Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fallout of Shattered Belonging

What is the greatest spiritual and social crisis facing America in the second decade of the 21st century?  Doubtless many different answers would be suggested to that question if it were posed to a large group of people.  I believe the answer is found in a recently released report published by the Family Research Council titled The US Index of Belonging and Rejection.

Just released this month, this report is based upon statistics derived from the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey.  It paints a grim portrait of what remains of family life in America.  At the heart of the study is an analysis of the number of teenagers aged 15-17 who live with both married birth parents.  This population sector was chosen because it represents the oldest segment of children, just before they turn adults at age 18.

The national average is that only 45% of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood in an intact family with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since around the time of the teenager’s birth.  That means that the majority, 55% of American teens, has grown up in homes where their biological parents have rejected one other.  The implications of this pattern are enormous and difficult to overstate.

This alarming reality is a factor of several trends.  Approximately 43% of first marriages end in divorce in the first fifteen years of marriage.  Further complicating the situation is the increasing reticence of couples to take the step of cementing their relationship in marriage before having children.  Today, 40.6% of babies are born to unmarried mothers, thus elevating the significance of the divorce rate among the decreasing percentage of parents who are motivated to get married.

What is the fallout of this pattern of shattered belonging?  Every social ill that currently afflicts America is exacerbated by this reality, including poverty, crime, welfare dependency, child abuse, and poor academic performance.  Dealing with these unhealthy patterns has become a major drain upon every sector of society.  The report’s author, Dr. Patrick Fagan, expresses just the financial peril we currently face in dealing with such fallout: “The dysfunctional majority now expects the intact minority to pay disproportionately for these systems.”

Whither the future?  Improvement is absolutely essential if America is to regain its social equilibrium. Scripture warns that there are generational consequences of sin (Exod. 20:5).  Sociologists observe that the dysfunctional pattern of shattered belonging deteriorates further from one generation to the next.  If America is to survive as a nation, men and women must acquire the biblical view of the role of sexuality and the sanctity of marriage.  Marriage is to be entered as a sacred duty before God to establish a permanent home wherein children will be raised according to the Law of God.  That God hates divorce is clearly set forth in Scripture (Mal. 2:16).  The appalling social landscape found in current American society is solemn witness to the consequences of disregarding the moral framework of the Creator. 

Bringing truth and change to bear in this situation is the role of the church, as it proclaims God’s truth and equips individuals and families.  Government policy and legislation cannot remedy a situation that is created principally by internal attitudes and values. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advancing the Kingdom, One Baby at a Time

A week ago our family welcomed to this world our fifth grandchild, John Jeremiah Parry.  The son of our daughter Rebekka and husband Dan, John is their fifth child in less than seven years.  Mothers reading these words can appreciate the fact that Rebekka is not currently looking for any new hobbies to fill her spare time.

In reflecting upon the birth of John, a verse in Proverbs came to mind: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (14:4).  One could paraphrase that verse to fit my daughter’s circumstances: “Where there are no babies, there are no dirty diapers, but much good comes from children raised to the glory of God.”

As I write, my dear wife Sharon is spending ten days assisting Rebekka with domestic duties so Dan could return to his job that pays their bills.  Our daughter Hannah plans to be there for most of next week after Sharon returns home.  Having babies and raising small children entails a lot of hard work.  It is a joy and privilege to be able to assist in the households of our children when such needs arise.

In Sharon’s absence, who normally works full time keeping our home running relatively smoothly, each of us who remain are called upon to contribute in ways not necessary when she is present.  I pondered this reality as I washed and put away more dishes than usual in the past week. 

When we think of “the Lord’s work,” typically the image of a frontier missionary or busy pastor comes to mind as they are engaged in “full time Christian ministry.”  Indeed, God calls and equips people to serve in the vital capacities of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and ministries of mercy.  Such faith warriors are necessary for the work of establishing the Christian church among every people, tribe, and nation.

But the point of this brief essay is that the work of “being fruitful and multiplying” is equally critical to the advancement of the kingdom of God.  Indeed, one could make the case that the ministry of raising and training children in godliness is foundational to all other avenues of Christian service.  For, without a base of godly offspring grounded in orthodoxy and committed to the covenantal responsibilities of being the spiritual seed of Abraham, the missionary enterprise would collapse due to disinterest and lack of support.  Pulpits would remain vacant for lack of qualified candidates.

Professing Christendom in America is facing a crisis of gigantic proportions: children are departing the faith in epidemic numbers.  One recent survey found that only 1 in 5 young people who are spiritually active as a teen remain so at age 29.  Nearly every church has experienced this sad reality.  Theories abound to explain this phenomenon, but the reality is that parents are doing a poor job of passing on their faith to the next generation.  Or, perhaps the truth is that the next generation reflects all-too-well the mediocre convictions of their parents.

If there is hope for America it will require the repentance of Christian parents who have refused to take seriously God’s command to raise up an abundant, godly offspring.  Psalm 127 extols the man who has a “quiver-full” of children.  Too many professing Christians have engaged in “unilateral disarmament,” to borrow a phrase from the days of the cold war with the Soviet Union, by choosing instead to limit themselves to one or two arrows. Such a posture is imprudent when engaging a foreign military power; it is equally foolish when participating in the spiritual battles of good vs. evil in the kingdom of God.

Yesterday a guest preacher filled our pulpit.  I observed with deep joy his bending down to the level of his six-year-old son who accompanied him and pointing to each word of the hymns as we stood and sang.  Effective Christian parenting takes many forms.  God is not in the business of producing spiritual drop-outs.  It is time that Christian couples take seriously their role in advancing the progress of the Kingdom by the hard, time-consuming work of raising up a new generation of godly men and women who know and understand the Truth and who are determined to remain true to their spiritual heritage.  Referring to the potential of such little children, Jesus declared, “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). May God bless Dan and Rebekka and all those committed to this vision.