The statistic was a familiar one: 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But when Jim Talley, assistant pastor of singles at First Baptist Church in Modesto, California, matched that number with the fact that 90 percent of marriages take place in churches, he decided something had to be done to alter the equation.

So in 1986, Talley headed a committee to formulate the “Community Marriage Policy.” It asked Modesto’s pastors, priests, and rabbi to require couples to participate in a premarriage program before being married. When the policy—a “minimum standards covenant,” Talley called it—was presented to the Modesto Ministerial Association, it received generally positive response, and 95 religious leaders signed the first draft.

“Only a few of the pastors showed concern,” said Steven Hanna, senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church. “Their concern wasn’t about the validity of the policy, but the strain it might place on couples.”

Among other things, the policy requires:

• A waiting period of four months before the wedding.

• Two sessions of premarital counseling, which include an inventory to help the couple objectively evaluate the maturity of their relationship.

• Teaching on the biblical doctrines of morality, marriage, and divorce.

• Encouragement for the couple to attend an engagement seminar.

• Assignment of a mature married couple to meet with and assist the couple in understanding marital “bonding.”

• Attendance of at least one session of postmarital counseling.

“Most divorces are not bad marriages, just poorly prepared marriages,” said Talley.

“Before, if a couple didn’t want to go through the church’s particular marriage program, they just went down the street to the next church and got married there,” Talley said. “Now, ...

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