In a recent Oklahoma study on Family Fragmentation, conducted by the House Human Services Committee, lawmakers concluded that for every dollar spent keeping families together, the government spends $1,000 on ‘clean up’ from the fallout of broken families. In an Aug. 26 news release, lawmakers said, “The ripple effects of family fragmentation are costing Oklahoma taxpayers millions of dollars each year and the problem may only get larger . . .”
In their quest to find more budget dollars, the latest opportunity for saving government dollars is to save marriages. Really? Marriages are important, because they cost money? It is staggering to see the findings of the study and conclude the most important thing is that there is money to be saved. The study found that although the divorce rate has hovered around 50 percent for 20 years, the marriage rate has plunged 48 percent since 1970. In 1960, just 5 percent of all births were to unwed mothers, but that figure grew to 36 percent by 2000-a 700 percent increase! And yet lawmaker’s concern for financial fallout should be secondary. The real primary effect is the negative impact to lives and relationships. Today, 33 percent of American children live away from their fathers, and 40 percent of those kids never see their fathers in a typical year.
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa) said, “We’re afraid to address it because we know none of us is perfect.” Regardless of imperfections, Christians have got to take on the challenge. Churches are frequently the “first responders” in a family crisis and must shift their focus to becoming more “family-centered.”
Being family-centered means placing the needs of families first. Church leaders are often heard to say “‘we don’t understand why families don’t support the church more?” This question demonstrates a church-centered, family-supported orientation. Instead, focus must shift to a family-centered, church-supported perspective. A family-centered church seeks opportunities to connect with families at their point of need. Rather than expecting families to support the church, missional congregations must reach out to families with compassion and help. Understanding and addressing the needs of family yields spiritual returns.
Some efforts appear to be working. The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) is a broad-based strategy aimed at improving marriages from the beginning. It has been described as building a fence at the top of the cliff instead of running an emergency room at the bottom of the ravine. OMI provides a financial incentive for pre-marital couples to receive counseling. The overwhelming majority of these counseling opportunities are at the local church.
Most Oklahoma Southern Baptist pastors and many other church leaders have signed the Marriage Covenant, making a commitment not to marry couples where one or both are lost. Pastors who have signed the covenant also commit to only performing marriage ceremonies after pre-marital counseling. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institute said “I believe that the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative is the single most important public policy initiative in the country at this time.”
Efforts like OMI have yet to be proven, but there is one method that has been proven and survives the test of time. Marriages where Christ is central and couples are active believers succeed thousands of times over marriages built on something other than faith in Jesus. The Gospel is the key to success in marriage and family. In a culture that is rapidly losing hope as marriages fail, the question we must ask is, “Do you believe God can work a miracle?” Good marriages are achievable, and marriages in crisis can be restored. But it requires churches and Christians to become family-centered so that couples and families understand that God cares for them and desires to work a miracle in their lives.
While the government may be interested in recovering dollars being spent on “cleaning up” the fallout of failed marriages and families, churches have a long-term view. The longer perspective recognizes that there are lives at stake. The government may be concerned about saving marriages, but they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.