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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,003
January 1, 2020
How To Reduce Homicides in Washington DC
By Mike McManus

Washington Post columnist Colbert King reported that the District over the past two decades, has had more than 100 murders every year but one. There were 166 last year - the highest of the decade.

Year after year, King has written "about the need to do more to stop the murder and little or no avail." What he found as the "saddest commentary of all" is "the city's resigned acceptance of bloodshed. Elected officials, community organizations and faith leaders - shrug off more than 100 murders a year."

I'd like to propose a solution that has worked in other cities. If Washington were to reduce its divorce rate, fewer children would grow up in homes with only one parent. Young people who are raised by both a mother and father - fare better academically, emotionally and are far less likely to become violent criminals.

My wife and I have led a national ministry we call Marriage Savers for more than 30 years. In 230 cities we have worked with thousands of churches to train couples in healthy marriages, who can be found in any church - to be Marriage Mentor Couples to help other couples better prepare for, enrich or restore marriages in crisis. We helped an average of 10-40 churches in a city to create a Community Marriage Policy (CMP)."

Divorce rates fell an average of 17% in 114 CMP cities according to a study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation. Dr. Stan Weed, then president of the Institute, estimated the number of divorces that were averted was at least 31,000 and perhaps 50,000 saved through 2001. Communities have had 19 more years to save marriages, and the number of CMP cities has doubled to 230. So perhaps 150,000 marriages have been saved from divorce. (Cohabitation rates also fell by one-third.)

The results were particularly striking In nine cities that slashed divorce rates by 50% or more, such as Modesto, CA, Kansas City, KS, Austin, TX, Salem, OR, Yuma, AZ, and El Paso.

El Paso's divorce rate plunged an astounding 79% from 1996-2001. Ever since, its crime rate has plunged. For four straight recent years, El Paso's crime rate was the lowest in America. El Paso had only 46 murders in a recent year, while Washington had 132 murders that year and Detroit, 310. The cities have about the same population.

How did Marriage Savers help El Paso to slash its divorce rate? Marriage Savers helps churches adopt five major reforms:

  1. Prepare for a lifelong marriage by requiring couples to take a premarital inventory which asks couples to react to 150 statements like these:
    • I go out of my way to avoid conflict with my partner.
    • I am concerned that my partner is more of a spender than I am.
    • Marriage Savers trains couples in healthy marriages to be Mentor Couples who help the engaged or seriously dating couples discuss surfaced issues. Result: about a fifth of couples decide NOT to marry, but of those who do, 90% are still married 20 years later.
  2. Enrich all existing marriages by conducting an annual weekend event at the church. About 100,000 churches have used a DVD series called Ten Great Dates which couples watch on 10 Friday or Saturday nights. The 15 minute video might be on "Resolving Honest Conflict" or "Becoming an Encourager." Couples then have a date to discuss the issue. Other DVD packages: The Art of Marriage and Love & Respect.
  3. Restore four out of five troubled marriages with trained "back-from-the-brink couples" whose own marriages once nearly failed, to mentor couples in current crisis. A couple who survived adultery has wisdom to share with a couple in crisis over infidelity. They can discuss how they rebuilt trust and be a walking parable of hope, saving 80% to 90% of marriages in crisis.
  4. Reconcile the separated with a self-guided workbook course, Marriage 911. The spouse trying to save the marriage takes the course with a friend of the same gender for 12 weeks, using a Support Partner Handbook. The committed spouse completes Workbook assignments and reads a chapter of Proverbs daily. Half of marriages are saved.
  5. Help stepfamilies succeed by creating "Stepfamily Support Groups" which give couples with stepchildren a place and a plan to learn how to be successful parents and partners. Instead of losing 70% of stepfamilies to divorce, 80% are saved.

If Washington wants to cut its divorce rate, it might create Community Marriage Policies in different sections of the city to jump-start these proven reforms.

Make 2020 the "Year of Marriage" in Washington.

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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