My wife and I were married in the Catholic Church forty years ago this month. We were nominal Catholics and got married within the church because it was an expectation and because we had some vague notion that living together was not quite right.

Prior to the wedding we had to attend a Cana Conference with other couples seeking to marry. The other two couples were about our age or in other words, very young.

I honestly do not remember what was covered at the Cana Conference. I do remember one of the couples asking the priest if it was wrong to sleep together before they were married. I didn’t know much but rather expected the priest to be horrified by the question. He wasn’t. He simply said that since they were getting married it would not be an issue anymore, next question please.

I suspect that the priest’s answer was a realization of the times; early 1970’s, free love, little commitment, and so forth and he was just happy the couple was moving forward to be responsible to get married within the church so that the sex would be “legal.”

All that came to mind as I read Janie B. Cheaney’s column in World Magazine titled, A Little Religion.

The gist of article documents that “red state” evangelicals have “a little religion” when it comes to marriage and divorce.

She cites a study (Journal of Sociology)  that documents that evangelicals divorce in red states more so than blue state liberals. The reason appears to be that blue state liberals “try out marriage” without being married so that if it does not work our there isn’t a divorce per se. That would be one way to keep the divorce stats down; don’t get married in the first place and just shack up as we used to say way back when.

The take away line from such reasoning was, “conservative religious beliefs and the social institutions they create, on balance, decrease marital stability through the promotion of practices [like discouraging cohabitation] that increase divorce risk.”

Here’s a couple of points of observation:

1. A Little Religion is a dangerous thing as Cheaney notes. Going to church on Sunday and knowing the words to Amazing Grace does not make a Christian, evangelical or otherwise.

My wife and I had ” a little religion” but nothing we learned at that Cana Conference taught us to live with another sinner under the same roof.  The result was that two very selfish people married and at one point the “D” word became part of our vocabulary. By God’s grace He turned that around and to do so had to deal with with our built in self-centered ways. Pre-marital counseling that does not deal with the fact we are sinners (saved by grace but still sin) is not realistic nor useful  pre-marital counseling.

Way too often our evangelical churches do not prepare a couple for the reality of what marriage is and is not. We say we follow the Bible but in practice we do not and like the Catholic priest reduce marriage to a place of “legal sex” and when the “legal sex” aspect doesn’t shine like it used to then the marriage moves to divorce and usually the perceived greener pastures.

I know as a biblical counselor that no amount of pre-marital counseling is going to thwart one or both in a marriage from divorcing if that’s what they are determined to do. I do know that pre-marital counseling ought to prepare a couple as to what to expect and how the gospel can and should minister to them when things are not going so well. 

Pastors and Elders have an obligation to prepare people for marriage the best they can and frankly, on occasion refuse to marry a couple clearly not ready and if a couple does not know how to apply the gospel to their marriage, they should not marry.

2. My other take away from the article is the observation that non-evangelicals have used the raw statistics of divorce to make the point that “our faith matters little when push comes to shove.”

We can get mad at that or we can admit it and do something about it.