Several weeks ago, the U.S. Senate released a vitally important report on the state of the American family. Unfortunately, the news was not good. The report went into detail about the decline of the two-parent American family and how the ramifications of that decline are affecting the current generation of children.
The report found that by late adolescence, “around 45 percent of American children spend some time without a biological parent,” an increase from 20-25 percent of those born in the 1950s. The percentage of children born to unwed mothers rose from 5 percent in 1955 to 40 percent in 2018. Of those aged 15 to 44, the percentage of married women fell from 72 percent in 1962 to 42 percent in 2019.
It would be easy to fall into despair after reading the report or feel overwhelmed by the negative statistics. For many, after reading the litany of societal ills created by the decline of the family, the result can easily result in a “what’s the use?” mentality. Then, sadly, we move on with our lives while the infrastructure of the family continues to crumble like a decaying bridge, getting weaker with each passing day.
But as people of faith, we are not to despair, but to have hope. The best way to save the American family is to demonstrate that hope through our faith and to model that faith to others. Because through faith comes commitment, as James Q. Wilson wrote in his article, “Why We Don’t Marry”:
The right and best way for a culture to restore itself is for it to be rebuilt, not from the top down by government policies, but from the bottom up by personal decisions. On the side of that effort, we can find churches — or at least many of them — and the common experience of adults that the essence of marriage is not sex, or money, or even children: it is commitment.
When our society moved away from seeing marriage as a secular contract that can be torn up if one member does not feel happy or “fulfilled,” instead of as a sacred bond — “through better or worse” — that commitment was lost. As Wilson noted, “Marriage was once a sacrament, then it became a contract, and now it is an arrangement. Once religion provided the sacrament, then the law enforced the contract, and now personal preferences define the arrangement.”
Thus, if we are to reverse the sobering numbers in the U.S. Senate report, we must start by renewing our faith. Indeed, it is faith that is an essential part of solving the breakdown of marriage and the family. When church attendance declines, marriages decline with it.
But the restoration of marriage and the family starts with each of us as individuals as well. The effort to restore marriage, family, and social capital must start in our own lives. If we cannot model God’s plan for marriage and the raising and nurture of children, then we have nothing to offer to those trapped in poverty, addiction, and broken homes.
If we are not involved in a church, we miss out on not only the biblical teaching needed to keep us focused on God instead of self but also the opportunity to develop mutually encouraging relationships with other couples. If we are committed to God, it is likely we will be committed to our spouse and children as well.
We must also practice our faith in our homes. It has often been said — and has proven to be true — that values are “caught, not taught.” Relationships are key, as noted by well-known Christian author and speaker Josh McDowell who says, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.”
It is essential that we as parents model our faith to our children through words and actions. This means we must have relationships with our children, which takes time and requires putting our personal agendas aside and putting their needs above our own.
It means talking about our faith with, actively participating in a church as a family rather than just dropping the children off at Sunday School before we head to the closest Starbucks. If we offer rules without love or reasoning behind them, our children will not see how those guidelines can help them make good decisions in life.
Along the way, as we model the biblical truths of marriage and family, even those around us with no connections to the faith community will see and be influenced. Co-workers, folks in the neighborhood, childhood friends, and those we engage in retail and service businesses are watching whether we know it or not. Truth has a way of attracting attention.
Those of us in strong and stable marriages need to come alongside young couples and singles who are just starting out and encourage them to seek healthy relationships. We need to support single parents facing herculean tasks and be willing to step up, however necessary, to assist them and their children.
While it may take a long time to reverse the damage done to marriages, families, and our social capital, change can happen one life at a time, and we, as people of faith, can be the ones that initiate the change.
The twin cornerstones of our society are America’s marriages and families. Right now, they are in desperate need of rescue and restoration. That restoration will not be accomplished through a government program, but through each one of us, modeling our faith to our children and our communities.