A pastor explores the realities of marriage, divorce and our families

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This holiday season is a time when we are focused, perhaps to a greater extent than usual, on our families. We are hearing a great deal about marriage and children these days and the divorce rate figures which tell us that one of two marriages nowadays will end in divorce.

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After more than 40 years in parish ministry and officiating at hundreds of weddings, I am troubled by some of the sweeping statements I hear and read about these life experiences, and I am not ready to agree that our society is completely going to hell. What is the reality of marriage today, and what is the reality of divorce?

Marriage is a complex institution which absolutely forms the lives of many persons in our society and which ruins the lives of some persons in our society. In most areas of human relationship, perfectionism is a sin, but our culture expects marriages to be perfect. That is one reason that we have so much trouble dealing with divorce.

When we realize that a lot of marriages are very good, and many are far from perfect, and some of them are disasters for the people involved and for their children, then we may draw some comfort from the fact that most people who get divorced get married again, and often the second marriages may be very good, because people have learned something about themselves and each other and what it takes to keep a good marriage going.

It takes a lot of courage for anyone to seek a divorce. The stigma is still very strong, and it is crushing for a person to go through the pain of divorce and find that family and friends and sometimes church members are not there just when they are most needed. The pain and feeling of failure are bad enough; the gossip and the rejection can make it worse.

We are gradually coming to terms with the reality that there is a great deal of domestic abuse in our society; not a few women and some men face physical and sexual violence and mental abuse in their marriages.

After generations of denial, we have begun to provide shelter for such victims, but we are surprised when the victims repeatedly go back to the situations from which they have had to flee. It takes a great deal of self-confidence for a woman to strike out on her own to provide for herself and her children.

We always hear that " every child needs both a mother and a father." This platitude is delivered with a certain moralism. We hardly ever hear "every child needs good medical care and an adequate diet," Our society has surprisingly little sympathy with single parents who struggle alone to raise their children, when they expected to be in a strong partnership.

It seems to me that the reality is that we are going to continue to see a great many children grow up with one parent or with two fathers or two mothers. If we really care about what happens to these children, then we will learn to provide the social supports their families need and not deny them to those who do not meet some ideal notion of what every family should be.

• The Rev. Kenneth Torquil MacLean is a minister for Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Juneau.

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