I’m not generally one for making alarmist, apocalyptic statements worthy of a Hollywood voice-over, but indulge me just this once:
The year is 2016, and the family lies in ruins.
Perhaps a more accurate statement is that the traditional two-parent family is in ruins. Or the traditional two-parent-family-with-both-parents-of-all-the-children-still-being-united-in-a-heterosexual-marriage-type-of-family is in ruins. I don’t want to denigrate or deride families of other compositions. A family is a family, regardless of how it came to be. Stepparents often fill in the gaps left by birth parents in ways which far surpass the biological progenitors. Adopted children are loved every bit as much as those sharing the DNA of the adults in the family. These can be wonderful, beautiful things.
What I lament, however, is the absolute lack of significance granted to the family unit itself.
We all know the numbers. Over half of all first marriages end in divorce, and that percentage skyrockets when you get to second marriages, third marriages, and beyond. Why? No-fault divorce, mainly. Again, there are legitimate reasons for divorce, but most marriages today don’t end because of abandonment or abuse (the growing rate of adultery will be discussed later). They end simply because one spouse wakes up one morning, looks at the other spouse, and thinks, I don’t love you anymore. The concept of love as a choice is foreign to most people, particularly Millennials (my generation) and younger. The “for better and for worse” in their marriage vows (themselves taken lightly) means only the first half when actually put into practice. Contemporary society redefined marriage long before any court did, trading a sacrament of sanctification serving as the basis for a family for an agreement of convenience designed to make me (and only me) happy. Since no one can provide 24/7 bliss to another human being, people feel like their marriages aren’t what they signed up for — which they’re not, really — and tear up the contract.
But the rise of divorce is only part of the equation. Most people my age and younger don’t even marry, or, if they do, will live together first. The biblically accepted order to arrive at a family is 1) get married, 2) move in together, 3) have sex, 4) have babies. Nowadays the process is practically inverted: 1) have sex, 2) move in together, 3)have babies, 4) get married. The marriage is the result of societal pressure to become a legal family in the advent of pregnancy or birth of a child. (We used to call those “shotgun weddings” and typically frowned on them.) Marriage is viewed as unnecessary since you can enjoy some of the benefits (e.g. sex, companionship) without the commitment. (We’re a commitment-phobic society, really.) Some never marry the parent of their child — sometimes for good reasons, admittedly, but sometimes not.
The same logic spurring the rise of cohabitation has fueled a rise in adultery. “If my marriage isn’t sexually satisfying, I have the right to look elsewhere for that satisfaction,” they say, “since marriage is about my personal happiness anyway.” That’s just the basic, no-frills model of infidelity. But many marriages are “open,” meaning both spouses are free to sleep with whomever, whenever. Swingers are married couples who get together to sleep with each other’s spouses. Some (far from all, but some) bisexual people are permitted by their spouses to have sex with a member of the same sex since that’s a desire and means to happiness they, of the opposite sex, can’t fulfill. Or they invite the desired person to a ménage à trois. I was getting a haircut this week, and one stylist was telling another she (the other) needed to get back together with her ex. “But I’m with Y now!” “Is that the baby daddy?” “Yeah, and we’re married!” “Well he’s not as good for you as X is.” (You can imagine the awkward lull in conversation after they discovered what I do for a living.) But even that becomes acceptable when marriage is only about happiness — and so is sex. Then you have pornography use and its ilk, which for all intents and purposes is infidelity, too. Promiscuity among married folk: it may not be something new under the sun, but our acceptance of it and lack of guilty/shame concerning it certainly seem to be.
All of that to say: without a proper view of marriage, the family never stood a chance. Children are shuttled between custodial parents. Kids are effectively raised having two lives and, frequently, four or more “parents” and an abundance of step- and half-siblings, any one of whom may be gone at any given time to be with his/her other parent. No stability, nothing solid. Only change and shifting sands. Little wonder so many children have behavioral problems. Others have a stable home, but with only one parent or with their grandparents (birth parents optional). Beyond even the kids, though, is civilization itself. Can we thrive in an anything-goes world where no one has a sense of permanence even about their marriage, their identity, and/or their family role?
Well, enough complaining. What can we as Christians do about it? Here’s my less-than-comprehensive list of ten suggestions.
- Love everyone regardless of their family make-up or lifestyle.
- Teach, preach, and maintain the biblical ideals concerning marriage, sex, and the family.
- Offer support groups for victims of divorce, including children (and adult children of divorce).
- Offer support to single-parent families. Make them feel welcome and help them get involved in the church as you help out with things they may need done at home.
- Provide support for grandparents raising their grandchildren. Help out at home, babysit, provide support groups for the grandparents and activities for the children to allow the grandparents some much-needed time off.
- Become advocates for adoption and support families with adopted children.
- Provide marital counseling to those in danger of divorce while encouraging proper responses to abuse and neglect.
- Connect hurting families to healthy families in your church for fellowship, mentoring, and listening ears.
- Offer programs on marriage and family to children and youth to show them healthy, biblical relationships and standards before they learn unhealthy behaviors elsewhere.
- Know the resources available to families in your community (counselors, pregnancy crisis centers, etc.).
- Bonus: Pray.
These things won’t magically solve the problems of modern families, but they may make a difference in your own corner of the world. God established marriage and family. It’s our job to fight for them.