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Putting asunder

"Putting asunder" Continued...

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

Even the culture's pervasive immodesty ultimately stems from a low view of marriage, according to Mr. Köstenberger, who notes it's nearly impossible to find modest, feminine clothing for his 13-year-old daughter: "All of these things are part of the larger problem."

A handful of government agencies have noted this larger problem, and have recently moved to promote marriage in substantial ways, including working with churches. Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle signed into law a bill last month requiring schools that offer human growth and development courses to teach abstinence as the preferred behavior for teens.

Earlier this year, President Bush reauthorized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The reauthorization includes $150 million to support programs aimed at promoting healthy marriages. Up to $50 million of that amount may be used for programs to encourage responsible fatherhood. HHS is encouraging local governments, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and churches with relevant programs to apply for grant money.

Bob Suver, director of the Department of Job and Family Services in Clark County, Ohio, has already applied. Mr. Suver, who also serves as president of the National Association of County Human Services Agencies, has worked closely with churches and faith-based groups in Clark County over the last two years to promote marriage. He says he's seen results.

"I had been kind of skeptical in the past about whether this could have an effect," he told WORLD. But Mr. Suver was eager to find new ways to address his county's exceptionally high divorce rate: "Most years we had as many divorces as marriages, and some years we had more."

After reading a slew of evidence about the results some faith-based groups had achieved, Mr. Suver began funding Clark County Marriage Savers. The group is a local chapter of the national Marriage Savers, a faith-based organization devoted to preserving marriage.

Clark County gave the marriage program $100,000 in 2004. By 2005, the county's divorce rate had dropped by 18.7 percent. Mr. Suver doesn't attribute the drop exclusively to the Marriage Savers program, but says, "We're definitely moving in a positive direction."

About 100 out of 160 churches have joined the Clark County marriage program since 2004. Member churches agree to establish premarital counseling requirements for couples seeking to wed. Churches also train married volunteers to mentor couples through engagement. Married couples experiencing marital difficulties can go to a member church for help. Mr. Suver's office refers clients to the program as well.

Mr. Suver believes preventive measures are the key to diverting from divorce: "We want to get upstream from the problem." He hopes diverting divorces will also reduce cases of welfare and child support in the county: "We have 900 child-support cases per worker right now. . . . We hope to reduce that load."

Two other counties in Ohio are experimenting with similar programs, and Mr. Suver hopes to encourage counties across the United States to consider adopting the plan. "We throw money at so many things," he says. "Why not at least try this?"

Mr. Köstenberger supports government programs that encourage marriage. But he also says Christians should remember that the current marriage crisis is ultimately spiritual, not political: "We may not be able to save this world or culture from deterioration, but that's not really in our hands."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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