LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Each day, radio hosts Dennis and Barbara Rainey gather together as a couple and pray.
It’s something they’ve practiced for nearly 30 years, and it’s something that Dennis believes has made their marriage last that long.
“I do not know if I would be here speaking to you this evening about marriage and family if we had not started this almost 30 years ago,” Rainey told a group of married couples at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “I honestly believe we’d be divorced today.”
Such biblical practices, he added, must be embraced if the Christian church is to be healed of the “epidemic” of divorce. Rainey and Bob Lepine, perhaps best known for their nationally syndicated radio program “Family Life Today,” spoke this spring at the Louisville, Ky., school during the “Merging Marriage and Family with Ministry” conference.
The conference was sponsored by the Gheens Center for Christian Family Ministries, a seminary-based program which works to strengthen marriages. The center also co-sponsors a marriage conference for couples each fall, and sponsors “Habakkuk’s Hope,” a campus ministry for infertile couples.
“We help families by emphasizing the importance of family life, regardless of the size of the family,” said William Cutrer, the center’s director. “The seminary has taken an enormous step by providing not only the marriage conferences at the beginning of the students’ life on campus, but designing a course, called marriage enrichment, which my wife and I teach.”
In the class Cutrer and his wife teach Christian marital skills.
“The Gheens institute represents another part of the overall commitment to healthy families which will undergird successful ministries,” he said. “We view success as faithful service wherever God sends, however God gifts each student.”
Drawing a parallel to divorce statistics, Rainey said that in 12 years of schooling a typical first-grade student will see 60 percent of his classmates’ parents divorce. Rainey compared that to his own situation, when as a boy in small-town Missouri, only one student out of a class of approximately 30 had divorced parents.
The culture, Rainey said, has changed drastically.
“Never before have so many Americans just given up on marriage and chosen to just live together,” he said, citing statistics that 4.4 million Americans are cohabitant “… Never before has the Christian community been so silent about divorce, so paralyzed in knowing what to do about divorce.”
Noting that Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce, Rainey gave advice on how Christian couples can strengthen their marriages. This, he said, is particularly important for ministers.
“Your relationship with your spouse is the most important sermon you will ever preach,” he said. “If you do not love her, if you do not nourish her (and) cherish her, (then) whatever you say from (the pulpit) is like a noisy gong.”
Rainey said a marriage can be strengthened by:
— Putting the marriage covenant in writing.
He said that he has given framed marriage covenants to each of his married children. The covenant was written in calligraphy, signed by the couple and hung in the house.
Rainey said that the covenant can become part of the wedding ceremony by having audience members sign it, promising that they will pray for and encourage the couple.
— Never using the word “divorce” in the heat of the moment.
“We have had some stormy fights, fierce arguments,” he said of he and his wife. “… Never have either one of us used the ‘d’ word in the heat of battle. Research has shown that once a word passes through the lips it becomes an option. It becomes something to toy with.”
— Praying together every day.
Simply saying “grace” over a meal, he said, does not count. Instead, he said he’s talking about the “husband taking his wife in his arms and going before the throne together.”
Research, Rainey said, indicates that less than five percent of couples in the church pray together.
— Intentionally investing in the marriage.
“Your covenant is not just a promise not to divorce your spouse,” he said. “Your covenant is to love, honor and cherish – to care for them. … Ask your spouse how you can better love, serve and fulfill what you have promised.”
— Asking for help if the relationship gets in trouble.
“I wish I had someone give us that advice early in our marriage,” he said. “We had the same argument too many times in a row. We lived the first year of our marriage too many years in a row. No one ever forced me to grow up and face my responsibility as a man, so we had to learn some lessons the hard way.”
Rainey said that once a pastor has taken steps to strengthen his marriage, he can encourage church members to do the same.
Saying that the country is facing a “crisis” within the family, Rainey challenged Southern Baptist pastors to tackle divorce within their own churches.
He said this can be done by:
— Observing a Covenant Marriage Sunday, where those already married can sign a covenant, each re-committing themselves to the marriage.
“I believe it is time to say ‘no’ to divorce and ‘yes’ to covenant-keeping love,” Rainey said. “The church is the place where it must begin. It’s the leader. We’ve got to be courageous.”
He noted that some 165,000 people have attended Family Life’s “I Still Do” conferences, where husbands and wives re-commit themselves to one other.
“I believe the culture is desperate for the spiritual community to become the light,” he said.
— Preaching on covenant marriages and divorce at least once a year.
“The devil of hell is attacking the family,” he said. “That is clear. It is the greatest unmet need in Western Civilization. We don’t wake up wondering what our next meal is going to be. Most of us wake up wondering how we’re going to make this thing called marriage and family work.”
–Refusing to marry a couple unless they sign a marriage covenant.
Marriage covenants, he said, can be downloaded off Family Life’s website: www.familylife.com.
Summarizing the covenant, Rainey said it says, “If you as a couple get off in a ditch in your marriage, you do not go to the secular courts to resolve your differences. You go back to the church that married you.”
Some churches, Rainey noted, will be unsure how to resolve conflicts biblically. He said one ministry, Peacemaker Ministries, helps people do just that. The web address is www.hispeace.org.
“The question is, ‘Are we willing to throw a stone at divorce?'” he asked. “Are we willing to tell the ugly, dirty truth about something that God said he hated?'”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MARITAL FOCUS.