When a House is Not a Home

“…I am living proof…it set a precedent for how I imagined my life would be one day…I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be married but along the way something changed. I wanted to have a family and by all means, not make any contributions to the pain and brokenness that I experienced or […]

June 2010: Featured Post

On a monthly basis, lifeseek.org will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age.  Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.

broken family glass

broken family glass

I never thought I would be married.  Where I come from it just doesn’t happen or at least people don’t do it well enough to make you want to try and duplicate their efforts.  I suspect many people from many different cultures, ethnicities, or backgrounds can identify with this statement.  I can’t speak for everyone though, I can only speak from the limited perspective of what family, marriage, faith, and community looks like for one black man.

Common Ground

In a sense I do speak on behalf of all black men, as I have seen the effects of declining family structures in my community and its negative impact.  Nothing happens in a vacuum though, what one group experiences is many times a microcosm of what a nation is experiencing.  I hope the reader will gain a greater appreciation of these issues as discussed from a limited perspective, so that we can find common ground to address issues that are actually worth fighting for.

Case and point: we can vote Democrat or Republican but when we go home the most difficult issues that we face are in the context of relationship, family, and community; these are the things worth fighting for, these are the things that make the world go round- the crucible in which society is formed.

Michael Jackson Said it Best

It don’t matter if you black or white- marriages are in serious trouble.  As a result, whole communities are also suffering.  A growing number of non-religious, nonprofit, family oriented institutions are reporting some alarming statistics concerning the state of marriage relationships and families.

From 1960-2000, a period that the Institute for American Values Center for Marriage and Families (IAVCMF)has aptly characterized as a retreat from marriage, they report a 28% increase in the number of children born out of wedlock, divorce has doubled, cohabitation has increased eight-fold, and single parent families have tripled.(1)  Cohabitation is the new norm in our nation of fragile families: these families are marked by lower levels of commitment, stability, and more economic strain; this is the environment that 83% of the nations children born out of wedlock are introduced into.(2)

Not convinced it’s a problem yet?  Only those who are more well to do, or completely absorbed in the right to have their own lifestyle choices will not recognize this as a threat.  Why?

Simply because the erosion of marriage is not most heavily affecting the upper echelons of society, but it’s effects can be seen with the everyday Joe Shmoe. Put another way, “The nation’s retreat from marriage has been particularly consequential for our society’s most vulnerable communities: minorities and the poor pay a disproportionately heavy price when marriage declines in their communities.”(3)

The African American community has taken a particularly hard hit in regards to this issue.  So what do we do?  How do we go about addressing such an important issue?

God Must Have Figured Something Out

Many people don’t like God or religion, but this dynamic duo is doing some things right. In his infinite wisdom, he must have foreseen the immensely destructive effects of retreating from marriage, and I’m sure he cringed.  In the Bible, God started making stuff…good stuff. However, there was one fundamental, essential thing that he said was absolutely not good, and that was it was not good for man to be alone.  The most obvious implication was that man needed a partner or companion to more aptly fulfill his designation as a part of creation and a steward of creation.

Upon further reflection we see that society as a whole is affected by the strength of this institution, and that marriage was never intended to be solely about the joining of just two people.  It’s about seeing the big picture.

“Marriage protects children, men and women, and the common good…it offers men and women as spouses a good they can have in no other way, a mutual and complete giving of the self…understood as the enduring union of husband and wife is both a good in itself and also advances the public interest.”(4)

In other words, when “giving of the self” is in play the selfish act of divorce is less likely to be a central issue.

In short, one of the primary ways we can address this issue is to promote public understanding of a common definition of marriage; it’s benefits, responsibilities, and the long-term effects of not supporting its ideals.

The Big Picture

So why marriage? Family structure with two biological parents is the most healthy environment for kids.(5)  Kids from this type of family structure are more likely to graduate from high school (6), deal with debilitating issues depression or drug abuse (7), and face life with a more positive attitude than those in single-parent or divorced homes.

The Witherspoon Institutes report on marriage highlights the particular importance of the role of men in the family structure; daughters are less likely to develop too fast sexually, be sexually active, or be sexually abused.   Likewise, boys tend to get into less trouble, exhibit aggressive behavior, or end up in prison. (8)

The report goes on to enumerate the myriad benefits of marriage for the individual and society: gender roles that stress different points of character development for children, physical, social, and emotional gains, financial stability, more responsible decision making, less strain on the welfare and justice systems, and ultimately an environment that embraces the beauty of commitment in relationship, and desires for it to be perpetuated in its highest form.

Looking to the Future

So what do we do? How do we go about addressing such an important issue. How do we make meaningful investments into an institution with such far reaching ramifications? As mentioned earlier disseminating knowledge about marriage, its benefits, responsibilities, and long-term effects of not supporting its ideals.

Another way is to involve the very institutions that have helped to sustain marriage and perpetuate a culture of fidelity and other-centeredness. One of the main suggestions, that the IAVCMF gives is to recognize the centrality of religious institutions in promoting stable marriages.

In short, churches create social norms that make for strong relationships. They create strong social networks of accountability, helps with coping during difficult times and stress, and is a strong predictor of those who will transition into marriage (even if unmarried at the birth of the child).

More specifically, this means that parents who attend church frequently are more likely to marry and experience higher levels of relationship quality.  While there is a lot of research being done on this subject still, the information we do have is promising.  Then again, I can’t disagree too much as I am living proof of what this research is talking about.

My parents married when I was eleven years old after fifteen years together; not only did this happen after my family began to attend church, but it set a precedent for how I imagined my life would be one day. Like I said, I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be married but along the way something changed.

I wanted to have a family and by all means, not make any contributions to the pain and brokenness that I experienced or that I saw on a regular basis in my neighborhood.  Sure my dad stayed, I was one of the lucky ones you could say, but nothing was more meaningful than the day I saw covenant love enacted in my family. Nothing was more meaningful than seeing community start with two and impact generations to come.

We want to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Is there an IDEAL for what we call the “traditional” family model and can the church preserve the “traditional” family?

Is the foundation of society and the values of the traditional family worth fighting for?  Can the church preserve the “traditional” family?

Is it of any importance that secular institutions are taking note of the destruction of families as a result of the national “retreat from marriage?”

If America chooses to continue in the direction that they have been, will they do better than other countries that have allowed same-sex marriage?

Do men and women actually bring complimentary parenting styles to the family?  Or can each do the same job without any input from the other?

Cornell Davis III was born in Pittsburgh, PA to Cornell Davis Jr. and Cynthia Davis. Through his parents discipleship he came to know the Lord on Christmas day at the age of thirteen. Since that time he has developed an avid love for encouraging believers to love the Word of God, leading congregations in worship, and communicating the love of God to the world. He attended Temple University in Philadelphia, PA where he received his bachelor’s degree in social work.  After graduating he worked at the university exploring various issues in the social sciences such as youth suicide prevention, mental health, education, public health, and crisis intervention. He maintains a fervent love for family, community, and youth.  He is actively involved at his church, The Bridge, a church plant that comes out of New Life Presbyterian Church in Glenside, PA. If there is one thing that describes Cornell best it would be his heart for communicating truth, fighting for justice, and seeing lives changed through the power and love of Christ. It is his greatest hope to communicate the love of God to the world and for the world to know God.  His motto and ever growing passion in life is “to know Christ and to make him known.”

[1] Wilcox, W.B., Religion, Race, and Relationships in Urban America, Institute for American Values Center for Marriage and Families, Research Brief  No. 5, May 2007

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles, (Princeton, NJ, August 2008)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, 2002. “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can be Done about It?” Research Brief, June 2002. Washington, DC: Child Trends. p. 6.

[6] Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up with a Single Parent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[7] Wilcox et al. 2005. Elizabeth Marquardt. 2005. Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. New York: Crown.

[8] Ibid., The Witherspoon Institute

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