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Ending Metro Detroit’s Broken Family Pandemic

Sad child-DOFHDOFH envisions a Renaissance in marriage and family life in Southeastern Michigan.  It unfolds in this year of faith as clergy, pastors and lay leaders ask their married congregations to help them create five marriage mentor ministries in which married couples volunteer to mentor others from engagement and marital enrichment along the natural life cycle of marriage’s challenges and rewards.  Over the past five years, DOFH leaders have worked to till the soil and prepare the way for houses of worship of all faiths to turn Metro-Detroit into a marriage mission field.

Dr. Michael T. Ross has practiced medicine over three decades in urban and suburban emergency departments in New York and Michigan since completing medical school at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in 1981.  Over the past decade, the plight of wounded children suffering in broken households, and mounting concern for his own children’s future prospects for marriage and family life, led him to serve on several non-profit boards committed to finding solutions for pandemic broken family life.

The historic collapse of marriage in the U.S. has become a major source of economic and social blight, and of tragic and costly illness, trauma, and behavioral health disorders that cause great suffering for children, parents and families. Dr. Ross was blessed to meet innovative, serious, and energetic leaders, clergy, and professionals of all kinds who care about marriage and family in America, the suffering of children in broken homes, and the tragic breakdown of our communities and nation.

In 2008, Dr. Ross joined marriage and child advocates from several states to meet in Washington, DC to form Defending Our Father’s House (DOFH), a non-profit leadership group committed to establishing the institutional and legal integrity of marriage. Recognizing Detroit as the epicenter of America’s collapsing marriage and family institutions, DOFH leaders also realized how Detroit and Michigan served vital roles in the nation’s formation over several centuries. St. Anne’s Church, Detroit’s’s very first building, begun in 1701 just two days following French explorer Antoine de Cadillac’s arrival, is the second oldest, continuously active Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. It honors Jesus Christ’s grandmother, Anne — Mary’s mother.

A century after its founding, Fr. Gabriel Richards, St. Anne’s Pastor, co-founded the University of Michigan. Michigan trees supplied the wood that built America. Its Great Lakes provided for transportation and abundant water for our country’s development. Motown put the nation and the world on wheels, and its soulful, gospel harmonies proclaimed the majesty of love for America and the world.

Today, married couples with minor children comprise only 9.2% of Detroit’s households as compared to Michigan’s overall average of 41.9%. Nationally, most of America’s teens, 54%, grow up in broken homes. Children increasingly begin life in unwed homes, 41% of US children born in 2010.  Women aged 30 and below, prime child-bearing years, deliver 53% of their babies to unwed homes.  Lower and middle income women deliver 58% of their first babies outside of marriage. Most young couples cohabit and give birth at the same rate as married couples, only their relationship failure rate is 90%, about twice that of married couples.

Marriage rates have plummeted 54% since 1970, and 35% in Michigan just since 1990.  For Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit, 1.4 million people, the marriage rate dropped 45% in the most recent decade beginning in 2000. Nationally, Catholic marriages nosedived 60% in the forty years beginning 1972. Divorce rates continue at high levels in Michigan, seventh largest state in the nation. Unfortunately, children from broken homes fare poorly by many measures of well-being with much higher rates of poverty, school failure, mental illness, addictions, behavioral disorders, neglect, abuse, trauma and violence, medical problems, incarceration, and much lower probability of achieving a healthy marriage and family life as adults, or establishing stable employment.

Experience with marriage mentoring in 44 states predicts a substantive drop in divorce and cohabitation and increased marital success for southeastern Michigan couples and families if houses of worship follow their faith to implement mentoring ministries in their congregations.  Between 1996 and 2001, El Paso, Texas dropped the divorce rate by 80% for the nearly 700,000 people in their city when houses of worship implemented these low-cost, proven ministries.  A decade later, married households accounted for nearly 55% of all homes in the city, as compared to 21.5% for Detroit.

Though America’s third poorest metropolitan region, El Paso became recognized in 2010, 2011 & 2012 as the safest, best performing of the nation’s largest 200 cities.  Austin, TX, now 850,000 people, had similar success, dropping its divorce rate 70%. Few Michiganders know that, in the 1990’s, the clergy of Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, similarly implemented marriage mentor ministries to strengthen their congregations and the larger community. Former Michigan State Senator, Bill Hardiman, then a Kent County mayor, championed the effort.

DOFH invites each one of God’s people from every house of worship and every religion to ask their faith leaders, clergy, marriage staff, and volunteers to become part of Metro Detroit’s Renaissance in marriage and family life by implementing marriage mentor ministries in their congregations. The Archdiocese of Detroit, the largest faith community in our region, has joined this effort beginning with churches in Pontiac and adjacent Oakland County cities.  Imagine how success for Metro Detroit and Michigan will inspire communities across the United States to follow the lead of our region and help make America great once more.

Born and reared in the Bronx, Dr. Ross lived and worked in New York City’s Manhattan and Queens boroughs before making Metro Detroit his home.  He completed Emergency Medicine Residency training at Detroit Receiving Hospital and Wayne State University. Dr. Ross is married and father of three, a daughter and two sons. The Ross family has lived in Troy since 1987.