Of all the institutions which could promote marriage, religious institutions are, I believe, in the best position to do the most good. Yet the leadership of mainline churches has not been in the forefront of the marriage movement. There are several reasons for this, including a fear of hurting single parents and a fear of prejudging the question of homosexual marriage. I will return to these issues in future posts.
My research on the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the pillars of the mainline, struck me as revealing another powerful motive for being quiet about promoting marriage: church leaders are much more likely to be divorced.
When future Presbyterian ministers are in seminary their theology falls in a bell curve from conservative to liberal, with most calling themselves some kind of moderate or centrist. And seminarians all across the theological spectrum are equally likely to be married.
In later years, though, there is a dramatic shift, which suggests a strong connection between marriage and a more conservative position. In my book on strengthening the loyalist center of the church, Leading from the Center, I found this remarkable pattern:
“One of the most striking differences among Presbyterian ministers that develop after seminary is the ratio of married to divorced people in different groups. Among theological conservatives, there are 89 married ministers for every divorced one; for those in the center the ratio is 16 to one; for liberals, there are 7.7 married people for each divorced person. An extraordinary extension of this pattern is that for ministers in church agencies or judicatories (that is, presbyteries, synods, or General-Assembly-level bodies), the married-to-divorced ratio is 2.2 to one.”
The church bureaucracy is much more likely to be filled with divorced people. Indeed, I know of a number of cases of ministers who left their congregation following their own divorces, and ended up in church bureaucracy seemingly by default.
There is, I think, a complex relationship between marriage and theology, not all of which I understand now. It does seem clear to me, though, that a church leadership which is full of divorced people, and thus also of the colleagues and friends of divorced people, will be more ambivalent about promoting marriage.