Praying & Staying Together
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Driving through southern Michigan in my recent travels on I-69, then I-94, I noticed a remarkably large number of billboards had advertisements from worldatprayer.com, which is a program of Holy Cross Family Ministries, a Roman Catholic organization.
The founder of this organization, a Father Patrick Peyton, started a billboard campaign back in 1976 with the statement:
"[T]he American public needs to be constantly reminded of their dependence of God... to reach these people, we must reach them through the media they are exposed to in their everyday lives... By creating messages with great impact - messages that make one stop and think"
"Messages that make one stop and think"? So, in this and the next meditation, I intend to stop and think about a couple of their billboards.
Let's start with the one which promotes the motto of Holy Cross Family Ministries and which has been around for years and years.
The above isn't the actual billboard I saw - it's not wise to take pictures when driving at 65mph - this is an alternate version on the World at Prayer web site. The billboards I saw with this message were text only; no hands, and no rosary. And without any religious symbolism, it is a strange message suggesting it does not matter who you are praying to or what you are praying for. Praying together to Satan has the same positive effect on your marriage as praying together to a statue of Krishna. Praying together for the death of a politician has the same positive effect on your marriage as praying together for world peace.
When I stop and think about the message on the billboard, my reaction is "Is it true?"
Have any studies been conducted to validate this message? Looking through the various web sites that come under the Holy Cross Family Ministries, I was unable to find anything. Considering only the sponsor, the message is just an assertion without any supporting data.
But does data exist elsewhere?
It is possible to find claims on the internet that both Baylor (2007) and Princeton (1980) have conducted studies which came up with this as a finding. While the existence of the studies is stated as fact, links to the actual studies or even abstracts are curiously absent. While Baylor has certainly conducted studies on religion and prayer in society, I am unable to find anything that establishes that a family which prays together stays together - presumably with more success than a family which does not pray together.
As to the supposed Princeton study, I found an interesting (unfortunately undated) quotation attributed to Prof. Cary Lantz of the Family Studies Dept. at Liberty University:
My quest at the moment is to track down a 1980 report which suggested that, at that time, those who attend church regularly together, pray together regularly, and read the Bible together regularly have a <1% divorce rate!!
I am planning an updated examination of that alleged report; but first I need to find the original.
I tend to think Lantz failed in his quest; the study remains "alleged.".
So in the absence of a study, what are we to think?
Suppose we assume (and it is an assumption) that religious families are more likely to pray together than do non-religious families. Then do religious families do better at staying together? We already looked at this in Reflection 50 by referring to a Barna Group study that showed that overall, born-again Christians were as likely to divorce as non-Christians.
But Catholics do have a significantly lower divorce rate - and it is in a Catholic ministry that the slogan apparently originated. On the other hand, the Catholic Church makes it difficult to divorce and remain a Catholic. And "not staying together" includes separation as well as divorce. Do Catholics have higher separation rates than those for whom divorce is easier? Again, I can't find statistics. So, we are still in the dark as to whether the slogan has validity.
Let's consider another angle - what points to a successful relationship?
In an article on the Association for Psychological Science website debunking the "myth" that opposites attract, it states:
Similarity in personality traits isn't merely a good predictor of initial attraction. It's also a good predictor of marital stability and happiness.
Now that, to me makes sense. It's not the "praying together" that keeps families together. It's the similar personalities that lead them to pray together. Rather than a cause and effect, we have a correlation.
You could, with equal validity that the family that bowls together stays together; or the family that visits the UCTAA website together stays together.
If you don't like praying, praying together is going to do nothing for your marriage. The implied cause and effect just does not exist.