News Articles

Okla. marriage study yields both good news, challenge to churches

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Oklahoma is a marrying state — 82 percent of adults have been married at some point, compared to 73 percent nationally.

But it also is a divorcing state — 32 percent of all adult Oklahomans have been divorced, compared to 21 percent nationally.

Those are among the findings of a “Marriage in Oklahoma” research report by Gov. Frank Keating’s Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) in conjunction with Oklahoma State University’s Bureau for Social Research.

The report, which was presented during the “Smart Marriages” conference in July in Washington, D.C., includes several encouraging findings concerning the role of religious faith and practice among married couples, said Frank Choate, a member of the OMI religious sector steering committee and family ministry specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Choate, who appeared on an “Oklahoma Leading the Way” panel during the national gathering, said he came away from the four-day conference with two distinct impressions.

“First, the value of young couples being in an accountable [mentoring] relationship with another couple is invaluable,” Choate said. “Those who are in mentoring relationships have a far better chance of staying together than those who are not; in fact, it increases their chances by almost 80 percent.

“Second, no other state in the nation is doing what Oklahoma is doing in trying to strengthen marriage and reduce the divorce rate. I came away with an understanding that the microscope really is on Oklahoma; not only what we are doing with the marriage initiative, but also how our faith-based organizations are participating.”

The Marriages in Oklahoma report was compiled by a panel of experts who gathered comments from 303 Medicaid clients and from 2,323 respondents to a telephone survey which included questions on attitudes about intimate relationships, marriage, divorce and cohabitation; demographic data on marriage, divorce, remarriage, patterns of cohabitation; couples’ relationship quality; knowledge and acceptance of prevention education; religious involvement; and utilization of government services.

More than half of respondents (52 percent) were female; 14 percent were between the ages of 18-24, 39 percent between 25-44, 29 percent between 45-64 and 17 percent age 65 or older; 80 percent were white, 9 percent American Indian/Alaskan native and 8 percent African American.

In the marital quality section of the report, there was good news: “… those who reported being more religious — and especially those who were most frequent in attending religious services — reported higher levels of marital satisfaction, less frequent conflicts and a lower likelihood of having thought about divorce,” the report stated.

That finding, Choate said, “points out the incredible importance of [a couple] being involved in a body of believers and how that nurtures their relationship. What it says is that even though some divorces happen in our churches, they are still the best places to nurture your relationship and family.”

The bad news is that those who were married under the age of 20 are the most likely to have been divorced, and Oklahomans marry an average of 2.5 years younger than the national average.

Also, cohabitation is accepted by many Oklahomans — 38 percent of respondents believe it’s acceptable for a man and woman not married to live together, while 36 percent believe nonmarital cohabitation has all the benefits of marriage.

Such statistics send a strong message to Oklahoma’s religious community, Choate said.

“We need to make a new commitment to help couples know what it is to be married, not to just have a wedding,” he said. “It’s going to require us to be more intentional and strategic in planning how that gets done.

“And it’s going to require churches to look at their emphases and recognize that as our families go, so go our churches.

“It will require a greater commitment by churches [for] reducing divorce in Oklahoma. I’m optimistic, I believe it can happen. Many times, however, we get distracted from having that kind of emphasis in our churches and take for granted that it’s going to happen. We have priorities other than ministering to the families in our churches and ministering to the families in our communities, quite frankly.

“We have to have as great a family consciousness about us as a soul consciousness,” Choate continued. “We have to move from sharing the gospel to being the gospel, and implementing the gospel in our own lives and hearts and in our families, and then ministering to the families in our churches … .

“My opinion is, if you’re ministering the gospel to families, and dads know what it is to be the leader of the home, and moms know what it’s like to be a mom, and the kids catch a vision for their home being a gospel lighthouse for their neighbors and friends, then all of a sudden you see families reaching other families for Christ,” Choate said.

“Many of the problems in our churches are because our members are having problems in their families and they bring those problems with them to church,” he observed. “So, the church needs to be more intentional to help them solve some of their issues.”

Churches need to find ways to get families together at church, he said, such as conducting Sunday School classes for families as a unit once a quarter.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Choate added. “I’m interested in Bible study and discipleship and growing people with God; I’m just saying we’re going to have to rethink some things to have a greater emphasis on families.”

The launch of a statewide marriage and relationship skills service delivery system has provided 170 workshop leaders across the state who offer free, county-based education services to couples and individuals, and another 200 agency staff, social service providers and community members who have been trained to serve as a referral network.

A Christian PREP (Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program) also has been designed. “Christian PREP was designed to teach couples how to communicate effectively, work as a team to solve problems, manage conflicts without damaging closeness and preserve and enhance love, commitment and friendship,” Choate said.

The OMI will conduct training in Christian PREP prior to an “I Still Do” conference, Oct. 25 at the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City.

For information on upcoming events in connection with the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, call the state convention’s family ministries office at (405) 942-3800, ext. 645.

    About the Author

  • Bob Nigh