Can America’s Religious Traditions Strengthen Marriage? Minnesota Leaders Say “Yes” and Propose How


This report draws on five intellectually rich roundtable discussions involving nineteen Minnesotans, both lay and clergy, held at Center of the American Experiment in the late summer and early fall of 2015.

A critical point before a quick half-dozen sample comments by participants: Healthy marriages are the only kind advocated here. Domestically abusive unions need to be escaped, abused partners need protection, and abusive partners need cops called.

(I)  If clergy could speak to the whole country about marriage for one minute, what should they say?

“If the question is religious leaders talking to the whole country about the religious aspects of marriage, the first thing you’d have to do is sell the whole country on the concept of religion in general. Because if you try to talk about the religious dimensions of marriage to people for whom religion is either off-putting or if they simply don’t grasp that religion is a legitimate topic for intellectual inquiry, it’s not going to be a very fruitful conversation.”

(II)  How can clergy retrieve their voice about marriage?

“I’ve learned over the years that people are more willing to listen than I used to give them credit for. I talk about marriage. During the announcements people come up for special prayers, and they will come up for anniversary prayers. I just pray about it being a sacrament. About marriage being a symbol of living for each other instead of yourself. I’ve never had any negative feedback about that . . . . I’m learning I can talk more about these things than I thought. I can ask more of people than I thought.”

(III)  How can clergy do a better job reaching young people? And what about religious schools?

“Religious schools are important because they have an unconstrained vocabulary. They can talk about everything. Public schools can’t talk about everything.”

(IV)  How can religious leaders and institutions help working class young people? How can religious leaders and institutions help exoffenders get their lives in order?

“I know of no deeply dysfunctional individual who has had a long-term turnaround in his life outside of a deeply religious context.”

(V)  How can religious leaders and institutions strengthen and save troubled marriages?

“A dear friend contacted me earlier this summer to say she and her husband were divorcing. I think she thought I was going to be an understanding ear, which I was. But I just said, ‘I don’t want you to get divorced. This hurts me. I love you both. . .’ She and her husband like the forcefulness of a friend saying, ‘Don’t do this. It will hurt you. It will hurt your kids. It will hurt me.’ I don’t know the outcome, but among various voices, we need a challenging one.”

(VI)  What can religious leaders and institutions do about popular culture?

“If we go into a school simply condemning everything young people are engaged in we get nowhere. And the good news is that not everything needs to be condemned.”

(VII)  Conclusion

Calling on our religious leaders and traditions to help strengthen marriage and reduce nonmarital births is essential, and we can do so while fully respecting the First Amendment and American variety. Not taking advantage of our faith-based resources is akin to doing battle against pain and loss with a muscular arm tied needlessly behind our backs.