Bible Belt Couples 'Put Asunder' More, Despite New Efforts - 5/21/01
cmfce at his.com
Mon May 21 10:50:50 EDT 2001
subject: Bible Belt Couples 'Put Asunder' More, Despite New Efforts
from: Smart Marriages
Bible Belt Couples 'Put Asunder' More, Despite New Efforts
New York Times, May 21, 2001 - First Page article!
By BLAINE HARDEN
OKLAHOMA CITY, May 18 The governor grumbles about how it is easier
for Oklahomans to get out of a marriage than a Tupperware contract.
The head of the Southern Baptist church complains that pastors are
afraid to look love-besotted parishioners in the eye and tell them
that they are too immature for marriage.
A posse of public health nurses, social workers, pastors and
extension agents has been deputized to bring down a divorce rate
that in Oklahoma, as in several states across the Bible Belt, is
among the highest in the country.
The governor, the Baptist leadership and the antidivorce foot
soldiers are collectively struggling to avert collisions between
naive notions of wedded bliss and the reality of marriage.
That is the sort of collision that crumpled the first marriage of
Cathryn Hinderliter, a preacher's daughter from Tulsa. She was
raised to believe that God, her parents and the State of Oklahoma
wanted her married. When the first man asked, she said yes.
"I had this vision that this is just what people do: Get married,
have kids and Christ comes back," she said. "No one asked me, `Are
you sure this is what you want?' The day I got married, my mother
came to me and tried to give me the sex talk. I said, `Lady, go
home and get my slip.' "
She and her first husband had a 20- minute prewedding talk with
their minister at East Tulsa Christian Church.
"Our pastor said, `I am really happy for you guys,' " she
recalled. "He mentioned a couple of books to read. I never cracked
them. It was a joke."
The marriage ended after five years and one child when she ran off
to California, where she had an affair.
"Subconsciously, I knew that that was a biblical reason for
divorce," she said. "One that my husband couldn't deny. One that my
parents couldn't deny."
It has been about four years since politicians here and in several
other states began to acknowledge a troubling paradox: The divorce
rate in many parts of the Bible Belt is roughly 50 percent above
the national average.
In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, declared a "marital
emergency" in 1999 and vowed to halve the divorce rate by 2010. He
signed a covenant marriage law last month that allows couples to
choose a marital contract that, in most cases, would require a
two-year waiting period before a divorce becomes final. Louisiana
has enacted similar laws, as has Arizona.
Here in Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating, also a Republican, diagnosed
divorce as a principal cause of poverty in his state. He started a
much-publicized, multipronged campaign, paid for with $10 million
in federal welfare money, to cut the divorce rate by one-third in
The Oklahoma Legislature, controlled by Democrats, has all but
killed the governor's proposals for covenant marriage and the
removal of mutual incompatibility as grounds for divorce. But it
has passed several of his other proposals, measures that call for
creating a statewide network for premarital education and for
training secular and religious marriage counselors.
"Seventy percent of our people go to church once a week or more,"
Mr. Keating said in an interview. "These divorce statistics are a
scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit."
The Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General
Convention in Oklahoma, could not agree more.
"We are responsible," he said. "We are good in helping young
people plan a wedding, but not in planning a marriage. And in our
desire to be compassionate to those who are going through a
divorce, the church has watered down a strong message in regard to
the ills and sins of divorce."
About three-quarters of Oklahomans are married in church,
according to state estimates. By far the largest church in the
state is the Southern Baptist Convention, with about half of the
Despite the efforts of the last several years, the institution of
marriage by some measures is losing ground. The census found that
in the 1990's, the number of unmarried couples living together
jumped by 97 percent in Oklahoma, 125 percent in Arkansas and 123
percent in Tennessee. These increases in the buckle of the Bible
Belt are well above the 72 percent increase in unmarried couples
that the census found in the nation as a whole.
For the first time, the census showed that married couples with
children made up less than a quarter of the American population
(23.5 percent). In Oklahoma, the percentage of such nuclear
families was even lower (23.2 percent).
"Those numbers are a total reflection of marriage as an
institution that is losing its appeal," said Jerry Regier,
Oklahoma's secretary of health and human services and the
governor's point man for defending divorce. "Our society has been
overwhelmed by divorce."
An Economic Issue
Demographers say alarm bells ringing in the Bible Belt in the last
several years are about 20 years late.
"There is no new emergency, no new crisis," said Dr. Robert
Schoen, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University
and a specialist in the demography of marriage.
The rate of failed marriages doubled from the early 1960's to
1980, reaching a point where about 43 percent of marriages ended in
divorce, Dr. Schoen said. Since then, the rate has leveled off at a
historically high plateau. In Oklahoma, as in many states,
government figures have since shown a slight decline in the divorce
rate, measured as a percentage of the total population. The number
of divorces per 1,000 Oklahomans fell to 6.5 in 1998, from 7.7 in
1990. The national average in 1996 was 4.3 divorces per 1,000
"There is no divorce emergency in the sense that divorce rates are
going up," said Dr. Andrew J. Cherlin, a family demographer who is
a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. "I think
what is going on in Oklahoma is part of the aftershocks to the
Among those aftershocks is a strong national consensus that the
social ills caused by divorce are costing federal and state
governments huge amounts of money.
"We know what the cause of poverty is in this country and, like it
or not, it's divorce and nonwedlock childbearing," said Dr. Steve
Nock, a family demographer and professor of sociology at the
University of Virginia.
"We know that for every three divorces, one family ends up below
the poverty line," Dr. Nock said. "The average woman with dependent
children who ends up in poverty stays poor for eight months. The
federal government pays for part of that, but states pay the
balance. Divorce, by itself, is a major economic issue."
Shepherding a Lost Flock
About 300 ministers met here this
week at Oklahoma Christian University for a marriage-saving
seminar. Most of them were from small Protestant churches in rural
areas, and many said they were in desperate need of advice.
"Divorce has almost become the norm, and we have come to accept
it," said the Rev. Duane Schroeder, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran
Church in Enid, a town in northwest Oklahoma. "Just about every
couple that comes to me ó I'd say about 90 percent ó is living
together. It's as if they don't know it is wrong."
Several of the ministers acknowledged in interviews that they had
been passive observers as divorce gathered momentum in their
congregations. A few said they had encouraged young people to "fix"
the sin of premarital sex by marrying.
"There is a tidal wave of divorce to deal with," said the Rev.
Larry Henderson, pastor of a small evangelical church in Mooreland,
Okla., a town of about 1,200 people. "The saddest thing is that
people are not getting married anymore."
Les and Leslie Parrott, marriage experts imported by the governor
from Seattle Pacific University, presided over the seminar. Hired
as the state's first "scholars in residence" on marriage, the
couple has crisscrossed Oklahoma in the last year, training state
employees and ministers in the craft of marriage counseling.
Most of their advice directs counselors to attack myths that
hobble marriages from the start ó myths like, "My spouse will make
"If you believe somebody else can complete you, you are setting
yourself up for serious heartbreak," Les Parrott, a professor of
clinical psychology, told the ministers to tell couples considering
After the seminar, the Parrotts said that many of the premarital
myths that needed shattering in Oklahoma grew out of "naÔve and
unrealistic" assumptions held by young people who were intoxicated
by love and cosseted by a culture that delights in weddings but
"Young people tell us that if they are in love and God is with
them, then that's all they need," said Leslie Parrott, a marriage
and family therapist. "Later, if they are not happy, they say, `God
wants me to get a divorce.' There is very little appreciation that
marriage requires hard work and communication skills. They have
been shown by the example of friends and family that when things go
bad, you just get divorced."
Second Time Around
After the collapse of her first marriage in 1987, Cathryn
Hinderliter, who is now 40, became poor and cautious.
She found a job as a medical secretary. With her daughter, Sara,
she moved into an apartment in Oklahoma City that cost $199 a
month. Every two weeks, after cashing her paycheck and paying her
bills, she had $35 left over for food and gasoline, she remembers.
She did not go on food stamps, she said, but did declare bankruptcy
She also decided to have nothing to do with marriage, unless a
suitor committed up front to "an incredible amount of work."
She knew Mark Hinderliter, a divorced engineer, for three years
before she dared date him. They did not live together during their
year of courtship, she said, and did not even kiss until they had
attended a marriage-and-family seminar. After drifting away from
their Christian roots, they say they have renewed their commitment
to God, but do not expect him to keep their marriage together.
That's their job.
"The biggest lesson I have learned is don't walk into marriage
with a handed-down faith and bunch of dogma," said Mr. Hinderliter,
Ms. Hinderliter's parents, too, say they have learned from her
"We assumed that she was ready," said the Rev. Jack Foreman, Ms.
Hinderliter's father, who is a professor of deaf education at Tulsa
State University. "In retrospect, we should have asked some hard
The East Tulsa Christian Church has begun to ask hard questions.
It refuses to marry any couple that declines premarital counseling.
It demands that couples who are living together move to separate
residences for six months before they can be married in the church.
Besides Sara, now 17, Mark and Cathryn Hinderliter have a
daughter, Greta, who is 3. The couple agree that their marriage is
working. Still, they have problems, and Ms. Hinderliter has
insisted on working them out in sessions with a marriage counselor,
who is also an evangelical Christian.
"How do you do this right?" she said. "Well, basically, I think
you just communicate until your knuckles bleed."
Visit NYTimes.com for complete access to the
most authoritative news coverage on the Web,
updated throughout the day.
Become a member today! It's free!
To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE, or change your address,
visit http://www.smartmarriages.com Click Newsletter. Enter your
address in the appropriate box and proceed.
This is a moderated list. Replies are read by Diane Sollee. Please
indicate if your response is NOT to be shared with the list.
This newslist shares information on marriage, divorce and educational
approaches. Opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by members of the
Newsletter archive - to read ALL past posts to the newsletter:
The 5th Annual Smart Marriages/June 19 - 26, 2001 in Orlando. See web for
List your program in the Directory of Classes at www.smartmarriages.com
Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC (CMFCE)
Diane Sollee, Director
5310 Belt Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015-1961
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
FAIR USE NOTICE: This e-newsletter contains copyrighted material the use of
which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We
make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of
marriage, family, couples, divorce, legislation, family breakdown, etc. We
understand this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such material as provided
for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. For more information go
to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use
copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond
'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
More information about the SmartMarriages