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Christianity

The new myth: divorce is not too bad for children

child well-being, children, Christianity, divorce, intact family, MARRI, marriage No comments

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director, Marriage and Religion Research Institute

Here is a question for the two authors of the Scientific American’s recent article on the not-so-bad effects of divorce.

Why is it that in all measures of outcomes at the national level children of divorce as a group do significantly worse than children of intact married families?  If divorce has so little effect why do these big effects constantly appear, in virtually every measure measured?  Even remarriage does not wipe out most of them, and even intensifies some of them … at the group level.  
 
On every outcome measured children of divorce as a group do worse, significantly worse.   That is a generalization but one that holds.  For a fairly recent overview and synthesis of the findings see The Effects of Divorce on Children.

Not all children suffer all the possible bad effects and different children suffer to different degrees, even within the same family.  This provides some consolation to parents who divorce, but little to those who did not want divorce yet had to endure it.

As a former therapist who helped some awful marriages turn around I know how helpless the spouse is who wants to make the marriage work while the other spouse just wants out.   When both, even in awful and abusive marriages, want to make it work, such marriages can be made whole again.  But when one spouse in a relatively decent marriage wants out there is nothing that can be done.  Spouse and therapist are helpless (though there are things a good therapist can try with the willing spouse to get the other to change her mind — more women want out than do men— but such is a long shot and both know it).  

None of the literature reviewed talked about the sexual difficulties of children of divorce: out of wedlock births (but many protest that is OK too),  early sexual involvement (but other protest that is OK too),  cohabitation before marriage (but many protest that is OK too), and their own much higher rates of divorce after they marry (but that brings us back full circle).

The article seems more like a justification and rationalization of the radical individualism involved in the breakup of a marriage. More than half of American parents split whether in divorce, after cohabitation or by not coming together at all.  By age 17 fifty four percent of American children have parents who have rejected each other.  This intimate family experience of the deepest of rejections has lasting effects, some overt and easily measured by sociologists, others much more subtle but happiness-robbing and visible only in therapy or experienced only by spouses of children of divorce.

Western Civilization was built on stable marriage, a phenomenon Christianity gave the West and with it all the treasures and strengths of stable family life.  Not all Christians lived Christ’s way but many did and they shaped law, society, expectations in myriad ways to give societies that stability with all its benefits.   But modern man, including most modern Americans, even American Christians, find Christianity too hard and are leaving it or the harder parts behind. They are free to choose but they are not free to choose the consequences:  more instability in family, more chaos in society, and less developed human beings overall.
 
Christians have to learn to live with these burdens that others place on society as a whole and thus on them as well.  Early Christians lived in societies rife with these burdens.

We are going into a new phase in history that will not be as happy, nor as easy as it was half a century ago.   Welcome to suffering,  and to the self-justification of those who don’t want to make their marriages work when they get “bad”.  The only way to turn this around is for Christians to live marriage and family life as they are called to live it.  Eventually others will say again “See how they love one another”.  Then they will want back in.  Freedom works both ways: leaving and coming back.

Understanding Homosexuality

abstinence, Christianity, conscience, culture, news, Rick Warren, same-sex attraction, social science 1 comment

By Maria Reig Teetor, Intern 

Last Tuesday, evangelical pastor Rick Warren appeared on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” to discuss the controversial question whether people are born gay or develop gay attractions.

With the recent political campaign we have heard this topic covered in the media as gay activists are pushing for same sex marriage to be legal. As of November it is legal in 9 different states.

After listening to Rick Warren’s statement I realized that at the core of the debate is our understanding of what it means to identify as gay. We need to talk about this issue and not just fight the legal battles. Talking helps plant the seed that will start people thinking about what it means to have gay attractions versus acting upon those attractions.

The first step in talking about it is to make a clear distinction about what sexual orientation means, as Peter Sprigg explains in “Debating Homosexuality: Understanding Two Views.” Sexual orientation is an umbrella term for three different aspects of sexuality: sexual attraction, when one is sexually attracted to someone of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both; sexual conduct, whether the individual chooses to act upon that attraction; and self-identification, whether the individual thinks of himself as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “straight.”

Gay lobbyists assume that all three are consistent with one another, but based on the research, that is clearly not true.

Should an individual who feels attracted to someone of the same sex (because of the environment he or she has been exposed to, peer pressure, loneliness, or some internal self-identification) act upon these attractions? No, not necessarily.

We all have tendencies that aren’t in accordance with our God-given nature, but it doesn’t mean we choose to engage them.  As Pastor Rick Warren explained, “I have all kinds of feelings in my life and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. Sometimes I get angry and I feel like punching a guy in the nose. It doesn’t mean I act on it.”

So, what if someone responds, “I was born this way, I cannot change my attractions”? To this we can answer, first, that the research has not found any “gay gene” or related biological issue that proves someone is born with gay attractions, but that it’s a result of a complex mix of developmental factors. For instance, MARRI research shows that a young woman is more likely to experiment with a lesbian partner if she was raised in a non-intact family.

Second, as Pastor Rick mentioned, we can all be drawn to something that is not good for us or that is not according to our nature, but that doesn’t make it right. He gave the following example: “Sometimes I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don’t act on it. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t make it right.”

Those individuals who feel same-sex attractions should be treated with the same respect and kindness we treat any person, but that does not mean we should embrace their actions. We must fight to defend an understanding of sexuality that is in accord with our human nature and human dignity.

In order to do that we must first understand the core of homosexuality: attractions exist, but attractionsare not actions. This is especially important for helping adolescents who are confused by a false explanation of same-sex attraction or caught up in homosexual behaviors. Young people should be educated about the moral nature of every decision they make, including their sexual decisions.

The State of a Woman’s Union

abstinence, Christianity, cohabitation, feminism, intact family, marriage, religion, sexuality, teen pregnancy, women's health No comments

By Lindsay Smith, Intern
 

Dear Florida,

I heard that you are spending $45,000to research women’s sexuality within your borders.  Apparently, this information is quite valuable to you.  I know you are offering gift cards if women will complete surveys on this topic.  Good news, I think I can provide you with some answers to your search – no gift card necessary. 

Abundant research has shown that disruption within a family structure increases the likelihood of sexual debut for children. “Women whose parents separated during childhood are more likely to have an out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy, and men with divorced or separated parents are more likely to father a child with a teenage mother.”  As expected, women from intact-married families have the lowest risk of teenage sexual debut, and fewer partners.  Marriage positively affects not only the children, but also the man and woman in the union.  Since your survey touches on a woman’s emotional well-being in relation to sex, you really should know that married couples find their sexual relationship more satisfying than cohabiters do.”

Based on your survey’s questions, I see you are curious about religious affiliation.  You were wise to ask.  According to MARRI’s publication “The Benefits of Religious Worship,” females who attend religious worship weekly are less likely than their peers to sexually debut as a teen, have a premarital pregnancy, or abort their first pregnancy. The Christian abstinence program “True Love Waits” produces similar effects for its participants.  The American Journal of Sociology’s article “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse” reports that, on average, pledging decreases the risk of sexual debut even for those in a dating relationship. 

Combining regular worship attendance with an always-intact family bolsters these effects.  As seen in diagrams here, hereand here, MARRI research verifies that teens attending weekly worship with an always-intact family are least likely to sexually debut as a teen or have a premarital pregnancy. 

Florida, you mentioned your hope “to design the state’s service offerings, including pamphlets and counseling,” based on the survey’s findings. How about offering marriage counseling to strengthen families?  What if your pamphlets included the benefits of an abstinence pledge? 

Well, I hope this letter has helped.  In case you find the survey a bit superfluous now, it is almost Christmas, and gift cards make great gifts.

Will Our Concern for Health Eliminate our Moral Values?

Christianity, conscience, culture, pro-life, social institutions No comments

By Maria Reig Teetor, Intern
 

On November 6, voters in Massachusetts and California decided – by a close margin in both states – not to legalize assisted suicide. This was a victory for life. But what if Massachusetts and California had followed the states of Washington, Oregon, and Montana, along with a number of countries in Europe, in legalizing assisted suicide?
I have to question the implications of the fact that these bills were even proposed to the voters. Why is our society pushing for the legalization of voluntary death, when there are so many advances in medicine?
For centuries pain was part of life, assumed, accepted, and never questioned; but now we can go to the hospital to prevent infections, cure a sickness, recover from an amputation, have a heart transplant…even eliminate a headache. So why are we concerned about ending life because of suffering when, supposedly, medicine gives us the power to relieve suffering?
The key to this discussion is to acknowledge that when we eliminate religion from a culture, when we deny moral values and human dignity, we’re left with our own self-preservation as our only ethical guiding light.
When justice and human dignity are no longer a priority, we go to every length we can to prevent suffering and to create comfort. As with numerous other areas of life, like education, sexuality, marriage, friendship, and leisure, our culture teaches us that it’s all about our personal satisfaction. When there is no ultimate respect for human dignity, it’s natural for men to elevate health to their highest goal in life.
But how is health related to death? A recent essay from First Things gives an explanation for the relation between the two: “When eliminating suffering becomes the overriding purpose of a society, people can easily come to perceive that it is proper to accomplish the goal by eliminating the sufferer.”
The author continues,
Elevating “health” to the ultimate purpose of society turns it into something other than health. The original definition of the term is elasticized to include a hedonistic sense of entitlement to obtain whatever our hearts desire. Health becomes understood as a prophylactic, if you will, against suffering.
With this mindset, it seems normal to want to end a life because it’s causing pain. But will this legalization turn into an open passage to suicide? What is the difference between someone who wants to die because his physical pain is too much to handle and someone who no longer wishes to live because life is too hard or the sadness of losing a loved one is too painful? Who will determine what level of suffering is necessary in order to apply for legal death?
Let’s take the question further. What if a person has the power to decide for someone else that his or her life is filled with pain or distress, as was the case with Terri Schiavo in Florida in 2005? Or to decide that someone else’s life is causing him or her to suffer, so he or she has the right to eliminate that suffering by eliminating the other person? (This is an argument used to support abortion, when an unborn baby causes financial or personal inconvenience to the mother.) Has our society drifted so far from ethical moorings that we would legalize murder on demand?
The author of the First Things essay describes our moral situation:
In such a milieu, ethics become transitory because we justify our behavior by feelings rather than robust principles of morality—which after all, sometimes require us to eschew what we want and what feels good in order to do what is right.
It is obvious that when there is no religion in a society there is no respect for life. MARRI research in 95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice explains many more consequences of the decline of religion. How long will we allow this decline and its consequences, all in the name of “health” and “freedom from suffering,” to go on?

Marriage: “I Do,” Not “Maybe You’ll Do”

Christianity, cohabitation, culture, divorce, marriage No comments

By Sharon Barrett, Intern

I love having theological discussions with a particular friend of mine. One topic we explore frequently is the nature of human relationships, particularly marriage. Why does the Creator place such a premium on marriage? Why does He insist that a man and woman make a public commitment to each other before they live together as husband and wife? What is so special about declaring, “I do”?

Of course, social science research supports the importance of faithful married love. Couples who are married rather than single or cohabiting report better health, less stress and depression, and more positive family relationships; they are less likely to suffer or commit domestic violence; and they are more likely to pursue a regular spiritual life. Married couples even enjoy greater sexual fulfillment than cohabiting couples.

One might think a cohabiting relationship would carry benefits similar to marriage, if the partners are committed to each other; but the truth is that most couples who cohabit are notfully committed. This type of relationship tends to value independence more than interdependence; for instance, cohabiting partners often have separate bank accounts. As these couples proceed toward marriage, only 60% end up at the altar, and they are 46% more likely to divorce than those who marry without cohabiting first.

Those who do not meet at the altar have only a ten percent chance of staying together longer than five years. This statistic reflects the fact that most couples who cohabit do so to “test their compatibility” before they commit for life. In the words of one young woman,

“We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

In fact, nearly half of 20-somethings surveyed in 2001 by the National Marriage Project agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” Clinical psychologist Meg Jay concludes,

A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment [of] marriage.

Commitment is a key ingredient of marriage that cohabiting relationships often cannot achieve. Standing before the altar to say “I do” has a profound effect on how partners approach a relationship; it takes courage to make one’s commitment public and, by implication, invite other members of the community to hold one accountable. It takes courage to offer one’s whole life to a partner, with no guarantee other than that person’s word that he or she will be faithful. Most of all, it takes courage for a fallible human being to make a vow in God’s hearing, trusting in His saving help to fulfill it.

But that is the nature of marriage, this most intimate of human relationships. Partaking in a commitment that transcends our natural abilities, while it may seem intimidating, is actually designed to strengthen our faith. According to the Bible, faith is a decision to be confident in God’s promises (Heb. 10:35-11:6); and the promises of the Great I AM are never “yes and no,” but always “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20) –never “maybe,” but always “I do.”

Tolerance vs. Love

Christianity, divorce, marriage, prejudice, sexuality No comments
Sarah Robinson, Intern
 
“Some say tolerance but we say love. That is a much higher standard. Love does not accept anything that is disruptive in a person’s life. We love them too much to leave them that way.”

So said Congressman James Lankford at the Values Voters Summit last week. However, little did the attendants of the Values Voters Summit realize that when we took our break for lunch that afternoon we would be face to face with living out this phrase from Congressman Lankford. Protestors lined the sidewalk chanting, “Homophobe,” amongst other untrue and judgmental names towards those attending the Summit. We were being deemed intolerant by these protestors.
 
Homophobe by definition is a person who fears or hates homosexuals and homosexuality. Personally, I do not hate homosexuals nor do I fear homosexuality. There are individuals in my family whom I love dearly that live this lifestyle. But that does not mean I condone or seek to advance their lifestyle choices. I love them enough to not tolerate things in their life that are disruptive to their well-being. The side effects of a homosexual lifestyle trouble me deeply and I do not want my loved ones to have to face the consequences. The CDC has discovered the average homosexual man has hundreds of sexual partners in his lifetime, and the number of STDs that are acquired due to promiscuity is troubling.
 
It does not bring me satisfaction to report these statistics, and it is not just about “ammunition” to use in a debate on the sanctity of marriage. It breaks my heart. My heart is broken for family members, friends, and fellow Americans who have opted for this lifestyle because of the risk that goes along with it. However, I am the one deemed as being intolerant because I will not morally comply with their choices. The motives for my stance on the issue of the sanctity of marriage are not hate, but rather love. Ultimately, I wish to live my life in such a way that homosexuals and heterosexuals alike would see radical love emanating from me that would ultimately point them to the love of God. I may be accused of being intolerant, but may I never be accused of being unloving. The two are not synonymous.
 
However, “what not to do” is only one side of this cultural discussion. The bigger, more important side focuses not on what to stay away from, but rather, what to embrace! Marriage is a beneficial good to all of society. For example, according to MARRI research, 52% of girls who grew up in an married-intact family had sex before the age of 18 compared to 79% of girls engaging in their first sexual encounter who grow up in a single parent home. The effects of divorce on children can also be detrimental. Also, according to MARRI research, 12% of adolescents had sexual intercourse at 14 years of age or younger who grew up in a married intact household compared to 25% of adolescents having their first sexual encounter at 14 years of age or younger who grew up in divorced-single parent households. I can’t help but wonder how much stronger we would be as a society if we were intolerant of divorce and stood for the sanctity of marriage. Strong marriages develop strong families which in turn produce a strong and thriving society.

Truth, in love.

abstinence, Christianity, MARRI, youth 2 comments
Obed Bazikian, Intern
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) recent video stated that “[e]ighty percent of young evangelicals have engaged in premarital sex” and “almost a third of evangelicals’ unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.” This is a staggering statistic, and one which raises some serious questions. Adelle Banks from the Huffington Post sought to address with her recent article. Most central of all, what should the evangelical response be to this erosion of chastity and rise in abortion? 
Evangelical Leaders have stated that “abstinence campaigns and anti-abortion crusades” are not having the same effect anymore. Furthermore, Banks claims the Christian youth are frustrated by the way the church has handled the issue of sex. One can hear that premarital sex is wrong, but that is not satisfying in a culture that is constantly conveying it is good to have sex before marriage. One Christian young mother stated, “The Bible says not to do it, but I think, for most people, they need more than that.…We want to know why. And most of the time folks aren’t prepared to answer the question why.”
 
One answer can be found in the social and medical sciences. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s 162 Reasons to Marry contains numerous studies that show those who wait to have sex within marriage are the most fulfilled sexually, emotionally, physically, and even materially than other marital statuses. However, while this truth must be presented, it must also be done in love. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, a woman who was caught in adultery is about to be stoned by her accusers, a punishment fully merited under the current Law. When confronted as to whether this punishment should be carried out, Jesus stated, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (NASB). While He had every right to, Jesus did not condemn this woman. Similarly, we might be “right” in our statements to others, but be wrong in our message. However, the truth, when presented in love, will make the difference we truly seek.

Spirituality and Sexuality: Already on a Campus Near You

abstinence, Christianity, marriage, religion No comments
Julia Polese, Intern
In Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Religion and Romance on America’s College Campuses, Donna Freitas examinesthe interplay between spirituality and sexuality on seven different college campuses across the United States. After conducting hundreds of surveys and face-to-face interviews, she discovered that colleges divided into two categories: evangelical and “spiritual.” The spiritual schools – Catholic, private nonreligious, and public universities – were characterized by a dominant hookup culture and students who considered themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” She noted that while most of the students at these spiritual schools asked sincere questions about truth and a “Higher Power,” they did not believe these questions had anything to do with their sexuality. The evangelical schools presented a different picture. Most students assumed prima facie a picture of their sexuality inextricably linked to marriage and their faith. Their sexual choices were also spiritual (and religious) choices, and chastity was the overwhelming norm and ideal at evangelical colleges.
 
Some students interviewed realized that there must be something off about the hookup culture: many women reported feeling disappointed when a one-night stand did not turn into something more, some men wondered about the effects their choices would have when their decided that it was time to “be in love” and settle down. Freitas’ book is important because it reveals a significant season of habit-formation for many, if not most, young people today. MARRI’s research shows how important the interaction between religiosity and marriage is in sustaining an organized society. If a majority of college students spend four years divorcing questions of their sexuality’s effect on their souls, they form habits of compartmentalization that follow them for the rest of their lives. In Mapping America, MARRI shows how family structure and religious attendance positively affect myriad aspects of life. The integration of marriage and relationship choices and religion and spirituality is of utmost importance, and it is to college students’ detriment if they do not learn to do this in a real way in the most formative years of their lives.

Can Cohabitation Lead To Fulfillment?

abstinence, Christianity, cohabitation, marriage, religion No comments
Obed Bazikian, Intern

Marriage Savers President Mike McManus relays in a recent articlea talk Pope Benedict XVI gave to United States Catholic Bishops in which he urged them to address the issue of cohabitation. Pope Benedict stated, “It is increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible mature sexual ethic in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”

There is a devaluing of the idea of commitment in our culture that is affecting U.S.couples from pledging their lives to each other. A possible cause for this is the population has become unhealthily focused on themselves. The individual is so elevated over his neighbor or community that if anything endangers personal happiness, it is avoided. Sadly, this has included marriage. However, science has claimed the opposite. One studyhas shown that “married couples enjoy more relationship quality and happiness than cohabiters.” The modern understanding of personal fulfillment and relationships has blinded us to the reality that in covenant there is actually increased happiness.
Perhaps an analogy can better explain the difference between cohabitation and marriage. If I could hold in hand my life, and then close my hand, I would certainly have and be able to enjoy my life. However, I would be unable to receive anything from others because my hand is closed. I may show at times what is in my hand, but in fear of losing what is mine, I never let go. However, if I was to open my hand and give up my life, only then am I in the position to receive life from another. It is the same regarding cohabitation and marriage. A cohabiter allows a glimpse to their partner, but never fully gives up his life. Only in the true commitment of marriage can one fully and wholeheartedly give and receive life and happiness.

Importance of Being Married and Religious Attendance

Christianity, culture, MARRI, marriage, religion No comments

By MARRI Interns

A recent Mississippi State University (MSU) study was conducted to find possible reasons for marital longevity, particularly among African American couples. Keri Collins Lewis reports on the researchdone by MSU professors Tommy M. Phillips, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Human Sciences, and Joe D. Wilmoth, associate professor in the School of Human Ecology at Louisiana State University, who focused on long standing married couples in historically black churches in Mississippi. Overall, African-American couples believed that their marital success is attributed to faith, with specific denotation to help from God more than any other category.
 
The self-assessed questionnaire used in the study contained open-ended questions and forced-choice questions, the first of which asked both spouses together for the top reason their marriage endured. The results were “God/Jesus” first (51%), then love (31%), and good communication (23%) third. God, or Jesus, is recognized by more than half of those studied as the enduring factor in marriage. In a society that is becoming increasingly secular, this is not to be taken lightly. Later questions asked individually further explain this point. Spouses were asked separately whether faith was important to their marital longevity, upon which 93 and 94 percent of husbands and wives respectively agreed “faith was a very important factor.” Regarding prayer, 88 and 97 percent of husbands and wives respectively pray one or more times per day. And church attendance: 91 and 99 percent attend once or more per week.
 
Marriage and Religion Research Institute has published research from the General Social Survey which shows marriage is highly valued among many who practice their faith. In the Mapping America series number 82, The Personal Importance of Being Married by Religious Attendance, it states, “Adults who attend religious services at least weekly are more likely to report that being married is personally very important to them than those who worship less frequently.” The data used in the paper is collected from the General Social Survey (1972-2006), and concluded that 60.5 percent of adults who attend religious services more than once a week view marriage as very important. The people who take marriage more seriously are indeed people of faith and it is incumbent upon those who practice faith to see marriage succeed, both personally and in others.
There are two possible arguments against the veracity of this study. One is that this finding is representative of only 71 couples. However, while this study is small, it is valuable because of its focus. Dr. Phillips’s study states most previous studies on black couples have been “problem-oriented” with little exploration of marital longevity. A second critique may by that the research targeted black churches instead of the black population as a whole. Critics might therefore see this study as biased and discredit the results. However, as Lewis uncovers from Dr. Wilmoth, this method was with good reason: “‘When we looked for ways to find African-American couples with long-standing marriages, we discovered the most reasonable way to contact them was through their churches,’ Wilmoth said. ‘We believe our sample is reasonably representative because almost 90 percent of African Americans identify themselves with a church, and those who are married are even more likely to attend.’” Since a majority of married black couples attend church, it is logical and practical to focus on finding couples in the church, and to consider the results of this study informative as to reasons for marital longevity.