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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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Churches look to long-term response for traumatized Newtown

Mon, 07 Jan 2013 - 4:34 PM CST

Friday, December 14, is a date the small town of Newtown, Connecticut, will never forget. It is the date that the nearly 700 hundred children attending Sandy Hook Elementary School, their parents, siblings and extended family members and many in the community had their lives changed forever as 20 children and six adults lost their lives by the hand of a gunman who sought out the defenseless.

Philp and Alli Morgan
Pastor Philip Morgan and his wife, Alli.

According to Philip Morgan, pastor of First Assembly of God in nearby Brookfield, Connecticut, the impact of the shooting reached far beyond immediate families. "Indeed, there's no one in our city who doesn't have a connection in some way to the tragedy," Morgan says. "None of the shooting victims were from our immediate congregation, but almost immediately, connections began to appear."

As Morgan lists off some of the church members' connections, the impact area of the horrific act quickly broadens.

"Sandy cared for a young special needs girl, who she took to school late on Friday morning, just 10 minutes before the shooting - the little girl was killed," Morgan begins. "Bob was the dispatcher who took the first frantic 911 calls from the school; Meagan, a freshman college student, taught ballet to two of the girls who were killed; Pete manages a nearby Starbucks, one of his barista staff was a substitute teacher on Friday and was killed; we have several teachers in our congregation who have worked over the years with the Sandy Hook principal, who was killed; Paul, another teacher, works with a parent whose son was killed . . . ."

Morgan says that First Assembly, along with many other churches in the community, offered a prayer service that fateful Friday evening, with the church filling with the shocked, numbed and grieving, along with special services on Sunday. And Christmas, which typically arrives with an unlimited sense of happiness, joy and celebration - especially for children and families - came about with an overhanging sense of heaviness, and for some, fear and uncertainty.

"Sandy Hook is such a quiet little community," Morgan says. "Here the cliché, 'Never thought it would happen here,' really rings true. Of all the places, this really is the last place on earth to expect something like this. People have been processing disbelief for a long time. They're asking, 'Where was God?' and 'Why did He allow this to happen?'"

The Sunday following the tragedy, Morgan's sermon was entitled, "What in the world is God doing?" He explained to the hurting and still shocked audience that the Cross is the answer and sin is the problem. "Everyone was kind of numb," Morgan recalls. "People tried to make it as normal of a Christmas as possible, while victims' families were tucked away just trying to get through it as best they could."

Morgan says that the church had already planned 21 days of prayer and fasting to start the New Year, but now one of the focuses of prayer is the church's response to this crisis and those suffering due to the tragedy.

However, the evangelical community in the area is far from simply self-focused. With dozens of churches already part of an active and coordinated evangelical church fellowship, when tragedy struck, Morgan says they were able to come together quickly and begin a coordinated response.

"One of our members contacted churches who were involved in response in the Columbine and Virginia Tech tragedies to attain what to expect," Morgan says. "It was the same story - short term, the media was all over it and people were giving, but once the media spotlight went elsewhere . . . the real need is longer term."

With that in mind, the churches worked to develop a three- to five-year response effort, with the mission statement of: To create a long-term, proactive, integrated and planned response to the needs in the community following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, so that there is healing and Kingdom advancement.

One of the fist things the group did was set up the Sandy Hook Response Fund at a local bank.

"We want to be able to provide long-term counseling needs for victims," Morgan says. "We have two excellent, Christian counseling services in our area, and in addition to continued pastoral counseling for families, we want to offer professional counseling services as well."

Morgan is also quick to note that even if someone had no connection to this particular tragedy, there are plenty of individuals who can be impacted due to Post Traumatic Stress disorders.

"This is a trigger event," Morgan explains. "What happened here can bring up traumatic events that happened to people in their past - and their need for help can be just as great."

Morgan says that many in the community are still struggling to find answers. "Our message is that God didn't cause this," Morgan says. "This is the result of sin in the world and God is more grieved than anyone about it."

For churches and individuals outside of the area wanting to know how to help, Morgan says people can contact the church for additional information about contributing to the recovery fund.

However, Morgan's greatest request is simple. "Don't forget Newtown."

He urges churches and individuals to continue to prayer for families and long-term recovery.

"I ask people to specifically pray for the healing and recovery of the victims' families; the wider school community, students and staff; and the responders - the police and people who had to be there," Morgan says. "Also pray for the community itself. Just like somebody who had someone break into their home, that sense of violation, the city has that feeling of violation as well.

"In some ways, we almost want to get the door closed a little bit, so people can get on with their lives and their normal routine," Morgan continues. "But as I was talking with the wife of Bob, the dispatcher, she told me how you'll think you're doing okay, but then all of a sudden something will remind you of what happened, and all the emotions come flooding back . . . . "

Yet for Morgan and the churches he's working with, the answer to the problem is clear.

"The real answer - not just for Newtown or the city of Danbury, but for the nation - is revival," Morgan states. "We are desperate for an awakening and a spiritual move by God. These things are only symptomatic of the real problem - so we are praying for a real move of God across the land, and for it to start in New England as He has done it before."

For more information about Brookfield First Assembly or for contact information, see its website.

 

Keywords: AG churches
Authors: Dan Van Veen

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