NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–How can Christian churches battle the legalization of homosexual unions? How can they begin to reverse the 30-year fallout of “no-fault divorce”?
Phil Waugh, director of the Covenant Marriage Movement, sees one key step Christians must take: returning to a solid adherence to God’s design for marriage as a covenant relationship.
Citing the high divorce statistics even within the church, Waugh said, “[The Covenant Marriage Movement’s] desire is not so much to change the American culture as it is to change the culture of the church — the bride of Christ. As we, the bride of Christ, are called back to the adherence to marriage as a covenant, then society will be impacted by our witness.”
To advance that vision, the Covenant Marriage Movement (CMM) has designated Sunday, Feb. 15, as Covenant Marriage Sunday 2004. They hope 50,000 congregations worldwide will join hands and hearts to celebrate marriage as a covenant relationship during their worship services that day. In light of a resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention to uplift marriage as a covenant relationship, Waugh, a Southern Baptist, hopes for great participation by Southern Baptist churches.
The purpose of Covenant Marriage Sunday is to raise the awareness of couples regarding God’s plan for marriage. “Just because you got married in a church doesn’t mean you are in a covenant marriage,” Waugh said.
For the celebration service, the CMM encourages congregations to first share in a message on marriage as a covenant. Couples then would be invited to participate in an affirmation ceremony to celebrate their own beliefs in marriage as a covenant. The CMM refers to the ceremony as a celebration rather than a renewal of vows, finding the renewal of a vow to be redundant. Couples would commit to grow together in God’s design for marriage, rather than acquiescing to society’s weak understanding of marriage as a contract.
“Contracts are based on rights and responsibilities and are motivated by self-interests rather than on unconditional love,” according to a statement on the CMM website, www.covenantmarriage.com.
To assist churches in planning and promoting Covenant Marriage Sunday, the CMM has developed a kit containing posters, bulletin inserts, and commitment cards for couples to sign, among other resources. Sermon outlines by men such as H.B. London, a Focus on the Family vice president, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, are included to guide pastors in preparing their messages for that Sunday.
For ongoing education on the topic of marriage as a covenant, the kit contains a 12-week Bible study called “Covenant vs. Contract: Experiencing God’s Blessing In and Through Your Marriage.” The desire of the CMM is to see churches become at least as active in building strong marriages as they are in providing divorce recovery to those suffering the effects of failed marriages. “We need to strengthen couples so they don’t end up in divorce care,” Waugh said. “Divorce care has a place, but not in marriage ministry.”
For that reason, the CMM mission is to equip local churches and associations to provide continuing ministry rather than merely providing occasional marriage conferences. “Lots of times people go to these large events, but when they return to their local church there is no support,” Waugh lamented. “So our mission is for ongoing support.” The CMM offers training to churches and couples within churches for conducting marriage seminars and mentoring other couples.
Couples who affirm the CMM’s statement of marriage as a covenant may become part of an international registry. The CMM currently has over 27,000 couples listed with the registry, and they expect that number to surge.
To become a part of the registry, couples sign a commitment card affirming the CMM’s statement of marriage as a covenant: “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, with each other, our families, and our community to remain steadfast in unconditional love, reconciliation and sexual purity while purposefully growing in our covenant marriage relationship.”
Churches can become part of an International Network of Covenant Marriage Congregations by collectively affirming their belief in marriage as a covenant and by providing the CMM with the church’s information and the name of a representative couple to serve as contacts.
Tom Elliff, an Oklahoma City pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention president who now leads the SBC’s Kingdom Families initiative, said, “Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by what we cannot do that we fail to do what we can. The divorce rate in Amerca (3,571 divorces per day) staggers the imagination. Yet, each marriage began, one at a time, with the thought that it would last a lifetime. Can we reverse the sad divorce trend in short order? Hardly.
“But joining the Covenant Marriage Movement is one thing every Southern Baptist pastor and church can do,” Elliff said. “I would urge the wholehearted participation of every congregation in this effort. In the end, if each of us does what we can, it will make an enormous difference.”
Because of their network of churches, the CMM has been able to connect couples planning to be married with local ministers and churches that uphold marriage as a covenant. “Our desire is for Southern Baptists to have a strong network. If couples are looking for a specific denomination, we can do that. But if they are just looking for a church that teaches marriage as a covenant, we can recommend Southern Baptist churches,” Waugh stated.
Representatives from 19 different church and para-church ministries established the CMM in 1999. Currently the CMM has more than 60 ministry partners, several of which are Southern Baptist organizations: the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the North American Mission Board’s family evangelism unit, LifeWay Christian Resources and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s pastoral care and counseling department.
To obtain a Congregational Kit for Covenant Marriage Sunday, or for more information on the Covenant Marriage Movement, call 1-800-311-1662 or e-mail [email protected]
Richard Land, president of the ERLC, describing marriage as “the covenantal union of a man and woman” and “the bedrock of society,” said it is “not a new teaching, but God’s perfect design for marriage as revealed in Scripture.”
“When marriages fail, families are weakened, and when families are weakened, society as a whole reels under the devastating impact,” Land said. “That is why it is critical that church leaders embrace the premise of the Covenant Marriage Movement: the only lasting foundation for marriage is the Rock — the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I commend the Covenant Marriage Movement for its commitment to seeing that new marriages rest on solid foundations, that weak marriages be strengthened and that strong marriages be reinforced — all through the truth and wisdom of God’s Word,” Land said.
H.B. London, Focus on the Family’s vice president for church, clergy and physician ministries, said, “Every pastor I know is concerned about the rising percentage of couples they marry that end up in divorce. The Covenant Marriage Sunday Kit — in addition to helping churches celebrate Covenant Marriage Sunday — provides resources for starting an ongoing marriage ministry that can decrease the number of marriage breakups. Every church should be equipped with these tools for preparing couples before they make such an important commitment — and for guiding already-married couples into a recommitment of their covenant with one another and God.”
Perkins of the Family Research Council added, “At a time when some are rejecting it as old-fashion and others are trying to redefine it, we recognize marriage as God’s design for one man and one woman, in lifelong relationship, to provide the basic building block for society. Covenant Marriage Sunday provides the Christian Community the opportunity to exemplify this much needed message to our culture.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: COVENANT MARRIAGE MOVEMENT.