Could Churches Do More for Marriages?

Published July 2, 1981. Next October I have been asked to moderate a panel on “Religion and Family Life in America” at the National Council on Family Relations. The conference will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As future moderator, I have recently been giving closer attention to comments and trends regarding religion and family life that may be pertinent for the convention.

An article by the Rev. Lloyd J. Ogilvie recently caught my attention. He is Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Calif. His article is entitled, “Marriage as It Was Meant to Be.”

Ogilvie asked 25 clergy from various denominations in representative cities how supported members of their congregations felt by their religious community when they faced difficulties in their personal relationships.  They found that the local church is often the last place where people can be themselves, expose their needs, experience the reorientation of values around the mind of Christ, explore the healing of their emotional wounds, and exchange honestly about difficulties in their relationships. We are not personal enough to illustrate the impact of the gospel, and to help people see what Christ could do to help them and their marriages.

The California minister also conducted several seminars for divorced Christians and asked questions concerning the church’s effectiveness in helping with the adjustments that followed. He discovered, “Many divorced people found their pastors concerned and loving, but often ill-equipped to help them. Other church officers were of little help because of the tensions in their own marriages. Fellow members were either part of a conspiracy of silence or far too outspoken in favor of the husband or the wife.”

Many divorced Christians agreed that the one comment they heard most from fellow members was, “I had no idea you were going through this difficulty. You’re the last person I would have suspected to get divorced!” Judgment, stigma, a sense of failure, inability to be Christian enough, and sin were communicated verbally, non-verbally, and in the body language of subsequently strained social relationships.

The Presbyterian minister concludes, “There are many reasons for these trends. Christian marriage has been ineffectively dealt with in most congregations. We have given too little preparation for marriage other than to advocate it, too little help in assisting married people, and too little remedial opportunity for healing and hope for people who are discouraged and disturbed by the distance between their expectations for marriage and what they are experiencing.”

If Reverend Ogilvie’s observations are correct, we could have a very interesting panel discussion in Milwaukee next October.

Others may have comments on this topic. If so, I’d like to hear from you.

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