From "For Faith & Family." Used with permission.

According to the 2000 census, the number of householdsheaded by unmarried people grew almost 72 percent in the previousten years. Illegitimate births made up 3.8 percent of birthsin 1940; in 2000, a third of all American children were born outof wedlock. Children from single-parent familiessuffer in every quality-of-life category compared with childrenof married parents. They are poorer, sicker, more inclined tocrime; they are people of unfulfilled potential and lost opportunity;and their hope of spiritual fulfillment is dim.

A recent study quoted by Maggie Gallagher in NationalReview suggests it's essential that everyone--Christian andnon-Christian alike--understand the social cost of never-marriedmothers, divorce, and all the rest.

According to the study, even after variations in race, income,and cognitive ability had been factored out, boys raised outsideof intact marriages are two to three times more likely tobe incarcerated than those in households that meet the traditional,biblical definition of a family. Again, Christian preceptslead to secular benefits. Good living and Christian living areinseparable.

Daughters of single parents are 53 percent more likely tomarry as teens, 111 percent more likely to have children asteens, 164 percent more likely to give birth prematurely, and92 percent more likely to file for divorce. One forensic psychologistsaid, "The one human being most capable of curbingthe antisocial aggression of a boy is his biological father." Sen.Daniel Patrick Moynihan--whom I can't say I agree with allthat often--got it exactly right when he said, "A communitythat allows a large number of young men to grow up in brokenfamilies, dominated by women, never acquiring any stablerelationship to male authority, never acquiring any rationalexpectation about the future--that community asks for andgets chaos."

What can I do to keep married couples married?
There's no telling how much ink and effort have been spentrecounting the pitfalls of broken families. It's important tounderstand the problem and its causes but even more importantto take actions to reverse this destructive trend. Certainlythere are societal changes taking place that encourage thebreakup and distortion of families. Still, Christians could do alot more to preserve the institution of traditional marriage.

It's up to us, our clergy, and our church leadership to holdmarriage partners accountable for their behavior and to compelhusbands and wives to realize that marriage vows representan unconditional lifetime promise. Marriage is forever,regardless of what pop culture says.

Writing in World magazine, Joel Belz speaks for manyChristians when he admits, "It's easy to blame the bad guys--the terribly secularized media, Hollywood, the public schools,the demands of big business--but maybe the biggest blamerests on God's own people. . . . the picture we in fact offer isbarely distinguishable from that offered by the rest of society."

It isn't easy or comfortable to hold a brother or sister inChrist accountable for their marital behavior, but it's our duty.Nobody ever said being a Christian was easy. Belz looks atthree specific ways Christians can strengthen the institution ofmarriage:

1. Resist divorce. Obvious as it is, this option is overlookedmore often than not. Friends and church members hear that acouple is splitting up, and their reaction is usually, "Isn't thattoo bad!" when it should be, "No way!" Church officers mustbe willing to use their God-given authority to persuade andencourage people to remain married.

2. Identify the guilty party and hold him accountable.Matthew 19 is explicit in laying out the only biblical foundationfor divorce: "And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife,except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commitsadultery" (Matt. 19:9). Only unfaithfulness or irreconcilabledesertion by a non-Christian spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-15) providesbiblical justification for divorce. For Christians, marriage ispronounced by the church and should be dissolved only underthe discipline of the church; the church is obliged to uncoverthe truth.

3. Understand the circumstances surrounding the divorce ofa prospective member. Churches that want to discouragedivorce must be careful on what terms they welcome as membersthose who carry the guilt for breaking up previousmarriages.

How have pastors contributed to thegrowing failure rate of marriages?
Something I wonder about as a pastor who has had the honorof officiating at numerous marriage ceremonies is whyChristian ministers perform some of the marriages they do. Ibelieve there are people married in the church every day whodon't understand their marriage vows, who don't realize thelifetime nature of the marriage commitment, and who don'tapproach their roles as husband and wife in a biblical mannerbecause they have no idea in the world what that means. Someof them aren't even professing Christians. There's nothing tostop these people from getting married by a judge or justice ofthe peace, but responsible Christian pastors have no businessmarrying them until the pastor is convinced they understandwhat the whole process means and that they understand thedivinely ordained obligations they assume in being joined in"holy" matrimony.