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For decades, the "fact" that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce has permeated the U.S. culture. And a raised eyebrow has been constantly directed at the Church, whose divorce rate was thought to have reached 50 percent as well.

These condemning statistics — and many more — have been repeatedly quoted by leading experts, the media, and even from the pulpit as fact.

But the results of an intensive study have revealed that oft repeated "facts" on marriage statistics are fiction. Moreover, these "facts" are not even close to accurate.

Shaunti Feldhahn
Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher, spent eight years researching the facts about marriage statistics with her senior researcher, Tally Whitehead. What they discovered surprised even them — marriage in the United States is an incredibly successful institution.

According to their findings, the urban legends that became "marital facts" were based on decades-old "projections," not facts. The actual numbers tell quite a different story.

When comparing the actual statistics to what are now nothing more than "marriage urban legends," the differences are shocking:

* More than 70 percent of all first-time marriages are still intact. Of the less than 30 percent no longer together, that figure includes widows/widowers whose spouses have died.

* The divorce rate of those who attend church is less than that of those who do not attend — up to 50 percent less. Based on her exhaustive research, Feldhahn says the divorce rate of those who regularly attend church is likely in the teens to single digits.

* Feldhahn's study found that 80 percent of married people consider themselves happily married.

* She also discovered that most remarriages are successful.

Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family, adds that there's even a statistical difference when it comes to Christian marriages. "The truth is, there's a huge difference between Christlike marriages and two Christians who are married," he states. "There is almost no divorce with the first — people who pursue Christ, they're staying together because Christ makes a difference."

Smalley also cites another significant study concerning couples who described their marriages as "in crisis" five years ago. Of the couples who chose to stay together, two-thirds now rate their marriages as satisfying.

Greg Smalley
Smalley

"When people hit rocky times, their hearts tend to shut down, they give up and they believe their marriage is over . . . the media and statistics continually reinforce that message," Smalley observes. "But for those who hang in there, weather the storm, and get the help they need, two-thirds now love their marriage!"

Roger Gibson, senior director of Adult and Family Ministries at the AG national offices, was greatly encouraged by Feldhahn's findings.

"Overall, this is groundbreaking for the church and culture," Gibson says. "I think a lot of pastors, leaders and couples have been so influenced by the negative press of divorce statistics that we simply started to give up on marriage. Against such a pessimistic cultural view, Shaunti's research puts the fight back into the case for marriage."

In her quest for the truth, Feldhahn says that she "spoke with leading researchers, dug into the complexities, and began realizing the vast scope of misinformation, incorrectly-interpreted research, studies that downplayed positive findings, and quite often, commonly-cited statistics based on studies that didn't even exist."

One of the most troubling results of her findings is that for decades, some of the most common statistics about marriage were not only unfounded, they discouraged those considering marriage and those who were already married. The statistics seemed to unequivocally declare that the chances of having a lasting marriage, much less a happy one, were far from certain — and the odds were getting worse all the time.

But even that's not true. Feldhahn says that in fact, divorce rates have been declining, despite the promulgation of the urban legends surrounding marriage.

Gary Allen
Allen

Gary Allen, a former U.S. Navy and police chaplain who spent nearly 30 years pastoring Assemblies of God churches, is currently the pastoral advisor/counselor at the AG National Leadership and Resource Center (NLRC). He says Feldhahn's findings confirm what he has personally believed, but had no way to prove.

"In all my years as a chaplain, neither the Navy or police stations I worked with had a divorce rate near 50 percent," Allen states. "And in the churches I served, the couples I married, I believe nearly all of them are still married."

Allen adds that he read on an online dating site that in a survey of more than 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012 through the help of this online service, the marital break-ups were under four percent.

Although the time frame is relatively brief (7 years), Allen says this example shows the importance of being intentional in marriage. "As a pastor, couples who came to me went through six weeks of intensive pre-marital counseling," he says. "So, I believe, through my personal experiences, the online study, and Feldhahn's research, with just a little effort on the front end, marriage should be an anticipated successful venture — nothing like this 'roll of the dice,' 50-50 chance that we've been led to believe."

Smalley agrees and says that you can't underestimate the impact of hope — or the lack of it — in marriage.

"I've interviewed many millennials," he says, "and even though they've come from the most divorced generation in the history of our nation, their desire is to be married for a lifetime, but they're not sure it's possible. They've heard over and over again the 50 percent divorce rate; that statistic sticks with them and they're afraid."

And even when marriage is entered into, there is still the spiritual aspect to consider.

"Satan is so attacking us during this time," Smalley says. "We don't often talk about the spiritual battle that is going on, but Satan wants to destroy marriages - he's saying 'You're right, you'll never make it, your marriage is doomed.'"

Roger Gibson
Gibson

But Smalley says when young people are given hope, when they hear that 60-70 percent of marriages are making it, there's a different mindset about marriage, not to mention the ability to weather the difficult times marriages can experience.

"Give people even a tiny bit of hope to hold on to," Smalley observes, "and they start thinking that if someone else can make it, maybe they can too!"

Gibson says Feldhahn's research could ultimately shape the culture of future generations who might think marriage is "old school."

"With cohabitation on the rise over the years, it is obvious many couples don't value marriage or the covenant between husband, wife and God," Gibson says. "However, with Shaunti's new discovery of marriage between husband and wife showing a higher level of happiness, it could be the tipping point to the revitalization of the family."

Feldhahn's findings are also significant for churches and ministries.

"This is our opportunity to cultivate a different mindset about marriage," Smalley says. "Marriage is amazing. God designed it — it's His idea, and God doesn't create junk. It is not only possible, but it's expected that you will have a successful marriage!"

 


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Flash mob -- preparing chaplains to respond

Mon, 07 Nov 2011 - 4:30 PM CST

Whether preparing students for military chaplaincy, occupational and institutional chaplaincy or even emergency services chaplaincy, the Assemblies of God has established a reputation for providing quality chaplains to serve in a variety of ministry areas.

Military chaplains serve active duty and reserve military units. Occupational and Institutional Chaplains serve in businesses and institutional setting such as jails and prisons. Emergency Services Chaplains serve the emotional and spiritual needs within fire departments, law enforcement agencies, EMS departments, and emergency dispatch centers. They care for responders and citizens in crisis.

Recently, the Assemblies of God national Chaplaincy Department partnered with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) to help chaplaincy students and those preparing to be emergency services chaplains experience the demands of a violent flash mob.

Jernigan and Cordero
Chaplains Jernigan and Cordero.

Dr. Manuel Cordero and Chaplain Robby Jernigan were the organizers of the event. Cordero teaches a five-day intensive at AGTS called Ministry to People in Trauma and Crisis and Grief, designed mostly for AGTS students called into the military or occupational/institutional chaplaincy. Jernigan, an AG U.S. missionary, conducts online Emergency Services Chaplain training along with periodic in-classroom chaplain training classes for pastors and others who want to become involved in their local communities as emergency services chaplains.

"In Chaplaincy," AG Chaplaincy Ministries Director Alvin Worthley says, "we know that chaplains need this training in order to be prepared to minister in traumatic situations. We also believe that pastors of local churches should be prepared to respond to traumatic situations that happen in their local community."

Cordero says that a violent flash mob incident was chosen because it's cutting edge right now. "It's also critical to understand that we need to be prepared for about anything - whether it's a flash mob, a tornado that kills and destroys such as in Joplin or a hurricane that destroys and paralyzes such as the Northeast experienced earlier this year."

Although the flash mob violence was simulated, organizers of this training exercise focused on realism.

"The mob was comprised of Central Bible College and AGTS staff and students along with students from Evangel University," Jernigan says. "In this scenario, the mob started making fun of religion and then started stealing and breaking stuff at AGTS. We had several individuals who confronted the mob, and ultimately the mob turned on them. Bystanders were beaten, with one ultimately being 'shot and killed.'"

Flash Mob 2
As observers look on in the background, the flash mob takes off, leaving their "victims" behind.

As the flash mob dispersed, a Cox Hospital EMS crew with a fully-equipped ambulance arrived on the scene to attend to the "injured," while Green Lawn Funeral Home sent members of their staff to remove the body of the "deceased." In addition, the Springfield (Missouri) Police Department and the Greene County (Missouri) Sheriff's Office were on hand to ensure safety, while students from the Evangel University Criminal Justice Department served as security for the event.

Jernigan says that although it is unlikely that a chaplain will be caught in the middle of a flash mob, there is a strong likelihood that he or she will be ministering to people who have experienced or witnessed a crisis event in their lives. These events might include someone being beaten, shot or held against their will; someone being seriously injured; someone facing or witnessing death; or a number of other traumatic life experiences.

"This is the third such live field training exercise we have conducted in cooperation with AGTS for Chaplaincy training," Jernigan says.

"Previously, we held a simulated motor vehicle accident that was the result of a drunk driver serious injuries and several deaths occurred," Jernigan says, "and the second one, we had an 'active shooter,' where a person became violent and ultimately 'executed' the AGTS president (Dr. Byron Klaus) and took hostages. For that simulation, the Federal Medical Center (located in Springfield) sent us a SWAT team and a hostage negotiation team. Several other entities and emergency services agencies also participated."

Generally speaking, the emergency services chaplain students in Jernigan's class and the students from Cordero's class did not actively participate in the field training exercise. Their challenge was to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of the 'crisis' and observed how trained chaplains and other responding personnel did their jobs in the midst of a crisis.

Flash mob 3
Paramedics wheel an "injured" bystander out of the AG Theological Seminary lobby to an ambulance, while a sheet covers a shooting "victim."

"It was an overwhelming experience for many of the students," Cordero says. "Many students commented on how there is so much to do. And afterwards, in our classes' review of the event, we discussed the different layers of victims and opportunities for ministry, as it's not just those who are personally caught in a critical incident who are impacted - family members, coworkers, friends and others can also be indirect victims of a crisis event."

"The concepts of Critical Incident Stress Management are one of the areas we cover in our training," Jernigan says. "It is recognized by the United Nations as the 'gold for assisting people (primarily emergency services personnel) who have been through a critical incident."

Jernigan says that there were a number of people, besides the students, who heard about the training and asked to come and observe the event. They included the director of corporate security for Walmart, the regional loss prevention manager from Walgreens and representatives from Greene County Office of Emergency Management. "They all wanted to know what to expect and how to use what they learned to better determine how to prepare and respond in such a crisis," Jernigan says.

In addition to being powerful training tools for the chaplaincy, Jernigan and Cordero have found that these field training events frequently are therapeutic for their students as well.

"Many times we'll have students who, due to the sights and sounds of the live event, will come face-to-face with incidents buried in their past," Jernigan says. "We spent 45 minutes after this exercise debriefing, asking students what they saw, how it affected them, ways they could minister to others in the future, and even what it drew out of them. Numerous students reflected back on their own life experiences, and found discussing them healing."

Cordero and Jernigan agree that through these field training exercises, students become better equipped to empathize with victims as well as understand the critical role they play in helping victims - at many difference levels - heal and recover.

flash mob 4
The "deceased" is carefully removed.

"I also believe that the more prepared our AG districts are to respond following a crisis, whether it be a natural disaster or some act of terrorism, the better we'll be able to actively demonstrate the compassion of Christ to our communities," Cordero adds.

"Assemblies of God Chaplaincy is willing and able to provide emergency response training for churches on a local or on a district level," Worthley says. "This training is a first step for working with their local VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) and with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)."

For more information about emergency services chaplain training, contact Jernigan at robbyj@ipa.net. To learn more about AGTS degree programs for chaplains, see the seminary's website. Information about the AG Chaplaincy can be found at chaplaincy.ag.org.

 

Authors: Dan Van Veen

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