Why Middle-Class Marriages Need the Church

12.20.2012, 8:27 AM

Katelyn Beaty is Managing Editor of Christianity Today.

There’s a crisis in marriage equality in this country. And it has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

That’s one major finding of the newest State of Our Unions report, published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families. Released this week, the 2012 report spotlights the segment of America where marriage is drying up: the middle class.

Once the icon of solid marriages and two-parent families, the middle class is starting to resemble the poor’s relationship patterns: cohabitation, serial partnerships, divorce, and single parenting aided by welfare. Meanwhile, marriage is “becoming the preserve of the well-educated,” note the report’s authors (Elizabeth Marquardt, David Blankenhorn, Robert I. Lerman, Linda Malone-Colón, and W. Bradford Wilcox). And this, they assert, signals nothing less than “the social challenge for our times.”

Middle America, which composes 60 percent of the U.S. population, is defined as citizens between ages 25 to 60 with a high school but not a college education. In the 1980s, only 13 percent of children in this population were born out of wedlock. By the end of the 2000s, that number rose to 44 percent—nearly half. Many of today’s middle-class children are born to cohabitating couples or to parents who regularly switch partners. Research indicates that these children face more economic instability, see more partner conflict, and are more likely to be abused than children in married or single-parent families. And they are more likely to repeat their parents’ behaviors, barring from them the economic and relational stability crucial to a healthy person and, indeed, a healthy society.

To promote strong marriages, give children a better start—and also, consequently, cut taxpayer costs—the report’s authors present to President Obama and other top policymakers 10 directives. Ranging from “triple the tax credit for children under age 3” to “help young men become marriageable” to “engage Hollywood,” the list addresses marriage from many important angles: economic, social, and attitudinal. But one angle conspicuously absent is religious. What’s the role of communities of faith in strengthening marriage?

At it turns out, Middle America’s marriage crisis overlaps with its religious crisis. As Wilcox notes in his forthcoming study “No Money, No Honey, No Church” and in his 2010 State of Our Unions, fewer white working-class Americans participate in church life than they did even 20 years ago—a striking reality given how churches have historically provided solidarity for the working class. According to the General Social Survey, level of church attendance decreased among all three educational groups from the 1980s to the 2000s, but the middle class showed the greatest decline. And because religious institutions so strongly perpetuate a “familistic” way of life—as well as give to members social support and civic skills—the dearth of religious activity also means fewer marriages and more economic strife.

What does this all mean for religious institutions? I believe they can do more to engage middle-class Americans in both pastoral and practical ways, which in turn will lay better foundations for marriage among middle-class attendees. Local church leaders might ask:

  • Is our teaching accessible to attendees without a college degree?
  • Are our pews filled with people from the same tax bracket, or do we strive for economic diversity?
  • Are we encouraging cohabitating couples, especially those with children, toward marriage (at the appropriate time and in sensitive ways)?
  • Are we providing job training and/or childcare, or partnering with nonprofit or government agencies that do, in order to ensure greater economic stability for middle-class couples?
  • Do we teach the goodness and benefits of marriage, for individuals as well as society?

The list could go on. Certainly churches can’t alone turn the tide on Middle America’s marriage crisis; they, for example, can’t offer economic incentives in the form of tax credits or make anonymous fatherhood via sperm donation illegal (another of the 10 directives). The state plays a crucial (if at times bloated) role in shoring up marriage, as we see among many successful state-level marriage projects. But the state can’t do it alone. And with an institution like marriage, so laden with spiritual meaning and history, the church can’t excuse itself from the conversation. Church-state separation is wise and good for many public issues, but marriage may be one where church and state enjoy a happy union after all.

31 Responses to “Why Middle-Class Marriages Need the Church”

  1. La Lubu says:

    The local diocese is in the process of sending out surveys to former/non-practicing Catholics to gain some insight into why so many people have left. They have also acknowledged that if the reasons have to do with doctrine, that nothing is going to be done about that. Therein lies the problem. In my opinion, fewer people are attending church because fewer people agree with the doctrine/beliefs being preached.

    People haven’t necessarily abandoned spirituality, just churches.

  2. [...] trends can be reversed, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead discusses pathways to successful relationships, Katelyn Beaty asks what churches can do, and Kevin Noble Maillard criticizes marriage stereotypes. To view the [...]

  3. Diane M says:

    I wonder how much family breakdown has contributed to not attending church? I know when I feel stressed out and busy, I skip religious services.

    Then, too, when couples get divorced, they often have to decide which one gets the church.

  4. Elizabeth Marquardt says:

    I love what you say here. My professor Don Browning taught me, and others, that churches have a unique and powerful role as custodians of the marriage tradition. Too many churches have opted out, seeing marriage as too private to say much about beyond the wedding day.

    Colleagues and I have a report releasing January 16th called “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?” which has much to say about the impact of divorce, as a primary example, on the faith identities of persons from divorced families and the future of the churches. There is so much more work to be done studying cohabitation, as my friend Brad Wilcox and others are doing, single parent childbearing, and other family forms with regard to the impact on the next generation’s spiritual experience and attitudes.

  5. Hi Elizabeth,

    Haven’t talked to you in quite some time. I’m always interested in anything in which you are involved. “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith” sound like another interesting project. Look forward to reading it.

    I wonder if you might email me. I need to talk to you about a project I’m working on and don’t want to post my phone # on here.

    Linda Ranson Jacobs

  6. Jason Jackson says:


    It is the doctrine– chastity and abstinence– that keeps society safe. So the church is righter than those who break its commandments. Out-of-wedlock births are out of control.

  7. La Lubu says:

    Jason, if that was directed at me, I think you’re missing the point. The post seemed to be implying that people are passively just not attending church, or passively avoiding church because it isn’t filling their nonspiritual social, emotional or material needs. That’s not it—more people are actively avoiding church—not attending because the church they were raised in (or for folks like me who weren’t raised with religion, the churches they are familiar with) are a poor spiritual fit—they disagree with the core beliefs. Churches aren’t going to change their core beliefs, so people go elsewhere in search of spirituality (or not, in the case of atheists).

    Few people are leaving the Catholic church (or any other church) over minor-league issues like chastity or birth control (they just ignore whatever the church has to say about it; in the case of the Catholic church the common attitude of the laity is that priests have no authority to speak on sexual or family matters because both are irrelevant to their personal lives). It’s more common for people to leave because of growing up in a pluralistic society and being exposed to many different spiritualities and belief systems—they’ve formed their own ideas based on their own explorations and experiences, and churches aren’t reflecting that plurality. That, and women are leaving churches that treat them as second-class citizens and move towards egalitarian churches (or, joining the ranks of “spiritual, but not religious”).

    It’s not that people don’t know where to find a church, or are unaware of what is being preached there.

  8. Jason Jackson says:

    La Lubu,

    You asserted that

    The “hook-up culture” is a myth. The overwhelming majority of sexual activity between young men and young women is within the context of a relationship.

    A study recently found that

    Forty percent [of freshman women] reported sexual hookups during the first year of college

    We can debate what this means, but when 4 out of 10 college freshmen are having hookups, that not a “myth.” http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/l-ar110812.php

    At its core, a hookup decreases the value of sex.

  9. Diane M says:

    Jason Jackson, what I’ve read is that most college students will have relatively few sexual partners. There might have a hook-up, but they won’t have many and they will eventually have a relationship.

    I am concerned about people who never settle down and have a relationship. I think that may be on the rise, but I think the main causes are probably things like having divorced parents, believing that you have to get your career set before you find someone, and/or looking for that one perfect person. Spending too much time in doomed relationships might be a factor, too.

  10. Diane M says:

    As always, I just want to throw in that when churches try to help families with child care, consider ways to support the families who want to have a parent at home or parent/s working part-time. They could certainly use real economic help that makes it more possible for them to stay home.

  11. Diane M says:

    One final thought to throw out – I think one reason church attendance is down is simple busy-ness. Families are overwhelmed.

    Then when families are too busy to participate in the life of a faith community, the faith community doesn’t have enough people to do the work it used to. Churches and faith communities used to have a large supply of volunteer mothers and I think they relied on them to get a lot of the basic work done.

    So maybe one way to up attendance is to figure out how to get the funding to hire people to do more of the work and make it easier to come to church.

    Another thought might be to figure out ways to make church a place families come together and swap chores or do them together.

  12. La Lubu says:

    Yes, Jason, “hookup culture” is a myth: Hook-up Culture is a myth. Here’s a link that provides some detail on the vagueness of the term (i.e.: “hooking up” doesn’t necessarily mean intercourse). Here’s a link that cites CDC data on sexual activity of young people between the ages of 20-24.

    The most common definition for “hookup” is: “a casual, short-term sexual encounter not necessarily ending in intercourse, which has replaced that obsolete ritual the date”. In other words, a “hookup” could be meeting someone, hanging out and shooting pool (or whatever) that evening, and ending the evening with some mild what-we-used-to-call necking. Where I live, a less common (but still widely used) definition of hookup is: “random sexual encounter”, what-we-used-to-call a “one night stand.” So, it depends on who you’re asking. There is no evidence that the number of persons having intercourse with random partners has increased.

    With that said, you seem to hold the belief that sexual activity is something that can be “cheapened”. I disagree. While it is certainly possible that a person can be unappreciative of his or her partner, I don’t believe that sex itself can be diminished in value. Like a work of music or another form of art, it can be performed badly or well, but that doesn’t mean that sex itself it bad—just that one may have to practice more in order to perfect his or her craft! *smile*

  13. Jason Jackson says:

    You know, sex used to mean something so intimate and personal that you would only do it with someone you are ready to commit to someone for life. Sex is much more like a church service than a work of music… something that means something deeper to our society. You can never share something that sacred with someone else unless you act appropriately before.

    You try and downplay the “hook-up” culture as I see it, by noting that it’s between 30% and 40% that end in intercourse, and far more end up in different ways.

    However, if 40% of our college students do this say once a year, than somewhere around 40% will have assumed, to some degree, to have taken a risk of an out-of wedlock pregnancy. The statistics don’t translate over, but 4 in 10 children are born out of wedlock. I would bet if there were 1 hookup in every 100 students, that would lead to the rate dropping, because sex is viewed as more important.

  14. La Lubu says:

    Jason, it’s important to remember that “hooking up” doesn’t necesarily mean sex. It could refer to anything from kissing all the way up to (and including) sexual intercourse. It’s a catchall phrase that is deliberately ambiguous; about the only thing that is consistent about it is that it always refers to sexual attraction, whether or not that is acted upon. Again, refer to the CDC statistics. You are using “hooking up” to imply promiscuity, when the CDC shows very low rates of people having more than four sexual partners during the 20-24 age frame. And that’s a fairly strict interpretation of promiscuity, considering one would still be having just one sex partner per year.

    In any case, you and I hold radically different views of both sex and the sacred. (I’m Pagan. Sex is sacred, but so is breathing, eating, creativity, the earth, etc. The sacred is immanent, not transcendent….)

    No importa….if I remember correctly, Stephanie Coontz did a comparison of colonial American birth records to marriage records and discovered a premarital sex rate of something like 30%. And those are just the ones that ended in pregnancy! Y’know, back in the day when if you were caught having premarital sex, you could be put in some kind of BDSM contraption in the town square. Sex prior to marriage is a time-honored practice.

    I predict that when effective birth control becomes available via the Affordable Healthcare Act (forcing insurance plans like mine to start covering it), the unplanned pregnancy rate will plummet….OTC birth control really isn’t as effective as prescription. I predict that if a reliable, reversible form of birth control is developed for men, the unplanned pregnancy rate will drop even further.

  15. Jason Jackson says:

    it’s important to remember that “hooking up” doesn’t necesarily mean sex. It

    Agreed. As a link you sent said (straight dope):

    30 percent had had a hookup leading to intercourse.

    That is still disturbing to me, and consistent with my past statements.

    if I remember correctly, Stephanie Coontz did a comparison of colonial American birth records to marriage records and discovered a premarital sex rate of something like 30%

    So? People were at least getting married. Now we have a no-marital sex rate of 41%.

    I predict that when effective birth control becomes available via the Affordable Healthcare Act (forcing insurance plans like mine to start covering it), the unplanned pregnancy rate will plummet

    I can’t begin to describe how much this contradicts the data. I’m not catholic, so I don’t have a moral dog in this fight (I prefer abstinence anyhow). It’s just clear the data completely contradicts the idea that good birth control counteracts increased proscimuity.

    First, Contraception was made legal in 1965. Out In 1965, 24 percent of black infants and 3.1 percent of white infants were born to single mothers When we got contraception, we lost the idea that sex before marriage necessitated marriage. See http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_01.pdf to get the rise in the rate over time.

    Secondly, 26 states already mandate the use of contraception. http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/insurance-coverage-for-contraception-state-laws.aspx. So, If this fall in unplanned pregnancies was about to happen, surely we would already be seeing it in those 26 states. (Hint: Those states are way over half our population, and include several: California and Texas chief among them, that have minority groups that the CDC tracks. ) California’s contraception mandate came into effect in 1999; Texas’ in 2001. In 2010, per CDC, California and Texas combined had over 40% of the hispanic births.

    So, one would expect the hispanic rate to have leveled off (or, as you assert, fell) as a result of these two mandates. Instead, more than half of all births to hispanics are out of wedlock. .


    This indicates that California’s mandate has not worked to prevent “unplanned”/”cohabitating” pregnancies.

    So, if you think a contraception mandate in the last 24 states will cause unplanned pregnancies to drop, be my guest. I realize a pregnancy could be planned and one-parent, and would like your clarification on that. However, if you start singing the virtues of cohabitation, a lot of people will disagree with you.

    Contraception has not worked to ensure children get a mother and father. The drive of sexual freedom is much stronger.

  16. La Lubu says:

    Jason, states with insurance mandates do not and have not required all employers to provide their employees with comprehensive, affordable medical insurance. As a consequence, people without college educations often do not have health insurance, either because their employers do not offer it, or they cannot afford it on their low wages. Also, mandates at the state level have exemptions for self-funded insurance plans—like those offered through the building trades (it is fairly common for building trades health insurance plans to disallow any contraception other than sterilization).

    What the Affordable Care Act does isn’t just provide a contraception mandate, but make health insurance affordable according to one’s income. For the first time, low-income people who are not on welfare will be able to access health insurance (Medicaid has an abysmally-low cutoff point).

    Legal contraception that is unaffordable won’t be used—the more affordable, less effective forms will be used instead. That’s why the college-educated aren’t having the unplanned pregnancy rates of the non-college educated…it’s the seamless, affordable access to the most effective means of birth control that makes the difference. People who go to college are not chaste. They have sex. Their sex is better protected against unwanted pregnancy via the most effective forms of birth control. They go from campus health service access while in school, to employer-provided comprehensive healthcare that is typically offered at jobs that require college degrees.

    I have no idea why you think a mandate that (non-self-funded) insurance plans cover contraception would make a difference in the unplanned pregnancy rates of people who cannot afford insurance and/or people who do not work for an employer that offers insurance. Hey, there’s a car dealership in my city that sells really expensive foreign cars. The availability of those expensive cars doesn’t make them any more affordable to the populace, so in reality you don’t see very many of those vehicles on the street. Get it?

  17. Jason Jackson says:

    What the Affordable Care Act does isn’t just provide a contraception mandate, but make health insurance affordable according to one’s income. For the first time, low-income people who are not on welfare will be able to access health insurance (Medicaid has an abysmally-low cutoff point).

    That’s actually a good argument. I wish it was true. Many European countries have full mandated health insurance. Several have contraception mandates. You can see the list of those here: http://reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/pub_fac_slovak_european%20standards_9%2008_WEB.pdf (page 2).

    And here are the unmarried birth rates by year and country: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tps00018&plugin=0

    Notice something? Regardless of contraceptive policy, the trend is positive (more out-of-wedlock births in every country except Denmark (where the rate is high anyhow)). At least two countries that subsidize contraception–Belgium and Estonia– have two of the highest rates.

    I’m not saying there is a causative impact in Europe (It definitely has a role, but other factors, like culture (Greece and Italy) play a big role too). I am saying that to assert the rate will fall here is not held out by European systems either.

  18. Jason Jackson says:

    An exception is Malta, where rates are falling and they don’t appear to mandate contraception.

  19. mythago says:

    Good grief, why are the moderators allowing Jason to jump on his personal abstinence hobbyhorse in a discussion about the role of “the church” in strengthening marriage?

    Though I find the author’s piece more than a bit dishonest. She raises some excellent points about what churches can do to help the marriages of their followers, but sandwiches it with her view that the government should therefore embrace Christianity and that religion is essential. Well, no. It’s not the government’s job to push Ms. Beaty’s faith on everyone, even with the best of intentions.

  20. Jason Jackson says:

    My apologies. La Lubu asked me a question on another thread before it closed. On topic, one thing the LDS Church has done recently is encouraged more of their youth to serve missions at 19-20. This pulls them out of society and helps prepare them for marriages. https://www.lds.org/youth/video/welcome-to-conference?lang=eng

  21. Diane M says:

    “Too many churches have opted out, seeing marriage as too private to say much about beyond the wedding day.”

    This often seems to be a problem. Faith communities often interview and/or counsel couples before marriage. There is often an implicit contract – we’ll recognize and support your union. But most of us do not want to intrude on other people’s private lives.

    Churches and temples, etc. can probably do the most good by providing classes and counseling when people ask for it, but having those services seems like a great contribution they can make.

    I think just being a community often helps families a lot.

    Anyhow, I wanted to think more about practical ways churches and temples can draw young families in. Any ideas on things that would make someone want to come to services or join the community or that would just be supportive? Parents’ nights out? Discussion groups for young parents? Toy exchanges?

    LaLubu, what would you suggest?

  22. La Lubu says:

    LaLubu, what would you suggest?

    I hope you don’t think I’ve been ignoring your question; I’ve been thinking about this all day in the back of my mind. I think the answers are different depending on the target audience. The only target audiences I am familiar with are (a)nonpracticing and/or former Catholics and/or (b)religious “nones”—people who are unaffiliated with any organized religion and/or who would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” How do you get people who have never had a spiritual community, who may be unaware of the benefits of belonging to such a community, or who have long since come to the conclusion that they will never find such a community?

    Well….I found my UU community on a lark. My daughter wants to be a wildlife biologist, and during the summer it is traditional in UU congregations to have guest speakers and lay-led sermons (ministers go on sabbatical). I had never heard of Unitarian Universalism, but saw in the local free paper (the one-stop shop for everything that is going on in the city and area) that there would be a Sunday talk on the importance of bats to the environment. I figured it’d be an interesting talk, and that my daughter would dig it—the man speaking (by day a chiropractor) had a hobby of bats, animal rescue, spelunking, that sort of thing. Everyone in the congregation cracks up when I tell that story, but it’s true. Bats brought me in the door, because I find spirituality in nature.

    Why I stayed: (1) I was welcomed at the door. The minister shook my hand and my daughter’s hand, and personally welcomed us. So did several other members of the congregation. We were personally invited back. (2) When I entered the sanctuary, I was immediately struck by two gorgeous tapestries hanging in the front of the room behind the lectern. One was of the chalice, and the other held symbols of several major world religions/spiritual traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, the Bahai Faith, Hinduism, an earth to represent all earth-based traditions, and the symbol for humanism. I immediately thought, “I gotta come back here. I gotta find out more about this place”. I picked up some literature. (3) I read through the literature. What appealed to me was the lack of dogma; the belief that we are all seekers of truth, and that there are many paths towards truth. I agreed with the seven principles, and was heartened by the multiple sources informing UUism. I appreciated the religious education program for young people; it was something I didn’t feel needed deprogramming for my daughter afterwards. For once, I could sign on fully to the oath taken at the chalice lighting: “We light this flame to represent the light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment. (call-and response): May the light we now kindle/inspire us to use our powers/to heal and not to harm/to help and not to hinder/to bless and not to curse/to serve you/Spirit of Freedom.”

    (4)That’s what really hit me—that I could sign on fully, not partially. That I didn’t have to leave parts of myself at home, or outside the door. That it was a holistic environment where I could actually be myself, and where my daughter could grow into herself. So, I signed the membership book. I was 42.

    I do think spiritual communities can be helpful. I’m so glad I found mine. But “everything ain’t for everybody”. What I think would be most helpful for spiritual communities seeking to be a welcoming place for religious “nones”, and/or people who have consciously broken away from the religion of their upbringing because they do not feel that to be their spiritual home:

    1. Be a place of welcome. Real welcome. Speak to and spend time with newcomers. Learn something about them. Invite them into the inner circle of the community. Take a chance—they’ve already taken a chance by walking through the door.

    2. Get your ego out of the way. Not everyone who walks through your door is going to find their spiritual home with you. Take part in the local interfaith community group so you can be of service to those people, and direct them towards other people of goodwill in other faith communities who may be a better fit.

    3. Recognize that the narrower your profile of who is your “ideal” member will shrink, not enlarge, your faith community. Be open to people who don’t fit the profile. This is a lot easier said than done, and requires conscious effort.

    4.That’s going to require balancing the dynamic of change-to-stasis; expanding the boundaries to let new people enter while not driving long-timers away. That means opening lines of communication and more importantly, a voice for/practice of democracy.

    The religious communities of the future are going to have to be up for those challenges. Because whether they like it or not, they will have them. I feel like I’m criticizing from the cheap seats though, because there is no faith crisis for me to say any of that—none of that conflicts with my deeply-held beliefs. Probably the best description I could give for what I consider to be faith is found in Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams”. Everybody is on board This Train. It’s a very Universalist message—we are all saved. (in-depth discussion of the many reasons why Bruce Springsteen is my patron saint is going to require more space than is available in the post, and probably a few beers too)

    Speaking of space, maybe I need to cede the floor to someone else before I come back with suggestions on what faith communities can do to assist young couples who come from that “none” background.

  23. Amy Ziettlow says:

    La Lubu-Amen and amen. Thank you for your practical and inspiring words to spiritual communities of all doctrines. I will be sharing with friends!

  24. La Lubu says:

    Thanks! It’s not a comprehensive list—I probably need to spend more time thinking about it; reflecting on what brought me (a “none” of four decades standing) and others from my spiritual community with similar stories to our new home. The main takeaway is “be welcoming” and that younger people—I’m one of the older folks within Gen X, and while this is a concern for my generation, it is especially a concern of younger people—are looking for a holistic environment. We have spent our whole lives fragmented, piecemeal, compartmentalized. Many of us have never known a community (outside of our own family) that wasn’t a rhetorical construct. Young people expect a spiritual community to be an embracing one—-they don’t want to have to hide parts of themselves; they’ve been there and done that and found it alienating.

    I forgot to mention on the welcoming part—have rituals of welcome, and rituals or practices of getting to know one another/sharing one another’s lives.

    As for helping young couples (again, this isn’t a comprehensive list, and it’s been a long time since I was part of a young couple!):

    1. My congregation has a Pastoral Care committee. Basically, it’s there to help people when they’re down on their luck. We’re limited on what we can do financially of course (and that would be true of most spiritual communities), but no one will go hungry on our watch, or have their furniture on the street, or their kids go without being able to celebrate a holiday or milestone. But it’s there for more than that; they have a hardcore baseline knowledge for accessing community resources; they help people weather illnesses and chronic health concerns. They organize the rest of the community when necessary for a “bucket brigade” of help (as in providing food for funeral/celebration of life receptions). They’re also who you’d go to if you had counseling or psychological concerns; most of the members of that committee are in that line of work, and will offer referrals and where to find support groups.

    1a. The corollary to this: make sure that any counseling offered or referred by one’s faith community be by a trained professional in that line of work. Counseling is not amateur work. I think in my geographic area many faith communities have recognized this; my daughter attended a grief counseling camp for young people after my mother died that was run by a local Methodist church (they held the camp at a local park, both because their church wasn’t big enough, and so they wouldn’t scare off people from other traditions). (this was different, but similar to the one run by the hospice team—which she also attended; that was longer, and specifically used nature as a form of healing). Anyway, when I went to the website to look up information, I noticed that this particular church had professional counseling available at the church for both individuals and couples. It was refreshing to see that they saw that emotional needs and spiritual needs are related, but not the same thing.

    2. Lose the stereotypes about who is and is not a desirable faith community member. Want to be of service? Want to see your community grow? Then lose the notion of who is “your type”. Many of the young couples (or young singles) walking through your doors will have had children prior to marriage. Some young couples are already “blended” families. They have tattoos and piercings. They dig wrestling, mixed martial arts, and video games. (a lot of them read, too.) Many of them grew up in divorced homes. Many of them grew up in dysfunctional homes. Many of them are not middle class. One-third of all women in the U.S. have had an abortion. One in four women have been the victim of sexual assault (or attempted sexual assault). Faith communities have to lose the idea that only “goody-two-shoes” people with perfect Normal Rockwell lives are good people, and/or spiritual people. Because you know what?

    3. Young people and young couples who come through your doors aren’t looking to be a burden on your community. They are looking not just for a place to belong, but a place where they can be of service to others. Stop slotting them into the category of “problems to be solved” and start putting them in the category of “possible solutions.” Have some service groups they can join!! So many young people are specifically looking for this!!

    4. Start some small faith community groups, if you haven’t done so already. Have a men’s group. A women’s group. A young adult group. A “green” group that integrates your spiritual vision with the physical environment. A support group for people struggling with chronic health conditions (yes, there are young people doing this, too. Probably a full third of the younger adults in my faith community have a serious, life-impacting, usually “invisible” condition—epilepsy, lupus, depression, MS, cancer survivor, diabetes, that sort of thing). A support group for couples. And….

    5. Have some “miscellaneous” sorts of groups where people can deepen their commitment and connection: in my community, we call them “chalice circles”. Sometimes they start around an idea or question; sometimes they have each person bring an idea or question each week. But the idea is that each “circle” is a dozen people or less, so they get to know and bond with one another. We also have a “fun” corollary: “circle dinners”. One person is the host with the main dish, and other people bring side dishes. (most of the people in my community are seriously into food. One of our service/social groups revolves around food!). Conversation and good times, and it’s an easy way to build community.

    6. Young people with children are especially looking to meet other families with children, so have some kid’s groups and multi-generational groups. (we have a “game night” monthly, “coffeehouse night” occasionally, and “camping night” yearly or semi-annually, along with outside gatherings run by the fellowship committee—nature walks, group movie/play/concert/game trips, that sort of thing).

    7. Meditation: not just for Buddhists.

    8. Accept young couples as couples, even if they’re not married. (why on earth do people insist on the one hand that young couples ought to get married, but on the other not recognize them as couples? cognitive dissonance?)

    9. With all that said: here’s the controversial part. When it comes to forgiveness, be discerning. Most faith communities have a standard practice of “everyone deserves a second chance” or “there’s two sides to every story” or “forgiveness comes from God, so who are we to deny anyone?” Please know that you have real survivors from real trauma in your midst. There is nothing more alienating to survivors than having that trauma be dismissed or not acknowledged, and it is re-traumatizing to be told that they played a part in their victimization, or that their victimization was a part of “God’s plan”, or that they are charged with reforming their abuser. Read “The Sociopath Next Door”; 4% of the population doesn’t have a conscience. It’s a biochemical condition that (so far) cannot be fixed. Make note of that, and recognize the signs that differentiate the sociopath from the people who have just made mistakes. Controversial, but necessary.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

  25. Ned Flaherty says:

    Jason Jackson admits that he prefers abstinence to sex, which explains his being in thrall to Roman Catholic dogma, which he thinks — incorrectly — “keeps society safe.”

    Dogma itself never keeps anyone safe; though it does lead to fascist rule.

    It is individuals’ own interpretation of doctrine — framed by the vagaries of history, reduced by the filters of the moment, and altered via the prism of their own personal values — which lead to public safety.

  26. Ned,

    I love this phrase, “altered via the prism of their own personal values”.

    Is this an original? Powerful

    Linda Ranson Jacobs

  27. Jason Jackson says:

    being in thrall to Roman Catholic dogma, which he thinks — incorrectly — “keeps society safe.”

    Not simply Roman Catholic. This is Christian doctrine. I’m not Catholic. Since 75% of the US is Christian, I hope we can find common ground to teach Christian scriptures like 1 Thes. 4: 3-4, Hebrews 13:4, and restore the culture of marriage being an essential part of life.

    Anyhow, yes, families would not be in this crisis if sex were linked to marriage. Cohabitation is one of the leading problems. The church is in one of the best places to fix these problems, and the bible backs us up.

    (I have no idea what religion the other posters are, except I do agree with La that we need to include all, but would add we don’t need to change or hide the bible to do that. If we compromise the bible, things don’t work as well.)

  28. Ned Flaherty says:

    Jason Jackson:

    These 4 cautions explain why your approach can’t work.

    1. Your desire to “restore the culture of marriage” by teaching Christian scriptures is really just a proposal to convert the nation to a theocracy (e.g., Iran). A theocracy is the antithesis of the democratic republic which America was founded as, and which it remains today.

    2. Your desire to preserve marriage for only 75% of the population also says, by definition, that the marriages of the other 25% of the people don’t matter, just because they don’t share your faith.

    3. You see your bible as the ideal authority to “fix the sex/cohabitation/marriage crisis.” It is not. If it were that, then (a) it would have fixed the problem by now, and (b) it would have prevented it in the first place.

    4. You assume that including all faiths doesn’t require changing or hiding your bible. That is untrue. Every faith has its core religious writings, and no believer from one faith is going to adopt the highest writings of another faith.

    In summary, the answer is not religion (not yours, not anyone’s). Marriage can be protected, preserved, and promoted only by strong, individual core values that are taught over time.

  29. Jason Jackson says:


    We disagree on many fundamentals. I feel like developing the nuances that would explain why I don’t want the US to become like Iran or why religion helps all would be counterproductive. Have a great day!

  30. Karen says:

    I fully understand and appreciate your points Jason. They have not been lost here. Thank you for sharing.