Category archives: Marriage

How to Prevent Divorce Before It Happens

by Dan Hart

August 25, 2021

There are close to 800,000 divorces every year in America, which is roughly one every 36 seconds. About 74 percent of divorced or separated adults are Christian.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to think about this. Despite the clear teaching of Christ against divorce (except in the most serious of circumstances) in Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9, divorce is astonishingly common among believers.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to divorce, Christians have let American secular culture take root in their own homes. After no-fault divorce laws became the norm nationwide beginning in the 1960’s, the divorce rate more than doubled over a 20-year span from 1960 to 1980. While the rate has fallen in the decades since then, America still has one of the highest rates of any country in the developed world.  

As social science has found, divorce negatively impacts almost everything that matters, including family relationships, religious practice, education, the marketplace, government, and overall health and well-being.

What is most tragic is how divorce has affected our nation’s children. By the 1970s, about half of all children born to married parents witnessed their divorce. While this figure has improved somewhat since then, there are still over 5.8 million children currently living with single divorced parents in America, with millions more adult children of divorce currently going about their lives with a hidden and deeply embedded wound within their souls. In the book Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, one adult child of divorce said this:

For a long, long time, I felt like a tree that was uprooted with its roots dangling above ground. I can even remember saying it aloud to people. I had deep-seated feelings of low self-worth and fell more deeply into sin … Words that are, for me, synonymous with divorce [are]: major upheaval, trauma, destabilization, departure, heartbreak, and bad example.

As this quote illustrates, a child of divorce often feels rootless and torn “between two worlds.” Since the child is the literal incarnation of the union of their mother and father, when the union is severed, the child feels interiorly split. The effect that divorce has on children is profound, and the wounds can last a lifetime. Thankfully, there are both evangelical and Catholic ministries focused on healing for adult children of divorce.

But what if there was a way to preempt divorce before it happens?

The Crucial Importance of Marriage Preparation

In the church, a certain “hands-off” approach has seeped its way into the ministry of preparing couples for “the single most important human relationship,” as Dr. Pat Fagan has written. This unfortunate pattern, which is a byproduct of secularization, gives dating and engaged couples the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the couples’ actual readiness to vow themselves to each other for the rest of their lives before God, their families, and their friends. In our current culture of dwindling marriages, many churches are thrilled just to have a couple—any couple—come to them asking to get married in their church. In their eagerness, it’s understandable that pastors and church leaders are hesitant to require these couples to complete a rigorous marriage preparation program that may scare them off.

Nevertheless, when we consider what is at stake with marriage and the tragic consequences and prevalence of divorce, it is clear that churches must prioritize the essential ministry of marriage preparation.

Why is marriage preparation so important for engaged couples? A primary reason is that, if done effectively, it can help uncover deep-seated tendencies and familial wounds that may not be fully known to one or both partners. If the couple is not, at a minimum, aware of these tendencies and wounds in each other before tying the knot, they can easily negatively manifest themselves in the first few years or even many years into the marriage and blindside the couple, potentially causing serious conflict that can increase the likelihood of divorce.

Additionally, as Alan Hawkins and Tiffany Clyde have written, it is particularly important for the current generation of young adults to receive effective marriage preparation. This is because millennials and Generation Z have grown up in a culture of rampant individualism, commitment ambivalence and devaluation, premarital sex, and pornography to a degree that was not experienced by prior generations. These negative tendencies lead to marital dissatisfaction and increase the risk of divorce, making it all the more imperative for currently engaged couples to unlearn cultural influences before matrimony.

The Advantages of Couple-to-Couple Mentorship

While there are many evangelical and Catholic marriage preparation programs out there that churches can follow, one of the best and most proven methods is for the engaged couple to be actively mentored by a veteran married couple, ideally from their own church congregation. There are several distinct advantages of couple-to-couple mentorship:

  • When an engaged couple is able to spend quality time with a veteran married couple (ideally a couple that they already know and admire from their church congregation, as pioneered by the Witness to Love program), they can develop a comfortable rapport and build trust with each other, which will lead to more fruitful, deeper, and more practical conversations about the challenges, joys, and expectations of marriage.
  • An additional benefit of couple-to-couple mentorship is the possibility of the veteran couple hosting the engaged couple in their home for their marriage prep sessions, which gives the engaged couple an inside look at married life and is a great way to demystify it and build realistic expectations.
  • This kind of couple-to-couple mentorship is also ideal for ongoing discipleship after the wedding day. In the words of one pastor, mentorship “connects [newlyweds] not only to the [church], but also to a support system that basically fosters ongoing activity in the [church] long after we do marriage preparation.”
  • Mentor couples can also become “first-responders” if the couples they mentor are struggling in their marriages. As believers, we all have this same duty to support marriages that may be in crisis in our circles of influence.

Let’s Renew Our Focus on Marriage Ministry

Effective divorce prevention is rooted in top-notch marriage preparation, but it doesn’t end there. Crisis marriages that are at their breaking point don’t have to result in divorce, contrary to what the culture might say. There are a host of programs, retreats, and resources offered by  Live the Life, Focus on the Family, Retrouvaille, and many more which can be implemented at or facilitated by your church that can help couples on the brink of divorce save their marriages.

The bottom line is that the church can and does help lessen the scourge of divorce in America, but it can always do better. As believers, we can be the catalysts for a marriage ministry revival in our churches. If you are happily married, talk to your spouse and prayerfully consider becoming a mentor couple for engaged couples at your church. If your church doesn’t have a formal marriage preparation program or resources for marriages in crisis, talk to your pastor about providing them.

As Christians, let’s renew our focus on ministering to marriage—the single most important human relationship.

More Than Romance: The True Meaning of Valentine’s Day

by Molly Carman

February 14, 2021

For some, Valentine’s Day is a fun excuse to dote on a spouse or loved one with roses, chocolates, and heart-shaped cards. But for others, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely reminder of their lack of a romantic relationship. A cynical few believe Valentine’s Day is just a marketing ploy—a made-up holiday that guilts you into spending money on someone. However, the historical origin of Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with any of these things.

February 14 marks the anniversary of St. Valentine of Rome’s martyrdom in A.D. 269. He was executed by the emperor for his Christian faith and for marrying couples when marriage was temporarily illegal. St. Valentine’s life and death demonstrate the high price that can sometimes accompany standing up for Christian values despite pushback from authority or the culture.

St. Valentine lived in Rome during the reign of Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel. The Roman government was notorious for persecuting Christians ever since the church’s founding, in part because Christian ethics dissented from the practices of polygamy, homosexuality, pedophilia, and prostitution that were prevalent in the Empire. Rome was at war while Claudius II was in power, and he believed unmarried men made the best soldiers (because they did not have families at home to worry about and could not use their marriage as an excuse to get out of military service). Claudius’ desire to strengthen his army, combined with his prejudice towards Christians, led to his decision to make marriage illegal in Rome for a time.

The emperor’s edict did not stop Valentine from marrying couples in secret. He did not marry them because he was a hopeless romantic or because he wanted to defy the emperor, but because he believed that marriage was a core value of the Christian faith. Claudius soon discovered Valentine’s actions and had him arrested.

While in jail, legend has it, Valentine befriended Judge Asterius and his adopted daughter, who was blind. According to some accounts, Valentine placed his hands on Asterius’s daughter’s eyes, and she was healed. Because of this miracle, the judge and his whole family became Christians and were baptized. He even released Valentine from confinement. However, the emperor arrested Valentine again, had him beaten, and later beheaded him for his “crimes.” Before his execution, Valentine wrote to the judge’s daughter and signed it, “Your Valentine.” This gesture inspired the more modern tradition of writing letters to loved ones on the Feast of St. Valentine, or “Valentine’s Day.”

Christianity’s doctrine of marriage has been attacked countless times since the church’s early days and continues to be under attack in our modern culture. Our government’s expansion of the definition of marriage, the spread of “no-fault” divorce laws, the proliferation of easily accessible pornography, and the current push to legalize prostitution are just a few of the recent cultural shifts that degrade human sexuality and ignore God’s good intent for sex and marriage. Nearly every industry—including entertainment, Big Tech, and social media—promotes rather than discourages these trends. But a Christian understanding of marriage is worth protecting and fighting for—both for the societal good it does and how it depicts the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Christians know that humanity did not invent marriage. Rather, it was ordained by God to be a picture of the gospel, illustrating the enduring and sacrificial love that He has for the world. As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (ESV).

The world has plenty of examples of one-night stands, adultery, divorce, unfaithfulness, and selfishness. What it needs are more examples of healthy, committed, selfless, God-centered marriages. Christians can provide these examples by committing and being accountable in their marriages, discipling the next generation on how to prepare for a godly marriage, and teaching others how marriage displays God’s character.

Marriage is about much more than romance or sexual desire—it is about sacrifice and an image of God’s love for us. Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or single, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate God’s holy parable of marriage. St. Valentine sought to protect this image, and we can do the same today. May we all learn to sacrifice for one another and love just as Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Kindness: The Glue that Holds Marriages Together

by Dan Hart

February 11, 2021

In America, most marriages fail, either ending in divorce/separation or degenerating into turmoil and resentment. However, three out of 10 people who are married remain happily married for the rest of their lives. A natural question arises here: Is there something that is missing from failed marriages that is common to successful ones?  

In 1986, psychologist John Gottman began an illuminating study of married couples, which was summed up by Emily Esfahani Smith in an excellent Atlantic article a few years ago. In the study, Gottman observed how newlywed couples interacted with each other while asking them questions about their relationship, like how they met, good memories, and how they handle conflict. While asking these questions, he measured their vital signs in order to gauge their physiological reactions as they talked about their relationships. After gathering this data, Gottman sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still married.

The data revealed that there were two distinct types of couples. One group, nicknamed the “masters,” were the couples that were happily married six years later. They felt calm in each other’s presence and were almost always warm and affectionate in their interactions. These couples made it a habit of finding positive ways to compliment their spouse in their day to day lives, even down to seemingly “mundane” things like acknowledging and responding positively when their spouse tries to connect in a small way (e.g., “Honey, aren’t the stars especially clear tonight?”).

In contrast, the other group, nicknamed the “disasters,” often found ways to nitpick each other with criticisms. During Gottman’s study phase, their physiologies showed signs of being in “fight-or-flight mode,” as if they were always prepared to verbally attack or be verbally attacked by their spouse. Not surprisingly, these couples had either divorced or had highly dysfunctional marriages when Gottman followed up with them six years later.

The main takeaway from Gottman’s studies and other research on married couples is clear—it all boils down to kindness:

Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

Kindness … glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

For believers especially, the results of these kinds of studies about marriage should come as no surprise, but they do validate what we Christians know from the truths of Scripture. In Ephesians 5:28-30, Paul wrote:

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Paul gives an intimate and evocative description of the type of love that should be shared between spouses—to “nourish” and “cherish” one another as one would their own body. Interestingly, this image of nurturing love as one would nourish their own body matches up well with how Emily Esfahani Smith sees the nature of kindness—as a muscle that needs to be exercised:

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: Either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters [those in healthy marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

During this National Marriage Week, the theme of kindness is an especially fitting one to ponder for all those who are discerning marriage and who are married, particularly those who may find themselves stuck in a rut of marital dysfunction. As Emily Smith has observed:

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, careers, friends, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against each other tear them apart.

However, there is always hope, and a chance to begin again. For believers, the centrality of kindness in the Christian life is encapsulated in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). It’s a tall order, and we often fail at it. But if spouses keep working toward incorporating kindness into their daily lives together, they will keep the “muscle in shape” and make it the animating quality in a harmonious marriage, year after year.

What the Church Needs From Singles

by Molly Carman

January 6, 2021

We have all experienced a season—no matter how short or long—of loneliness. When you are single, it can be easy to dream about a season of life when you might not be single. It can also be easy to fall prey to the lie that you are owed a relationship or even guaranteed an amazing marriage.

But we are not guaranteed such things. Our culture commonly associates singleness with loneliness, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Tragically, some people are lonelier in marriage than they ever were when they were single. In any case, we are guaranteed that God is good all the time and that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Ps. 145:9, Heb. 13:5-6).

Another common misconception, especially in Christian circles, is that marriage is godlier than singleness. But Scripture shows us that this is simply not the case. Marriage and singleness both provide unique opportunities for sanctification, and both come with their own associated trials, temptations, sacrifices, and freedoms. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Because Paul was single, he was able to devote himself fully to the ministry of spreading the gospel and discipling others. However, Christian ministry is not strictly the job of single people. We can intentionally serve Christ and the church no matter our situation in life. For example, Priscilla and Aquila were married and likely had the marital concerns Paul described in 1 Corinthians 7, but nevertheless served the church fervently alongside Paul to disciple young believers and build up the early church (Acts 18:2,18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 1Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19).

Being single is not easy, especially when it feels like all of your friends are getting engaged, married, or announcing that they are having a baby; meanwhile, you feel like the most exciting thing that has happened in your life lately is that you got a free coffee last week. But I have learned that my present singleness provides opportunities that most of my married friends will never have, or at least not in the same way. I can more easily go wherever God is calling me, meet new people, and get connected to a community. I can foster my dependency on the Lord, free from the temptation to depend too heavily on my spouse. I can say yes to various service opportunities without the worry of family concerns. Paul is clear that the married are concerned with the things of the world and the unmarried are concerned with the things of God, not because married people are less spiritual but because marriage requires things of a husband and wife that can take time away from the work of ministry.

Today, it is often said that the church needs to be doing more to serve its single members. However, singles often have a greater capacity to serve the church and its members and be involved in ministry to their greater communities than married couples do.

It is always easy to want what we do not have. My recently married friends have told me that, as much as they love their spouse and being married, they realize that I have greater opportunity to say yes to things like going to grad school, going on a mission trip, or volunteering in a ministry program. While I am sometimes envious of their marital companionship and parenthood, I am learning the secret of being content in Christ (Phil. 4:11). Comparison is always the thief of joy and contentment.

If you are single, consider how you can serve the church and what a blessing it is to be able to say yes to ministry and the spread of the gospel. And even if you have no children of your own, you can still invest in children by giving hard-working parents the night off from their kids or serving in the nursery or the youth group at your church. Every season of life is an intentional gift of God to sanctify you and draw you closer to Him so that you might become more like Him. So, instead of selfishly thinking about how the church can serve you in whatever situation you are in, I encourage you to go and serve the church. After all, Christ—our ultimate example—came not to be served but to serve (Mat. 20:28, Mk. 10:45).

Speaker Pelosi’s Partisan Coronavirus Relief Bill Attacks Life and Family

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Mary Beth Waddell, J.D.

May 19, 2020

Partisan politics are at play again. Last week, House Democrats passed the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), a coronavirus relief bill that purports to help the people risking their lives on the front lines of the coronavirus, but in reality disregards vulnerable lives by funding abortion providers and deconstructs the idea of family.

The bill passed by a margin of 208-199 with one Republican supporting and 14 Democrats opposing. While it is unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is important to highlight how congressional Democrats are seeking to work against human life and the family during this pandemic.

In summary, the Heroes Act:

Attacks Longstanding Pro-life Policies

  • It creates a new “Heroes Fund” to provide an additional $13 per hour for essential workers in addition to their regular wages. Helping frontline workers who have put their lives at risk to battle the coronavirus is a good idea in principle; however, the bill’s definition of essential work includes any work conducted at outpatient clinics without any restrictions on those working at abortion clinics. It is disheartening enough that some liberal states have deemed abortion as an essential service, but pro-abortion members of Congress providing bonus pay for abortion clinic workers—while millions of Americans remain unemployed—takes abortion extremism to a whole new level.
  • Appropriates nearly $1 trillion in funds to state and local governments so they can continue conducting tests, providing essential equipment, and treating patients suffering from coronavirus. There is bipartisan support for such funding. However, the funding proposed in the Heroes Act has very limited restrictions on usage. This means liberal states like California and New York can use the federal funds to cover budget shortfalls they created by funding Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Just a few months before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S, the Illinois legislature appropriated millions of dollars for abortion facilities that provide family planning services.
  • Provides several tax subsidies for employers that can be used to pay for health plans that cover abortion. In particular, it would provide a full subsidy for COBRA health premiums, a current program which allows the recently unemployed to remain on an employer health care plan. This subsidy would violate the principles of the Hyde Amendment by directly subsidizing employer health care plans that cover abortion. 
  • Makes substantive changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was designed to help small businesses and nonprofits seek immediate financial relief, and many churches and religious nonprofits have been able to access the program. Large nonprofits that perform abortions are currently ineligible for the PPP because of the 500-employee limit. Instead of expanding the program to include larger charitable organizations, House Democrats prioritized making an exception for abortion providers.

Undermines Marriage and Family

  • The bill deconstructs the idea of family with the same language that some had attempted to insert into the paid family and sick leave program in the Phase 2 coronavirus relief bill. While the language in this bill doesn’t include “domestic partnership” in a definition of “spouse,” it uses multiple definitions to try and achieve the same effect. The bill amends paid leave requirements to include paid sick leave for family members including “domestic partners.” This greatly waters down the significance of the family structure and renders the word “family” virtually meaningless.
  • Redefines “sex” in the context of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and medical conditions related to pregnancy. This is the same language that appeared in the infamous Equality Act the House passed last year, which would have redefined civil rights laws in a manner inconsistent with biological realities and forced organizations to provide abortions. The language would apply to this bill and the other relief bills that have already become law, such as the Cares Act.
  • Establish diversity and outreach programs that specifically prioritize gender and sexual minorities. Further, the bill would create a designated suicide hotline that politicizes the meaning of sex. An excessive focus on sexual minority status is misplaced, given the existence of other high-risk groups and risk factors such as underlying mental illness.

Additional Progressive Priorities

Partisan policies have no place in legislation intended to address a pandemic. In addition to the aforementioned provisions that seek to undermine the sanctity of human life and the family, the Heroes Act includes:

  • Provisions propping up the notion of hate crimes, which FRC has consistently opposed because they undercut freedom of expression. Hate crimes are essentially “thought” crimes, and hate crime laws punish the accused for a perceived prejudice against the victim. This is reinforced by the bill’s addition of “alternate sentencing” to existing hate crimes law, which will allow courts to order “educational classes” to correct the defendant’s alleged prejudice. Thoughts are not criminal; only actions are, and the First Amendment protects all expression, even that with which we disagree. Existing criminal law categories are sufficient to address the interests of justice without straying into the dangerous territory of trying to eradicate the thoughts of our citizens. 
  • Language taken straight out of the SAFE Banking Act, a policy that would legitimize the marijuana industry by granting them access to capital and other banking services. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, “The word ‘cannabis’ appears in this bill 68 times. More times than the word ‘job’ and four times as many as the word ‘hire.’” Reducing current federal restrictions on marijuana would, among other things, give money laundering access to international drug cartels who are already using marijuana legalization as a cover, and would radically increase investment in the marijuana industry.
  • A second round of stimulus checks with a change to allow illegal immigrants without a social security number to be eligible. Republicans led an effort to amend this policy, but came up just short of amending this language before final passage.
  • An extension of the $600 per week unemployment insurance increase through January 2021, allowing some individuals to continue collecting more money on unemployment than they would working. This perverse incentive to work was raised by Senate Republicans during the debate of the CARES Act, and now as the economy starts to open could have even more lasting impacts on the value and dignity of work.
  • Long-term changes that reshape the way elections are conducted in a way that favors Democrat candidates. This bill would require 15 days of early voting for federal elections and absentee vote by mail ballots for all voters. It would also mandate that all voters can register the same day, both in-person and online. Not long ago, many Democrats were highly concerned about fraud and interference in the 2016 election. Now, they are seeking to mandate mail-in ballots and online registration, policies that can put election security at risk.

Unfortunately, the present national health emergency has not united Congress to help our country. Congressional Democrats have shown time and time again that they would rather score political points than help our country through this pandemic. As Congress continues to consider what steps may be necessary to provide additional relief to the health care system and economy, FRC will remain vigilant in protecting faith, family, and freedom.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus: How to Respond When Your Wedding Plans Change

by Laura Grossberndt

April 15, 2020

Has the coronavirus left you feeling lonely, helpless, angry, or blindsided? If so, that’s okay. All of these are natural human responses. Add a wedding into the mix, and you may be experiencing a particularly heart-wrenching season of life. Maybe you had hoped to have all your family and friends with you when you exchanged vows. Maybe you had hoped to get married on a particular date or at a certain venue. Maybe you had hoped to travel on a honeymoon. And now, the current global pandemic has completely upended all those good dreams, desires, and plans.

How is a couple to make sense of all this?

Several of my friends have seen their wedding plans changed in one way or another due to the coronavirus. One couple kept their original date but had to limit the number of attendees in accordance with social distancing regulations. Another received their marriage license one day, finished premarital counseling the next day, and was married in a small ceremony the third day—two months earlier than initially planned. Another postponed their wedding.

I interviewed these friends, asking what they would say to other brides and grooms facing similar complications. What follows are five truths to remember, all grounded in God’s Word. I hope reflecting on them soothes your heart and edifies your soul.

Remember God’s Sovereignty

Are you frustrated by feelings of helplessness? Are you grappling to make sense of the unthinkable?

Although you may be disappointed and still struggling to cope with the prospect of relinquishing your dream wedding, God was not surprised or taken off guard by the sudden changes. All of your days, including your wedding day, were written in His book before even one had come to pass (Psalm 139:16). What is unknown to us is entirely known to Him. Furthermore, He is completely in control and will accomplish all of His purposes and fulfill all of His promises to His people. The pandemic might have changed your plans, but it changes nothing about God or His care for you. Consider the following truths from Scripture:

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. (Psalm 147:5)

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ (Isaiah 46:9b-10)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:28-32)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

From cover to cover, the Bible reminds us of God’s sovereignty. As believers, we must trust that God is using all things in our lives—even the coronavirus and the changes it is forcing us to make—for His glory and our good.

Remember God’s Compassion

Are you grieving the beautiful plans you had for your wedding day? All the time, thought, and energy you poured into preparing for a celebration that now may never happen the way you had envisioned?

If so, be comforted to know that the God who knows all things and preordains your days is also the God who cares deeply about you, more deeply than anyone else. The very same God who, in order to reconcile us to Himself, became a man (Colossians 1:19-20, John 1:14) and experienced the same kind of human sufferings and sorrows that you and I do (Isaiah 53:3). He is not ignorant of His children’s sorrow and pain. He does not begrudge or belittle your grief. Consider just a few verses that describe God’s compassionate and loving disposition toward His children:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

By meditating and holding on to these promises, we are reminded of God’s kind and gentle character in the midst of the current trial. And despite lost opportunities such as a traditional wedding with family and friends in attendance, or an overseas honeymoon, we can trust that God still loves us and has amazing plans for these new marriages.

Remember What Marriage Symbolizes

Those who desire a wedding and marriage desire a good thing. The union of a husband and wife was instituted by God Himself at the very beginning of human history (Genesis 2). Declaring that it was “not good that the man should be alone,” God created woman—“a helper fit for him”—and brought her to the man. He then gave them a command: to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Even today, those who engage in a marriage covenant are participants in God’s good design for human relationships and flourishing.

But God’s plans for your marriage do not stop with relational intimacy and building a family. God also intends married couples to reflect the gospel. Consider the apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)

By citing Genesis 2:24, Paul intentionally draws a parallel between the union of a husband and wife in marriage and the union between Christ and His church. God has always intended marriage to be a means of understanding the profound love Christ has for His bride, the church. Even if your wedding plans were taken away, be comforted in knowing that your participation in this glorious reflection of the gospel (and your participation in the gospel itself! Romans 8:35-39) is a privilege that the coronavirus has not taken away.

Remember to Embrace an Eternal Perspective

Getting married during a global pandemic involves a great deal of deferred or sacrificed hopes. As we have already covered, God is not ignorant or unfeeling towards these present disappointments. In fact, if you have been forced to delay celebrating your marriage with friends and family, no one can understand your situation better than God, because He, too, is waiting on a wedding celebration! Consider:

  • Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to women waiting up all night for the bridegroom—who was delayed—to appear for the wedding feast (Matthew 25:1-13). We, like these women, must wait for the bridegroom to appear before the wedding celebration can begin.
  • When He instituted the Lord’s Supper (symbolizing the covenant between Himself and the church) the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until the day He would drink it again in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Jesus will not drink the wine until He is finally united with His bride.
  • We know from Revelation 19 that the wedding feast of the Lamb will not occur until the second coming of Christ.

As Christians, we are assured of our Savior’s love. We are betrothed to Him, sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). However, we have yet to see that love’s full fruition. We still live in a fallen, broken world that groans for redemption, and we must wait with patience (Romans 8:18-25). In this way, your deferred hopes for your wedding celebration are not unlike our present spiritual circumstances.

Be comforted that God knows what it is to wait for a wedding celebration! Live in expectant hope, learning to embrace the now and not yet of the promises we have in Christ.

Remember to Delight in Your Beloved

The most important component of a wedding is not the ceremony, not the reception, but the marriage it commences. I say this not to belittle the secondary things—which are themselves precious and good—but to remind you that the thing that remains—your spouse—is the better portion.

If the coronavirus changed your wedding plans, you now face a choice as to how you will respond. Choose to treasure your unique wedding story—even if it in no way resembles what you had planned. Choose to glorify God through your marriage and your response to this temporary adversity. Choose to delight in the one you love.

I hope you and your spouse will choose to delight in this better portion.

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19)

I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go. (Song of Solomon 3:4)

To Abandon the Nuclear Family Ideal Is to Abandon Being Human

by Dan Hart

March 12, 2020

With the publication of “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” in the latest issue of The Atlantic, well-known commentator and journalist David Brooks ignited a raging debate in the blogosphere, which resulted in a symposium hosted by the Institute for Family Studies in which eight writers and scholars responded to Brooks’ article.

Putting aside the provocative title (for now), Brooks’ mammoth 9,000-word piece can be boiled down to one central idea: in our fragmented culture full of victims of detached nuclear families, our society must find better ways to take care of these victims through a renewed emphasis on extended families and “forged families”— communities of support that surround these children and adults so that they can, in Brooks’ words, “live and grow under the loving gaze of a dozen pairs of eyes, and be caught, when they fall, by a dozen pairs of arms.”

Brooks’ article is a fascinating read. He goes through the history of the societal trends that have affected the American family, starting in the 1800’s during the “era of the extended clans,” then moving to the golden age of the nuclear family in the 1950’s and early 60’s, then into the broad pattern of disintegration that affected the family starting in the late 60’s, and finally into our current era full of broken homes and ascendant individualism.

Brooks then launches into an impressive illustration of how “forged families” are sprouting up across the country, citing numerous examples of people forming common living spaces organically through websites like CoAbode, Common, and Kin as well as organizations that are helping those who are in particular need of a forged family like The Other Side Academy for felons and Becoming A Man for disadvantaged youths. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of expanding the idea of what we traditionally think of as a family, since “Americans are hungering to live in extended and forged families, in ways that are new and ancient at the same time. This is a significant opportunity, a chance to thicken and broaden family relationships…”

Is a “Communal Ethos” Supplanting the Nuclear Family?

Brooks’ article is an important contribution to the public discussion of the problems that plague the family and what we can do as a society to help this bedrock institution. But it is also riddled with puzzling generalizations and odd assertions. In his concluding paragraph, he says this: “But a new and more communal ethos is emerging, one that is consistent with 21st-century reality and 21st-century values.” The tone Brooks uses here is positive. But one has to wonder: Is this a good thing? Why should we be celebrating “21st-century values” when they are the result of the “21st-century reality” of disintegrated families?

Part of the problem with Brooks’ thesis is the confusing manner in which he frames it. He prefaces his article with this: “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.” But later, he suggests that the nuclear family is a good option, albeit one option among many other equally good options: “The two-parent family … is not about to go extinct. For many people, especially those with financial and social resources, it is a great way to live and raise children.” This ends up being a backhanded compliment, implying that having a nuclear family is only a good option for people who are well off.

More problematic is the way that Brooks (perhaps unintentionally) seems to set nuclear families and “forged families” against each other, which makes his argument similar to a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Brooks envisions a world in which forged families are in place around broken families so that children from these families have a better chance of being supported and don’t fall through cracks. This is certainly a laudable goal, but it also illustrates a central problem with his thesis: The kinds of people that one would want in a “forged family” are people who themselves came from a strong nuclear family with a supportive mother and father to begin with, because this family structure provides the best outcomes for children and society in general. Shouldn’t our focus be on trying to uphold and support these nuclear families?

In an excellent response to Brooks’ article, sociologist Bradford Wilcox acknowledges the important role that extended and forged families can play in supporting disintegrated nuclear families, but strongly cautions against the tendency of thinking that these structures can “replace” the nuclear family. Wilcox points to social science data showing that outcomes for children raised by a single parent and grandparent are no different than if they had been raised by a single parent alone, and that children raised by extended family without either parent fair even worse. In the case of forged families, Wilcox reveals a much more disturbing pattern:

Over the years, study after study has detailed the many possible downsides to introducing unrelated adults, especially men, into children’s lives without the presence of those children’s married parents.

This is because, sadly, adults who are unrelated to children are much more likely to abuse or neglect them than their own parents are. One federal report found that children living in a household with an unrelated adult were about nine times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused than children raised in an intact nuclear family.

All of this points to what is most problematic about Brooks’ article—how he deemphasizes and discounts the nuclear family ideal. It is certainly true that we are living in an era in which the nuclear family has been abandoned in innumerable ways, but the fact remains: every person who has ever lived has a mother and a father—a nuclear family. Furthermore, every human being has an innate longing to know and love their biological parents, even if they don’t know them. We can no more abandon the nuclear family ideal than we can abandon being human.

It may be possible to reject the nuclear family through adultery, divorce, abortion, etc., and it is certainly true that millions of children have been tragically left behind by the failure of their parents, but all of this is not the fault of the institution of the nuclear family. It is the fault of the people within a nuclear family who often fail to uphold the institution through love—by staying true to their spouse and caring for and nurturing their children.

Where Human Flourishing Finds Its Source

Still, there are many brilliant nuggets of wisdom and fresh insights in Brooks’ “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” and in his symposium response to those who critiqued him, particularly when he discusses how we should instill a sense in our children that we all have a variety “families” outside of our nuclear families that we should work to nurture: our churches, our friend groups, our places of work, our schools, community organizations, the military, etc. But taken as a whole, Brooks’ article casts a suspicious eye at the nuclear family ideal.

This is tragic, because despite Brooks’ best intentions with his article, he loses sight of the fact that in order to solve societal ills, we must focus on root causes. While it may be true that extended and “forged” families play an important supporting role in our larger societal life, they can never replace a mother and father. As study after study has shown, if we want to get at the root causes of our societal ills, we have to find ways of keeping moms, dads, and their children united as a loving family.

Brooks’ article is also a fresh reminder of the importance of ideals. When we deemphasize and sideline ideals, we sideline our most innate and aspirational yearnings and sell ourselves short as human beings. Far from being a mistake, the nuclear family ideal is the gold standard by which human flourishing finds its source.

We’re Going to Succeed”: Kobe Bryant’s Inspiring Marital Steadfastness

by Dan Hart

February 12, 2020

Following the tragic death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant (along with eight others including his daughter) in a helicopter crash on January 26, many stirring tributes have been written about his tenacity, relentless drive to always improve, and ferocious competitiveness on the court as a player. One of his most inspiring character traits was how he applied his legendary competitiveness and refusal to give up to all aspects of his life, particularly when dealing with the potential end of his marriage to his wife Vanessa.

After an incident in 2003 in which he was accused of sexual assault (and was eventually acquitted in court), Kobe publicly admitted to committing adultery and apologized to his wife at a press conference. Eight years later, his wife filed for divorce due to “irreconcilable differences,” but in 2013 the couple announced that they had called off the divorce. Clearly, Kobe and Vanessa went through some extremely challenging periods in their marriage, but they persevered and remained committed to their vows. In an interview, Kobe described his drive to succeed in his marriage in the same terms he often used to describe his work ethic in basketball: “Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed.’” He went on to describe his marriage in this way: “That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that.”

Kobe and Vanessa’s perseverance and tenacity to fight for their marriage no matter what the circumstances is a stirring example for all married couples to have the resolve to never give up on their marriage, no matter how insurmountable difficulties may seem.

In honor of National Marriage Week, here are some tried and true ways that couples can work through challenges and maintain peaceful and happy marriages:

  • In general, be kind. As written about in The Atlantic, numerous studies have all concluded that “kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.”
  • When you see something that needs to be done around the house, do it as quickly and quietly as you can without mentioning anything to your spouse, even if you feel that they should have done it. This builds trust between spouses and is a visible sign of how much you love and care for them, which most likely will be noticed and appreciated the more you do it.
  • Be “teachable.” In other words, be willing to compromise or do things differently than how you grew up doing them or used to do them before marriage.
  • Acknowledge that your own shortcomings may be a result of wounds that you received in your past, likely in childhood from those closest to you. It is imperative that you seek the root cause of these wounds in order to be authentically healed, which will in turn create tremendous healing in your own marriage.
  • A key outlook during difficult times in marriage is to see suffering as having redeeming value, just as Christ suffered for us in order to redeem us from our sins. If you don’t see the cross as something bad, this changes everything. In order to have true love for our spouse (to will the good for them), we must be willing to serve them by practicing sacrificial love, to sacrifice our own wishes and desires for the sake of our beloved. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s true—when we sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we find true fulfilment.
  • Express gratitude to your spouse on a regular basis. When you thank them for even the small things they do—washing the dishes, cleaning up the spilled oatmeal off the floor—your spouse will feel loved and appreciated. This goes a long way toward maintaining marital harmony.
  • Never stop trying. Even when things are not going smoothly in your marriage, always be willing to keep trying to make things right by putting in the effort, even if you don’t feel like it. Your spouse will almost certainly notice this. There’s nothing more disheartening for a spouse then when they feel like their own efforts are not being noticed and, even worse, are not being reciprocated. If your spouse feels like you are not trying your best in the relationship, they will feel less motivated to keep trying themselves, which can create a larger mess than before.
  • Don’t let small annoyances about your spouse anger you. Let them be an opportunity to grow in the virtue of patience. If there is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed, bring it up as calmly and deliberately as you can so that you don’t hurt your spouse in the process.
  • When you feel hurt by the words or actions of your spouse, don’t swallow it and let it fester. Pick a good time to talk about how and why they hurt you as gently, honestly, and openly as possible. Depending on the severity of the issue, it may not be a good idea to immediately hash it out with your spouse just after the hurtful incident occurred, since this could lead to further insensitive words being said in the heat of the moment. It may be prudent to pick a time at least a day or two later after things have cooled down. You may even discover that your spouse had no idea that the incident in question hurt you, and will be glad to know about it so that they can be more thoughtful in the future.
  • Challenging times in marriage are opportunities to grow closer together. This can especially be achieved by praying together as a couple.

Churches Are Sticky”: How Believers Can Help to Strengthen and Save Marriages

by Dan Hart

October 23, 2019

Although the divorce rate in the U.S. has declined over the last few years, the raw number of divorces that continue to take place in America is still disturbingly high—an average of well over 800,000 per year. As a result, over one million children suffer the effects of their parents’ divorce every year.

Let’s not gloss over these statistics. As Dr. Pat Fagan has written, “The marriage between a man and a woman is the single most important human relationship. Period.” When that relationship is severed, particularly when children are involved, the result is often catastrophic—not only for the husband, wife, and children, but for society at large.

In an extensive synthesis of the major research on divorce, the Marriage & Religion Research Institute (MARRI) found that “[d]ivorce detrimentally impacts individuals and society in numerous ways across all major institutions.” This impact includes:

  • Family: Divorce permanently weakens the family and the relationship between children and parents. It frequently leads to the development of destructive conflict management methods, diminished social competence, the early loss of virginity, diminished sense of masculinity or femininity, more trouble with dating, more cohabitation, greater likelihood of divorce, higher expectations of divorce later in life, and a decreased desire to have children.
  • Religious practice: Divorce diminishes the frequency of worship of God and recourse to Him in prayer.
  • Education: Divorce diminishes children’s learning capacity and educational attainment.
  • The marketplace: Divorce reduces household income and deeply cuts individual earning capacity.
  • Government: Divorce significantly increases crime, abuse and neglect, drug use, and the costs of compensating government services.
  • Health and well-being: Divorce weakens children’s health and longevity. It also increases behavioral, emotional, and psychiatric risks, including even suicide.

What is most heartbreaking about divorce is how it affects children. Elizabeth Marquardt’s landmark book Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce presents an intimate portrait of how profoundly divorce affects the children caught in its snares, not just in their childhood years but throughout their entire adult lives.

As believers, what can we do to change the culture of divorce in our country?

The Critical Role Churches Play in Decreasing Divorce

As reported by Christianity Today, something amazing happened in the Jacksonville, Florida area between 2016 and 2018. In a coordinated campaign that involved about 50 Protestant and Catholic churches and 40 nonprofit organizations in Duval County, over 58,000 people took part in a variety of marriage enrichment events and programs over the course of those three years.

The results were astonishing. A report done by the Institute for Family Studies found that “‘divorce fell about 21 percent more in Duval County’ than in comparable counties across the United States” during the time of the marriage campaign.

JP De Gance, the head of the campaign, pointed out that what was unique about it was how it combined the forces of both secular nonprofits and local churches, who all had the shared goal of reducing the number of divorces in the Jacksonville area, which had a higher divorce rate than other comparable metro areas around the country before the campaign began. In particular, De Gance noted the “sticky” nature of relationships within church ministry compared with secular organizations:

What we later realized is that churches are the best at strengthening marriages. And the reason, using secular social science arguments, is that churches are sticky in a way that nobody else is sticky. And when you show up to your local Boys and Girls Club, a secular NGO, there isn’t a deep membership who is passionate about forming personal relationships outside of the programs that exist there. But with churches, that’s a huge part of what they do. So, if you go to a ministry at a church, you’re going to meet somebody, and they might invite you over for dinner. You might be invited back to join one of their small groups. You might be invited back for a service. You’ve got a deep reservoir of your membership passionate about forming one-to-one, life-changing relationships, which produces the stickiness that churches have over other NGO’s. So, in Jacksonville, churches made the difference.

3 Ways Churches Can Minister to Marriages

The success of this marriage campaign in Jacksonville is a great reminder of the power that we believers have to change lives and impact culture. Given its success, believers should take note of the content of the campaign and should consider imitating it in our own churches if possible. The main nonprofit partner that provided the programming of the Jacksonville campaign was Live the Life, which has excellent resources on ways to minister to engaged couples, enrich marriages, and heal marriages in crisis.

Here are some takeaways from this campaign that we can bring to our own churches to strengthen marriages and decrease divorce.

1. Ministering to and Mentoring Engaged Couples

A template for a strong marriage needs to be formed before a couple ties the knot. This in turn will make it less likely that married couples will be blindsided by major conflict that they did not anticipate years into their marriage, which could lead to divorce.

Obviously, it would be impossible to prepare for every major conflict that could arise within marriage, but there are ways to set healthy and realistic expectations for what marriage actually is and provide couples with ways to effectively navigate differences in their personalities and resolve conflicts.

One invaluable service that churches can provide for engaged couples is to implement a strong marriage preparation program. A key element of this can be to provide each engaged couple with an already married mentor couple from within the church congregation. Engaged couples can meet with their mentor couple weekly or monthly to discuss the particulars of what marriage looks like.

A mentorship program can be mutually beneficial for both couples. It’s a wonderful way for the engaged couple to benefit from the wisdom of the married couple and also for the married couple to be enlivened and enriched by the fresh perspective of the engaged couple. It’s also a great way for married couples to volunteer and be a part of an invaluable ministry within their home church.

2. Providing Marriage Enrichment Ministries

As JP De Gance pointed out, the Jacksonville campaign “illustrated to churches that this [marriage enrichment] is a gap in ministry, and that they need to fill that gap, and that we can resource them on how to do it.”

Every marriage, no matter how strong, is a journey of learning and discovery that never stops until death. But after many years of marriage, many couples tend to fall into patterns and habits that make them lose sight of the beautiful reality of marriage. That’s why every couple needs a shot in the arm from time to time to reinvigorate and enrich their marriage.

There are many marriage enrichment programs out there that churches can implement if they choose (a few are listed below). Another option is for your church to create your own ministry—here’s a helpful guide on starting your own.

3. Helping to Heal Marriages in Crisis

De Gance also noted another important aspect of offering marriage ministries: “[W]hile the churches were running ongoing marriage enrichment, folks who have serious problems would surface at those events.”

Marriages that are in serious crisis will need more help than a simple marriage enrichment small group, weekend, or retreat. These couples may need more professionalized help than what your church can offer. But simply offering a marriage ministry in the first place can be a springboard for these couples to fully face the deep crisis in their marriages instead of continuing to put it off.

Therefore, it will be important for your church to have resources available that you can refer these struggling couples to. Here is a brief list:

Introducing Lecture Me! - A New Podcast from FRC

by Family Research Council

October 15, 2019

We all need to be lectured sometimes.

Family Research Council’s new weekly-ish podcast Lecture Me! features selected talks by top thinkers from the archives of the FRC Speaker Series. Our podcast podium takes on tough issues like religious liberty, abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, sexuality, public policy, and the culture—all from a biblical worldview.

Listen with us to the lecture, then stick around afterward as we help you digest the content with a discussion featuring FRC’s policy and government affairs experts.

The first three episodes are now available. They include:

  • Nancy Pearcey: Love Thy Body

FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview David Closson joins Lecture Me! to discuss Author Nancy Pearcey’s lecture about her book Love Thy Body, in which she fearlessly and compassionately makes the case that secularism denigrates the body and destroys the basis for human rights, and sets forth a holistic and humane alternative that embraces the dignity of the human body.

  • Military Mental Health Crisis

Currently, an average of 21 military veterans are taking their lives each day. FRC’s Deputy Director of State and Local Affairs Matt Carpenter joins the podcast to discuss Richard Glickstein’s lecture as he shares the compelling evidence that proves faith-based solutions reduce suicides, speed the recovery of PTSD, and build resiliency.

  • Repairers of the Breach

How can the conservative movement help restore America’s inner cities? FRC’s Coalitions Senior Research Fellow Chris Gacek joins the podcast to discuss Robert L. Woodson, Sr.’s lecture on how the conservative movement must identify, recognize, and support agents of individual and community uplift and provide the resources, expertise, and funding that can strengthen and expand their transformative work.

Lecture Me! is available at most places you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Castbox.

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