A Doomed Community Marriage Policy

Here’s a nice article in the Fresno Bee about a combined effort of 20 churches in the Fresno area to implement a “Community Marriage Policy.”

The idea is to encourage engaged couples to have a courtship of at least a year and to meet four times with a trained, married couple. The churches hope this will reduce the number of couples who marry and then divorce.

The idea seems to be originating with and intentionally limited to the conservative evangelical churches. Among other things, it defines marriage as a “lifelong and unique covenant between one man and one woman,” which seems almost designed to make it hard for churches that support the marriage rights of homosexuals to sign on.
The Catholic diocese is holding back too, while it studies the policy more carefully to ensure that it’s compatible with Catholic teachings on the subject of marriage and divorce.

The policy has no numerical goals and includes no plans to measure whether it is effective. “Some places have numerical goals, but it’s difficult to give statistics that are reliable,” [the spokesman for the policy] said. “My goal would be to see families stay intact in a healthy way, which will really benefit the whole community.”

Philosophically, I’m in favor of community marriage policies where all those of faith speak with one voice and encourage couples to get to know each other well and explore their fiance’s personality and character thoroughly before marrying. As my good friend Jim Robey says, “If I can talk you out of marrying, I should.”

Whenever I read about a policy like the one in Fresno, however, I get the impression they’re more concerned about getting in the newspaper than about reducing the divorce rate. If you want a community marriage policy to work, here’s Lee’s quick list of things to do:

  • Don’t go public or talk about your policy until you’ve talked with all the major faith groups in your community and made every effort to include them. This means liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, and any other group that marries people as part of a religious ceremony.
  • Make every effort to make your policy strong enough to encourage the pre-marital review that you’re trying to bring about but flexible enough about how that gets done so that everyone can sign on. For example, it makes sense to say that every organization signing on encourages couples to undergo counseling and education to find out about each other and to study and reflect together on how their personalities will mesh over the years. It doesn’t make sense to say that it must be with a trained, married couple. That may be the solution for one couple, but another couple might prefer to undertake counseling with a trained professional.
  • Make sure your policy includes some kind of reporting mechanism to facilitate measurement of the success or failure of the policy in reducing divorce. Whenever anyone like me evaluates a Community Marriage Policy, we want to know whether it helps. As my mentor and friend Hal Abroms at Parisian always said, “if we’re not measuring it, we must not care about it.”
  • One comment

    1. Jeff says:

      Unfortunately, there are Community Marriage Policies being put into effect that are poorly designed, but they do not have to be that way!! There is a tremendous amount of data that shows dramatic declines in the divorce rates because of a Community Marriage Policy (if you would like copies of research reports please contact me through http://www.loveourlambs.com). A policy is just the begining however. The real work begins by being proactive with couples in helping them through the rough spots of a “marriage lifecycle”. Ultimately, data shows that divorce rates are well under 15% for those couples that actively share their faith – as more data becomes available these numbers will become even stronger – one study shows number of less than 3%. The underlying reason for the strong marriage and low divorce rates is God being in the center – there is no other truth – and the data support it!!

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