Tying the Knot for Keeps

The “Key to Success” segment on ABC's October 22 World News with Charles Gibson focused on a county in Oregon that has achieved a 15 percent drop in divorce rates in the last five years.

Spearheaded by Tom and Liz Dressel of Clackamas County, Oregon, the “community marriage” initiative is a grassroots effort to save marriages through a combination of personal responsibility and community engagement. The initiative involves 170 churches that provide premarital counseling and postmarital mentoring, and emphasize that marriage is not merely a contract, but a covenant with God.

According to reporter Dan Harris, the churches “have banded together in defense of love and marriage.  The churches are organizing date nights for married couples. Instituting very strict rules for couples getting married.  And encouraging older couples to act as marriage mentors.”

To the credit of Harris and ABC, the piece did not shy away from focusing on the God-centered focus of the initiative.  The Dressels told Harris that they were in a “rotten” marriage until they “(brought) the Lord into our lives.”  Harris described the couple as “marriage missionaries,” and detailed the comprehensive premarital counseling that all engaged couples must go through before being married by the clergy in any of the participating churches.

Harris interviewed three members of the clergy, a Roman Catholic priest, a Presbyterian and an evangelical minister, about why the program was important.

HARRIS: … The Dressels are now sort of marriage missionaries. Six years ago, they organized nearly every church in the county to sign onto something called a community marriage policy, which, among other things, requires every couple contemplating marriage to undergo four premarital mentoring sessions. Priests and pastors like these say they will no longer perform quickie weddings.

FR. RICHARD HUNEGER:  They need to think more about what lies ahead and what they are really committing themselves to.

PASTOR LIBBY BOATWRIGHT: They're often just saying, “Just do this,” you know, as if it is a simple act.

HARRIS:  Like calling a plumber.


PASTOR TOM HURT:  Right now, they are thinking about getting ready for a day, and premarital preparation gets them ready for a marriage.

Harris interviewed an engaged couple who told him they felt much more prepared to prevent a failed marriage.  Another married couple told him that the date nights offered by a local church helped them find “us time” that is often lost in the “hectic” pace of daily life. In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Family Issues, “growing apart” was among the top five reasons people listed for divorcing.  Perhaps the concept of a regular date night is right on target as a preventive measure.

Harris also mentioned that the Dressels' program does not end at the altar.  Marriage mentors help couples who are struggling with difficulties in their marriages. He closed the story by focusing on a newlywed couple and saying, “… these newlyweds believe that marriage is no mere legal contract. It is a covenant with God.”

ABC News deserves praise for giving national attention to this program and acknowledging the faith component on which it is based.  However, the organization doesn't score 100 percent on the effort.  On the ABCNews.com Web site that features the marriage-saving story, the “Related Stories” column that accompanies the piece has 10 stories, seven of which deal with divorce.  The other three have nothing to do with marriage whatsoever.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.