Has Bart Barber Lost His Mind? You Make the Call

by Dave Miller on January 23, 2013 · 52 comments

Bart Barber has been one of my favorite bloggers for years, even when he infuriates or annoys me, or disagrees with me – a sin I consider unforgivable. I like bloggers who make me think, who bring a new, fresh perspective to a discussion instead of rehashing the same old stuff over and over and over. When there is a hot topic, you will often see a flurry of posts that give variants of the same view. With Bart (for good or ill) you usually get something new and fresh.

Wow, has he outdone himself this time. I am concerned that he has lost his ever-loving mind. Dude may have moved to crazytown; I just don’t know.

First, Bart published a post called “How I Do Weddings Now” that I thought was a spoof about a new contract he is considering enforcing with all couples he marries. He followed that with a post called “Explaining My Wedding Ceremony Contract” which removed all doubt that this was anything but serious.

Bart’s idea is to make couples sign a contract that costs them nothing (an initial $10) if they stay married but gives him the right to demand a $10,000 payment if they seek a divorce. 

As I told him last night on twitter, he is about 2/3 genius and 1/3 certifiable nutcase. Or perhaps the ratio should be reversed. Is it legal? Enforceable? Biblically and morally justified? I encourage you to go over to Bart’s site to read the two articles in their entirety. But here is the contract that he is going to be asking couples to sign:

CONTRACT TO PERFORM A WEDDING CEREMONY

I, the undersigned Christopher Bart Barber, an ordained Christian minister, agree to conduct the wedding ceremony of the undersigned bride and groom [“the couple”] in exchange for the sum of $10,000 and according to the following conditions:

  1. PREMARITAL CONSULTATION: The couple agrees to attend sessions of premarital consultation as required by Christopher Bart Barber.
  2. CHRISTIAN WEDDING: The couple agrees that the wedding ceremony will be in the form of a Christian worship service. The couple awards to Christopher Bart Barber the right to remove from the wedding ceremony at his sole discretion any content that is contrary to his personal convictions regarding the nature of Christian marriage. The couple hereby agrees that the nature of the wedding ceremony and the nature of the marriage covenant that they are seeking is in accord with the Principles of Christian Marriage that Christopher Bart Barber has presented to them during their premarital consultation with him.
  3. RECIPIENT: The sum is payable to Christopher Bart Barber personally and not in his capacity as an employee of First Baptist Church of Farmersville. First Baptist Church of Farmersville is not a party to this contract. Agreements between the couple and any venue that may host the wedding ceremony or any related ceremonies or events are separate from this contract and do not affect it. Monies paid to First Baptist Church of Farmersville do not satisfy this debt.
  4. FINANCING: The undersigned couple hereby enters into a financing agreement to pay the sum to Christopher Bart Barber according to the following terms: (a) Upon completion of the wedding ceremony the couple must make a down payment in the amount of at least $10 (TEN DOLLARS); (b) The remaining balance will accrue interest at the rate of 0% (ZERO PERCENT) PER ANNUM, which interest rate is fixed for the term of the loan and may not be changed; (c) The couple must make regular payments due on the first day of each month in the amount of $0 (ZERO DOLLARS); (d) Any additional payments shall be applied against the principal sum of the indebtedness.
  5. JOINT AND SEVERAL LIABILITY: The obligations of the couple hereunder shall be joint and several.
  6. FORGIVENESS OF INDEBTEDNESS: In the event that either the bride or the groom should die before the acceleration clause has been invoked, Christopher Bart Barber shall forgive the aggregate amount of the indebtedness.
  7. ACCELERATION CLAUSE: In the event that the marriage of the couple should end in divorce or annulment, Christopher Bart Barber may, without notice or demand, declare the entire principal sum then unpaid immediately due and payable.

********

The second post explains some of the thinking behind this. I won’t copy that. The links are above. Read it before you start commenting. I’d just like to give you my thoughts on the topic, then open the floor for discussion.

I wish I knew how to add a poll. Bart Barber is a) genius or b) crazy or c) ample measures of both.

Here are my reflections:

1) The motive is noble. 

Divorce is all too normal, even in the church today. And you can’t always see it coming. Any preacher who has been at the task for any length of time has pronounced a young couple husband and wife with full confidence that it was a permanent bond, only to see the marriage crumble later. Broken lives. Damaged children. The testimony of the church sullied. It is easy to see why Bart would feel a burden to do something.

Bart is to be commended for finding a creative way to deal with the problem. Is this the best way to deal with it? I don’t know. Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But it is a creative approach to a real problem.

2) The legality is questionable. 

I’m not a lawyer. I just don’t know if something like this is legal or enforceable. I guess if everyone signs the contract freely, they are bound by it. I just don’t know.

SBC Voices has a few lawyers who lurk in the background here. Maybe some of them will want to weigh in.

3) Bart won’t be doing many weddings.

I would love to have a camera on the prospective bride or groom who calls Bart to see if he will perform their wedding and then finds out about the contract. They will be asking the same question I asked above, “Is this guy nuts?” The question will be whether they say goodbye or just hang up so they can call the church down the street.

Is that a bad thing? The only people who would ever get married under this contract would be deeply committed to their marriage and confident about their future. It does not seem to me to be a bad thing to discourage the kinds of marriages this would discourage.

By the way, Bart has made it clear that he will do premarital counseling and focus on the demands of Christian marriage. The contract is part of an overall strategy.

4) What about the lawsuit issue? 

There is some divergence on the extent and reach of Paul’s command, but in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 he discourages taking a fellow-believer to court. Enforcing such a contract would almost certainly produce a trip to the courts. Would that be a violation of 1 Corinthians 6? I don’t know. Something to think about, though.

5) If this worked, it could become a national movement!

I’m joking about Bart’s sanity, but I’m not kidding that I go back and forth on this idea. Genius. Nuts. Creative. Bizarre. Fascinating. Unthinkable. I just don’t know what to think. But if this worked, it could catch on.

6) A suggestion for Bart. 

It might be helpful to include another paragraph in the contract. I’m not going to attempt legaleze, but a stipulation could be added in which Bart offers his services in counselling to the couple if their marriage hits the skids. The purpose (as he has made clear) is not to raise funds for the Barber Evangelistic Association, but to prevent divorce. A clause stating Bart’s willingness to meet with the couple to attempt to resolve issues before it gets to the point of enforcing the contract might be helpful.

Honestly, I am not sure what I think of all this. It is creative and unique. But is it a good idea. I’m guessing this discussion might help me decide what I think.

But there is one more thing I want to bring up: Did anyone else know Bart’s first name was Christopher?

1 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I was glad to find that picture on the internet of Bart, which gives him just the slightest wild-eyed look.

We are hoping later for a guest post from Bart’s wife addressing the issue of his sanity, but nothing is certain yet.

2 Bennett Willis January 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

The contract seems well written.

3 Bob Cleveland January 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Another example of trusting a contract and a debt to accomplish what The Bible, biblical counseling, and God cannot.

It is a deplorable idea.

4 Byron Polts January 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Yes, exactly my thoughts. This is a cheap idea that can only either 1) be the only remaining incentive for a couple to stay unhappily married and 2) be an additional financial burden on a divorced couple.

And then there’s the idea that Bart is going to profit off of failed marriages, with the money explicitly going to him and not the church?

Wow.

5 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

If you look at Bart’s site, he explains the idea. Bart is a man of the highest integrity and I can tell you that personal profit is not his motive.

6 Byron Polts January 23, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Okay, I’ll take that. Still too gimmicky for me, though. That money should go to charity, and the contract should clearly excuse cases of spousal abuse, illegal activity by spouse, etc. Its hard to take it seriously when this is 10% the length of your standard prenup.

7 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Deplorable seems like a bit of overreaction.

8 Bob Cleveland January 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Not to me.

9 Dale Pugh January 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm

“3) Bart won’t be doing many weddings.”
That point alone would make me seriously consider coming up with my own contract.

10 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Yep.

11 dean January 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I think that Bart’s purpose is not to make money but to highlight the seriousness of marriage. Many go into it haphazardly. Bart, I believe, is saying slow down and consider what you are wanting to do. As for as Bob’s assertion, I would say that any pastor who performs many weddings will see divorce in some of those couples regardless of how well you counsel. What we are doing in premarital counseling is not working as a whole in the church today. It is a deplorable idea to think that we can keep doing what we are doing and see any change.

I have been running Bart’s contract through my mind and trying to jive it with the OT dowry. A dowry was paid for a bride for the purpose of taking care of her in case the man divorced her. The dowry may be more along the lines of a prenuptial rather than a penalty for divorce.

As for answering the question of the post, look at that picture, is this a rational man? He has lost his mind regardless if this is a good idea or not.

12 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Yeah, I was pleased with the picture.

13 Jeff Musgrave January 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I had to take the time to comment on this one. I totally understand his reasons for doing this. I even like the idea of using something that adds a little consequence to get people to stop and think. I read his other post and think that he has done an admirable job of explaining himself and his rationale. Frankly, I am tempted to use the idea myself. For now though, I imagine I will still just be upfront with people and all too willing to tell people that I will not conduct the ceremony for them (I once turned down an in-law’s request) if I discern that they are not committed to making a marriage work.

14 rick January 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Not sure about this one:

4) What about the lawsuit issue?

There is some divergence on the extent and reach of Paul’s command, but in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 he discourages taking a fellow-believer to court. Enforcing such a contract would almost certainly produce a trip to the courts. Would that be a violation of 1 Corinthians 6? I don’t know. Something to think about, though.

The reason for Paul’s prohibition of taking a brother to court was, as I understand it, for the testimony of the gospel, not to prevent people from going to court. The reason people went to court was to settle disputes. Paul said Christians should be ashamed to have to resort to pagan courts to settle disputes between Christian brothers. He points to the church as an arbiter of disputes that should be far superior to any earthly court.

Sadly, I don’t know of very many (if any) churches that would be capable of providing sound judgment in a legal dispute. If churches split over the color of the carpet in a building program, how could they possibly adjudicate a complex legal transaction?

Additionally, our courts have been “Christianized” for some time now, so it’s not like we are going before pagans who are totally removed from any biblical influence. In some courts, they still swear on the Bible.

15 Jess Alford January 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm

” In the event the Bride or Groom shall die,” the indebtedness will be forgiven. The contract didn’t say in what way the Bride or Groom shall die, murder or natural causes. This should be addressed immediatly
before someone gets killed. This is a live round in the chamber just waiting to go off.

Bart’s cheese has slid off the cracker. Bart has a photographic memory
but a few years back his bulb blowed. In a world of stones Bart is the one trying to find a stick. In a world of water Bart is the one that can’t swim.

As one that has been committed several times, twice by a judge and once
by my wife, I agree with Bart, he makes good sense.

With all joking aside, I will use this contract. Bart, Dave set you up for this.

16 Rick Patrick January 23, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Are you suggesting that a man who wants to divorce his wife but not pay Bart $10,000 would just kill her to “earn” the $10,000?

17 Zack Stepp January 23, 2013 at 1:52 pm

SBC Voices has a few lawyers who lurk in the background here. Maybe some of them will want to weigh in.

I’m going to have to think about that one for a while. I’m getting flashbacks to my first year contracts courses.

18 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Is it enforceable?

19 Zack Stepp January 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I know that SBC Voices has more senior legal counsel than I, but, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents, (for the time being, that is):
I can’t find a statute or case that appears to be dead on point. I’ve combed though statutes and case law with every Boolean combination of applicable terms that I can image, and I just can’t seem to come up with anything directly on this question. (Again, I think a more seasoned legal veteran might be able to dig up something that I’ve missed.) However, there are some key ancillary issues which keep coming up:

(1) Would such a contract violate public policy?

Laws concerning the intersection of contract law and family law generally come down to the issue of whether or not the contract in question contravenes public policy. On this issue, there are two main concerns.

(1)(a) Historical public policy in favor of marriage.

For the majority of this nation’s history, prenuptial/antenuptial agreements, (i.e., contracts made in contemplation of divorce), were automatically void as contrary to public policy. It wasn’t until mid-century that states began allowing their enforceability. The idea behind this public policy was that a) the creation of such a contract would recognize the possibility/probability of divorce, and b) states had an interested in preventing divorce. Obviously, that public policy is long gone.

Interestingly, though, when states began allowing these agreements, they didn’t really abandon this public policy. Rather, they simply came to the conclusion that a) divorce was too commonplace to ignore, especially in light of no-fault divorce laws, b) such agreements made divorces more amicable, and c) the state also has competing interests in assuring people the ability to peacefully leave bad/dangerous/dead marriages. I read through a handful of opinions from various states which overruled previous prohibitions on contracts made in contemplation of divorce, and the prevailing justification was “we still want to promote and strengthen marriage, but we have to realize that marriages end, and having such contracts makes those endings less messy.”

Bart’s contract turns this public policy on its head in a very fascinating way. As discussed above, contracts made in contemplation of divorce were historically void due to the policy of discouraging divorce, but Bart’s contract uses the historically prohibited medium to achieve the policy goal. It’s a very intellectually intriguing concept.

Thus, if the public policy in favor of continuing marriages is still alive, (which is debatable), then there is an argument to be made that Bart’s contract squarely promotes this policy. The rub, though, is whether or not public policy has shifted so much that the judiciary would feel that the continuation of marriage still remains an issue of public policy.

(1)(b) Contemporary public policy in favor of freedom to divorce.

I think that legal opposition to the enforcement of this contract would center around the policy argument that individuals should be free to divorce at will and that this contract hampers that policy. On the other hand, there is a wide body of case law which states that parties to a contract can waive or renounce legal rights. (There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but they are very specific and very narrowly tailored.) On the whole, it’s pretty easy to get a divorce anywhere in this country. However, technically speaking, a divorce is not necessarily automatic and is not necessarily a right. Even though every state has enacted no-fault divorce statutes, many states still require that a judge find, as a matter of fact, that the marriage is indeed broken. (For example, in many states, the parties must affirm, under oath, that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and the judge must find, based upon that sworn testimony, that the marriage is in fact broken. If there is no evidence that the marriage is broken, or if the judge does not find the evidence credible, then he may reasonably deny the divorce. In reality, this is a bit of a charade, but it’s still on the books and still the prevailing practice.) Thus, from a purely technical standpoint, it’s hard to argue that divorce is ever a right owed to a party.

But what about more specific policy arguments? What about cruelty or adultery? A strong public policy argument could be made that such a contract would force a battered or abandoned spouse to remain in a damaging married. (Please note: I am not talking about biblical grounds for divorce. I’m talking only about secular public policy.) I think that, under very specific circumstances, an argument could be made that such a contract would violate public policy for the protection of spouses/children/etc.

Ultimately, though, I think that the policy arguments slightly favor the enforceability of the contract; thought it’s by no means clear cut in either direction.

(2) Would such a contract violate catch-all statutes which prohibit “immoral” contracts?

Many states have catch-all statutes which prohibit the enforcement of “immoral” contracts. (For example, in my state, the statute simply says that “[a] contract to do an immoral . . . thing is void.” Many states have the same or analogous provisions.) Now, what, exactly, do such statutes prohibit? Great question—no one knows. It’s pretty much left up to the discretion of each judge in each particular as to how to use these statutes. If I was attacking this contract in a court case, I would probably combine a public policy argument with one of these catch-all statutes in an attempt to bolster the overall argument. The argument from this line of thought is fairly easy to imagine: “Statutory law prohibits immoral contracts. In this case, the contract requires that a poor, helpless, defenseless, stay-at-home mother pay a penalty fine to a preacher in order to get away from her abusive, alcoholic spouse. Her decision to divorce should not be hampered by an excessive economic penalty on top of the divorce.” Would that argument fly? I don’t really know. It really depends on the specific facts and the specific judge.

(3) Is this just a form of prenuptial/antenuptial agreement?

As discussed above, antenuptial agreements are generally allowable. They can cover a wide range of topics and can even include some fairly complex provisions. There are, of course, certain things that antenuptial agreements generally can’t cover, (e.g., child custody), but there aren’t really any directions on what they can cover. The reason that this question is important in this discussion is that antenuptial contracts are generally treated specially. They require certain extra formalities to be enforceable, but they can also be invalidated easier than many other contracts.
In this case, the agreement is interesting in two respects: (1) The agreement involves a third-party. That, in and of itself, is a very intriguing twist. To be honest, I haven’t really worked out how that would play out for either side of the argument. (2) The agreement does not concern issues which are normally covered in antenuptial agreements. It’s this second issue which I think might play a big role in this case.

At its heart, this is a contract, between two persons entering into marriage, and deciding the distribution of a sum of money in the event of divorce. So it’s an antenuptial agreement, and thus enforceable, right? Well, I don’t know. This doesn’t concern the distribution of any particular funds or property in existence or contemplated, and it doesn’t concern issues like alimony or other support. So, then, what? It’s just a general contract? Perhaps. Historically, contracts made in contemplation of marriage/divorce were always treated with unique scrutiny.

A good argument could be made that this is a form of an antenuptial agreement, and, if it is, it might work in the favor of either side. On one hand, antenuptial agreements are generally enforceable. On the other hand, antenuptial agreements can often be easily invalidated based upon special issues like fairness and foreseeability.

(4) Does Bart’s acceleration clause provisions solve any legal prohibitions?

Upon reading this contract for the first time, the first thing that jumped out at me was the unexpected manner in which Bart crafted the penalty provision. I can’t speak directly to Bart’s motives, (or to the motives of any attorney who advised him), but the purpose of this unique structure seems to be to preemptively avoid violating the public policy concerns discussed above by turning this into a simple contract for services.
So, does it accomplish this goal? Maybe, but I think that any judge who wanted to void this contract as against public policy could probably get around the unique structure. Technically, it’s written as a contract for services, but the spirit of the contract is clearly a penalty for divorce. Pretty much any state will have appellate opinions with dicta discussing how courts are not beholden to technical language when the intent/actions are otherwise clear. Ultimately, if a judge wanted to uphold this contract, then the payment structure would be used to bolster his decisions; if he wanted to invalidate it, then he wouldn’t really worry about the structure.

(5) So what do I think? Honestly, if a case like this was to appear before an appellate court, I think the outcome would depend very heavily upon (a) the reason for the divorce, and (b) the prevailing political climate of that state. Any decision would likely be very pragmatically tailored to fit the facts of the particular case. I know that might sound like a cop-out, but I think it’s true. On the whole, I think that current laws would slightly favor the enforceability of the contract, but it’s not a home run in either case.

(I apologize if this seems rather stream-of-consciousness in form or substance. This is a tricky question, and I’m still trying to think through all the issues involved.)

20 Zack Stepp January 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Wow. That comment really got away from me. Also, there should’ve been a closing of the bold command for the subheading (1)(a).

Dave, if that is too long, please do not hesitate to delete it. I defer to your discretion. (If you decide to keep it, is it possible to close the bolding?)

21 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Zack, I made an assumption that you meant the highlighting on 1a to only be in the heading, like the other points. I made that change.

22 Zack Stepp January 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Thanks, Dave. For all my youth and vigor, I’m not exactly a computer/html wiz.

23 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I’m the same way. I often write a comment, send it and then open it again to edit. I get a panel where its easier.

24 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Interesting analysis.

25 Jon January 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Well, this is another case of nuttiness in the American church. Ever since the Puritans landed we’ve been an eccentric bunch, haunted by visions of perfection and willing to achieve them legalistically.

26 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Jon, I know that in a joking manner, I raised the concept of Bart’s sanity. But I know Bart and there is nothing “nutty” about him. He is a serious student of God’s word and a voice of reason among Southern Baptists.

If you are going to log on simply to insult, please feel free to visit other blogs. If you want to join the conversation, feel free to do that as well.

27 Jon January 23, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Mr. Miller, the response was very much like many responses on these blogs including this one. Please reassess what you said. If you disagree with my positions that’s one thing. But I think you’re honing in on one response.

28 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Just guard your words a little and there will be no problem. Most of us who are teasing Bart about his sanity have some level of relationship with him and are teasing him.

29 Jon January 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

And why did you hone in on my rather broad statement, I wonder?

30 Bart Barber January 23, 2013 at 4:05 pm

It’s OK, Dave. I had an idea what the range of responses would be before I pressed “Publish.” You and I have been doing this a long time, Dave. We’ve both been called worse than “nutty” and “eccentric.” Don’t feel any need to reign in the conversation too much on my part. Just do whatever you need to do to maintain the tone of your blog however you want it.

You know, but many may not, that I leave for Senegal in the morning. This is probably my last chance to comment here.

For me, I think the best outcome would be if someone in the thread would come up with an even better creative idea for something different that we pastors can do. People arguing for the status quo are going to find their pleas falling on a deaf ear when it comes to me. We’ve been trying this “non-legalistic” approach for 40 years, and we’re inflicting lifelong scars upon more people with this divorce culture than are any of the “boutique” causes that high-popularity evangelicals love to adopt (not that some of those aren’t worthy causes, too…just comparing the numbers).

What I’m doing may not be the right thing to do, but it’s superior to the better thing that isn’t being done.

31 Bart Barber January 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

“rein” not “reign”

Although you “reign” very well, Mr. VP. ;-)

32 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Have a great time in Senegal.

33 Doug Hibbard January 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm

There are, obviously, two separate questions here:

1. Is Bart sane?

2. Is this an appropriate idea based on Scripture for Christian ministers and wedding?

The answer to #1 is “Yes, certainly. The wedding contract has nothing to do with that.”

#2: That’s a different matter. I think it does communicate the seriousness of marriage. It definitely stems from seeing the minister doing a wedding as part of the body of Christ and part of the discipleship and growth process. Which is probably not a bad way to look at it.

There is a contrast there with doing weddings for anyone and everyone, and hoping that by doing so you develop the opportunity to connect with those lives and bring them to Christ.

34 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm

That is the thing that draws me back to this. It communicates the absolute seriousness of marriage to a starry-eyed young couple.

35 Doug Hibbard January 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I have seen something similar before, but I think it was worded as if the fee was the ridiculously large sum (the $10,000) and payment was “suspended” and then decreased over a span of time. The logic was that it made the debt something that pre-existed the divorce rather than was incurred by the divorce.

Changed the scope of enforcing the amount owed.

I like the idea, in general, but I don’t think you’d ever want to see this one litigated in court. It reads like a valid contract, but should you go to court to enforce if the couple divorced and didn’t pay?

36 Bart Barber January 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Having a blast reading the conversation. Once the dust settles down, I request that you make a follow-up post focusing just one whether I’m insane, without any other context muddying up the waters. ;-)

I would like to address the question of abuse raised above. My intention is, in cases like that, to sock it entirely to the abuser and then give the money to the abused wife.

I’d specify in the contract that the proceeds won’t go to me, except I can’t find any way to do so that it flexible enough. In some cases, I’d like to help the wronged spouse with it. In other cases, I don’t want either spouse touching the money, but would like to help out the children with it. I’ve tried to word the contract in a way that leaves me flexibility to do what seems right in each circumstance.

Divorce is one of the leading causes of poverty in our country. I’m thinking that $10K could make a big difference in the life of an abused wife trying to make a new start or a child of divorce trying to go to college.

Finally, I thought about explicitly promising in the contract to provide marital help for the couple if they’re struggling later. I worried about the unforeseen legal consequences that might accompany such a promise. What if I were retired or disabled or had moved away (or they had)? Would the inclusion of that in the contract suggest that I was obligated to pay for them to receive counseling from someone else if I were unable to provide it? That they had already purchased counseling from me that they were entitled to obtain, even if I had to pay someone else to provide it?

Of course, now that I think about it, one improvement might be to allow the couple to present receipts from their payments for Christian marriage counseling and to reduce the debt dollar-for-dollar for the money they’ve spent on counseling. I’m not 100% sure about that (my goal isn’t merely that they get counseling, but that they not get divorced), but it sounds reasonable to me if it could be worded well.

37 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I like that last paragraph.

38 Bart Barber January 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm

One last thing about the outcome of the funding: I worried that, if the contract actually specified that I was to give the money to the wronged spouse or to the children, it might wind up being considered in the divorce proceedings and might wind up lessening the financial provision for spouse or children through the courts.

If it is just a debt owed to me, although I am worried about how it might figure in divorce proceedings (will I be able to pick which spouse to pursue for it, or will the courts make that determination for me), I think I’m still left with more, better options.

And, of course, I always have the option in very complicated situations or those in which I’d have to collect the money from someone whom I’d rather not pursue for it, of just not invoking the acceleration clause. It says that I MAY accelerate the debt, not that I must do so.

39 Doug Hibbard January 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm

With the debt as it reads, paying you would be one of the couple’s joint debts and the divorce settlement could assign it to whom it was necessary. For example, in the cases of abuse or adultery, it would not be too hard to get the court to assign the debt burden to the ‘guilty’ party, and that would include you.

Of course, if they followed up with bankruptcy, you’d get nothing. But your point is well made.

40 Jon January 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Sorry Bart, if I offended you. I was somewhat caught up in the sweep of it—saw a few things written which were worse, I thought. Reading between the lines I felt like it was a “let’s silence the last one” type deal. Sorry again. I am a firm believer in life-long marriage. Just don’t think it’s the church’s fault if it doesn’t work out and don’t think the onus is on anyone other than the husband and wife. That’s just my take.

41 Dave Miller January 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm

And that is a very reasonable take on this, Jon. Well said.

42 Christiane January 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Well, good grief, if you are going to do this thing, then be bold and raise the amount to 100K . . . that is approaching some serious money in this day and age

43 Doug Hibbard January 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm

From someone that couldn’t come up with 1,000 in the next month, the 10k is pretty stout cash.

The real hiccup here is people in young love that will claim that they would never divorce and sign on without really thinking. They’ll not really get past the “Well, preacher wants us to know this is serious, and we know that. But we’re in looooovvvvvvveeeee,” then sign away.

3 or 4 years later when the new is gone and they’re mid-20s and married while all their friends are not (or worse, all of just one of their friends) and still partying, things will look different. The ones who will buckle down and honor the vow they made to God will do it without thinking about the contract then. The ones who won’t? They’ll probably not even consider that contract, get divorced, and never speak to (whichever pastor) again.

So, will it help? Maybe, maybe not. The real value I see here is this: anything like this in a Baptist church is going to get discussed up one end and down the other–and this will get people within the church thinking about marriage. This will stir more married people and dating people than it will engaged/getting married people. That’s not necessarily bad: get the married folks thinking about just how seriously the church should be taking marriage; get the unmarried thinking about how crucial of a decision marriage is.

That’s a pot worth stirring.

44 Christiane January 23, 2013 at 11:36 pm

DOUG . . . there are ways to save money out of your income that I can share:
1. stay out of Walmart and shop the thrift shops and consignment shops
2. no book stores (I know, I know) . . . library only
3. no fast foods, no Starbucks (I really know) . . . instead, meal-plan with each large piece of meat, working out three to five meals with it and serving with legumes you cook yourself (beans, peas), make use of whole grains (barley is good, oats), use local fresh produce . . . better quality (do not use store-bought frozen anything), go to the dairy yourself and return your own bottles
4. circuit-plan your driving so as to hit all your stops on the way using the least amount of gas, AND save going out until you have several errands to do on one journey
5. say no to yourself (I need this, I need that) . . . count blessings, use what you have, use it up, give thanks, go ‘shopping’ by cleaning out closets and drawers (you will be surprised at how much you have that you had no clue about) . . .
6. when comes spring, get the ground ready and plant a vegetable garden (big one)
7. do your own baking from scratch (start with something simple, if you don’t know how . . . biscuits are easy)
8. mend tears in clothes right away . . . this really helps, surprisingly
9. pay cash, no credit card use for one month (you will REALLY save a lot . . . try it)
10. tithe ten percent to your Church of what have saved (keep a record) and THEN, go out and help someone less fortunate . . .

at the end of month, your life will begin to make more cents, I promise :)

45 Rick Patrick January 23, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Bart,

Imagine what would happen if someone actually took this thing seriously and decided to divorce anyway. In other words, when the couple divorced, how would you feel as a financial beneficiary of the failed marriage?

Another possibility to avoid personal financial gain from that which God hates would be to have the money support a Christian Marriage Seminar or some other ministry. Then again, income earned from a divorce clause would probably make most ministry organizations cringe as well.

46 Doug Hibbard January 23, 2013 at 10:29 pm

One of his comments states that he wouldn’t keep it and would either pass it on to the injured spousal party in the case of a fault-situation or set it up for the benefit of the children in other situations.

47 Rick Patrick January 24, 2013 at 12:28 am

And if there are no children? And if they both cheated?

I realize he may only be half serious here, but it seems like he’s kind of setting up his own judicial system. If he does implement it, I predict it will have little impact because (a) most couples will look elsewhere, and (b) those who do go through with it will find some lawyer to contest the legality of the “Minister Prenup.” Bart would need to pay his own legal representative when it is challenged.

Having said that, I certainly applaud Bart’s noble intentions.

48 Christiane January 24, 2013 at 1:53 am

PASTOR BART, this whole thing has the seeds of a great novel. It’s quirky, well-meaning, and original. . . give it some thought, you write well enough, and your idea is VERY interesting and provocative.

just some thoughts

49 Christiane January 24, 2013 at 1:57 am

P.S.
I especially like the idea of socking it to the bad spouse and giving the money to the wronged spouse. THAT will sell books.

50 Bart Barber January 24, 2013 at 2:13 am

I’m on the way to bed. Finally all is in place for our departure. I couldn’t resist the temptation to come back over here. Having read through the dialogue, I offer just a couple of succinct thoughts.

1. Wow, Zach, you’ve done me a great service. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis.

2. Please don’t presume that this is the ONLY thing I’m doing to try to rescue marriages from divorce. Not long ago I went to a family’s home at 6:00 am every morning for 40 days to lead them in family devotions and to pray with them. They went from the brink of divorce to complete reconciliation (eventually, not in 40 days). So, I don’t see this as any panacea. This is one among many things I’m trying in efforts to make a difference. If Texas had a covenant marriage law, I probably wouldn’t bother with this.

3. I welcome everyone’s criticism. This is an out-of-the-box idea. I can’t think of anything in my life that I’ve gotten 100% correct the first time out of the box. I welcome ideas that strengthen what I’m trying to do. Feel free to explore the weaknesses of this approach. I only ask of you one thing…

However thorough you are in exploring what’s wrong with this, how it is likely to meet resistance, how people will sidestep it, situations in which it may prove to be problematic—please be as vigorous as you like in finding the weaknesses of my proposal, so long as you are equally vigorous in evaluating the real, demonstrable results of the church’s status-quo approach to marriage and divorce.

51 Jim Pemberton January 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm

It’s a creative idea, but I think it’s impractical in a couple of ways.

First, it’s aimed at the desire to stay married without targeting good reasons to stay married. Staying married just to keep from losing $10,000 isn’t a very good reason. But also many people would feel like $10,000 is a small price to pay for ditching their spouse.

This leads me to my second point. If there are children, a split home represents less cash all around. If a couple has enough money to lose the $10,000, then it’s hardly a motivation. But many divorcing couples end up strapped for cash compared to what they were accustomed to and the kids end up suffering for it. The kids would rather give up things to have a happy home life, but now they have to give up stuff and also deal with the parent shuffle and lack of trust in one or both homes.

But there is a principle of accountability that this really speaks to. A marriage is worth far more than $10,000. I would increase the amount to about 10 times the expected annual income and holdings of the household with a steep interest. That means that husband and wife would be in debt for the rest of their lives. As the contract is worded, the husband and wife are in debt from the onset of the marriage. And this is as it should be if they truly submit to their church family for accountability in their marriage. I suggest that few, if any, of us do this with our marriages even now. We don’t like people in our business. We like to be able to do whatever we want and we don’t want other people hunting us down when we screw up. We want to show up at church like we are doing just fine while we let our marriages rot for our sinful neglect. This really should be a covenant with the body of believers, which is why we have “church weddings” administered by a pastor and performed in public. It’s supposed to be a matter of the married couple covenanting with the church family. We own each others’ marriages as a matter of a collective testimony of the sanctification Christ afforded on the cross. If we don’t believe this then church weddings are mere lip service.

That said, Bart is crazy because $10,000 isn’t nearly enough.

52 Donald January 24, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Good results have been obtained by Pastors that use Tom Elliff’s 5-item “You Know You’re Ready to Marry When…” before agreeing to perform the ceremony. This basic pre-qualification should be followed by extensive pre-marital counseling for which the Pastor has obtained specific training.

This contract reeks of legalism.

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