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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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Cities increasingly restricting basic religious liberties

Wed, 02 Jan 2013 - 1:46 PM CST

Shane and Marlene Roessiger
The Roessigers

Not so long ago, local government officials usually agreed that members of churches brought benefit to - or at least didn't harm - their communities with their prayers, Bible studies and evangelistic activities.

But an alarming number of municipalities now take a hostile approach toward Christians exercising their First Amendment freedoms. In various cases around the country, followers of Christ have been threatened, fined and even jailed for such protected liberties as discussing Scripture in a living room or talking about Jesus on a public sidewalk.

In October, the city of Venice, Florida, dropped charges against Shane and Marlene Roessiger, a couple accused of having an unauthorized "house of worship" in their home. Although only six to 10 guests showed up for Friday night prayer and Bible study meetings at the Roessigers, the city contended that the gatherings violated an ordinance requiring houses of worship to be on at least two acres of property.

"This is a trend we're seeing across the country, with local code enforcement going after small religious group meetings in homes," says Kevin T. Snider, chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represented the Roessigers.

Snider believes there is underlying ill will by various local governments against people of faith, particularly Christians.

"That animus is usually by one person in code enforcement or on the city council," Snider says. "It used to be that people who were anti-religious kept their views to themselves. Now they feel emboldened."

Venice threatened the Roessigers, who are Pentecostals, with $250 daily fines for holding the meetings. In October, on advice from the city attorney, the Venice Code Enforcement Board voted 6-0 to dismiss all charges and penalties.

AG PASTOR TARGETED

Paul Gros
Gros

For the past 31 years, on Tuesday and Friday nights, Assemblies of God pastor and evangelist Paul S. Gros has gone to Bourbon Street in New Orleans to share the gospel with revelers. His wife, Mireya, accompanies him many times, and members of various churches, including Vieux Carre Assembly of God, where he has pastored since 2009, also go along.

But a year ago, the city passed a speech ban that prohibited congregating on Bourbon Street "for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

"I suspect someone in city government decided this was cramping the party style, and anything that might hurt the party atmosphere needed to be eliminated," says Joseph E. La Rue, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Gros.

Although the French Quarter pastor shared his faith in Jesus in a nonconfrontational way, in May a city police officer told Gros he could be arrested if he continued evangelizing after dark. So Gros, on the recommendation of ADF, confined street preaching to daylight hours while the organization challenged the law in court. If arrested, Gros could have faced six months behind bars and a $500 fine.

However, La Rue says the law is so outrageous even the liberal American Civil Liberties Union filed suit after ADF did.

In September, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing the law until its constitutionality is determined. In the meantime, Gros, who is recovering from liver cancer, has returned to evangelizing in the evenings.

Typically, Gros carries a 9-foot cross with 2-inch-tall LED lights containing short, scrolling gospel messages. He also uses a megaphone on occasion in an effort to convince raucous carousers to repent and accept Jesus as their Savior.

"Religious speech is just as important and just as protected as any other type of speech, at any time of the day," La Rue says. "The city of New Orleans has said if you are going to talk about Jesus after dark, you're a criminal. The very idea that government can tell us you can't say 'God bless you' is ridiculous."

CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS

While the expanding plethora of local ordinances is problematic, researcher William Jeynes argues that additional laws protecting prayer and Bible reading may be the solution.

"The great danger is that people are coming to the conclusion that our Constitution is subject to varying interpretations and therefore they are restricting religious rights," says Jeynes, a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

Jeynes, who also is an Assemblies of God evangelist, has been instrumental in ensuring that the Bible is taught statewide in public schools in nine states. He also helped construct a constitutional prayer amendment that 83 percent of Missouri voters approved in August.

The amendment, passed earlier by overwhelming majorities in the Missouri Senate and House, ensures that public school students can pray over their lunch in a cafeteria and read their Bibles during recess or study hall. More broadly, the amendment guarantees the right of citizens - including elected officials - to pray and to acknowledge God in public settings and on public property.

Jeynes sees the recent spate of city officials trying to curtail religious expression as the fallout from the Supreme Court declaring sponsored Bible reading and organized prayer off limits in public schools half a century ago.

Curtailments have accelerated in numerous school districts, so that now students in some places are suspended for uttering, "Praise the Lord," or even for bringing a Bible to school.

"Subsequently, school administrators who are anti-Christian bigots seem to have more leeway to declare certain freedoms as impermissible," Jeynes says. Whether through ignorance or abuse, enough principals and superintendents are engaged in restricting rights to keep most Christian teachers and students intimidated about talking about their faith in public schools, Jeynes says.

"It's amazing how our society protects the rights of people to say four-letter words, but not to utter a five-letter word: Jesus," Jeynes says.

Dana Crow-Smith
Crow-Smith

In Phoenix, The Rutherford Institute tangled with officials over distribution of free water by an Assemblies of God member motivated by compassion. Dana Crow-Smith handed out bottled water on a public sidewalk in 112-degree heat in July and engaged willing passersby in conversations about their religious beliefs.

A city official with the Orwellian title of "neighborhood preservation officer" approached Crow-Smith, who attends Deer Valley Worship Center in the suburb of Peoria, and told her she had to possess a $350 mobile vendor's permit to give away water. The Rutherford Institute informed the city that such action violated Crow-Smith's First Amendment right to freely exercise religion.

In October, Phoenix City Council members struck down the ordinance prohibiting distribution of free water in public.

STANDING UP

Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead and Jeynes believe there will be increasing numbers of instances limiting liberties unless and until Christians rise up en masse to protest.

"With so many attacks going on simultaneously, the Christian community becomes weary of fighting," Jeynes says.

Regardless of being discouraged or oppressed, Whitehead says Christians don't have the luxury of failing to respond to bullying officials.

"Churches can't be too comfortable to be bothered," Whitehead says. "It's up to churches to tell government to leave these people alone."

Nevertheless, Whitehead is encouraged by the outcome of the Crow-Smith ordeal.

"This victory in Phoenix shows that one person can stand up and change government for the better," Whitehead says. "The democratic process can work, provided that Americans care enough to make their discontent heard."

Author: John W. Kennedy, Pentecostal Evangel


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