A Missionary Perspective on the Family as it exists (or used to exist) in the USA
Tomorrow we go on our annual staff retreat, this time to the Forest Home Conference center near Redlands. Our study book this time is The Promise, by Philip Rosenbaum, which is an honest, probing, even wrenching study of how the Bible expects parents and children to relate, tracing all kinds of problems to unresolved attitudes, even toward parents that have passed on (available from Holman & Broadman, 1994).
Newsweek tells us (June 13, p. 36) that 77% of Americans blame "breakdown of the family" for the massive decline in American morals. In the same issue George Wills points out that one out of three white babies is now born out of wedlock and two out of three black babies. I suspect this is a larger number of out-of-wedlock babies than are born in in all the rest of the world.
Despite abortions at an all time high, do we also have a world's record of out-of-wedlock babies? Well, our $500 Billion-a-year welfare budget does have an impact!
How? After 17 years as a missionary community of workers here in Pasadena, we had our first staff divorce--clearly hastened by the simple fact that the wife could easily apply for a substantial welfare check if she divorced and if, with her new companion, she would not get married again. Yes, and her check will increase with the birth of her new out-of-wedlock child. I cannot help but think that, among other factors, the welfare funds were a tempting come-on into this tragedy.
Our insane national pursuit of happiness and "freedom" (from responsibility) has plunged us into a subtle, pervasive campaign in favor of an individualism which no longer knows anything about what we call "the extended family." We seek like crazy to be free of "entanglements."
Thus, by default we pass our responsibilities over to the State. I'll bet 95% of welfare costs would disappear if extended families functioned properly--and were, by law, expected to do so. That would save $500 billion a year--about $500 per month for every working adult in this country. But, even so our welfare state is not working properly. It is bribing 65-year-olds not to work. It is bribing young women into single parenthood. It is generating out-of-wedlock births by the millions, as we have seen.
Millions of Americans, however, are much more pathetic than those millions who merely have broken relationships with parents. They are those who have no parents at all--due to a nasty divorce which has destroyed the credibility of both parents.
I don't believe in the viability of either a man or a woman as a single parent. I don't trust an unaided woman's judgment. I don't trust an unaided man's judgment. Why did God think both a man and a woman were needed as parents? When the decalogue says, "Honor your father and your mother…" it does not say "your parent and your assistant parent. A "parent" is two people.
Admittedly when both parents work away from the family that is worse than when only one of them is gone, whether it is the mother or the father. But is it especially worse for the mother to work away from the family--as has become the case in modern America? Only because the father is probably already gone.
I am surprised that more missionaries do not speak up. They have been exposed to "extended" families in traditional cultures, where three or four generations are in fellowship. We properly decry the authority-destroying ambiguity that ensues when parents divorce and children don't know which to follow.
But, note carefully, something similar happens when young people marry and they now have two sets of parents who may not agree on anything. Only in America do we not routinely clarify which of the two sets of parents continues on as full parents and which set concedes that fact. The Bible does not expect both the boy and the girl to "leave father and mother." But in America they do, and the result proves out grimly the predictable instability of the so-called "nuclear family." Only if marriage is postponed (with many dire consequences--sexual promiscuity, AIDS, herpes, not to speak again of unwanted babies) are "young" people old enough--if that is possible-- not to need parents to help them stay together.
The facts around the world are clear: only marriages within extended families have a high rate of stability. Our reckless cultural championing of the autonomous individual has dire results here too.