Following Sen. Rubio’s keynote address to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Catholic University of America’s joint “upward mobility” symposium was a panel discussion featuring faith leaders including, Russell Moore, President of Southern Baptist ERLC, Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America, and Sister Ann Patrick Conrad, Associate Professor of Social Work for Catholic University.
A key purpose of the panel was to uncover whether or not there is a link between the breakdown of marriage and our country’s pressing economic decay. But marriage’s current state of decline and the value young people place on marriage captivated the attention of most of the panelists.
According to Penny Nance marriage and upward mobility for the whole family, and coincidentally the nation, starts with the individual’s determination. “It’s actually very simple,” Nance said. “It’s a sequencing to success that [Sen. Marco Rubio] mentioned today and that is, just to reiterate, that is to get an education, high school or better…It means get married before you get pregnant and stay married as best you can. And then work hard.”
For Dr. Moore, a strong marriage is established long before the nuptials are said. That is, when a couple recognizes their marital covenant extends beyond themselves. “One of the most controversial things that I ever say is not anything that I talk about on television,” said Dr. Moore. “It’s when I sit down with a couple who want to be married and I say to them, ‘I’m not going to allow you to write your own vows.’”
Dr. Moore explained, “Because the couple assumes that this wedding ceremony is their event, it is about celebrating their life, about celebrating their love. And I have to say it is about you but it’s about vows that you are exchanging with one another ‘for these witnesses’ with an accountability to a larger community and to the church.”
Sister Conrad, who through Catholic Charities USA has had significant hands-on contact with needy families, asserted that strong marriage and families depend upon involved communities. “In my field we’re really concerned about looking at where are the strengths? What are the values there that helped [families] to survive?” She continued, “Usually there’s people in the community that are helpful. Sometimes the man in the grocery story. The school bus driver provides a sense of value that in many ways in American spirit has the way of seeking out and finding and as the general public we have to begin to look with those eyes as well.”
All panelists agreed that the threats posed to marriage and family are real, but they varied on how to resolve those hazards. “Certainly [Sen. Rubio’s] patriotic spirit and spiritual motivation for the American dream is extremely helpful,” said Sister Conrad. “But I think there are a number of reservations that need to be raised…What we’ve seen happening to many of our poor families is that although one program might be developed, it’s at the cost of another program. So kind of the notion of robbing Peter to pay Paul has the potential here.”
Penny Nance added, “Yes there’s barriers to success. Yes there’s barriers and disincentives to marriage we need to address…But if you simply can do what [Sen. Rubio’s] laid out and we, by the way, as people outside of the government, leaders in our community, leaders in the faith community have got to be giving a consistent message—the moral message— to people and reminding them to counter what Hollywood is telling our young people.”
The strongest message of the discussion came from Dr. Moore who noted, “We cannot judge where marriage and where family is going on the basis of opinion polls at the moment or even on the basis of popular culture or political culture at the moment.” Dr. Moore explained, “I think we need to look at this with a longer view in mind. And the question comes down to ‘What is marriage?’ and ‘What is family?’ and ‘Is anything to marriage and family that’s beyond the will of the persons involved or the culture in which it is appearing at the moment?’ and I think there is.”