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Black Pentecostal leaders tell single BYU students to practice celibacy now to be better parents, marriage partners later

PROVO, Utah — Practicing celibacy now will make single BYU students better parents and marriage partners in the future, a black Pentecostal couple said during a campus visit last week.

"Young people do well to prepare for a successful marriage and enhance their marital union by the practice of celibacy prior to marriage," said Jacqueline Rivers, executive director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. "What you do now is important to the quality of marriage later."

BYU extended an invitation to Rivers and her husband, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, to visit Utah and deliver the seventh presentation in the university's Faith, Family and Society lecture series after LDS Church leaders developed a relationship with over the past year.

The couple issued a passionate warning rooted in their own dire experiences with — and statistics about — the retreat from marriage, the failure of fathers and the disintegration of families.

"Both the loving relationship between the man and the woman and the nurturing of children are enhanced when there are two things in marriage," Jackie Rivers said. "The first is mutual fidelity between the husband and wife; sexual exclusivity is paramount in the sexual relationship. The second is permanence. ...

"These qualities of exclusivity and permanence between husband and wife produce emotional security and stability that are conducive to childrens' well-being.

Those principles call for the practice of self-discipline before marriage, she said.

"Attaining the ideals of exclusivity and permanence that foster childrens' well-being requires the exercise of self-restraint in marriage. In this way, marriage is consistent with the spiritual disciplines that ought to be practiced by those who are single."

Jacqueline Rivers comes from the black Pentacostal charismatic church tradition, and the Rev. Rivers is the pastor of the Azusa Christian Community. They met as students at Harvard, where they started the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

Married for 29 years now, they spoke from what they called devastating personal and black experience about the importance of strong, traditional marriages to children and societies.

The breakdown of the family among African-Americans is such a bellwether of future trouble in the rest of American society that it is a national security threat, said the Rev. Rivers, who grew up in a fatherless Philadelphia home and joined a gang at age 12.

Both urged BYU students to stand up for traditional marriage.

Jackie Rivers said same-sex marriage is part of a larger shift to define marriage as something different from an institution that naturally produces children. She said many couples marry today in search of self-fulfillment and then discard marriage when it no longer is satisfying.

"This promotes impermanence and infidelity," she said, "which are detrimental to men and women as well as their children."

A massive decrease in marriages has led to devastating consequences for the black community and the poor, she said. In 1980, 8 of 10 black children lived with two parents. Today only 1 in 3 do.

The results are increased poverty; the reduction of occupational and educational opportunities; and poor social, medical and emotional outcomes.

"Let us stand against this tide by doing three things," Jackie Rivers said. "Let us defend the Biblical view of marriage. Let us advocate for economic policies that promote marriage, that reduce mass incarceration and that promote a living wage for men with low levels of education. And let us model by our lives the qualities of self-restraint, exclusivity and permanence in marriage that promote healthy families."

Last November, Jackie Rivers and President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both spoke at a Vatican interfaith conference on marriage.

Rivers and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke last month in Philadelphia at a book launch for a collection of talks from the Vatican conference. The event coincided with the Catholic Church's World Meeting of Families.

The Faith, Family and Society lecture series has brought to BYU several important American leaders from the Catholic, Southern Baptist, evangelical Christian, Seventh-day Adventist and Assembly of God faiths over the past two years.

Two more lectures are scheduled this school year. Dr. Daniel Mark, an Orthodox Jewish professor at Villanova who also spoke at the September book launch with Jackie Rivers and Elder Christofferson, is scheduled to speak on Jan. 7. Rabbi Meier Soloveichiki will speak on April 7.

Through the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, the Riverses promote philosophical, political and theological frameworks for a pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family movement in black churches.

"They are recognized as among the most effective voices on faith-based initiatives," said Brent Top, dean of Religious Education at BYU. "They have important messages, but most important they are good examples of being disciples of Christ."

The Riverses spoke in the Varsity Theater at the Wilkinson Student Center on Oct. 22.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com