© 2014 Robert Osburn
Sometimes you have to fight.
Those words don’t come easily. On the “fight or flight” spectrum, I’m well-practiced at fleeing. But, there is a time when we have to fight. And the time is now for American marriages, and those beyond our shores.
What I mean by “fight” is to aggressively advocate for something that is good, instead of passively watching its destruction. And for far too many decades Americans of otherwise stern and solid moral fiber, even Christ-following believers, have acquiesced in the face of what we now know bears the hallmarks of a great social evil: family fragmentation, which includes divorce, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, premarital sex, and a host of other moral tragedies. My focus in this blog, however, is the specter of divorce and what it means for marriage.
Frankly, what shook me into a more aggressive stance on this issue is a Fall 2012 symposium at the University of Minnesota where the advocate for gay marriage declared, “We gay people will rescue marriage from the mess made of it by heterosexuals, half whose marriages end up in divorce in the USA!” I could almost see those of who were opposed to gay marriage crumble in our seats. We were without defense against the charge. We had acquiesced to divorce too many times, and now we are being forced to swallow its public policy consequences. I think the gay marriage advocate is profoundly mistaken in his hopes, but, under the circumstances where we were debating whether gay marriage would be the law in Minnesota, he had a powerful point.
Our great American acquiescence in the wake of family fragmentation has, in many cases, involved the simple declaration by an aggrieved party to a marriage that they “can’t take it anymore.” The husband or wife then makes claims about why their problems justify divorce.
Most of us have winced, and then quietly said, “Well, if you’re not happy, then I guess you’ll have to get out of it.”
Stop! Why have so many of us passively abandoned what God has established (Matthew 19:6) in favor of what he hates (Malachi 2:16)? My concern is not so much with the party wanting the divorce as with his/her friends and associates who “cave” rather than aggressively advocate for the couple’s marriage. One of the reasons we have caved is that we have bought into a faulty vision of marriage as a purely romantic relationship sustained by love, and only now are active Christians rejecting that faulty vision for a vision of covenant marriage with profound public consequences that include the parenting of children who will sustain the society and the possibility of human flourishing.
We need men and women of courage who will say, “Stop! There is a better way. Please consider counseling. I know that God hates divorce, but I know He loves you and he wants me to help you find a way through this.”
Fighting for marriages is not about moral condemnation as much as it is about actively aligning yourself with the interests of saving the marriage. Actively aligning yourself with the interests of the marriage itself will mean:
Helping the couple to see that the goal of marriage is not happiness, but, first of all, holiness.
Actively identifying ways that the marriage can be saved, knowing that, in our fallen world, not every marriage can be saved.
Promoting a godly vision for marriage without seeming sanctimonious or preachy in the process.
Those who fight for marriages align themselves with the interests of the children in the marriage, as their prospects for educational, economic, and future marital success are greatly enhanced thereby. And, in case you’re wondering about the impact of divorce on the spiritual lives of children, research makes clear that the children of divorce disproportionately check out of churches. If God can’t save her parents’ marriage, why should Molly expect Him to save her soul (and to stick around when the going gets tough)?
Susan and I have seen, in particular, the damage to children who, as the innocent victims of divorce, often end up with a succession of mom’s live-in boyfriends or a series of step-siblings who are the product of their new step parent’s previous marriages. Rivalries, jealousies, unimaginable cruelties, and forms of neglect often accompany these slow-motion tragedies. And not only have we fought for others’ marriages, but, in the midst of the busy childrearing years, we have fought for our own, with the help of six marriage counselors.
Am I an advocate for miserable marriages? Nothing could be further from the case. Miserable marriages also need deep healing, and sometimes it takes the threat of divorce to cause an unaware or clueless spouse to spring into action to fight for his/her marriage. In cases of emotional and physical abuse and repeated adulteries, we counsel separation until the problem is resolved. What we do know from research is that about two out of every three persons who wanted to divorce, and who stuck with the marriage anyway, were, five years later, happy that they stuck it out. The majority of marriages can get better, with the grace of God, good counseling, and supportive friends and family!
It’s time to fight for marriages, friends! When we do so, we not only align ourselves with God’s purposes, with society’s interests, and the well-being of men, women and children. We also ensure that the students in our campus ministries raise families where their children will someday also seek Christ on campus and beyond.
Additional resources worth checking:
Time to Challenge No-Fault Divorce, by Thomas Farr and Hilary Towers