OREGON CITY — Big goals start small —including the very big goal of saving thousands of marriages.
It was in 2000 when local residents Tom and Liz Dressel met another Oregonian — psychologist, counselor and author Steve Stephens — at the Smart Marriages conference in Denver, Colo. Stephens had just interviewed Mike and Harriet McManus of Maryland-based Marriage Savers for a Portland radio program he was hosting. Mike McManus indicated he would like to share his vision for a “community marriage policy” if the Oregon representatives could bring together an interested group.
Stephens and the Dressels, who now have the Oregon City-based ministry Every Marriage Matters, agreed to help form that group; the first meeting was held in October 2000. A team was formed that resulted in the development of, and signing of, the Clackamas County Marriage Policy with pastors from 157 churches on June 1, 2001.
As of January 2017, pastors from 180 Clackamas County churches had agreed to adhere to the minimum standards of that policy. In 2015 the team expanded its goal to include the entire Portland/Vancouver region, and the policy has been renamed the Greater Portland Community Marriage Policy.
“That brings us to 2017,” said Stephens. “It’s time to renew, recapture, and rejuvenate our goal. Marriage is so special and sacred that it is time we do something big to protect it. We can do this, and it will make a huge difference.”
The idea of a community marriage policy can be traced back to the early 1990s, when late night TV show host Johnny Carson commented that Dalton, Ga., was the divorce capital of the U.S. The pastors of Dalton were shocked and alarmed. They declared war on divorce, established a community marriage policy, and appointed a young seminary graduate to take charge. That’s when everything changed. Working together, they dropped the divorce rate 50 percent in Dalton in one year.
“What will it take for the pastors of Portland, Oregon, to stand stronger and more publicly for the marriages in their community and congregations?” asked Tom Dressel.
According to the Dressels and Stephens, today’s culture is trending toward relationships that are shallow, narcissistic, lazy, temporary and hurtful.
“This is not good for anyone,” said Liz Dressel. “We don’t mean to sound negative, but truth is truth. Look around. We all see it and it breaks our hearts. Couples deserves something better.”
The Dressels and Stephens contend that everyone needs healthy, vital marriages because they build character, mature behavior, deepen faith, stabilize the community, encourage friends and protect children.
“This last point is the most heartbreaking,” said Liz. “Kids need their biological mom and dad and they need them desperately. According to federal government statistics, children from a fatherless home are five times more likely to commit suicide, 32 times more likely to run away, 20 times more likely to have behavior disorders, 14 times more likely to commit rape, nine times more likely to drop out of school, 10 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”
“Failed marriages hurt those kids we love so much,” said Stephens. “But failed marriages aren’T good for anyone We need to intentionally aim higher.”
The Dressels and Stephens firmly believe this trend can be turned around. In fact, in Clackamas County, it already has. The divorce rate in the county has dropped 37 percent over the past 14 years.
“In evaluating the impact of cohabitation, we compared Clackamas County with the rest of the state of Oregon and found that if we had had the same marriage and divorce statistics as the rest of Oregon, Clackamas County would have had 3,500 fewer marriages, 1,900 more divorces and 700 more kids devastated by their parent’s divorce,” said Tom.
Many pastors from Clackamas County have signed the marriage policy, and together are already positively impacting marriage and the families they produce. But they are being urged by the team to work for dramatically fewer divorces, or even the ultimate goal of no divorces whatsoever locally.
“What if our goal was that every marriage was thriving, exciting and strong?” asked Stephens. “What if our goal was that every parent was more attentive, positive and affirming? Are our dreams impossible? I don’t think so. After all, Jesus said in Matt. 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The Greater Portland Community Marriage Policy offers guidance in building healthy marriages in local congregations, and Every Marriage Matters stands ready to advise the efforts.
For more information, go to www.EveryMarriageMatters.org, www.DateNightPDX.org, or phone 503-655-1489.