Kentucky Profiting from Divorce-Proofing Marriages
CBN News Senior Washington Correspondent
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Dying marriages hurt more than just family members.
They can cost taxpayers, make communities less attractive to businesses,
and even drive up the crime rate.
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That's why some in Kentucky, hurt by the nation's third highest
divorce rate, decided to fight back recently by attacking divorce
They invited to Kentucky Michael McManus - a man whose organization
Marriage Savers has found concrete ways to preserve marriages. Then they
took him all around the state for five days, meeting with hundreds of
pastors in an effort to get them to fight wholeheartedly for solid,
One Divorce Too Many
Brooke Wilson is an example of how such efforts can pay off. She
survived one divorce, but it soured her on marriage for awhile.
"You think 'Oh I love him so much,' and after the first six months,
everybody gets comfortable and everyone becomes themselves," she said,
which in the case of her marriage revealed a couple who could not live
The divorce drove her to ensure it would never happen to her or her two
pre-teen daughters again.
Soon after Dan Gutenson, Brooke's pastor at Watts Chapel Baptist Church
in the rural central Kentucky town of Crab Orchard, learned a number of
marriage-preserving principles and skills from McManus' Marriage Savers
Gutenson felt teaching Brooke and her new man, James, these skills and
principles could just about guarantee they would never divorce.
"The people who'd gone through this program, 97 or 98 percent of those
who'd gotten married were still married after a number of years,"
Gutenson said of Marriage Savers. "That caught my attention."
Before their wedding, Brooke and James Wilson jumped in, going through
several sessions of pre-marital counseling and training with Gutenson.
You Train for a Job, Why Not Marriage?
James credits that time with giving their years-long marriage a strong
"There are a lot of things there that we probably wouldn't have talked
about or thought about unless we got that training," he told CBN News.
"We definitely need some training before we get married," Brooke said.
"It's just like a job."
McManus traveled to Kentucky this fall hoping that message would turn
around a divorce rate so high that about 65 out of a hundred marriages
in Kentucky go belly up.
"You think it'd be better being in the Bible belt," Gutenson said.
"Sadly, it's not."
"We have just let marriage slide as an American culture," Kent
Ostrander, with the Family Foundation, told CBN News. Ostrander is the
pro-family leader who took McManus all around for the Kentucky-wide
"We believe that the Church can turn it around if the pastors, in fact,
will roll up their sleeves and make marriage a priority within each
congregation," Ostrander said.
McManus and Ostrander called on pastors in every community they visited
to create and sign a Community Marriage Covenant. In the covenant,
pastors pledge to only marry couples who get pre-marital counseling and
to then offer mentors to young or struggling couples.
McManus guaranteed the churches this would significantly cut their
community's divorce rate. His own church in Maryland proved this years
ago when it started training and mentoring its own people.
"Of the 230 couples who did marry, we know of only 16 divorces," McManus
stated. "So that's better than a 90 percent success rate. That's
David and Penny Hudson, who run the Marriage Education Resource Center
near Louisville, Kentucky, took McManus' training and have been helping
marriages for decades..
"We've done together about 140 couples, so we have some experience at
this," David Hudson said. "And we have seen nothing but good, positive
things come from it."
Penny Hudson said older folks in the pews can help save so many
marriages if they will step up and guide the younger couples.
Investing in Their Eternity
"The pastors can't do it all and they shouldn't be expected to do it
all," Penny declared. "The key is getting to the lay people and the lay
couples, those who've been married for awhile and who have gone through
some experiences and can help these younger couples - walk beside them,
pray with them, support them."
"You're investing in their lives for eternity because you will have the
opportunity to help them with struggles and lead them back to Christ,"
David added. "You're not always going to be there. After awhile, they're
going to stop coming to us. But Christ is always going to be there for
Penny said mentoring certainly helps others, but it also rewards the
"You will be so blessed by this," she stated. "And it's an outreach
opportunity. It's a different way to disciple couples. It's even a
different way to evangelize."
McManus trained Pastor Gutenson several years ago on intense pre-marital
counseling and mentoring. Gutenson credits it with virtually
divorce-proofing the two dozen or so couples who've come to him to get
"To the best of my knowledge," he said, "none of those that we've
married since we've been doing this program have gotten a divorce."
"Every couple that comes, I say, 'The best gift that you're going to
give each other is to come through this counseling,'" the pastor added.
Brooke and James Wilson recalled how Pastor Gutenson took them through
more than 150 questions that caused them to look deeply at every area
that would come up during a marriage.
"There were several things that we hadn't thought of yet," Brooke
admitted. "Parenting styles, argumentative styles and who was going to
do what as far as finances go."
"There are a lot of things that don't get asked when couples look at
getting married, that they don't think to ask," James added. "I didn't,
until we went through that training. Like how are we going to handle the
finances? How are we going to handle existing debts once we're married?
How will I as a stepdad help raise her two daughters?"
"It was good for us," James concluded.
Brooke said mentors have been a great resource for them since.
"They've been there, done that," she said. "And so they can kind of help
push you along into the right path instead of where you shouldn't be
Stable Marriages Benefit Kentucky
McManus told CBN News the successful, stable marriages that result don't
just benefit the couples, but their whole community and state.
He noted that workers in the middle of divorce tend to be less
productive, meaning a community with a high divorce rate is less
attractive to businesses.
But a community that can drive down divorce "becomes a much more
attractive place for companies to invest because they're going to have
less problems with their employees than they would in some other city,"
McManus said statistics show children of divorce commit more crime.
Therefore, if a community's divorce rate goes down, its crime rate will
drop as well. He pointed to communities where churches have signed
Community Marriage Covenants in years past.
"Austin, Texas, where the divorce rate came down 50 percent in five
years: they're the fourth lowest crime rate in the United States," he
"And in El Paso where we had a spectacular 79 percent drop in the
divorce rate in just five years -- they actually had the lowest crime
rate in the United States for the last three years," he added.
One of the nastiest results of divorce is that it often drives the
ex-wives and their children into poverty and they end up on welfare and
all sorts of public assistance.
In Kentucky alone, 24,000 thousand new divorces a year cost state
taxpayers a fortune.
Saving Millions in Taxes
"Each year adds $600,000,000 of cost to the taxpayer," McManus stated.
"If they could cut their divorce rate by one-third, the taxpayers would
be saving $200,000,000 in the first year, then $400,000,000 in the
second year because it's cumulative."
So a state and its taxpayers can definitely profit from fighting
"This is big savings. It has a large payoff," McManus said.
He hoped hundreds of Kentucky pastors took to heart his main message:
that churches need to realize divorce hurts their entire state. So they
should get together and fight statewide for lasting marriages.
Marriage mentor Penny Hudson said it's time for all congregations and
pastors to do their part to make marriages thrive.
"Churches are going to have to be more than just blessing machines and
wedding factories," she stated.