If George Barna, by far the most prominent head counter among American Christians, is correct, 35 percent of “born-again Christians” have experienced (to borrow from Tammy Wynette) “pure he-double-l.”  A decade-long study on the Barna Group’s website, published first in 2004, reveals that, “among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce.  That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%.”

Near the end of his article, Barna clarifies that, by “born again,” he is referring to Christians who identified themselves as having made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and that, therefore, his data on “born agains” included Catholics and many Mainline Protestants.  We thus learn that American Catholics (25 percent) are “less likely than Protestants [39 percent] to get divorced,” and that, on the Protestant side, Pentecostals (44 percent) are more likely to get divorced than are Presbyterians (28 percent).

This high level of he-double-l does not translate into a high level of moral guilt, however, as “a majority of both Protestants (58%) and Catholics (69%)” did not consider divorce in cases where one spouse had not committed adultery to be a sin.

“Ye are the light of the world,” Jesus told His disciples.  “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.”  Thanks to Gov. John Winthrop and his many reinterpreters, the Massachusetts Bay Colony or New England or the Union or America or Greater Worldwide America has, at one time or another, been identified as that “shining City on a Hill” that would beam the light of . . . something on the earth.  The high divorce rate in our Magnalia Christi Americana alone (to say nothing of our murder of the unborn or our approval of and participation in sodomy) shows this claim to be bogus.

It would be bogus anyway, however, since Jesus had the Church and not the modern state in mind.  But if the numbers cited above are any indication, the churches of America are failing to uphold the most basic Christian teachings on marriage, and the light that our churches are shining has grown fairly dim.  (When is the last time you heard a red-hot, or even tepid, condemnation of divorce from a Sunday pulpit?)  After all, in our democratized American church culture—irrespective of various dogmatic commitments regarding authority and polity—far too many voters or committee members or “givers” are divorced, and American pastors (so often treated as hirelings) have become the proverbial muzzled oxen.

So, with the churches falling down on the job, should we look to government to pick up the slack?  In this, the era of “compassionate conservatism,” when our President’s favorite mantra is that “government has a role to play,” some desperate folks seem to think that the modern state can help to turn the tide of rampant divorce, broken families, and pure he-double-l.

Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is one of them.  A former Southern Baptist minister, he has been Arkansas’ chief executive since 1996, when Jim Guy Tucker ignominiously resigned.  In 2001, Governor Huckabee encouraged the passage of the state’s Covenant Marriage Act, which grants the citizens of the Land of Opportunity the option of subjecting themselves to a slightly more rigorous standard for marriage and divorce.  Instead of a “standard” marriage, which is relatively easy to procure and can just as easily be dissolved—in the eyes of the state, via no-fault divorce—couples can opt for a covenant marriage.  In addition, those already married can “convert” their marriage into a covenant one, by signing the requisite documents and following a standard procedure required of all those seeking a covenant marriage.

That procedure involves counseling.  According to the law,

A declaration of intent to contract a covenant marriage shall contain . . . the following: . . . An affidavit by the parties that they have received authorized counseling which shall include a discussion of the seriousness of covenant marriage, communication of the fact that a covenant marriage is a commitment for life, a discussion of the obligation to seek marital counseling in times of marital difficulties, and a discussion of the exclusive grounds for legally terminating a covenant marriage by divorce.

The law goes on to specify that

“Authorized counseling” means marital counseling provided by a priest, minister, rabbi, clerk of the Society of Friends, any clergy member of any religious sect, or a “licensed professional counselor,” “licensed associate counselor,” “licensed marriage and family therapist,” “licensed clinical psychologist,” or “licensed associate marriage and family therapist” . . .

According to researchers Joseph Lee Rodgers, Paul A. Nakonezny, and Robert D. Shull, no-fault divorces account for as many as “57,000 extra divorces” per year in the United States.  Huckabee’s Covenant Marriage Law seeks to address this trend, which began in 1969 when Ronald Reagan (then governor of California) signed the first no-fault divorce law, by eliminating it from consideration.  A husband or wife who has procured a covenant marriage in the state of Arkansas may only divorce if the other spouse has committed adultery or a “felony or other infamous crime”; physically or sexually abused the innocent spouse or one of their children; or lived “separately and apart continuously” for at least two years.

The covenant-marriage movement began in the late 1990’s under the direction of Southern Baptist pastor Phil Waugh.  Pastor Phil had worked for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sunday School Board before he brought together “19 marriage and family ministries and Christian organizations” to launch the movement in 1999.  Then, in 2001, “God revealed to him that He remembered the vows they had made and the covenant He had made with them.  There was no question in [Phil’s] heart or mind that God called [Phil and his wife] out to serve as the Executive Directors for the Covenant Marriage Movement.”

Pastor Phil’s vision was “to join hands and hearts in transforming the present divorce culture, in which they live, to a covenant marriage culture through which He can be glorified.”  His strategy was two-pronged: On one hand, he would encourage churches to promote extralegal covenant marriages within their own congregations and denominations—in other words, more focused premarital counseling and greater emphasis on the permanence of marriage vows, culminating in the signature of a covenant-marriage contract (with no legal status); on the other, he would call Christians to exert pressure on state legislatures to enact laws that would make the vows of covenant marriage legally binding.

Despite these intentions, as well as the support of a growing number of largely evangelical pro-family organizations, the covenant-marriage movement had a difficult time gaining momentum.  Only Arkansas, Louisiana, and Arizona were able to get covenant-marriage laws on the books, though similar bills were unsuccessfully introduced in the legislatures of Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico, California, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Nebraska, Tennessee, Washington, and Florida.

Then, on Valentine’s Day (when else?) 2005, Governor Huckabee attempted to infuse the movement with new life by organizing and participating in an event that overshot his own expectations.  One year after homosexuals began flocking to Sodom-on-the-Bay’s city hall to participate in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “Gay Marriage” Extravaganza!, couples of a different stripe were flocking to Little Rock’s Alltel Arena to participate in the Arkansas Celebration of Marriage, in which Governor Huckabee and his wife, Janet, “converted” their union into a covenant marriage.  A crowd of over 8,000 was in attendance for this “extraordinary evening” (according to p.r. materials).  Speakers for this made-for-television event included Dr. Crawford Loritts, host of Living a Legacy; Dennis Rainey, host of Family Life Today; and Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition (an organization that, among other things, helps to galvanize dispensationalist support for Israel and which, according to the Washington Post, helped to funnel money from Jack Abramoff to the wife of an aide of Tom DeLay).  And the audience was treated to the inspirational song stylings of “five-time Grammy winner CeCe Winans.”

According to Governor Huckabee’s website, the event was, as you might imagine, an unqualified success.  The clerk of Arkansas’ Pulaski County, Pat O’Brien, who performed the ceremony, claimed that, following the event, “his office had processed more Covenant Marriages in one month than it had in the previous four years.”

That assessment is a bit misleading.  Over the three-plus years preceding that “one month,” less than one percent of Arkansans had opted for covenant marriage.  And, while the figure is slightly higher in Louisiana and Arizona, sadly, the divorce rate has not dropped in any of those states.  While Pastor Phil claims that 50,000 couples have joined the covenant-marriage movement and that he enjoys the support of 65 pro-family organizations or ministries, covenant marriage seems dead in the water.

Pastor Phil is pressing on, though, by attempting to cement the identity of the Sunday nearest Valentine’s Day as “Covenant Marriage Sunday.”  (That sounds more relevant than Septuagesima, doesn’t it?)  If your church is willing, an entire packet of covenant-marriage materials awaits, including various books, recordings, and other products, as well as a ledger of covenant-marriage certificates.  During the month of February of this year, Governor Huckabee devoted his weekly radio broadcast to the promotion of Covenant Marriage Sunday, playing excerpts from the speeches delivered at the Arkansas Celebration of Marriage.

That included Rabbi Lapin’s address, broadcast on February 11, in which he offers several tools for maintaining a healthy marriage.  Drawing our attention to Genesis, he enjoins us

to remember that God created man and woman, and he taught them the principle of marriage before there were any children.  And so, he brings them together, Adam and Eve, and he says to them—what’s the first thing he says?  “Go to synagogue and church regularly every week”?  Nope.  Does he say “make sure you tithe and give ten percent of your income to charity”?  Not there he doesn’t.  What’s the very first thing he says?  He says “be together, form a marriage, love one another and then have children and fill the earth.”  My second tool for the covenant of marriage is that we are spouses before we are parents.  And by far the greatest gift that you can bestow on children is a pair of parents whose eyes both light up when the other walks into a room.

In this statement, we have underscored for us many of the things that are wrong with the covenant-marriage movement.  Rabbi Lapin has the facts wrong, for starters.  According to Genesis 1, the very first thing that God said after forming Eve and giving her to Adam was, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  He never tells them to “be together” or to fix the love light in their eyes as prerequisite for having children.  Instead, they are to bear God’s image—as Creator, through procreation; and, as Sovereign of all things, by subduing the earth and ruling over it.  Consequently, when they rebel against God, the Curse befits their crime: Adam must struggle to till a rebellious soil full of weeds, and Eve must travail to fill her primary (though not only) function as helpmeet.  Nonetheless, even after the Curse, God repeats His blessing (“Be fruitful”) and commandment (“and multiply”) to Noah.

Children factor very little into today’s “covenant marriage,” though they do, at least, qualify as objects of abuse necessary to obtain a divorce.  Nowhere in the required “qualified counseling” is a commitment to forswear contraception or to affirm that, from the foundation of the world, marriage has meant children (unless God intervenes).  The Baptist or Catholic or Scientologist or Wiccan clergyman does not need to sign an affidavit indicating that he/she/it has taught the couple that a household in which the wife works outside of the home is more likely to experience a divorce, or that a couple that rejects the blessing of fertility is less likely to last.  (Citing a study by Chicago School sociologist John Ermisch, Allan Carlson writes, in “World Population Trends and the Retreat From Marriage,” that “married mothers who are employed after giving birth are almost twice-as-likely to divorce as new mothers who do not work after bearing a child.”  According to Ermisch, “having fewer children and having them later in one’s life suggests a tendency for the expected gains from marriage cooperation to decline.  This suggests that a fall in fertility will increase divorce rates and reduce marriage rates.”)

Contraception also wars against what modern theologians call the unitive aspect of the marriage bed.  Wives who are treated as mere receptacles for their husbands’ desires are not being shown a love that implies the “lifelong commitment” championed by the marriage covenanters.  On the other hand, a couple that is open to having several children demonstrates to each other the permanence of their union—far more than “eyes that light up” will ever show.

It is precisely here that the state and the churches have conspired against the family—and the nation, as well.  Fathers have little support from government in maintaining their roles as heads of households.  The no-fault divorce revolution (1969) went hand-in-hand with the legalization of contraception (1965) and then abortion (1973).  But before this, Protestant churches, one by one (beginning in 1930 at Lambeth) had laid down and died on the contraception issue, and the Catholic churches in the United States, by and large, have since had little to say about their magisterium’s courageous upholding of the natural law and 2,000 years of Christian teaching.

All of this underscores the larger problem with covenant marriage.  Government has no business defining holy matrimony, whether that means including the perversion of “monogamous” sodomites or the creation of a new sort of marriage that is harder to get out of and is sanctioned by state-approved counselors or clergy or gibbons.  In regulating marriage, government bears witness to the natural law, established by God in Creation, which cannot be redefined.  It exists only as a covenant, sealed by the sexual union of man and wife, from which children are the natural outcome.

In the past, our people and our families were protected by our government, by which I do not mean the man behind the curtain in Washington, D.C.  Divorce was nearly impossible.  Trafficking contraceptives and abortion/infanticide were illegal; fathers could earn a decent living and were not insulted with offers of retraining at community college after learning that their jobs had been shipped overseas.  Mothers could stay at home and rear their own children on their husband’s income.  Family farms were not made worthless by government-subsidized agribusiness.  Parents could refuse to spare the rod without fearing an investigation by child-protective services.  And household incomes were not taxed to pay for the education, healthcare, and welfare of the illegal aliens who were stealing their jobs.

In the past, our churches—by which I do not mean Promise Keepers or Focus on the Family or the Christian Booksellers Association—had something to say about marriage.  They called divorce a sin.  They encouraged procreation and denounced contraception.  They said, “Husbands love your wives,” and “wives, obey your husbands,” and “children, obey your parents”—without therapeutic and effeminate qualifiers.  They did not need Governor Huckabee or Rabbi Lapin or Pastor Phil or anyone else to teach them that “marriage is for life,” or to invent a special kind of marriage for pro-family advocates, or to offer their people star-studded token ceremonies to “celebrate” what God created in the Garden.

In the past, we were a people—or, rather, peoples—with our own families, clans, governments, and churches.  We used to love large families and be ashamed of divorce; we used to demand more from our pastors and less from our government.  Now, the reverse is true—but it does not have to be; for, unlike the prospect of eliminating no-fault divorce (or child abuse or evil itself) everywhere, repentance is within our reach.