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America's Culture War: Marriage and Family

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The Sacredness of Marriage

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Since its inception, the United States of America has been a country whose Founding Fathers recognized the need for God in public life, and the need for Bible principles of morality to govern and structure American society. Our Founding Fathers recognized that if our country ever strayed significantly away from these foundational moral, spiritual, and ethical principles, we would be doomed as a nation. For 150 years, our society recognized the importance of what some are calling the “traditional family,” i.e., a husband and a wife who marry for life and rear their children together. Divorce was almost unheard of in this country. When it did occur, it was regarded as deviant behavior. Family disruption in the form of separation, divorce, and out-of-wedlock birth were kept to a minimum by strong religious, social, and even legal sanctions. Immediately after World War II, most American children grew up in a family with both biological parents who were married to each other.

This state of affairs held sway up through the 1940s and 1950s. In fact, disruption of the traditional American family reached a historic low in the 1950s and early 1960s. But then something happened (see Whitehead, 1993). Beginning in about 1965, the divorce rate suddenly skyrocketed, more than doubling over the next fifteen years. By 1974, divorce passed death as the leading cause of family breakup. By 1980, only fifty percent of children could expect to spend their entire childhood with both their parents. Now half of all marriages end in divorce. Every year a million children go through divorce or separation, and almost as many more are born out of wedlock. People who remarry after divorce are more likely to break up than couples in first marriages. The same is true for couples who just live together.

Overall child well-being has declined, despite a decrease in the number of children per family, an increase in the educational level of parents, and historically high levels of public spending. The teen suicide has more than tripled. Juvenile crime has increased and become more violent. School performance has continued to decline. Some sociologists are now recognizing the incredibly harmful effect these circumstances are having on our country and the homes of America. They are beginning to realize the relationship between family structure and declining child well-being. Some are even admitting that the social arrangement that has proved most successful in ensuring the physical survival and promoting the social development of the child is the family unit of the biological mother and father.

But our society as a whole has been slow to see family disruption as a severe national problem. Why? A fundamental shift has occurred in our culture with reference to religious and moral value. Much of our society has jettisoned the Bible as the absolute standard of behavior. The Bible is no longer considered to be the authoritative regulator of daily living. Many, perhaps most, Americans no longer feel that divorce is wrong. “Irreconcilable differences” and “incompatibility” are seen as perfectly legitimate reasons for divorce—flying directly in the face of Bible teaching. Many Americans no longer feel that a couple simply living together without marriage is morally wrong. By the mid-1970s, three-fourths of Americans said that it is not morally wrong for a woman to have a child outside marriage.

We could debate the causes of this basic cultural shifting. I would argue that the influence of evolution and humanism in our educational system, the impact of feminism, the increased participation of women in the work force to the neglect of their children, the widespread prosperity that we enjoy as a nation (causing us to forget God and to indulge ourselves)—these and other factors have contributed to our moral decline. Hollywood, television, and the cinema have unquestionably glamorized, defended, and promoted divorce, premarital sex, unwed motherhood, abortion, and the use of alcohol, filthy language, and many other immoral behaviors.

Ironically—and tragically—the media have been working overtime to discredit the married, two-parent family by playing up instances of incest, violence, and abuse. If a family has religious inclinations, its members are depicted on programs as weirdoes and deviants. In fact, it is surely disgusting to the sensibilities of the morally upright that what was once mainstream and normal (i.e., the religious, church-going, two-parent family) is being demonized and ridiculed, while behavior that once was considered deviant, reprehensible, and immoral is paraded before society—on TV, in the news, and in the courts—as the social norm. Anyone who lifts a finger to speak against such immorality is berated as “homophobic,” “prejudiced,” “judgmental,” “mean-spirited,” and guilty of a “hate crime.”

Two illustrations of the undermining of the marriage relationship as God intended are the recent decisions regarding homosexuality by the United States Supreme Court and the Episcopal Church. By a 62-45 vote, the Episcopal House of Bishops elected the denomination’s first homosexual bishop on August 5, 2003 (see Duin, 2003). Only days earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws are unconstitutional—even though sodomy was treated as a criminal offense in all of the original thirteen colonies and eventually every one of the fifty states (see Robinson, 2003; “Sodomy Laws,” 2003). Sadly, a generation has arisen who simply does not share the values of its parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Sexual fidelity, lifelong marriage, and parenthood are simply no longer held up as worthwhile personal goals.

All of this self-centeredness has taken its greatest toll on the children. The erosion of basic moral values in exchange for pluralism, the growing tolerance of moral and ethical diversity, the shifting of emphasis to choice, freedom, and self-expression, have all inflicted great damage on marriage and the family—especially the children. The fuller body of empirical research now documents a number of startling conclusions:

  1. Divorce almost always brings a decline in the standard of living for the mother and children, plus a dependence on welfare; children in single-parent homes are far more likely to propagate the same behavior.
  2. Children never fully recover from divorce. Five, ten, fifteen years after a divorce, the children suffer from depression, under-achievement, and ultimately, their own troubled relationships.
  3. Young adults from disrupted families are nearly twice as likely as those from intact families to receive psychological help.
  4. Children in disrupted families are nearly twice as likely as those in intact families to drop out of high school. Those who remain in school show significant differences in educational attainment from those children who grow up in intact families.
  5. Remarriage does not reproduce nor restore the intact family structure. The latest research confirms that stepparents cannot replace the original home.
  6. For children whose parents divorced, the risk of divorce is two to three times greater than it is for children from married parent families.

These findings—and many others—underscore the importance of both a mother and a father in fostering the emotional well-being of children. But even more far-reaching effects have been documented—effects that impact society at large beyond the confines of the family. Authorities now are beginning to admit that a central cause of our most pressing social problems (i.e., poverty, crime, and school performance) is the breakup of the traditional American family.

What is even more startling is the fact that as an institution, marriage has lost much of its legal, religious, and social meaning and authority. For most of American history, marriage was one of the most important rites of passage in life. But now, marriage has lost much of its role and significance as a rite of passage. Sex is increasingly detached from the promise or expectation of marriage. Cohabitation is emerging as a significant experience for young adults. It is now replacing marriage as the first living together union. It is estimated that a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner, and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner. Referring to this state of affairs as “the deinstitutionalization of marriage,” researchers at the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University concluded: “Taken together, the marriage indicators do not argue for optimism about a quick or widespread comeback of marriage. Persistent long-term trends suggest a steady weakening of marriage as a lasting union, a major stage in the adult life course, and as the primary institution governing childbearing and parenthood” (Popenoe and Whitehead, 1999).

Make no mistake: the social science evidence clearly documents the fact that the breakdown of the traditional two-parent, biological husband-wife family is a major factor contributing to the overall moral, religious, and ethical decline of our country. The social fabric of American civilization is literally tearing apart. The social arrangement that has proved most successful in ensuring the physical survival, and promoting the social development, of the child is the family unit of the biological mother and father. America is in deep trouble.

Our society is not likely to solve these massive problems. The liberal elite has been operating with great vigor for over forty years to push our country into “value neutrality” and “political correctness.” The clear-cut restraints and distinctions between right and wrong so typical of American culture in the past have been systematically dismantled. Relativism has taken the place of objective, absolute truth. The glorification of the individual has encouraged people to determine for themselves right and wrong—rather than looking outside themselves to the Transcendent Creator of the Universe. Consequently, whatever the individual feels is right is sanctioned as right—at least for that individual. The absolute standard of moral value and human behavior—that previously governed our nation—has been successfully supplanted. Subjectivity reigns supreme, and God has been effectively severed from human culture. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:12).

GOD’S VIEW OF THE MATTER

The fact remains that there is a God in heaven (Daniel 2:28). God has spoken to the human race through His written Word, i.e., the Bible. In that inspired communication, He has designated the structure of society. He created male and female with the intention for one man to marry one woman for life (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). Here is the foundational building block of humanity. That is His simple will on the matter. He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). The only way He permits divorce is if one marriage partner divorces the other marriage partner for the one reason that the marriage partner has committed fornication, i.e., illicit sexual intercourse. Upon that basis alone, God allows the innocent partner to put away that unfaithful mate and form a second marriage (Matthew 19:3-9).

God intended for the husband and wife to produce children who, in turn, are to receive nurturing and care from their parents in a stable, loving home (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:18-21). In this divinely ordained institution of the home, God intended that children receive the necessary instruction and training to prepare them to be productive, honest, God-fearing, hard-working citizens of their country. The home was designed by God to impart to each succeeding generation proper religious, moral, and social principles that would in turn make their nation strong and virtuous. The Bible is filled with references to the essential ingredients of healthy family life (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:7-9; 6:1-9; 11:18-21; 32:46-47; Psalm 127; Proverbs 5:15-20; 6:20-35; 11:29; 12:4; 14:1; 15:25,27; 17:1,13; 31:10-31), including proper parenting skills (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15,17; Ephesians 6:1-4).

CONCLUSION

How simple! The solution to the confusion and corruption that has gripped American civilization is simple—if hearts are humbly yielded to the will of God. If we could get our families back on track according to God’s will, we could get our nation back on track. It starts with you and me. We must believe in, affirm to others, and conform ourselves to the sacredness of marriage.

REFERENCES

Duin, Julia (2003), “Gay Bishop Sets Off Talk of Episcopal Schism,” The Washington Times, [On-line], URL: http://www.dynamic.washtimes.com/print_story.cfm?StoryID=20030806-123147-7931r.

Popenoe, David and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (1999), “What’s Happening to Marriage?” [On-line], URL: http//marriage.Rutgers.edu/Publications/pubwhatshappening.htm.

Robinson, B.A. (2003), “Criminalizing Same-Sex Behavior,” [On-line], URL: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_laws1.htm.

“Sodomy Laws in the United States,” (2003), [On-line], URL: http://www.sodomylaws.org/usa/usa.htm.

Whitehead, Barbara (1993), “Dan Quayle Was Right,” The Atlantic Monthly, [On-line], URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/family/danquayl.htm.




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