Marital Safety Nets:
Community Marriage Policies

By Charles Colson

Breakpoint Commentary #020225 - 02/25/02

In her new book, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, psychologist Mavis Hetherington argues that divorce isn't as bad for kids as everyone thought. For some seventy-five percent of the children of divorce, she says, their parents' breakup was not a long-term problem. Their productive, successful lives, she says, prove it.

In response, one of those "productive, successful" children took her to task. In the Washington Post, thirty-one-year-old Elizabeth Marquardt wrote: "I have a graduate degree, a loving husband, and a supportive family. From the outside, I look pretty successful." But, she adds, her parents' divorce when she was two "produced sadness and a fear of loss that persisted when I grew up."

And if that's one of the so-called "successful, productive" children of divorce, what happens to the unsuccessful ones? Studies indicate that they are much more prone to depression, school problems, drug use, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies than kids from two-parent families.

Clearly, if for no other reason than our children, Americans need to radically rethink our view of divorce. And since most marriages take place in churches, Christians can become a force for building stronger marriages.

Many churches have tried to meet the challenge by requiring long and demanding periods of premarital counseling. The problem, however, is that many couples simply say, "No thanks," and hold their wedding at the church down the street where the requirements are less demanding or non-existent.

To solve this problem, marriage expert Mike McManus has instituted Community Marriage Policies -- a uniform requirement that all the local churches adopt together. Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, black and white clergy all band together to radically reduce the community's divorce rate.

Typically, clergy agree to require engaged couples to undergo four months of marriage preparation including a premarital inventory to evaluate the maturity of the relationship. Churches also nurture existing marriages by training older married couples to mentor younger ones.

Community Marriage Policies are now in place in 150 cities and the results have been phenomenal. In Modesto, California, the first city to adopt a Community Marriage Policy seventeen years ago, divorce rates have plunged an incredible forty-seven percent. Other cities are witnessing similar eye-popping results.

"Clearly," says McManus, "we hold in our hands the answer to America's divorce rate."

The troubling question, however, is will the church accept the challenge? W. Bradford Wilcox, a researcher on religion at Yale University, writes that America's houses of worship are "traditionally the most important custodians of marriage in the nation." And yet, he concludes, they "have been unable and unwilling to foster the beliefs and virtues that make for a strong marriage culture."

What an indictment of the church -- an indictment we can and must answer.

I hope you'll read Mike McManus's book, Marriage Savers. You'll learn more about how your church can help heal America's divorce epidemic -- and put a dent in the suffering that a million divorces a year visit on America's children.

For further reading:

Elizabeth Marquardt, "We're Successful, and Hurt," Washington Post, 3 February 2002.

Marquardt is an affiliate scholar of the Institute for American Values, and author of forthcoming book, The Moral and Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce,

"Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences," (NY: Center of the American Experiment, Coalition of Marriage, Family and Couples Education, 2002).

E. Mavis Hetherington, For Better of For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (W.W. Norton & Company, 2002).

Michael McManus, Marriage Savers (Zondervan Publishing, 1995).

Learn more about Mike McManus's group, Marriage Savers, by visiting

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