Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SD divorce rate rose 9.2% from 2003 - 2008

The Decorum Forum: Ok, so who's messing up SD marriages?

The blogger at the link, Michael Sanborn, tries to stretch it into an argument for gay marriage, which I don't buy. But he's on target about the shabbiness of marriage overall in this country, even in places where "family values" get the most lip service.

In the comments, SD BlogNet Wizard Cory Heidelberger raises a good question about economic factors that stretch couples to the breaking point. In SD, people spend a pretty good percentage of time chasing dollars, which don't grow on trees 'cuz the plains don't have that many trees. Lots of folks have second jobs, a high percentage of women are in the work force (mostly as second or third incomes for their families), and many of the jobs that open are part time or on-call with pretty low pay.

Nationally, people move constantly to find work. Some of that is the American dream of freedom for upward mobility, but much of it is simple necessity as positions or even whole industries disappear. Very few people stay with a particular company for an entire career and more people have to "retool" themselves for new fields, often more than once. South Dakota college grads are notorious for leaving to find more lucrative jobs elsewhere. The impact of these trends on married couples is the constant elimination of supportive family and friend networks, placing the full weight of marriage on just two sets of shoulders. That's one of the under-discussed realities of the high divorce rate, and economics is a big part of it.

But I don't think we can blame the divorce rate on economics alone, as though we are rats in a maze reacting to stuff. Values are a formidable buffer against bad behavior in adverse times, so a low valuation of marriage is going to jack up the percentage of marriages that fail.

Christians see marriage as God's design in creation and a mysterious reflection of the new creation that is coming. Spiritually, the enduring union of a man and a woman across their very real differences is a sign of hope that human souls and God can share eternal unity. Practically, stable marriages anchor and enrich communities on earth. Therefore the community is commanded to honor and support marriage - and the Biblical lessons about economic justice and compassion are just as much a part of this as are the moral teachings about marriage. As The Book of Common Prayer puts it, "(Marriage) signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people."

The guiding God-given principle for marriage is a communal one: LOVE. But we exist in a culture in which the voices on all sides shout out the claims of the individual: my freedom, my rights, my happiness, my money, my needs, etc. Even churches cave in to this when "my personal salvation" and "my private interpretation" are separated from the relationships of love that God reveals and commands. Regions of the country with the most individual-centered forms of Christianity have absurdly high divorce rates.

The cultural understanding of "love" is an individual's pleasurable feeling. The Biblical understanding of love has to do with a deep and abiding commitment, which brings delight yet also abides in times of suffering and struggle. But as Jesus warned, enough duress can squeeze all the love out of us:

"...many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:10-13


plsdeacon said...

It has long been my contention that there is a causal link between "gay marriage" and the downfall of hetersexual marriage. However, the link is reversed from what most people would say. The downfall of heterosexual marriage in our society is the cause of the growth of the openness to gay marriage.

Phil Snyder

TLF+ said...

Dcn. Phil - I totally agree with the causal line you draw there. You express it with a blessed economy of words! That's a virtue I need to emulate.