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FIRST-PERSON: Going on the offensive for marriage & family

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Ark. (BP)–In recent days I’ve learned of three Christian couples on the verge of divorce. I thought to myself, “What would happen if churches went on the offensive for marriage in their ongoing ministries much as we have gone on the defensive to protect it by actively supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment?”

As believers, we are grieved and horrified that homosexuals should legally be able equate their relationship with the holy institution of marriage. We want a firm line drawn to say “No farther! You are intruding on holy ground!” We are beginning to take up arms against Satan’s campaign to eradicate godly marriages.

But if we do not all work just as hard within our own congregations to instill a biblical worldview of, and a biblical commitment to, marriage and families, we effectively do ourselves in, and our good efforts to stop gay “marriages” become meaningless.

The Barna Group’s findings on marriage and divorce show that the likelihood of divorce among born-again couples is basically no different than the likelihood of divorce among couples in the general public. Consider this:

— More than 1 million divorces take place each year in the United States, compared to about 2 million marriages.

— About 43 percent of those marriages are remarriages.

— Between 60-75 percent of remarriages end in divorce — the more times remarried, the more likely to end in divorce.

These same statistics apply in the church, making it likely that a huge proportion, possibly 33 percent of families on our church roles, are stepfamilies at even greater risk of another divorce.

In another study, the Barna Group found that only 9 percent of born-again Christians have a biblical worldview, which Barna defines as “believing that absolute truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible,” including such tenets as “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life,” “salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned,” “Satan is real,” “a Christian has the responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people” and “the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.”

If only 9 percent of Christian couples base their decisions on biblical principles, how will the next generation fare in marriage and family? That means 91 percent of “Christian” couples are failing to pass on a true faith heritage. Staggering!

I have been through divorce and re-marriage. At the time of my divorce, I belonged to what I would call a “dead” church. No real biblical teaching took place on any topic, much less on marriage and family. When our church family became aware that my husband and I were divorcing, no one called. No one seemed shocked. No one intervened. Silence.

At the time of my remarriage five years later, I belonged to a congregation that had helped me through biblical repentance and restoration. They taught me a lot about how to think biblically. They taught me that I needed to stop looking for “Mr. Right” and to start becoming the right person in Christ.

I met the man I remarried in that congregation. When we became engaged, they were not silent. They demonstrated their support and concern by gathering around us, laying hands on us and praying over us a very long sincere “blessing” prayer. I look to that prayer as one of the elements that has kept us from becoming another divorce statistic. The concern and good teaching we benefited from carried us through some harder times than I could imagine, and effectively curbed the divorce statistics.

Churches can make a big difference in the marriage and family culture, if we just will. The Kingdom Family initiative among Southern Baptists is one such start. Every couple, married or remarried, in our Baptist churches, every couple we counsel, should be taught the foundational elements of a Kingdom family. They need to be taught and shown what it looks like to make choices for our marriages and families based on God’s Word.

Every couple about to embark on divorce should have someone from their church make a loving, caring contact to help them understand both the biblical and practical ramifications of their actions. Today, we have the benefit of 50 years of research to show us how damaging divorce is to all the parties in a divorce, most importantly the children who grow up without a biblical marriage model.

Before they divorce, we can show them Scripture and say, “This is what God says,” then show them research and say, “This is why He said it!” Before they divorce they can read the nightmarish stories of people — Christians — who have remarried and didn’t know what they were getting into when they took on the hurtful pasts of at least two former families. A biblical perspective plus today’s real-life examples can affect the divorce statistics, at least among believers.

Then, divorcees in our congregations need biblical help recovering from those deep emotional wounds, and single parents need godly people to come alongside them as they raise their children.

Stepfamilies need to know how to deal with the higher levels of conflict they will experience due to their backgrounds of brokenness; due to the control former spouses have over their family dynamics; and due to the challenges of relating to stepchildren who often wish their parents were reunited.

Stepfamily ministry is a relatively new concept. Stepfamilies trying to honor God from this point on need to know they are not the only ones, and that the intense emotional struggles they experience are normal for stepfamily life. They need to know that they can honor God and impact eternity by persevering and relying on God for grace, strength and wisdom. They need the guidance they can receive from other Christian stepcouples who chose to stick it out and are glad they did.

In his biblical worldview study, Barna also found that Christians with a biblical worldview make drastically different lifestyle choices from the norm. Churches that effectively “connect the dots” from biblical principles to biblical responses to every life situation are making an impact on how their members live.

Is your congregation doing all it can to fight for the family? Does your church have an aggressive, offensive strategy to help single, married and remarried adults think and respond biblically to every family challenge? I pray that Barna’s next poll will have better results!
Kay Adkins, on the Web at www.faithfulsteps.com, is the author of “I’m Not Your Kid!: A Christian’s Guide to a Healthy Stepfamily” (Baker Books, 2004). She is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, now living in Mountain View, Ark.

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  • Kay Adkins