A Plan to Save Urban Marriage

Let’s Start with What Went Wrong

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  1 Timothy 5:8

A youth pastor who works in a major Midwestern urban neighborhood recently told me that many of the kids in his youth group were shocked to learn that the government did not pay his salary. In fact at first they didn’t believe him. He had to gently explain that he and the other pastors on staff make their living from an offering plate that’s passed around each Sunday morning at church.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” was their collective look on their adolescent faces.

“Yup,” he went on to inform them, “When there’s no offerings there is no salary for me.”

He was greeted with stunned disbelief. He might as well have told them he didn’t have an IPhone as a kid – he actually had to pick up a receiver and dial something.

How is it we have raised a generation of young people to believe that everyone makes their living from a government check? How is it that so many of these same kids often end up growing up without a father at home?

It likely started with someone’s good intentions.

Some sociologists believed you could help the poor and disfranchised out of poverty by guaranteeing them a monthly check and other benefits. As the idea caught on in the decades that followed the entitlements industry grew to include ever expanding medical care, food stamps and much more. Some politicians soon discovered to their dizzying delight that they could hold office for an entire lifetime if they just handed out more government money and benefits than their political opponents.

Now there was just one catch. To get the largest amount of cash possible in most cases you had to be a single with children. If you were married you got slapped in the face with a tuna in the form a hefty penalty of slashed government benefits and increased taxes. This was true from the hills of rural Appalachia to the lakes of Minnesota to the streets of inner-city Los Angeles.

It doesn’t take a Jeopardy champion to figure out what happened next (read Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion for the rest of the story).

Fathers and married men, no longer needed and now often an economic liability, began quietly exiting the scene like discouraged fans heading to the exit doors when their home team is losing by 12 runs in the bottom of the ninth. The disappearing husband and father phenomenon soon began to spread across the whole spectrum of ethnic backgrounds and geographical communities in America (and continues apace to this day). As married-for-life husbands and fathers started vanishing from hard-hit communities often many of those remaining were relegated to (or chose) the role of simply begetting children.

Sinful human nature being what it is, begetting soon became forgetting as well. And with that generations of children would be born that would rarely or never get to meet their actual biological father.

Let’s pause and ask, “Are there still a large number of responsible fathers and loving husbands still raising their families in urban communities?”  Answer: Of course there are and as a group they are men to look up to.

A second question, “Aren’t there some situations beyond anyone’s control such as chronic medical conditions, aging issues, economic layoffs, or even the death of a provider where temporary government help is warranted?” Answer: Yes. Even then the church should be the first ones to help, but in some cases government assistance is warranted. The real problem starts when what is designed to be temporary assistance morphs into life-long subsistence living.

This is particularly true when government entitlements target the urban young and unmarried women. For example, many teenage girls in communities feel enormous pressure to make the wrong choices.

Often having been raised without a father they wonder, “Should I really try to wait to finish high school, get married and then have my children, or should I do what others are doing to get out on my own? Or should I become sexually active, have a child now, start receiving benefits and that way get my own place and start my life?”

The answer is often predictable. If the government teaches teenage girls that having a husband is no longer needed to start a family — then he’s also no longer needed to raise one either. Case closed.

The social engineers may have sincerely believed massive government entitlements would resolve most problems in urban communities. (People also once believed filling gigantic airships with hydrogen and flying them over the ocean was pure genius. That is until the Hindenburg blimp exploded over New Jersey making the return flight very difficult to book.) The social engineer’s grand theory overlooked one inconvenient truth:  children need a father to grow up whole and healthy. Without a dad in the home their heart hurts, and eventually it breaks. No government program can fill that aching wound.

And as we have seen over and over desperately lonely and hurting children vent their frustration and anger over male abandonment in the form of violent gangs, drive-by shootings and a tidal wave of unwed pregnancies, STD’s and abortions.

In the next article I write, we’ll look at the role of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s in helping to nearly destroy urban marriage. We’ll see how the “Just Say Yes Whenever Revolution” has led to grinding urban poverty, whole-sale economic abandonment of communities and street violence on a scale that today in many places is almost unimaginable.

And despite all that generational pain and upheaval – we believe God still has an answer.