NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The evidence is overwhelming: Marriage is good for children, parents and society.
An impressive team of family scholars headed by Professors Norval Glenn, Steven Nock and Linda Waite (Universities of Texas, Virginia and Chicago, respectively), having surveyed mountains of research, concluded: "Marriage is an important social and societal good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike" (Glenn, Nock and Waite, 2002).
While everyone knows single parents who have performed heroically and have produced well-adjusted, productive adult children, the grim impact of single parenthood on the majority of children is clear.
Children who grow up outside an intact marriage are, compared to their counterparts raised in two-parent families, far more likely to:
-- Divorce and/or become unwed mothers.
-- Grow up in poverty (the greatest cause of which is single parenthood).
-- Drop out of school or end up with significantly lower levels of educational achievement.
-- Experience emotional distress, including a significantly higher rate of attempted suicide.
-- If male, twice as likely to have committed crimes leading to imprisonment by early adulthood.
Marriage is good for adults, as well. Married adults are, compared to their unmarried counterparts, significantly less likely to:
-- Experience poverty.
-- Succumb to alcohol or substance abuse.
-- Die prematurely. Unmarried men are twice as likely and unmarried women one and a half times as likely to die prematurely in developed societies (Glenn, Nock and Waite, 2002).
-- Attempt suicide. Divorced men and women attempt suicide at twice the rate of those who are unmarried.
The dramatic decline in the number of children being reared in homes with married parents is a disturbing harbinger of even further social dislocation to come.
How did Americans ever delude themselves into allowing this kind of generational child abuse to be perpetrated on our children with so little pressure on adults to behave more responsibly?
Too often, desire has defeated duty and convenience has trumped commitment.
Alas, churchgoing families are part of this tidal wave of marital breakdowns. Evangelicals who "frequently" attend worship services have a divorce rate of 34 percent (General Social Survey, 2000-2004).
Even "conservative" churches are not doing an adequate job when it comes to preparing men and women for the lifelong covenant relationship that God intended for marriage.
Churches need to recommit to making every local congregation a pro-marriage counterculture where premarital counseling is mandatory, where older couples are trained to mentor younger couples, and where there is a sure and certain word from the pulpit concerning marriage as a divine and holy institution. Such strategies have been employed by clergy working across denominational lines throughout America to cut the divorce rate by as much as 50 percent in cities as diverse as Kansas City, Mo.; Modesto, Calif.; and El Paso, Texas (www.marriagesavers.org).
People of all faiths should join hands to strengthen traditional marriage and families. Families are the bedrock of society. When the family is in trouble, society suffers and children too often pay the price for adult irresponsibility.
Richard Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in The Tennessean, online at www.tennessean.com.
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