How Baptists and Catholics Together Helped Save Thousands of Florida Marriages

A faith-based marriage campaign in Jacksonville appears to have driven divorce rates down. Can the model be replicated?

In 2017, something unprecedented took place in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jacksonville Baptist Association and local Catholic Diocese joined forces to co-sponsor a large marriage education and enrichment program for the Duval County area. What inspired local Catholics and evangelicals to come together was a privately funded community campaign to strengthen marriage. Over a three-year period, an organization called the Culture of Freedom Initiative (COFI) worked with about 50 Protestant and Catholic churches and over 40 local nonprofits to reach roughly 50,000 adults in Jacksonville.

Tommy and Sondra Davis are one of the Jacksonville couples whose floundering marriage was saved as a result of the campaign. Tommy says he was “99 percent out of his marriage” when a counselor with Live the Life, COFI’s main nonprofit partner, convinced him and his wife to attend an intensive marriage enrichment event called Hope Weekend.

“That Hope Weekend didn’t just save our marriage,” Sondra says. “It changed our lives.”

Indeed, according to a new report conducted by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and sponsored by the Philanthropy Roundtable, the marriage campaign may have had a similar impact on the marriages of thousands of Jacksonville residents. From 2016 to 2018, as the campaign was underway, the divorce rate in Duval County fell by more than 20 percent, a significantly bigger divorce decline than the one witnessed across the United States as a whole.

Did the Culture of Freedom Initiative’s marriage campaign help drive down Jacksonville’s divorce rates? To answer that question, IFS conducted a series of statistical tests comparing Duval County’s divorce rate (since …

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