Recently, the Family Research Council (FRC) released its Fourth Annual Index of Family Belonging.
We believe that strong, lifelong marriages are important because they reflect God’s perfect plan for human flourishing, alongside single people who are committed to serving the Lord with their lives. Heterosexual marriage is designed by God to reflect the image of God and to portray the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Church.
In addition to its theological significance, however, researchers have found that intact marriages between one man and one woman for life are the best environment for the raising of their children.
Marriage and Religion Research Institute Director Dr. Pat Fagin summed up the research in this way:
“Belonging to each other is very important because family structure has profound effects on an area’s economic wellbeing as well as in all major areas of concern: health, happiness, peace and law-abidingness. Our recent study that used the Index to measure its relevance to the well-being of the nation clearly demonstrated that marriage is the key to success in all public policy goals.
“There is no more important factor in determining outcomes in a host of government focused policies such as TANF, food stamps, SSI and housing, and even college education. Family intactness is as important in determining an area’s employment rate among men as is the fraction of its adults that have completed high school. Marriage is society’s foundational relationship.”
Given marriage’s importance, I was struck by the statistics that FRC unearthed from the U.S. Census data. They asked the question, “What percent of American 15- to 17-year-olds were raised with both their biological parents married to one another (belonging to each other) since before or around the time of their birth?” The numbers are startling:
- Only 46 percent of American 15- to 17-year-olds were raised in intact families from birth
- Among African Americans, the percentage is 17 percent
- Native American teens are at 25 percent
- Multi-racial teens are at 37 percent
- Hispanic teens are at 41 percent
- Caucasian teens are at 54 percent
- Asian American teens are at 65 percent
Think about those numbers for a minute. More than half of all teens — and more than eight out of 10 African American teens — are not living in a home where they get to experience an intact parental marriage from birth.
Dr. Fagan noted that the culture of marriage is “more caught than taught,” but with the majority of married couples breaking up, it is difficult for young people to see a good marriage modeled. “The biggest challenge we face is how to make miracles: How do we raise children who will marry even though they grew up within broken families. This is our central challenge: how to belong to another even if our parents didn’t,” Fagan concluded.
One underlying cause of the breakup of marriages over the years is adults putting their own feelings, “needs,” and “happiness” ahead of those of our children. Many have the attitude that if we are unhappy in our marriage, it must be our partner’s fault. If we get a new partner, we’ll be happy!
My youngest daughter recently got married, and in his homily, the priest quoted Jesus’ command that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The priest went on to comment, “You are marrying your cross.” Marriage involves self-giving and sacrifice by both partners, also with many rewards. Having and raising children is a sacrifice, with many benefits. (Unfortunately, more and more couples are deciding not to make that sacrifice.)
This is where the church can come alongside people in their marriages to give much stronger premarital preparation to singles and engaged couples, as well as supporting programs and ministries that strengthen marriages. I have used programs like Prepare/Enrich, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, and Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage in local church ministry that I have found highly effective. In addition, we can teach our people what marriage is for and what God’s design for marriage is. Of course the greatest help to marriage is for us to learn how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
As disturbing as the fight over same-sex marriage is, the more important battle is fighting to reclaim a biblical vision for heterosexual marriage and providing ways to strengthen marriages within our local church ministries. We are not only losing our children to the institution of marriage, but we are losing a living model of what God’s love in Jesus Christ is supposed to look like. That is a tragedy indeed.
What do you think?