May 2000 Church & State | Editorial

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating recently announced that $10 million in federal welfare funds will be directed toward the "Governor & First Lady's Marriage Initiative," a project that came into being when it was discovered that the Sooner State had one of the highest divorce rates in the country.

While Keating's interest may be laudable, his methods are not. His office and religious leaders are already talking about spending part of the public money in partnership for counseling, mentoring and other church-based endeavors. The Rev. Anthony Jordan, head of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and head of the Initiative's Faith Sector, exulted, "This will allow us to make a frontal assault on the divorce issue in Oklahoma."

Church-state alarm bells ought to be clamoring all over the state. Marriage counseling by clergy is almost certain to include religious tenets. For example, the Southern Baptist denomination, by far the largest in Oklahoma, teaches that husbands have authority over their wives. Will taxpayers fund marital advice based on denominational dogma?

The effectiveness of the church-state partnership also can be questioned. The Barna Research Group recently reported that born-again Christians have a higher divorce rate (27 percent) than those who aren't (24 percent). Baptists have the highest rate of any denominational grouping (27 percent), exceeded only by members of nondenominational Protestant congregations (34 percent).

Why in the world would the governor funnel taxpayers' dollars to clergy to offer marriage counseling when their current privately funded efforts seem to be faring so poorly?