|E HAVE A divorce epidemic in America today. And I am wondering how much pastors are to blame.|
I am of the school that thinks we usually put way too little expectation on the Church and its pastors for societal woes. When it comes to the institution of marriage, the vast majority of ministers have dropped the proverbial ball and by so doing have led the nation to the brink of disaster.
Too few of us (pastors, and I am one of them) take seriously the words "holy matrimony." By failing to recognize the importance of this expression, we assume that anybody who wants to should be able to enter into it and with our blessing. After all, not to perform such ceremonies could cause congregational discord; so as people who make a living by the offerings of that congregation, we allow almost anything.
But is it possible for "holy matrimony" to exist when one or both potential spouses have no love relationship with the Lord? Do pastors query their young lovers about such matters? Or have we assumed that the pastoral office has no business barging into people's lives on these all-important issues?
I recently heard a program on American Family Radio in which a number of family counselors were asked, "Would you marry a young couple that was determined not to have kids?" Having never considered that question, I listened intently on my side of the radio. To my astonishment, every counselor interviewed said they would not marry such a couple. After all, biblically, procreation is a God-ordained purpose of marriage.
Interestingly, I have never known a pastor to broach the subject, much less take such a stance.
Do church leaders require intense marital counseling? Not a couple of sessions and a blessing, but serious examination of a range of relational issues? I know that most do not, and by not training people for marriage we leave them vulnerable to a secular worldview that is less than successful when it comes to matrimony. Candid and pointed discussion about finances, family, conflict resolution, personality match, friends and interests, communication, religion and values, parenting issues, etc., should be considered an essential precursor to every church-sanctioned wedding ceremony.
Research suggests when such matters are responsibly addressed and the church demands significant commitments of those seeking marriage, the divorce rate substantially decreases. Where such matters are not taken seriously, Christian marriages mirror the culture at large: the breakdown of the family unit that threatens our very survival as a nation and a serious Christian community.
We pastors, and the churches we represent, are not to be "blessing machines" -- throwing out words and sacraments willy-nilly to anyone who asks. For in the end, by adopting a low view of the Church, of the institution of marriage and of the pastoral office, we haven't really blessed but most assuredly have cursed the people we intended to help.
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
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