MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Memphis has become the 197th U.S. city to embrace a Community Marriage Policy.
More than 175 faith and community leaders at Shelby County’s Second Annual Healthy Marriage Summit affirmed their commitment to equip “individuals, couples and families for healthy, successful relationships,” as stated in the Mid-South Community Marriage Policy.
The goal of the policy is to reduce both the rate of divorce and the number of children born out of wedlock in Shelby County by 20 percent by 2010.
Families Matter, an outreach of Christ Community Health Services, hosted the Sept. 30 summit to unify and challenge the faith community in promoting healthy marriages and families and in fostering a network to share resources.
The audience was racially and spiritually diverse, with representatives from several faith-based social service organizations in attendance along with ministers from Baptist, Assemblies of God, Catholic, Church of Christ, Church of God in Christ, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and non-denominational congregations.
Families Matter’s faith coordinator, Howard A. Griffen, pastor of Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church, introduced the day’s program, sharing the key issues facing Shelby County. “In our area we have one of the highest divorce rates in the country, and 62 percent of babies born here are born into single-parent homes and grow up without fathers,” Griffen said.
Keynote speaker Mike McManus, co-chair of Marriage Savers and originator of the Community Marriage Policy (CMP), predicted that Memphis and Shelby County will begin to see what many other cities have seen as a result of similar commitments. “From this day forward,” he said, “you will begin to see the number of divorces decline in Shelby County.”
Results from an independent study revealed that over a seven-year period divorce rates in 114 CMP cities fell 17.5 percent compared to a 9.4 percent decline elsewhere in the country — and cohabitation rates fell 13.4 percent compared to a 19 percent rise in cities without such a policy. The study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation, published by the journal Family Relations in October 2004, is posted at McManus’ Marriage Savers website, www.marriagesavers.com.
While results have varied among the CMP cities, some cities have realized significant declines, such as five-year averages in El Paso, Texas, where the divorce rate fell 48, and Kansas City, Kan., where divorces fell by a third, according to the Marriage Savers website.
McManus encouraged the Memphis leaders to require rigorous premarital counseling before agreeing to perform marriage ceremonies. He also suggested that marriage mentorship programs be implemented in each congregation. “Some of our young people have no idea what a healthy, successful marriage looks like,” McManus said.
A panel of pastors, counselors, business leaders and community officials discussed ways to partner with the justice system, the school system, and the media to help Shelby County families stay intact.
The formal signing of the Community Marriage Policy took place at noon. Those signing the policy agreed to educate individuals and couples on “the covenant nature of marriage as ordained by God.” They also agreed to provide opportunities for couples “to be mentored by seasoned married couples” and to “foster restoration of troubled marriages, fragile families, and broken lives.”
Married couples and parents who affirm the policy commit to provide classes, conferences, workshops and resources to enhance family relationships. They further agree to influence the community by equipping faith leaders and relationally healthy couples and individuals to be advocates for healthy marriages and families.
Mark Dougharty, associate pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, was the final speaker on the program, sharing about how his salvation experience changed his life and saved his marriage. “I believe there are certain things you cannot do on your own,” Dougharty said. “You cannot save yourself. You cannot save your marriage just by trying harder. Change has to take place on the inside. That is what happened to us and the Lord has blessed our marriage, and we are here today to testify to that.”
Of the CMP initiative, Dougharty said, “I think what they are doing is terrific. What they are trying to do is get churches to sign an agreement that we all support fundamental principles of premarital counseling, so that couples who go to one church will face the same requirements [for marriage] at the church across the street. We are a very biblically based church, and we felt like the things they are espousing are biblical.”
Southern Baptist-affiliated pastors endorsing the Community Marriage Policy included Dougharty, Adrian Rogers (Bellevue’s pastor emeritus), Ben Wilkins of Highland Heights Baptist Church, Richard Talley of Lamar Terrace Baptist Church, D.C. Cobb of Speedway Terrace Baptist Church and James Henderson of Zoe Baptist Church.
Kay Adkins is a freelance writer based in Mountain View, Ark. For information on establishing a Community Marriage Policy, go to www.marriagesavers.com.