Can Religion Strengthen Marriage in America? Leaders in MN Respond.
by Molly Boland
**This report advocates for healthy marriages only. Domestically abusive marriages and relationships are not presented, encouraged, or defended; abused partners need protection.**
Mitch Pearlstein, PhD recently published a report through the Center of the American Experiment which sought to answer the question of whether or not America’s religious traditions can in fact strengthen marriage. He designed the report around the responses of nineteen Minnesota leaders—ranging from clergy to laity, men and women, of varying race and age—during five roundtable discussions.
The report includes the reactions and personal answers to six main questions:
- If clergy could speak to the whole country about marriage for one minute, what should they say?
- How can clergy retrieve their voice about marriage?
- How can clergy do a better job reaching young people? And what about religious schools?
- How can religious leaders and institutions help working class young people? How can religious leaders and institutions help ex-offenders get their life in order?
- How can religious leaders and institutions strengthen and save troubled marriages?
- What can religious leaders and institutions do about popular culture?
All of these responses sought to address why religious traditions were failing to support or strengthen marriages, find areas in which religious traditions were successful, and promote actions that religious traditions could take to increase support for and promotion of marriage.
Overall, the participants agreed on the following points when addressing congregations regarding marriage:
– the subject must be approached in true charity, keeping in mind the wounds of many people as well as emphasizing that the clerical broaching of the subject is out of desire for the good of each individual and his or her best interests;
– people can handle being challenged and, while the truth may hurt, hearing the truth spoken in respect and love;
– while people need a listening ear, couples struggling and considering divorce need compassion and support to work towards perseverance in their marriage;
– we are all broken and wounded human beings; this commonality should be acknowledged by the clergy in their approach to make them both less hypocritical as well as more relatable; and
– meeting congregations where they are and speaking on marriage in terms of what the congregation believes (if there is not agreement on the premise of the discussion, it will not be fruitful).
One of strongest arguments in support of marriage was made by the director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, William J. Doherty, who also teaches at the University of Minnesota, specializing in family and social science. He said, “When people have made a promise for life, it has its own moral weight regardless of whether there are children. Even if the children are fully grown up and autonomous. The messaging of the clergy should…. [focus] on the weight of the marital commitment itself.”
This argument for marriage shows the importance of marriage for the couple themselves, the family, and the community as a whole. Divorce is extremely painful for the couple for so many reasons and the scars are both deep and lasting. Even if children are adults, the breaking up of their parent’s marriage can be devastating since the “promise for life” upon which the child’s entire world was built disintegrates. Finally, marriage affects the whole community and therefore divorce does as well. The community needs to support struggling marriages and healthy ones as well as promote a culture that respects and values marriage, specifically aiming to help foster it as a sacrament among young people.
About the author
Currently studying theology at The Catholic University of America, Molly Boland is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.