Sermon on Marriage & Divorce
By Mike McManus
“What God has joined together, let no
man put asunder.”
Jesus is quoted in three
Gospels opposing divorce. Yet America, supposedly a Christian nation,
has put asunder 46 million marriages just since 1970, shattering the
lives of 44 million kids. Our divorce rate is triple that of Britain or
France. After five years, 23% of Americans have divorced compared to
only 8% of British or French, and it is double that of Canada. This is a
scandal. However, there is hope for change.
of divorce are three times as likely to be expelled from school or get
pregnant as teenagers as a child from an intact home. They are five
times more likely to live in poverty. Such children are also more apt
to suffer physical abuse. Physical abuse escalates the more the family
breaks down or rearranges with repeat cohabiting parents (step
cohabiting parents) having an abuse rate 10 times higher than the intact
married family. Sexual abuse is 20 times higher in the cohabiting step
family (mother living with a boyfriend not he father.)
do not reveal the pain of divorce for children. Michael Reagan, the
adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, wrote about his parents’
divorce in Twice Adopted:
is where two adults take everything that matters to a child – the
child’s home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected –
and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then walk out
and leave the child to clean up the mess.”
Ironically, Michael’s father, as Governor of California in
1969, signed America's first No Fault Divorce Law, which swept through
state legislatures in less than a decade. While divorces nearly doubled
in the 1960s, they soared another 86 percent from 639,000 in 1969 to
1,189,000 by 1980. President Reagan later told Michael that his signing
the first No Fault Divorce Law was his "greatest regret" in public
problem is deeper than our sky-high divorce rate. Relatively few people
are marrying at all. The U.S. marriage rate has plunged 54% since 1970
and 30% just since 1990. The biggest reason is soaring cohabitation
which has jumped a stunning 17-fold, from 430,000 couples living
together in 1960 to 7.5 million cohabiting in 2010. Most of America’s
unwed births are to cohabiting couples.
Nearly twice as many
American kids will live in a cohabiting household compared to a home
whose parents have divorced – 42% will live with a cohabiting parent vs.
23% who experience a parental divorce.
The result? Family
Research Council estimates that only 46% of American teenagers were
living with their own married parents. In other words, more than half of
teens live in homes where their parents have rejected each other –
either by not splitting after cohabitation, or by divorce. This is
American kids perform poorly in international academic comparisons.
Their disrupted home lives diminish their capacity to learn and
develop. TIME reports that U.S. kids score 487 on math tests
compared to 540 to 600 by Asian kids in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Singapore and Shanghai. Why? TIME doesn’t say, but Asian families
are largely intact, while American families are mostly broken. For
example, only 2% of Japanese children are born out of wedlock, vs. 41%
in the U.S. (In the U.S. Asian Americans families are the most intact,
of Americans are currently married – a record low – down from 72% in
1960, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of Census data.
three major factors behind these trends.
the number of never-married Americans has nearly doubled from 15% to 28%
from 1960-2010. Pew reports that many couples are cohabiting instead of
marrying because “they fear divorce.” Why? As Mike and Harriet
McManus state in their book, Living Together: Myths, Risks &
Answers, many cohabiting couples are adult children of divorce
who do not want to live through such pain again. They think they can
test their compatibility by living together. They report this is a myth.
“You can’t practice permanence,” they write. Of the 7.5 million couples
who cohabited in 2010, only 1.4 million married. What happened to the
other 6 million? Most broke up or will soon do so, for an 80% failure
rate before there is a wedding. But what of those who marry after
living together? Are they more successful? No. A Penn State study
reports that these couples are 61% more likely to divorce than
those who lived separately until the wedding. So nine out of 10 couples
who began their union with cohabiting broke up before or after the
the number of divorced and un-remarried people has grown from 5% to 14%
of the population. Third, in the last 50 years the age at which people
marry has jumped six years to 26 for women, and for men, to 29 years.
Today only a fifth of adults aged 18-29 are married vs. three times as
many in 1960, 59%.
troubling is not the delayed age at which people marry, which is
generally wise, but the fact so many have never married. Only 72% of
today’s adults have ever married vs. 85 percent in 1960.
This is a
big cultural change. What is behind this shift? Another recent Pew
survey reported that four in ten Americans think marriage is “becoming
particularly interesting is that 47% of those who think marriage is
becoming obsolete say they would like to marry – virtually the same
share (45%) of unmarried adults who think marriage is not becoming
obsolete, who claim they want to wed.
numbers suggest a much needed strategy for America’s clergy, who perform
nine of ten weddings: We need to make a case for marriage.
Scripture is clear. “He who finds a wife finds what is good and
receives favor from the Lord,” we read in Proverbs 18:21. And Proverbs
31:10 asserts, “A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth
far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her, and lacks
nothing of value.” The chapter continues with 20 more verses on what a
blessing a good wife is to a man.
our culture has strayed so far from Scripture, how can we persuade the
younger generation that marriage, not cohabitation, is the answer?
Well, to be honest, there are likely not many cohabiting couples in
church to hear this sermon. However, there are many church-going parents
of adult children who are at a loss as to what to say to them.
the best case that we pastors might make for the value of marriage?
I suggest we point to
follows is evidence of the importance of marriage that was published in
an annual report, The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America
2011, by the Institute for American Values (IAV.org).
start with scientific evidence of what every pastor has long believed:
“Couples who both agree that `God is at the center of our marriage’ are
at least 26 percentage points more likely to report that they are `very
happy.’” While 50% of married men and women report being very happy, of
those who believe God is at the center of their marriage, 77% of women
and 76% of men are very happy.
more religious couples are also more likely to report high levels of
commitment and a pattern of generous behavior toward one another. “In
other words, marital spirituality is linked to beliefs and behaviors
that strengthen the marriage bond,” stated the report.
Similarly, mothers and fathers who view parenting as one of “life’s
greatest joys,” are about twice as likely to report being very happy in
their marriages. It is one of the “Top Five Predictors of Marital
the report cautions that “parenthood is typically associated with lower
levels of marital happiness.” Having a baby requires sacrifices
such as a loss of sleep, less disposable income and often, less quality
time with one another, resulting in less sex.
And there is a sad
paradox among young Americans. While most would like to have two or
three children, “a growing share of young women and men believe that a
good marriage is personally unattainable, and more are raising children
outside of marriage.”
the report, “When Baby Makes Three,” provides new evidence that both
husbands and wives – wives especially – are “more likely than their
childless peers to feel their lives have a sense of meaning and
purpose.” And a substantial minority of married couples do not
experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness.
their secret? Two answers are shared housework chores and sexual
satisfaction. This is fresh evidence that Paul was right when he
advised: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” If
husbands and wives submitted to one another, each will do a fair share
of household tasks, and each will satisfy the sexual appetites of their
spouses as well as that of themselves.
“Submit to one
another out of reverence for Christ” of Ephesians 5:21 is the headline
for very famous next verse: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the
Lord.” Men always remember that one, but often forget Ephesians 5:25:
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself
up for her…” Jesus died on the cross for the church, so we men have to
give sacrificially to our wives.
however, is that the report provides evidence that a shared faith endows
marriage “with transcendent significance.” Attending services together
is a top predictor of marital stability the study reports. Another key
principle for those couples who did not experience parenthood as an
obstacle to marital happiness: “Parenthood makes life meaningful and
marriage makes parenthood bearable.”
A book published a
decade ago called “A Case for Marriage” by Linda Waite and Maggie
Gallagher provided additional secular evidence of the value of marriage:
Longer life: A married man
will live ten years longer than a single or divorced man; a woman will
live four years less, and a child of divorce, five fewer years.
& better sex: Married
couples have about 50% more sex than single or cohabiting couples, and
find it more satisfying.
Wealthier: A 1994 study
found that as people enter their 60’s, married couples have three to
four times more assets than those who are single or divorced.
key factor is education. Americans without college degrees are three
times as likely to divorce in the first ten years of marriage vs. those
with college education. This is a disturbing finding. Few couples with a
college degree are going to be able to get one. The dilemma suggests
that our church must do more to help couples whose marriages are in
Some years ago a
pastor in Jacksonville, Rev. Dick McGinnis of St. David’s Episcopal
Church, asked his church this question, which I am asking today of this
congregation: “Are there any couples here whose marriages were once on
the rocks, but who have successfully come off of them? If so, I would
like to meet with you after the service.”
Out of 180 people in
that Jacksonville church that day, 10 couples met with Father Dick. He
told them he was “astounded, overwhelmed and overjoyed,” thinking that
only one or two couples might show up. He told them, “I’ve been
wondering if God has a way of restoring marriages. There are so many
marriages in trouble. I have more work than I can handle in marriage
counseling. So I prayed about it. What came to my mind after I prayed
was that I should not be looking at the problem, but the solution. That
triggered in my mind how Alcoholics Anonymous got started. It began
with “Bill” and “Doctor Bob” helping each other stay sober. Then they
began helping other alcoholics stay sober. Two clergymen – a Roman
Catholic and an Episcopalian - helped them, and from that assistance
they were able to develop the Twelve Steps of AA that have helped
millions stay sober.
“If God has a plan
for restoring marriages, you are the people who would know. I
want to meet with you over a period of time to hear what you had to do –
or what God did – for you to restore your marriage.”
Seven of the 10
couples agreed to meet with Father Dick and Phyllis, his wife. Several
couples met at Sunday School and others on a weekday night. They each
shared their story of the crisis that nearly drove them apart. Their
issues were very diverse. One woman had an eight year affair that her
husband was unaware of. She confessed the affair, and they rebuilt
their marriage. Sam was a bisexual, who cruised gay bars early in his
marriage and was both a drug abuser and a drug dealer. His wife had such
mental problems she went to a psychiatric hospital for extensive
treatment four times. He declared bankruptcy and movers arrived to take
his furniture to sell to pay off his debts. But the furniture was so
shabby, they said, “You keep it.” Sam sat on his kitchen floor and wept.
He had considered leaving his wife the fourth time she was committed.
That day he decided to go to the hospital and bring her home. “She was
my only asset,” he said. Another was Howard, who had been out of work
for two years and his wife, Jackie, was threatening to leave him. Jackie
talked about her unhappiness with a friend at work who said, “Why not
try God?” She repeated that to her husband, who replied, “Why not? What
have we got to lose?” The next Sunday there were at St. David’s. Bob is
a dentist who was trying to pay off $200,000 of dental school debt by
doing his own lab work at night. His wife said, “What kind of marriage
is this? I never see you.”
diversity, the group was able to agree on the steps each took to rebuild
their marriages. Then they outlined those steps or Marriage Ministry
Action Statements, or M&Ms, as they called them, that each couple took
to heal their marriages. They spent months thrashing out the exact
wording of the 17 M&Ms, which are analogous to the Twelve Steps for
Alcoholics Anonymous, such as:
admitted that we were powerless over over alcohol – that our lives had
to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
Marriage Ministry developed 17 Action Statements. I will read all of
them, because they are so inspirational. My prayer is that we will
develop a similar Marriage Ministry here:
other Christians’ testimony and example we/I found hope for our
Commitment to God
experienced God’s love and forgiveness.
a decision/commitment to love: Christ, mate self. (This
wording indicates that this kind of love comes only after commitment is
made. Known as agape, it is the form of love that is self-giving
rather than self-receiving.)
a decision and commitment to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord.
obedient to God, we were able to begin to love by his standards, not
became accountable to God for my behavior, thoughts, and actions, and
became aware of my accountability to others.
Commitment to Partner
made a decision to stay together.
made a decision to forgive mate and myself.
accepted my mate as he/she is.
realized that the problem was with myself.
began to look at myself as needing change to be able to love, no matter
what. I became aware that I needed to change, became willing to change,
learned what & how to change, and began to change with God’s
an examination of my role in our marriage according to God’s Word
and changed accordingly with God’s help.
accepted change in my mate.
Christ, I began trusting enough to increasingly put my whole self in the
care of my mate.
learned to communicate honestly, truthfully and openly, in love.
learned to put God and mate ahead o myself (became humble before the
still in the process and realize we must share what we have found with
“The seven couples
who created the Marriage Ministry at St. David’s met over the next five
years with 40
marriages in crisis. Some were referred by Father Dick. Others were
couples the team members knew were in trouble. Result: 38 of those
marriages were saved – a 95% success rate! Couples who have been
wounded, can become powerful healers of marriage. For example, if one
couple healed their marriage after adultery, their story equipped them
to mentor another couple in crisis over infidelity. They could say to
that couple, `This is what we did to restore trust.’ That is exactly
what that couple needs to hear, not a pastor repeating the commandment,
`Thou shalt not commit adultery.
“To learn more about this ministry, you might want to read
Chapter 10 of a book by Mike McManus entitled, Marriage Savers:
Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce, which is
available by calling 301 469-5873. Mike and his wife created a national
ministry called Marriage Savers, which you can read about by going to