenth of couples who took the inventory decided not to marry.  One study reported that those who break an engagement have the same scores as those who marry and later divorce. Thus, they avoided a bad marriage.

I reported how my own marriage grew by attending a Marriage Encounter weekend, and how Retrouvaille, a similar weekend retreat for troubled marriages, saves four out of five marriages (retrouvaille.org). 

Frankly, I saw no results of these marriage columns until I was asked to speak to clergy groups in cities publishing the column.  In Modesto, CA I noted that Catholics require a minimum of six months from the time a couple asks to be married until the wedding. Protestants had no time requirement. I asked,  "If Catholics can require six months, can you Protestants agree to at least a four month minimum?  During that time, every church could require couples to take a premarital inventory, and they could review it with a mentor couple in a healthy marriage, who could focus on the couple's unique issues."

"And shouldn't every church hold weekend retreats like Marriage Encounter to help husbands and wives build deeper, more joyful marriages?  I believe if you agreed to such changes, you could slash your divorce rate in half in five years."

Modesto created America's first Community Marriage Policy 20 years ago, signed by 95 pastors, priests and one rabbi. Today its divorce rate is down by 50%. In 1996 my wife and I created Marriage Savers, a non-profit group, to promote this vision. Today 203 cities have created Marriage Policies that have cut divorce and cohabitation rates.  Marriage rates are now increasing.

I feel privileged to write a column suggesting answers for major moral issues. Thank you, readers!

 

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