If Churches Support Marriage, They Must Address Those Who Harm It

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If churches aim to promote marriage, they should consider excommunication more frequently.

Conservative Christians, ranging from academic sociologists to NFL kickers, agree that America needs more and better marriages, prioritizing families and children over materialism. Despite the uproar over Harrison Butker’s speech to Catholic graduates, his core message was valid. As Americans increasingly remain unmarried, childless, and focused on material wealth, their happiness diminishes.

There is no single cause for these vast cultural shifts nor a single solution; churches alone cannot fix these issues, yet they play a crucial role. Christian marriages should exemplify love, faithfulness, and stability in our increasingly disconnected culture. Too often, they fail to do so.

Church leaders need to grasp both the challenges of forming and maintaining strong marriages and families today and the vital support churches can offer. This support includes disciplining their members, as culture and community thrive when standards are upheld.

Being part of a community can bolster marriages, and churches can offer trusted networks that help men and women come together and stay together. From premarital counseling to affordable wedding venues to providing meals after childbirth, churches often provide material, relational, and spiritual support to help marriages thrive. Christian marriage is countercultural but should not project isolated couples struggling alone; instead, it should demonstrate a community of families sharing joys and burdens.

Churches have many ways to support marriages, some intentional, like premarital counseling, and some intrinsic to close-knit communities. While popular culture often highlights the downsides of such “thick” communities, there are numerous benefits, especially in helping people get and stay married. The traditional ways of community support were often invisible until people found themselves reliant on dating apps.

Dating apps illustrate the cultural problem, offering endless options at a high cost, particularly regarding trust. These apps pair strangers without the personal screening and accountability inherent in established communities. Social accountability is crucial in forming and sustaining strong marriages and families.

This accountability helps churches counter a world where both men and women increasingly view marriage negatively. Feminists note that homemakers are vulnerable to male abandonment, while unilateral divorce laws can leave men losing their children, homes, and income. An unhappy marriage often becomes a prisoner’s dilemma, giving an advantage to the first person who breaks trust.

Though these hazards can be overstated, data and common sense show that marriage benefits both men and women. Fear of heartbreak and ruin is not baseless. Churches, therefore, have a duty to proclaim the goodness of marriage and discourage fear, while teaching, aiding, and disciplining Christians to strengthen marriages.

Churches should emphasize holding members accountable. While American churches’ support — from helping with babies to financial aid — is essential, discipline is often lacking. Few churches impose real consequences on members who violate marriage vows, damaging families.

Administering church discipline is challenging and requires serious membership commitment and dedicated leaders willing to take necessary disciplinary actions, including excommunicating the unrepentant. This feels daunting because American evangelicalism’s loose membership and poor coordination between churches make enforcing excommunication difficult. Those expelled from one church can often join another, sharing self-serving tales about their broken marriages and church history.

Even if measures limit church-hopping, churches cannot stop people willing to sever all ties. Often, someone who abandons their family will also abandon their faith and social connections.

Churches have limited power over their members, but this should not lead to abandoning discipline, particularly in marriage and family matters. Many conservative Christian circles still treat family-destroying behaviors as private issues rather than ecclesiastical concerns.

For churches to demonstrate the value of Christian marriage to a culture struggling to foster enduring relationships, those entering Christian marriages need to know that their communities will hold them accountable and support them. Church discipline, even excommunication, aims to restore and renew faith and relationships. Accountability can deter sinful paths before they are deeply trodden.

To reach a world in need, Christians must live out their beliefs regarding marriage and family earnestly. True social justice begins at home with righteousness and love in the foundational human relations of mother, father, and child. Thus, the church must not tolerate unrepentant individuals who destroy marriages and families.

Nathanael Blake
Nathanael Blake
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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