Ethics & Religion
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May 25, 2010

Column #1,500

My 1,500th Weekly Column

By Mike McManus

                This is my 1,500th weekly column, which I began writing in 1981.  What have been my goals in writing?

                I call the column Ethics & Religion because I was struck by a curious paradox.  Gallup Polls report two-thirds of Americans are members of a church or synagogue and two-fifths attend services weekly, making the U.S. the most religious modern nation.

                Yet ironically, our divorce rate is the world’s highest by far: double that of Canada and triple that of Britain or France.  Our teen birth rate is the world’s highest. We are also the most violent, with a murder rate six times higher than England.

                How can we be so religious and so unethical?

                Each week I address this paradox and try to show how to “not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth” (I John 3:18). 

                I have few answers for crime, but a winner for innocent children of the incarcerated.  Last Christmas I suggested churches create an Angel Tree project, affiliated with Prison Fellowship, to buy gifts for children of prisoners.  Plan for this step now that blessed 300,000 children last year.  For detail on this or other columns go to www.ethicsandreligion.com;  and click on 2009.

                On March 3 I suggested that U.S. Attorneys enforce federal laws against obscenity, now  available on the Internet, corrupting many.  The Obama Administration has not filed a case.

                One reason for the high teen birth rate is the latest craze of “sexting,” in which girls as young as 9-15 email nude pictures of themselves. On April 21 I outlined answers for parents.

                I’ve offered more solutions on how to better prepare for, enrich or restore marriages.  In 1981 I wrote, “It is time to acknowledge that the American church is partly responsible for the soaring divorce rate. According to one study, 88% of all U.S, marriages are blessed by the church.  However, America’s divorce rate is soaring off the charts,” rising from 393,000 in 1960 to 1,170,000 in 1979.

I suggested  that couples considering marriage take a premarital inventory, such as PREPARE/ENRICH which asks couples to respond to 165 statements such as “Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.”

                A second proposal was to train marriage mentors to review these relational issues with the premarital couple.

                Frankly, I saw no results of these columns.  But in 1983 I began to be invited to speak to clergy, and suggested all the churches in town require an inventory and offer mentoring, creating a “Community Marriage Policy.”  Clergy in Columbus, Ga. Biddeford, Me. and Shreveport politely applauded, but nothing happened.

                Finally, in Modesto, Cal. I opened with this prayer, “Lord, you know I have failed every time I gave this speech.  Today I ask for the words – or the ears – that might make a difference.”  Result: 95 pastors, priests and a rabbi signed America’s first Community Marriage Policy. They said, “Our hope is to radically reduce the divorce rate among those married in area churches.”

                Much more than that has been accomplished.  By 2001 the county divorce rate was down 57%, and it has remained about half of what it had been. The result: school dropouts fell in this decade by 18.4 percent and teen births by 30 percent, double America’s decline.

                In reporting this column I have looked for other answers. Here are four more:

1.      Enrich existing marriages. Every marriage runs down over time, but the Georgia church which created the successful “Fireproof” movie, has also created a six-week “Fireproof Your Marriage” course that includes DVD excerpts, a Leader’s Guide, a Participant’s Guide to spark both group discussion and strengthen each couple’s marriage. 

2.      Restore troubled ones: Every church has couples who have survived adultery or abuse.    But few churches train such couples to tell their recovery story to those in current crisis, saving 8 of 10 marriages. Pastors typically send them to counselors. I reported April 7 that “All forms of marital counseling are associated with a two- to three-fold increase in the likelihood of divorce.”

3.      Reconcile the separated with Marriage 911, a course taken by a person trying to save a marriage with a same gender friend, when their spouse wants a divorce. It saves half of marriages for only $28.

4.      Help stepfamilies succeed with Stepfamily Support Groups which save 4 of 5 marriages, 70 percent of which usually divorce.

The clergy of 228 cities have implemented these strategies in Community Marriage Policies, saving 100,000 marriages from divorce.  (Disclosure, my wife and I help create CMPs.)

Thanks to the newspapers publishing this column, and to my readers!

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