By Rev. Mike Gillen, Pastor of Bowling Green First, Eolia, and Oak Grove UMC
There is an epidemic in our society that has been raging out of control for the majority of my lifetime – marriages are falling apart. Everyone knows it’s a problem. But no one seems to know what to do about it.
Even in the church, divorce is rampant. Recent studies have suggested that church-going people are almost as likely to get divorced as those who do not attend church. Being a faithful practitioner of twenty-first century Christianity seems to offer little immunity from the breakup of families.
As a minister, I’ve got an interesting vantage point from which to observe the way romantic relationships in today’s world are being shaped by the divorce epidemic. I’ve seen people marry who I thought were perfect for each other, only to witness them dissolve their union a few years later. I’ve also seen people who I would never have thought could survive each other, yet they have built a very strong marriage together. My ministry experiences have taught me a few things.
Divorce is a deeply personal, emotionally devastating thing that brings with it blame, pain, and regret. The end of a marriage means permanent vows have been permanently broken and dreams built on love are acknowledged to be unattainable. Divorce usually hurts, leaving deep wounds that don’t always heal.
When people get hurt through divorce, blame gets passed out. Spouses get blamed. Money gets blamed. Careers take the blame. Other people outside the marriage get blamed. Even society gets blamed. But the most powerful blame is now being passed on to the institution of marriage. Somehow the institution itself is to blame for all the hurt and pain people are causing each other.
Many couples have concluded that they will be better off if they never marry. These couples do everything that married couples do – love each other intimately, live together, have children, buy property, take vacations, invest themselves in each other’s lives – yet they refuse to make a vow of permanent commitment to keep their relationship in tact for the remainder of their lives.
So why do so many loving couples avoid marriage like the plague? What could possibly be so wrong with pledging one’s self to another for better or for worse?
The reality is that we all know that being married is different from being not-married. The public and legally-binding commitment to unite with another person has an affect on a relationship. And our society seems to be toxic for marriages. So people are choosing to forgo marriage in the hopes that they’ll avoid the pain of a broken relationship.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any evidence that avoiding marriage makes loving relationships any stronger or more permanent. Unmarried couples are finding it just as difficult to remain together in this day and age as their married counterparts. This society is toxic for all forms of relationships.
I don’t think it makes sense to avoid marriage or be afraid of marriage. The institution is meant to bind two people together. Isn’t that what loving couples aim for their relationship to be? The difficulty comes when couples have to live out their marriage vows. The trials of life, the routine of a relationship, and the possibilities of new relationships stress the integrity of marriage in ways couples can’t imagine until they experience what it means to say “I do.”
It’s been my experience that a sincere Christian faith can strengthen marriages. At the very heart of the faith is a basic relationship mandate to love God with all of one’s being and to love neighbors as ourselves. Christians are taught that loving God requires a love for neighbors that is merciful, forgiving, respectful, compassionate, sacrificial, and lasting. And the religion’s namesake, Jesus Christ, is offered up as the ultimate example of what this relationship mandate looks like.
People need to hear that marriage is a good thing. Marriage promotes life-long partnerships that are founded in mutual love and sacrifice. Sincere Christian faith can be a source of inspiration for marriages, teaching and encouraging a love for God and neighbors that helps couples through all the ups and downs of real life. It’s time for a renewed partnership between marriages and sincere Christian faith. It’s time for people who love each other to be courageous and commit to building strong marriages that last for a lifetime.