NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Too many couples today view marriage as a contractual agreement rather than the covenant relationship God intended it to be, which may explain why half of all marriages end in divorce.
In response to the steady decline of successful marriages during the past 30 years, more than 50 ministries have joined together in the Covenant Marriage Movement to affirm and celebrate marriage as a covenant relationship.
Feb. 13 is Covenant Marriage Sunday, a day the movement hopes churches will set aside to remind people that the value of a covenant marriage relationship as opposed to a contractual marriage agreement stems from a person’s understanding and acceptance of God’s intent for marriage and the importance of His presence in the relationship.
Couples will be encouraged to sign commitment cards that say, “Believing that marriage is a covenant, intended by God to be a lifelong, fruitful relationship between a man and a woman, we vow to God, each other, our families and our communities to remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation and sexual purity while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.”
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a former Southern Baptist pastor, and his wife, Janet, will demonstrate the importance of the issue by converting their 30-year marriage into a covenant marriage on Valentine’s Day in a sports arena with 1,000 other couples as witnesses.
“Covenant marriage offers couples the option of installing speed bumps by being held to a higher level of marital commitment,” Huckabee said. “My hope is that as this concept catches on across the country, more couples will choose this option and we will see our nation’s troubling divorce rate dive.”
Three states — Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona — have adopted covenant marriage legislation since 1997 and others are considering it. The law offers a special marriage license that requires couples seeking divorce to attend counseling and wait for a longer time period before a divorce is granted. The option is voluntary, and couples already married can convert their marriages to covenant marriages.
The rules of a covenant marriage require couples to complete premarital counseling, sign an affidavit and pledge to seek marital counseling if problems arise, with the option for divorce limited to reasons like abuse, abandonment and adultery, according to a feature on the movement in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville Jan. 26.
If a troubled marriage fits the criteria and cannot be saved through counseling, couples with children must wait 18 months before a divorce is granted, and couples without children must wait one year.
Phil Waugh, a former family ministry director for LifeWay Christian Resources, and his wife, Cindy, helped launch the Covenant Marriage Movement along with 19 marriage and family ministries in 1999 with the purpose of turning the divorce rate around in the United States by uplifting God’s ideal for marriage.
The movement welcomes the involvement of religious leaders, politicians, educators, clergy, counselors and social scientists in affirming the importance of establishing and maintaining wholesome lifelong marriage relationships.
Waugh, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the notion of marriage as simply a contract — as it is often viewed — cannot be documented in the Bible. But the word “covenant” can be found about 300 times, mostly in the Old Testament. The Hebrew root word means “to cut,” which relates to rituals involving the sacrifice of animals that sealed the covenant.
“Whether couples have an opportunity to legally convert their marriage to a covenant marriage or not, they can still affirm their belief in and willingness to live according to the biblical principles of covenant. The Covenant Marriage Sunday is designed to allow couples the opportunity to do just that,” Waugh said.
More than 25,000 couples have signed commitment cards to enter covenant marriages, and many more will be added to their number Feb. 13 under the theme “Embracing the Heart of Marriage.”
For more information about the Covenant Marriage Movement, visit www.covenantmarriage.com.