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.