It is doubtless within the realm of exact truth to state that every social worker has been impressed with the variety of evils that spring from broken homes. Ignorance, poverty, and crime flourish best when the barriers formed by a united family are taken away. Many who have never formulated any creed for social betterment, nor read a single volume on social problems, nor even attempted to put into words the hazy ideas they hold, have definite opinions based upon observation.
If a child who has lost one of his parents grows to manhood showing traits of character that command confidence and respect, it is common for people to remark that he has done well in spite of having been without the care of a father or a mother, as the case may be. If the parents both die, it is recognized that the handicap which children suffer is much more than doubled; and if they succeed in spite of this, everyone feels they are worthy of especial honor. It is a common practice also to praise a parent who has lost a companion, and yet has brought the children to honorable manhood and womanhood.
It is difficult to say just why it is so, but apparently the loss of a parent or both parents through divorce affects children more adversely than if the loss comes by death. Officers of penal institutions bear witness to the blighting effects of broken homes. During the time that I was connected with the United States prison service, in my capacity as chairman of the boards of parole of all Federal penal institutions, I had an opportunity to learn considerable-of the life history of every one who applied-for parole. This meant virtually all the prisoners, because every inmate in a Federal institution is eligible for parole when he has served one third of his sentence. Even a life sentence, for purposes of parole, is estimated at forty-five years.
Men and women who came from families where the father and mother had separated, as a rule, lacked an indefinable something that other prisoners convicted of the same type of crime seemed to possess. It is commonly noticed that the most discouraged prisoners—those who seem to have the least hope, and who apparently feel that life offers them nothing—are those whose own marital career has been wrecked. To the other class of prisoners one can often appeal for better efforts by a reference to wife and children, but the former almost uniformly act as if they felt that life had shut them away from anything better in the future than they have had in the past. Added to their discouragement there is often a marked bitterness.
The things I observed made me realize more fully than would have been possible otherwise, the truth of the statement often made that the home is the foundation of society and the real support of the state. Appreciating this as I do, I have made it an invariable rule never to perform a marriage ceremony without first having an opportunity to spend at least half an hour with the prospective bride and groom. With those who are Christians, I, of course, set forth the Biblical teaching concerning the marriage relationship. For those who may not be religiously inclined, I take pains to state it as my positive conviction that apart from all religion and morality, viewing the subject only from the standpoint of a patriot and well-wisher of one's country, too much stress cannot be placed upon the sanctity of the home. I have been a bit surprised and very much pleased by the favorable responses I have had from those with whom I have talked.
Some five or six years ago a young couple who were not Adventists sought me out. I told them of my strong convictions, and set forth in the most impressive language I could command, that I did not care to be party to a marriage ceremony unless those who were entering it felt free to pledge unwavering devotion to each other at all costs. Two or three years later, this couple returned to me, bringing two of their friends who were contemplating marriage, and they said, "We want you to talk to these folks as you did to us. We have been happy in our married life, and feel sure that some of the things you said have helped us."
About two years ago a young man and woman came to me. As I talked, the girl's eyes were bright and she seemed to be responding to all I said. The man was of a different type, and I wondered what effect my words were having. When I finished talking, he looked at his bride-to-be and remarked, "It is nice to have someone talk to us thus, isn't it? It makes me feel better to know that what we think is so important seems important to others."
About three months ago I seized the opportunity presented when a young couple came to ask me to officiate at their marriage, to talk with the young man about eternal things. He had been reared in an Adventist home and had attended one of our schools, but was passing through a period of discouragement. It was encouraging to hear both say, "We will not disappoint you."
It is my conviction that ministers of the gospel have a grave responsibility resting upon them in connection with the performing of the marriage ceremony. The attitude of the minister to the marriage relationship is bound to leave an impression upon the contracting parties. The fact that this institution is as old as the race and that it was given to man by God, can be profitably stressed. More than once I have seen the faces of young people lighten as I referred to the fact that Jesus Christ performed His first miracle to make a wedding reception a joyous occasion. That the Lord has chosen the marriage relationship as the symbol of the union that exists between Him and His people on the earth, and that the church is called the bride of Christ, are always impressive thoughts. It is not hard for any one to see that from the first book in the Bible to the last, from the Garden of Eden to the earth made new, the marriage obligation is set forth as one of peculiar sacredness.
It is my conviction that the light, casual, almost profane way in which the "marrying parsons" of the country relate themselves to marriage is responsible for much of the divorce evil. Surely every Seventh-day Adventist minister will lend all his efforts to combating a thing that not only ruins nations, but destroys souls. Proper education of those contemplating marriage constitutes the best guaranty of its stability.
Washington, D. C.