Valentine's Day this year falls on a Sunday, but that's not the only reason for U.S. churches this year to highlight and celebrate the love and affection between committed couples on the Lord's Day.
For many, Valentine's Day will be the culmination of a week's worth of activities and events highlighting the need to strengthen marriage as marriage-related statistics show declines in many areas, including the percentage of married adults and the percentage of children born out of wedlock.
Since Feb. 7, pro-family and faith-based organizations across the United States have been holding conferences, seminars, retreats, date nights, contests, and classes to draw special attention on the need to strengthen marriage and the ways to do it.
Many of the special events this past week, part of National Marriage Week USA, were organized and spearheaded by local church leaders, who were urged this year to do more to address the marriage needs of their congregations and to commit themselves to no longer standing idly by.
"The Church hasn't done a good enough job," prominent evangelical Chuck Colson said last month during a webinar promoting National Marriage Week. "We can turn marriage around in America but believe me, if we are ever going to do it we've got to start with the Church."
According to a report released last year by the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting (NCAAMP) and the Institute for American Values, only 57 percent of U.S. adults were married in 2008, compared to the 78 percent that were married in 1970.
The percentage of children in America who were born out of wedlock, meanwhile, was 40 in 2008 – 72 percent, when only counting African American children.
"Just like the collapse of structures in Haiti and the near collapse of our economic system, the collapse of marriage will be ruinous to our nation," commented Chuck Stetson, chairman of National Marriage Week USA.
"The alarming drop in marriage rates in America combined with high divorce rates are financially costly to taxpayers and individuals, and emotionally costly to children," he added. "The nation needs to pay attention."
To help turn the tide, National Marriage Week USA participants have been initiating new efforts to reduce the divorce rate and build a stronger marriage culture, which they believe in turn will help curtail poverty and benefit children.
Evangelical pastors, ministry leaders and Catholic priests, in particular, have been uniting in the major campaign to strengthen marriage, convinced that the resolution to the marriage problems begins with the Church stepping up and reclaiming the power and might of the institution of marriage.
"Marriage is the most effective training ground for nurturing mature well-rounded Christians and even world class leaders ... because in marriage people experience the full essence of self-sacrifice and agape love," commented Joe Mattera, presiding bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition.
So while many in America were spending the past week thinking about what to get their spouses for Valentine's Day, National Marriage Week leaders and participants were encouraging couples to find resources to help their own marriage, find marriage conferences in their area, learn how to help others in their community, watch a one-hour webinar on marriage, and get lots of practical ideas at www.nationalmarriageweekUSA.org.
"Americans need to stop thinking of marriage as a consumer relationship - if we don't, we'll always want a refund or an exchange because there is no perfect product," wrote Sheila Weber, the executive director of National Marriage Week USA and the "Let's Strengthen Marriage" campaign, in an opinion piece published by Fox News.
"But when we view marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman unto death, not as a throwaway consumer relationship, the chances are enormously higher for personal growth, better health, greater happiness, a longer life, and greater well being for our children," she added.
Though National Marriage Week 2010 officially concludes Sunday, the pro-marriage effort is expected to be ongoing as it looks toward the next year.
National Marriage Week USA will be observed every year over the same dates – Feb. 7 to Feb. 14.