“It’s just really hard to minister to them in meaningful ways because in lots of ways, they’ve checked out of the community,” one Protestant pastor told a sociologist who produced one of the 13 papers cited in the report.
Root, Marquardt, Denton and other scholars say their research shows that while special programs and support groups help, they aren't enough to address the dilemma of advocating for strong marriages while at the same time not alienating children and adults who have experienced divorce and don't fit the model of the ideal family.
Marquardt said clergy need to learn a dual approach that tells congregants strong marriages matter, but at the same time recognizes that those with broken marriages can enrich the congregation as well.
An occasional sermon from the perspective of healing a broken family can resonate with those who feel out of place or without hope. "The Bible is full of stories of messed up families and out of them came great leaders," she said.
When it comes to youth, Denton said pastors can't effectively address practical needs or answer difficult questions in times of family crisis unless they know where their youth stand on spiritual matters and understand how a divorce can throw up barriers to participation.
Steve Morris, who serves as a bishop for a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Boulder City, Nev., said spending time with youth is the most effective way to know their spiritual maturity.
"I have learned more about our individual youth during activities such as Scout camp, girls camp, or even our weekly youth activities than I have in our regular interviews," he wrote in an email. "The most important element in understanding youth is time. You must spend time with them in order to truly understand their challenges and desires."
Root said his own marriage became the community that helped him and his wife cope with their parents' divorces. He said the church should serve that same purpose for others who feel pain from divorce.
"We ignore this at our own peril because these people are out there, and I would make a further argument that the church needs these people," he said. "Their perspective is a rich one."
That's the type of faith community Marquardt is looking for.
"I am looking for that authenticity and ability to say, 'Here we are in all of our brokenness striving toward what we think God’s calling us to, and trying to help each other.' I am looking for that."
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