Monday, December 18, 2006

Pastors to blame for divorce epidemic?

We have a divorce epidemic in America today. And I am wondering how much pastors are to blame.

I am of the school that thinks that we usually put way too little expectation on the Church and its pastors for societal woes. And when it comes to the institution of marriage I think the vast majority of ministers have let the proverbial ball drop and by doing so have led the nation to the brink of disaster.

Too few of us (pastors, and I am one of them) take serious the words “holy matrimony” and by our lack of recognizing the importance of this expression assume that anybody who wants to should be able to enter into it and with our blessing. Afterall, not to perform such ceremonies could cause congregational rift and, as people who make livings by the offerings of that congregation, we allow almost anything.

But is it possible to have “holy matrimony” when one or both of the couples have no love relationship with the Lord? Do pastors query their young lovers about such matters? Or have we assumed that the pastoral office has no business budging into people’s lives in these all-important issues?

I heard a program on American Family Radio not long ago that had a number of family counselors on that were asked, “Would you marry a young couple that were determined not to have kids.” I listened intently on my side of the radio for the answers for I had never thought about such a thing. And, to my astonishment, every one of the people on that program said they would not marry such a couple. Afterall, biblically, procreation is largely what marriage is for.

Interestingly, I have never known a pastor to talk about a matter like this much less require such a thing.

Do church leaders require intense marital counseling? Not a couple of sessions and a blessing, but serious examination of a multitude of issues? I know that most do not, and by not training people for marriage we leave them vulnerable to the worldview of the less-than-successful marital culture they move in. Serious talk on finances, family, conflict resolution, personality match, friends and interests, communication, religion and values, parenting issues, etc. needs to be the tall expectation for every minister and the unions they counsel pre-maritally.

There is research out there that suggests when such matters are considered seriously and the church demands some significant things of those seeking marriage the divorce rate is lessened substantially. Where such matters are not taken seriously, we get what we are getting culture-wide - the breakdown of the family unit that threatens our very survival as a nation and a serious Christian community.

We pastors, and the churches we represent, are not to be “blessing machines” – throwing out words and sacraments willy-nilly to anyone who wants them. For in the end, we learn that by doing so we haven’t really blessed, but most assuredly have cursed the people we wanted to help with the lowest of views of the Church, of the institution of marriage and of the pastoral office.

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18 Comments:

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your article in AgapePress. I think you have touched on an area that needs addressing but you have also left out a very important aspect--Marriage Restoration. I know that pastors probably do not see many marriages that come to counseling succeed but it seems that ill advice is being given. When my husband and I experienced severe issues in our marriage--our pastor told us the name of a counselor and then followed up with "but I don't know how good he is." That was pitiful! I didn't want to be anyone's guinea pig for counseling. Churches and pastors need to know how to refer people--we have severe issues in marriages today. Find out what counselors are Christian and what the cost and how good they are. After I did personal research on the web my husband and I went to a Christian counselor, took a Christian on-line course concerning our issues and attended a support group. Do whatever it takes to save marriages! It takes a lot! It costs! It involves time and money but it is worth it. Divorce costs a lot too!


Martha

 
At 3:30 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

How wonderful it is to read Matt's writings!
However, I have one big disagreement: I say you can learn more about human behavior by studying the scriptures than you can learn about human behavior by studying human behavior (someone once told me). So, teaching people "finances, family, conflict resolution, personality matchs, friends and interests, communication, religion values, parenting issues, etc." will not get you very far if those involved fail to study Christ and His Holy Word.
It is near impossible for you to motivate someone, it must come from within oneself. If pastors would focus attention on getting people on their knees and in front of their scriptures daily plus, then divorce would be less frequent.
Generally speaking, counseling benefits very few people; too many Americans want someone to tell them what their problem is and how to solve it... in truth, the only two problems are the lack of inner-soul searching aided by prayer and the Holy Ghost and participants not taking responsibility for the selfishness that ALWAYS causes divorce.
So, my strongest agreement is that it is a shame to join two together in 'holy matrimony' if they have no "love relationship with the Lord", but a better solution: the power of the Word.

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Matt Friedeman said...

Thanks, Leslie.

And I agree. Forgive the possible inadequacy of these lines in the column:

"But is it possible to have 'holy matrimony' when one or both of the couples have no love relationship with the Lord? Do pastors query their young lovers about such matters? Or have we assumed that the pastoral office has no business budging into people’s lives in these all-important issues?"

Matt

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Ms.Green said...

Excellent post. I can tell you that there are Pastors that take this very seriously. Our Pastor requires that both parties be saved and of like faith, that they enroll in pre-marital counseling with our family pastor and his wife for a period of at least 3 months, and the Family Pastor then makes a recommendation to our Senior Pastor as to their readiness for matrimony. These are not all of the conditions, but they are two of the most important. In fact, as a result of our Pastor's requirements, some couples opt to go elsewhere because they think his requirements are too strict or none of his business. Funny though...the majority of those he has joined in marriage over the last 20 years are still married to each other.

 
At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
I too appreciate your article that I read in Agape tonight and as well agree with Martha regarding the care and counsel that should be given during those situations. I would like to comment on the fact that of course counselling is very, very important and that both people should come equally yoked as they are being joined together. What I have serious issues with is what happens during a marriage crisis, separation and divorce. The way the church, pastors included, handle such is horrible. It has gotten to the point where pastors will advise the injured one "to get on with their lives, God has someone better for them." They also have no fear of joining in marriage those who have been married before, no matter how many times. This has got to sicken the Lord. It clearly states in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 that if a husband or wife should put away their spouse by divorce, they should remain single or reconcile. In Matthew 19:9 it also states that whoever should divorce and marry another will be committing adultery and causing the person they marry to committ adultery. God created marriage as a covenant. Covenant is only broken through death and not even by adultery as the world has bought into. Jesus never left us, His bride, because of our wicked adultery. He has continued to forgive and draw us back unto Himself that we would be fully restored. If we cannot forgive our "one flesh" mates, can HE forgive us? Linda

 
At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. While I do see marriage and divorce issues as being relevant to the Church and to the foundation of our society. I do have to say that many pastor's, I am one too, would love it if people would come to them and then listen. Unfortunatly many who do come,come expecting for the pastor to fix the problem while they do nothing for themselves. Often pastor's are blamed for not being there or not caring, when in fact they weep for the people who are not living out what God wants of them. They choose to ignore sound Biblical TRUTH and then get upset that no one is helping or has helped them with their marriage. This is a cop out for selfish attitudes.
I do agree that as the Church goes we need to be more Biblical in drawing lines about marriage and divorce. If there are no consequences for going against God's Word than people will do as they will and carry out their sinful behavior. I wonder though, how do you think people would react if we told them how to fix their marriages when it differs with their own ideas? I know first hand that many will just go somewhere else and get their itching ears scratched.
Again good article and I hope many pastors would draw better lines about marriage according to God's Holy Word.

 
At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as pastors ignore the no fewer than five teaching passages in the New Testament which teach that remarriage when one's spouse is still alive, is adultery, not marriage; as long as pastors treat marriage as something you can try and try again, rather than a covenant which can by only dissolved by death, as the Church taught for nearly 2,000 years -- until the divorce epidemic, Christians will continue to divorce in high numbers.

When I was a new believer, evangelicals boasted that only one in 500-plus evangelical marriages ended in divorce. Now it is closer to one in two, and higher than among the lost. Then, divorce was considered horrible and shameful, and remarriage wasn't an option. Now remarriage is treated almost like a new job, or a new dating relationship (back when dating did not involve sex).

It would be better for such a one to have a millstone tied around his neck, and drowned in the sea, than to cause one of these little ones to sin.

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Professor Friedeman;

I read an article (AFA website) written by you entitled “Are Pastors to Blame for the Divorce Epidemic?”. As a pastor myself, I share many of the same concerns,

I especially appreciated the following statement you made in that article:

“We pastors, and the churches we represent, are not to be "blessing machines" -- throwing out words and sacraments willy-nilly to anyone who asks. For in the end, by adopting a low view of the Church, of the institution of marriage and of the pastoral office, we haven't really blessed but most assuredly have cursed the people we intended to help.”

Thank you the stand you have taken.

Have a blessed Christmas;

Garry

 
At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to wonder are pastors really so gifted? Can they actually sit down with two individuals and determine unilaterally whether or not their marriage will last? Sorry, I wouldn't trust the judgment of 90% of the pastors I've known in my lifetime. I'd much rather get the opinion of a family member or a friend... one who actually knows me well. I don't believe pastors are to blame for the divorce epidemic... if a pastor won't marry a couple a JOP will... and I'm sure they often do! So couples will get married regardless of what a pastor thinks or feels about their relationship. And people are going to marry, divorce and remarry regardless of what conservative Christians believe about the matter as well. The only affect denying folks the "blessing" of marriage will do is turn them away from Christians and their God.

 
At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I would echo alot of what has been said, I would also add the following. First, as a citizen in a society wrought with people looking to point fingers, I would say that we should not be too hasty to in turn, point the finger at our pastors. The fact is, we all know the words we've said, the promise we've made. By making it the pastor's fault, it lightens the burden of the true responsible parties.

Second, as someone who married without councilling, and to a spouse whom was not a Christian when we were married, I can, again, reaffirm the statements about the churches role in marriage, though, having been married in Las Vegas, I don't know that it would have changed much for us. At the time we were married, as I mentioned before, we were unequally yoked. I was not a "practicing" Christian, and my spouse was a Jehovah's Witness. We did not have a Church home (at the time) and Vegas seemed like a good option. Certainly, if we had gone to premarital counceling, we probably would have waited to get married, as many conflicting beliefs, and the issues they create, were glossed over and swept under the rug (which, oddly enough, is still how many of those issues are handled today).

Finally, we decided, long ago, that no matter how bad it got, divorce simply was NOT an option. PERIOD. I am not bragging when I say "Believe me, it has been bad", but it has. I was going to reference a passage that States (I am paraphrasing) "Those who do not wait for a mate from God, have not sinned, but will find great trouble". This is SO true. I did not wait for the one God showed me, I heard no devine suggestion. I chose what I wanted, and it has been difficult. I do not regret my marriage, nor do I regret my spouse. I do regret not getting counciling before getting married. I do regret not getting counciling now, but as I watch my spouse grow in faith and in loveliness, I accept that I am where I should be, and that as long as we continue to agree about our matters of faith (we have been attending the same church for the last 5 years) and about the raising of the kids, and as long as we continue to put our faith in Him and His ability to bring healing and restoration, our marriage will continue to grow, and the wounds we have inflicted on each other and on the marriage will heal. It is our promise to him. It is his promise to us.

With Love,

 
At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. Although I do agree that much should be done before marriage, too many look at divorce as being the 'best' solution. It is the worst. Divorce is costly both financially and emotionally. Then restoration is looked at as a 'freaky thing' instead of a Godly process. The church should, as a family, embrace those that are willing to wait on God for Him to do His Perfect work. Having walked this path, I have not been able to talk to many because they either don't understand or don't approve. Having pastors that doubt that God is at work in this process makes it a more lonely path. But then again, with Him by our side, we are never alone.

 
At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WoW! Great points made. Let me pose a question or 2 as well. Should ministers only marry people who are Christians? If not, many will marry anyway and the divorce rate can continue to soar regardless. Can clergy not view a request as an opportunity to share, influence and shape a heart or 2 regardless with premarital counseling?

 
At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Scott Tibbs said...

Excellent article, Pastor.

Thanks for writing it.

 
At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An astute observation, however, due to personal experience, I would also add that the church also has failed in holding up the expectations of fidelity and the sacredness of marital vows, condoning and at times even encouraging divorce for couples outside of the parameter of sexual infidelity provided in the Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce.

 
At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent thoughts, but don't stop there. Once married, the evil one can put his might to ruin the union. My husband and I are in the darkest hours nearing divorce finalization, our pastor and other church leaders are well aware. None, not one of them, has reached out to either one of us for prayer, counseling or anyting.

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous R said...

Why not encourage a one year counseling program? Six months pre-marital followed by 6 months follow-up?

Excellent article Matt.

 
At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many pastors make sure that the couple is on the same page sexually? How many pastors take the time to make sure that the couple understands that there is a learning process to sex and that they need to be committed to that process? How many pastors tell new couples that "the marriage bed is not defiled" and that it's OK within marriage? The body christian's inability to drop the victorian traditions of man in order to preserve marriage is another serious flaw in the church's support of marriage.

 
At 2:07 AM, Blogger llama256 said...

I believe the church does bear a responsibility for the divorce epidemic. I personally went through a long marriage counseling sponsored by my church, but they never discussed the real danger in marriage, which is the tremendous divorce incentives offered to women. In California the incentives are pretty high, and thats why the divorce rate is topping 85% here. There shall go the rest of the country. The church should disassociate themselves from the feminists in charge of government marriage. Marriage is a religious rite, Caesar has no place meddling in it. At least the church owes it to their male parishoners to explain, 75% of divorces are initiated by wives, most are not due to any misdeeds, but are simply due to the financial enticements offered by the government.

 

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