THIS IS THE THIRD AND LAST OF MY REPORTS TO our readers about the enormous outpouring of pro-marriage letters we received from many of you who have been married 20 or more years. I can readily imagine the secular liberal response: "So what? You've received letters from the winners: what about those whose marriages failed? What does the experience of winners tell you about how lives should be lived or public-policy issues resolved?"
Much, I'd suggest-because the winners often came close to losing. Many letter-writers described how at some point they fought and considered divorce. Some began marriage in crisis: Anne Johnson wrote that 39 years ago "I was 17 and pregnant when I married my 21-year-old husband; statistically it never should have lasted.... Shortly after our first daughter was born, we became Christians and joined an active church fellowship.... That was probably the single greatest factor in the longevity of our marriage."
No marriage is an island. Many would not have survived without church support and counseling-but riding out difficulties is crucial. Statistical studies based on surveys every five years have shown how marriages on the rocks frequently turn into marriages remade in heaven. One study showed that over three out of four people who rated their marriages as very unhappy in 1987 and 1988 but did not get a divorce viewed their marriages as "very happy" or "quite happy" when they were surveyed again from 1992 to 1994. (See Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.)
Studies on failing marriages show that many can be saved if couples and churches believe that failure is not an option. Children also are important in such unions; those who put off having children for fear of divorce make it more likely that one will occur. Dan Cole Younger, married for 29 years, pointed out that "Children will add a depth and intensity to your love that multiplies it exponentially and teaches you lessons about God that every sermon you've ever heard couldn't."
The letters that emphasized how marriage is both God-ordained and good for people helped me to see how faulty is the liberal insistence that Christians may propose certain laws for pragmatic or religious reasons, but should never ever merge the two. The Bible, though, is pragmatic: Because God created us and knows our frames-knows us better than we know ourselves-following God's commandments leads to the greatest good for the greatest number, although that result may not be immediately apparent.
Look at the Ten Commandments themselves: the basic reason to obey them is "I am the Lord your God," but He also provides biblically pragmatic rationales for some. Why not bow before other gods and follow non-biblical ideologies or patterns of living? Because those who do will create suffering for their children. Why not take God's name in vain? Because God will punish the person who does. Why honor your father and your mother? So that your days may be long in the land that God is giving you.
Biblical pragmatism should underlie our responses to this month's "gay marriage" onslaught. In a pluralistic society, the reason government should support marriage is not because God says so but because the historical record shows that promoting marriage is part of promoting the general welfare. Just as neighborhood stability increases when the ratio of homeowners to renters rises, so societal long-term thinking-the key to building for the future and not just grabbing for today's gusto-correlates with marriage.
These conclusions and stats will not surprise WORLD readers who suggested repeatedly that those thinking about marriage should not buy Hollywood lies. Todd and Jenny Sorenson wrote, "'Until death do us part' was not a prison sentence but the most liberating vow we've ever uttered." Karen Doerfler noted "Satan's lie" that marriage "is boring, limiting, and unfulfilling. There is nothing richer than going through all the seasons of life together." Margaret A. Harris wrote, "Growing old together is even better than being young and in love."
So, back to the gist of my question to readers on Feb. 8: Any advice for those leaning toward marriage but unsure? Elaine Neumeyer stressed that young people should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good: "Missed opportunity traded for 'perfect' circumstances may lead to a lifelong attempt to find a close approximation, or two ... or three."