God created the family as the first and most important institution for mankind. Strong nations are built from strong family units, but as families weaken, so does a nation. The state of our nation is weak, and the family is in decline. Will the traditional family soon become extinct? National Marriage Week (February. 7 – 14th) hopes to strengthen marriages and reverse this decline before it’s too late.
The Death of Marriage and Resulting Poverty
When President Lyndon Johnson waged his war on poverty in 1964, 93% of children born in the US were born to married parents. As of 2010, that number has now plummeted to 59%, and the percentages of out-of-wedlock childbearing has increased from 6% to 41%. According to Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector:
As husbands disappear from the home,
poverty and welfare dependence will increase.
Today, divorce and cohabiting households (some with children) are the two greatest threats to the institution of marriage. Many are now considering cohabitation as an alternative to marriage and this growing trend is the only reason divorce rates (once over 50% and now 40 – 45%) are not higher. Unfortunately, research indicates cohabiting couples have an even higher chance of divorce. Neither situation provides stability for children and are not what God intended for mankind.
Marriage is a covenant based on total trust which is never to be broken. It’s no secret the best thing you can do for a child is to give them a good marriage. And being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by 82% and minimizes many high risk behaviors.
The Benefits of Marriage
The Institute for American Families shows that marriage is a “wealth-generating institution” providing the support necessary to thrive financially. Simply put “marriage works.” Marriage preserves health by increasing longevity and strengthening the immune system. It leads to greater happiness, positive mental health and builds more economic security. None of this information is surprising to an omniscient God who created marriage for a distinctive purpose.
Why We Should Care
Why should we care about the state of marriage in our country? Because marriage is more than just a moral or social institution, it is an economic institution. According to Benjamin Scafidi, family fragmentation costs US taxpayers at least 112 billion MINIMUM each year. This figure is greater than the cost of the IRAQ WAR in its peak year as calculated by a congressional analysis. These fragmentation costs come from increased expenditures for poverty which indicate we are having our own war at home—the break-up of the American Family.
A Culture at Stake
As an educator and counselor who’s served on the front lines of our culture for 31 years, it grieves me to see how broken marriages and relationships hurt the core of a child’s well-being. One of my most requested counseling groups is “Dealing with Divorce.” I always end the groups with “Tools to Make a Good Marriage.” Benjamin Scafidi also predicts if we can reduce family fragmentation by just 1%, US taxpayers will save 1.1 billion each year. But most importantly, children’s emotional well-being will be spared and their foundation for their own marriage will be laid.
Parents contemplating divorce constantly ask me, “What advice can you give us to make our divorce easier on our children?” My advice is emphatically (except on rare cases), “Don’t do it, work on your marriage. The greatest gift you can give your child is a good marriage.” One couple who followed my advice sent me flowers on their anniversary to thank me. Some may be offended at my advice, but the numbers don’t lie. On average, children raised by happily married parents fare better on almost every measure of child well-being as compared to children raised by unhappy or broken marriages and those cohabiting. Every educator knows this.
According to the late Chuck Colson, when you have healthy marriages, you have a healthy society. The Manhattan Declaration, which was co-authored by Colson and others in November 2010, says:
Vast human experience confirms that where marriage is honored, and where there is
a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits—spouses, their children,
and the communities and societies in which they live. When the marriage culture
begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves.
In these challenging times, it is in our best interest to build healthy marriages thereby strengthening our nation. These times are the reason National Marriage Week (originally the brain child of Richard Kane in the UK) was adopted in the US in 2002. A group led by Chuck Stetson and Sheila Weber of the Let’s Strengthen Marriage Campaign, have developed the National Marriage Week USA site to bring together ideas and materials that many organizations and churches are already doing. This year’s National Marriage Week, February 7 – 14th, will be the fifth event.
It is their intent that all concerned work together to build marriages to reduce poverty, nurture children, and build a stronger nation. Their free compilation of research and ideas are valuable tools your church or community can access to strengthen the institution of marriage. If we want to maintain a strong nation, we must work together offensively to rebuild the most important institution God created—the family. The best defense is always a good offense. Strong families are a great defense to a lifelong path of poverty.
Rich Lowry said in his Time Magazine 2012 commentary, “We should provide the facts about the importance of marriage as a matter of child welfare and economic aspiration. As a society, we have launched highly effective public education campaigns on much less momentous issues, from smoking to recycling. . . For now, the decline of marriage is our most ignored national crisis. . . “
Rebuilding marriages can begin with each one of us standing for and promoting marriage where we live and work on order to build a stronger nation. For more information go to http://www.nationalmarriageweekusa.org
Sonoma Christian Home Editor at Large, Ginny Dent Brant interviewed Sheila Weber about her work with National Marriage Week. These two gals have been friends since high school and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings.
Ginny Dent Brant – You’ve been married for 33 years. What do you believe to be the secret to a great marriage that lasts a lifetime?
Sheila Weber – For a marriage to last a lifetime, it first must start with the commitment to stay married. That means that divorce is not in your vocabulary and when bumps in the road occur, you grow and change. You need to view marriage as God’s intended tool for your spiritual growth and have a teachable heart and a willingness to change. At the same time, it’s important to build mutual enjoyment and laughter into your marriage. We are meant to provide comfort and companionship while we manage the daily practicalities of family life.
SCH – What role do you believe education has in building stronger marriages?
SW – People are imperfect and families are imperfect, which means many people were raised in families with poor communication skills and dysfunctional relationships. But we all can learn new skills through instruction, reading, role playing and seeking out mentors. And when healing is needed, there are classes, workshops and retreats that can provide ways for people to build marital unity and wholeness. Sadly, many couples (or at least one party) resist the kind of accountability that comes with seeking this kind of help. We want to get the word out that it is worth it and there are places and ways where couples can build a renewed sense of hope for their own marriage.
SCH – What signs do you see that today’s generation sees marriage as disposable?
SW – This generation is mired in a consumer mindset where they react toward anything that doesn’t immediately satisfy them. This attitude of “I will take it back to the store and get another model” mindset is disastrous when applied to marriage. They also see marriage as disposable and optional. I’ve encountered many young couples who maintain a cohabitation lifestyle, but honestly, many women are not happy with the situation, but feel helpless because culture is telling them they don’t need a piece of paper to have a commitment.
This is why marriage is a personal, social, communal, and legal commitment that is supported by family, friends and communities of faith. It is also protected by government because women and children are most often impoverished by divorce and single parenthood. Young adults are looking at the glamorous lifestyles of celebrities who chose to cohabitate and even bear children together, but don’t realize that this doesn’t work out best for couples of modest or moderate financial means. Marriage protects women and children, and it is marriage that most strongly attaches fathers to their children.
SCH – What encouragement can you give to the young person who’s afraid of marriage because of high divorce rates?
SW – The cultural pendulum swings so far in one direction that often there is a reaction and it swings back in the other direction. Today’s young person doesn’t like really divorce because so many may have grown up in a divorced home. They need to be reassured that with their own renewed commitment to marriage and building healthy relationships, they can write a new story for their own lives. They can be committed to growth and wholeness and find happiness and success, even if they didn’t see it modeled in their own home.
SCH – Are churches doing enough to strengthen marriages in today’s culture? What suggestions do you have for concerned pastors?
SW – It’s shocking that only 28% of our nation’s churches offer any sort of class on marriage and we want to see that percentage increase greatly. At NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org we provide resources for the church and for pastors, including curriculum ideas, sermons outlines, and supportive resources for marriages in crisis. We want to encourage churches to reach out to their neighbors with marriage classes or home groups because serving marriages in your community is a great way to build and grow your church.
SCH – What do you think will happen if our nation continues the same trends in family fragmentation?
SW – We are already starting to see a burgeoning prison population, which is largely comprised of fatherless prisoners. If we don’t start to re-value marriage, the next generation will lose their vision of what a healthy family with the stability of a mother and father looks like. Children raised by both their mother and father have less trouble with the law, less teen pregnancy, less addiction, and perform vastly better in school. Marriage lifts women and children out of poverty so we would have 25% less poverty today if we had the marriage rates we had in 1970. For women under the age of 30, 53% of their babies are being born outside of marriage. The decline of marriage is moving many former middle class families into a lower class, and that is not good for individuals or our nation.
Check out another one of Ginny’s recent articles Will Joni Eareckson Tada Sing at the Academy Awards?
 Robert Rector, “Marriage: American’s Greatest Weapon against Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation.
 Alfred DeMaris and K. Vaninadha Rao, “Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Instability in the United States: A Reassessment” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992): 178-190; Pamela J. Smock, “Cohabitation in the United States” Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000).
 Robert Rector, “Marriage: American’s Greatest Weapon against Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation.
 Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better off Financially (Doubleday, 2000).
 Benjamin Scafidi, The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Un-wed Childbearing (Institute for American Values, 2008), p. 5.
 Bryan Bender, “Cost of Iraq War nearly 2B a week” at http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles-/2006/09/29/cost_of_irag_war_nearly_2b_a_week./.