New pastoral coalition aims to 'divorce proof' the church

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. —Marcial Felan watched the Hyundai commercial on TV and shuttered as the narrator announced, "instant gratification has us in a stranglehold, so much so that we don't want to fix things anymore…just replace them. Don't like your nose, get a new one. Don't like your job, get a new one. Don't like your spouse, get a new one. Whatever happened to commitment, to standing by our decisions?"

Hyundai was using the message to promote its extended warranty program. Felan said the ad is an even bigger indictment on our culture and its view of marriage.

"Our society doesn't want to sacrifice, it doesn't want to work hard for marriage. Marriage is hard work," said Felan, one of several family pastors who have joined together to form the Marriage and Family Coalition of San Diego. "It can be heaven on earth or it can be hell."

The coalition is an outgrowth of September's "I Promise" seminar presented by marriage expert and author Gary Smalley. The two-day couples event drew 2,000 people to Shadow Mountain. where Felan serves as the pastor of Family Ministries.

As part of its regional event planning, the Smalley team requested that other churches be brought in to help with the seminar. While working together on that project, the pastors shared personal revelations indicating God had called each of them to "divorce proof" the church." Together they feel called to use their resources and networks to help smaller churches that do not have family ministry departments.

"It's all founded around relationships and trying to encourage each other," Felan said. "We want to keep this rooted in the church and not create a para-church ministry. It's reaching from the inside out."

In addition to Felan, the steering committee includes representatives from Bayview Baptist, North Coast Chapel, The Rock Church, Skyline Church and Faith Chapel.

Although the group has officially met just a few times, they have already created a mission statement and a strategy to begin hosting regional events, including a possible marriage seminar in one of San Diego's large arenas. The group is open to any pastor or Christian leader who, Felan said, "has a passion to divorce proof the church and strengthen the family."

Several area Christian counselors are also involved, he said.


Attacks on marriage
The advent of the coalition comes as local pastors are reeling from several recent decisions that they believe undermine traditional marriage. In September, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders ditched his campaign promise to oppose same-sex marriage when he signed onto an amicus brief for the state Supreme Court. The brief urges the state's high court to render same-sex marriages legal in California, despite the passage of Proposition 22, a 2000 initiative that declared marriage as being only between one man and one woman. Several pro-homosexual groups are now challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 22, which passed by nearly 62 percent, and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue next year.

As that battle wages on, Felan and his group are focusing on the role of traditional marriages and showing the broader church how to do a better job of helping couples develop sound, Scriptural relationships that benefit their children and the community.

"God's ideal standard is still a covenant marriage of one man and one woman committed to each other, in love, for life," he said.

Felan said he also doesn't buy the liberal argument that heterosexuals have made such a mess of marriage that it would do no harm to allow same-sex marriage.

"Just because we fall short we don't buck the whole idea," he said, adding that the church is filled with people who still possess a sin nature. "Does that mean Jesus doesn't work and we quit preaching?"

While the divorce rate in the church parallels—and in some polls exceeds—the general population, Felan, who has served as a pastoral counselor for seven years, said the trend can be reversed if each spouse begins to focus on their own areas of weakness and curb those instead of placing blame on their mate.

"I see the havoc and the problem it wreaks," he said. "It stems from hurt and pain, which comes from a disobedience of God's Word and not treating each other right, as husband and wife."

As each spouse grows, much of the strife falls away.

"Our marriages wouldn't be in such bad shape," he said.