The picture in the Washingtonian magazine perfectly symbolized a nation with the highest divorce rate in the world. It featured a wedding cake with a bride and groom on top. Lurking behind them were two gloomy, dark-suited figures: two little lawyers, each one holding a copy of the prenuptial agreement.

"Love is all you need -- unless the marriage ends in divorce," wrote Washingtonian editor Kim Eisler. "Then a prenuptial agreement is the best defense." He called the prenup "a divorce insurance policy." Well, that's probably true -- but wouldn't it be better for couples to have a marriage insurance policy?

This is the goal of my friend Mike McManus, founder of Marriage Savers. McManus points out that most marriages take place in churches. This means Christians can become a force for building stronger marriages, and thus help cut the divorce rate. Many churches try to meet the challenge by requiring long and demanding periods of prenuptial counseling. The problem is that many couples will say, "No, thanks," and hold their wedding at the church down the street where there are no requirements.

To solve this problem, McManus has instituted Community Marriage Policies -- uniform policies and rules that all the local churches adopt together. Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, black and white clergy all band together to radically reduce the community's divorce rate.

Typically, clergy agree to require engaged couples to undergo four months of marriage preparation including a premarital inventory to evaluate the maturity of the relationship. Community Marriage Policies are now in place in more than 186 cities, and the results have been phenomenal.

Last year the Institute for Research and Evaluation examined the impact of 114 Community Marriage Policies all of which were signed by the year 2000. The Institute compared counties that had these policies with similar counties in the same state that did not have them, taking into account the fact that divorce rates were generally declining. They found that divorce rates in cities or counties without a marriage policy fell by 9.4 percent over seven years. But divorce rates in cities or counties that did have a Community Marriage Policy fell by 17.5 percent -- nearly twice the rate of communities without them. Dr. Stan Weed, president of the Institute, estimates that between 31,000 and 50,000 divorces were averted.

"Clearly," says McManus, "we hold in our hands the answer to America's divorce rate."

And he's right.

The troubling question, however, is will the Church accept the challenge? Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, writes that America's houses of worship are "traditionally the most important custodians of marriage in the nation." And yet, he concludes, they "have been unable and unwilling to foster the beliefs and virtues that make for a strong marriage culture."

What an indictment of the Church -- one that we must answer. A pastor who marries any couple that comes knocking needs to recognize his complicity in America's divorce epidemic and the perceived need for all those lawyers waving prenups at the bride and groom.

I hope you'll learn more about how your church can help couples build lasting marriages -- and help heal America's divorce epidemic.

Next week: Learning How to Nurture Your Marriage


Copyright © 2004 Prison Fellowship

BreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective. Heard on more than 1000 radio outlets nationwide, BreakPoint transcripts are also available on the Internet. BreakPoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship: 1856 Old Reston Avenue, Reston, VA 20190.