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U.S. News Archive
June 29 - June 30, 2001



This page contains news for the period
June 29, 2001 through June 30, 2001.

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Saturday, June 30, 2001

Religious organizations approach on   divorce

A story released today by the Daily Journal reports that current studies indicate the true divorce rate in the United States is closer to 25 percent. A recent report from the Barma Research Group in Ventura, Calif., also found that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians (27 percent) is higher than among the population at large. The Barma report added that the divorce rate among Baptists was 29 percent, higher than any other denomination.

Divorce, once rare, has become increasingly routine since the middle of the last century, and, at the same time, more common among members of all churches, not just evangelical.

Has the way churches view divorce changed with rising divorce rates? How do churches react to people who have been divorced? What about divorce and remarriage?

The Roman Catholic Church is well-known for its strong opposition to divorce. This opposition is rooted in the church's view of marriage.

"We look on marriage as a covenant as opposed to a contract," said the Father Don Tranel, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in New Albany and St. Christopher Catholic Church in Pontotoc. "It is a covenant between a man and a woman, established between themselves for life, and in the Catholic Church, marriage is raised to the level of a sacrament."

Because the Catholic Church believes so strongly in the sacredness of the bond of marriage, it requires that couples attend before their wedding a series of marriage preparation sessions. The series lasts at least six months.

But what happens when divorce occurs? What is the status of a divorced person in the church?

According to Tranel, in the Catholic Church a divorced person who doesn't remarry can continue to take Communion. If, however, a divorced person wants to remarry, an annulment of the first marriage is required.

"Sometimes couples are hesitant to enter an annulment process because it necessitates the resurfacing and reliving of a painful history in their lives," said Tranel. "But annulments are all about ultimately healing memories and to have some sense of closure."

The topic of divorce was also a major focus at the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this month in New Orleans. Convention leadership urged the pastors of the denomination's 41,000 churches to require premarital counseling for couples.

The Rev. Gerald Hodges, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany, already requires couples he marries to attend six counseling sessions prior to the wedding.

"We deal with the biblical view of marriage," he said. "And if somebody has been divorced, we work with them individually. There are certain criteria that have to be fulfilled before I would marry them."

Hodges believes the Bible teaches that there should be no divorce.

"But divorce happens, and in our church we welcome everyone, divorced or not, for any service in the church - Sunday school teacher, trustee, committee member - anyone who meets the guidelines for spiritual growth," he said.

The church does not, however, ordain divorced people.

"Ordination has a different criterion. The standards are higher, and it requires one man/one wife," he said.

For the Rev. Larry Davis, pastor of Nettleton Pentecostal Church, it is necessary when he is asked to perform a wedding for a divorced person to know why the previous marriage failed.

"It's not the will of God for a marriage to end in divorce," he said. "But if one of the spouses is having an affair, that gives the innocent party the right to get a divorce. That one is free to remarry, according to the Scripture."

As a rule, the church does not have pastors who have been divorced.

"In the majority of cases, if you have a living wife, you're not allowed to be a minister," Davis said.

The Episcopal Church understands divorce the same way it does any brokenness in life, according to the Rev. Shannon Johnston, pastor of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Tupelo.

"That is to say that we recognize it is not what God intends for us and it visits very painful consequences in our lives," he said. "But as with every brokenness in any area in our lives and experience, we look to God to bring healing to that brokenness and pain."

The church proclaims that marriage is to be a lifelong union.

"That's God's will and our will for one another when we marry," said Johnston. "But we realize that God's will and our fulfillment of his will is seriously challenged in the reality of divorce. And we know that we can depend upon God in all ways to accept repentance and make life whole again."

The Episcopal Church does not, as some churches do, prohibit divorced men and women from serving as priests.

"We don't do that because that overlooks the reality of forgiveness and resurrection," Johnston said. "It's kind of a statement of hopelessness to say there are some areas of our lives that grace can't touch and redeem and transform, and we do not accept that mindset."

Episcopal priests can perform marriages for divorced people if certain conditions are met.

"We do allow the remarriage of divorced people in the church, but only after extensive examination of the failure of the first marriage and serious consideration of children that resulted in that marriage," said Johnston. "This culminates in an application to the bishop for his dispensation which would allow me to proceed with a marriage in the church."

This process, Johnston says, underscores the church's high view of marriage.

"Marriage is a sacrament and the intent is for it to be a lifelong commitment. Then what happens when that gets broken? If only God can create a marriage, then only God's grace can undo the damage done with a divorce."

Friday, June 29, 2001

American men and women are staying single longer than ever

A story published today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that according to a recently released U.S. Census figures, the median age for women entering their first marriage was 25.1 years in 2000, after climbing steadily from just under 21 in 1970.

The same report also revealed that men's median marriage age also rose from 23.3 years in 1970 to 26.8 years in 2000.

In addition, the number of young people who have never married rose between 1970 and 2000. Among women, their number doubled, from 36 to 73 percent, among 20- to 24-year-olds, and more than tripled, from 6 to 22 percent, among 30- to 34-year-olds.

For men, the numbers rose from 55 to 84 percent in the younger group, and from 9 to 30 percent among those in their early 30s.

Census Bureau family demographer Jason Fields said the trend wasn't new, but had continued strong through the '90s as young women continued to pursue graduate education and careers. Childbirth rates among women in their 20s have declined, but have risen slightly among women in their 30s, he said.

Recent 2000 census numbers as well as the CPS report showed that the number of couples living together without marrying had also increased for the third straight decade during the 1990s.

Driving the trends are women's increased financial independence, as well as the high divorce rate among previous generations and the decreased stigma of both unmarried people living together and bearing children, demographers say.

These trends have been well documented in 2000 census statistics released this spring. But the median marriage age won't be released as part of the census, Fields said.

Unlike the census numbers, the Current Population Survey's median marriage age can't be broken down by states or other subgroups. Because the CPS samples only 15,000 out of the nation's 105 million households, breakdowns would be too small to be statistically accurate, Fields said.

In the last three years, the trend to delay or opt out of marriage altogether has spawned national groups aiming to end what they say is discrimination against single people, and continuing social pressure to marry.

At the American Association for Single People near Los Angeles, executive director Tom Coleman said many of his members talked about not making the same mistake as their parents, jumping into marriage too young.

"They're divorce-shy," he said. Also, changing social mores and the availability of birth control and abortion have meant that people can have sex without having to marry.

"The shotgun wedding doesn't happen as much anymore," he said.

Age gaps of newlyweds are closer than ever

A story published today in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that according to a new survey of family characteristics released today by the Census Bureau, the gap between median ages of first-time brides and grooms is now at its narrowest point - less than two years - in a century of record-keeping.

The median age first-time brides is 25.1 which now hovers as close as ever to their grooms which is about 26.8. This new trend is attributed by the Census mainly to women's steady rise in educational and career attainment.

"Women and men are having similar paths to adulthood," said Jason Fields, author of the report for the Census Bureau. "You move through school . . . and then go to work. These constraints are forcing people into being able or ready to enter marriage at more similar ages."

The gap in median ages of brides and grooms, 1.7 years, is a year less than it was two decades ago and 2.3 years less than it was a century ago.

It reflects a delay in matrimony that also has led to a glut of young singles. Among women aged 20 to 24, the proportion of those who have never married doubled over the last three decades to 73 percent. Among women 30 to 34, it tripled to 22 percent, according to the study.

The closer ages of newlyweds is part of a broader change in attitudes among men and women in a time of high divorce rates, fragmented families, more unmarried parents, and more people living alone - the latter now accounting for a quarter of all households.

"Cohabitation is replacing marriage for people in their early and middle 20s," said Robert Schoen, a demographer and expert on marriage trends at Pennsylvania State University. "It's a real change in the basic structure and roles of men and women."

The continuing trend toward later marriage will keep pushing up the age of childbearing. As a result, parents will have worked longer and might have more resources for their families, but they also face a greater gap of years between themselves and their children.

"It lengthens the generations," Schoen said, "so you might have children who don't know their grandparents as well.

Surgeon General won't endorse "abstinence-only" sex education

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Surgeon General David Satcher called on parents, schools and community leaders Thursday to get past their nervousness about sex so they can do a better job preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In a far-reaching report, Satcher called for a "mature and thoughtful discussion about sexuality," asking the nation to confront these issues with respect for diversity and respect for what science shows is effective.

"Given the diversity of attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions, finding common ground might not be easy, but it is attainable," the report concludes.

"We have a responsibility to be more supportive and proactive than judgmental," Satcher said. "We're certainly not trying to get anyone in any religious group to change their views. We're just saying these are people, these are human beings."

Sexuality education must be wide-ranging, begin early and be available throughout one's life, the report says.

It recommends that sex-education programs discuss the benefits of abstinence from sex - but also explain how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It recommends improving access to reproductive health care services for "all persons in all communities."

Abstinence is the only certain way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease, the report says, and even properly used condoms do not prevent the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases. But the report finds no evidence that "abstinence-only" programs are effective, saying more research is needed.

These programs, which bar any talk of contraception, enjoy the support of many conservatives, including President Bush, who has pledged to raise federal funding for them.

Satcher said he was not taking sides in the debate. "Those are political decisions," he said. "We try to make very clear what's needed to improve sexual health and what's supported by the science."

Another difference with conservatives: His report encourages abstinence from sex until one is involved in a "committed, enduring and mutually monogamous relationship." Federal abstinence programs call for abstinence until marriage.

"I have to deal with reality," Satcher said when asked about the difference.

Sex education begins with parents, the report says, but schools play an important role because some parents are unable to give their children all the information they need.

"Parents sometimes need help. There are so many parents who are unprepared or uncomfortable discussing it," Satcher said. "Schools have always been the great equalizers."

"The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Behavior" also recommends:

-Providing adequate training in sexual health for health care professionals who deal with these issues.

-Ensuring that programs that aim to prevent sexual abuse are available.

-Encouraging stable and committed adult relationships, particularly marriage, to help strengthen families.

-Increasing scientific research on sexual health, including the entire life span, from childhood to old age.

-Developing and disseminating educational materials for sex-ed classes that cover the "full continuum of human sexual development" for use by parents, clergy, teachers and others.

Tennessee lawmakers hike marriage fees to ease divorce

A story released today by the Tennessean reports that the Tennessee senate approved yesterday a proposal that would triple marriage license fees, partly to pay for a program changing how divorces involving young children are handled.

The plan would add $62.50 to the marriage license fee, which is currently at $31. The proposal, however, adds that the additional fee would be waived for couples who complete a four-hour marriage counseling session with a therapist or religious leader.

Almost half the proceeds would go to the Parenting Plan. Child-abuse prevention and domestic violence centers each would get $15. County clerks who handle the paperwork would get $2.50.

''We had done everything they asked us to do, and I think everyone was pretty well satisfied,'' sponsor Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, said about negotiations around the bill.

The vote was 21-7. One senator abstained, and four did not vote.

''This is the extreme of government getting involved in people's lives,'' Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis said.

The opportunity to have the fee waived will provide incentive for couples to take premarital counseling, Harper said. Tennessee is second in divorce rates nationwide, she said, and such counseling could help lower that rate.

''We talk about how hostile things are in divorces,'' she said. ''We'll pay anything because we're in love.''

The Parenting Plan was started as a pilot program three years ago. The plan would require divorcing couples with young children to attend classes and complete a written agreement on how to deal with their children, as well as other issues.

Almost $2 million would be raised by the increased fees for the Parenting Plan. Child-abuse prevention and domestic violence shelters would each get $956,250.

Backers will try to rush the so-called Parenting Plan through the House committee system before an anticipated adjournment tomorrow. Otherwise, they will seek House approval next year.



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