Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Over twenty years ago, Joy and I came across a news story about an increase in “rogue elephants.” Okay, what is a “rogue elephant?” It turns out that when male elephants are raised without a father present, they are likely to act out with violence and extreme mayhem, causing much trouble in Elephant “society,” as well as other smaller animals that may cross paths with them. Who knew? We also watched a fascinating documentary on the horrendous problem of young male elephants that have been orphaned. “Orphan elephants go on the rampage” by Eddie Koch tells the reader the problem’s source in the first paragraph.
Like children, young elephants need discipline if they are to grow up as responsible members of society. Wildlife biologists say that orphan bull elephants in South Africa’s Pilanesberg Game Reserve have turned delinquent because they have never been taken in hand by their elders.
This came to mind as we discussed the recent opinion piece, “America’s crisis is a lack of fathers,” by Rep. Burgess Owens, Rep. Byron Donalds, and Jack Brewer, which focuses on the issue of the importance of human fathers. They write:
There is little doubt that America is experiencing an unprecedented fatherless crisis. Approximately 80% of single-parent homes are led by single mothers; therefore leading to nearly 25% of our youth growing up without a father in the home.
They go on to note a seeming correlation:
85% of children and teens with behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes, and over 70% of all adolescent patients in drug and alcohol treatment centers originate from homes without fathers.
data shows that children without a father in the home are five times more likely to live in poverty than a child in a two-parent household. Furthermore, research indicates that children without fathers at home are nine times more likely to drop out of school and represent 90% of all homeless and runaway children. We can no longer afford to ignore the debilitating impact that fatherless homes have on our youth and our country.
This situation has been a long while in the making. Until the last six decades, America lived under an essentially Judeo/Christian sense of morality and ethics. It isn’t that most Americans were Christian in the biblical sense. They weren’t. However, their general beliefs about right and wrong were informed and shaped by the Ten Commandments and New Testament ideas, encapsulated in “The Golden Rule,” for example. Americans had a strong sense of “fairness,” and most believed it was right to protect the weak, live honorable lives, and remain faithful to one’s spouse and children. This certainly does not mean that all individuals were fair, honest, or faithful to their marriage vows, etc., but people believed these things were right, even if they themselves violated them in practice. Peer pressure also tended to keep people “in line” to a certain extent. Television shows and movies also reflected a Judeo/Christian ethic and promoted solid “family values.” It was firmly held that the welfare of “the children” should be put before any selfish pursuits of either spouse. It was a different world.
The family was considered the building block of society. In that milieu, the importance and roles of the fathers and mothers were well understood. They both contributed to training their children. Through observation and imitation, the children learned about relationships, work ethic, the importance of education, and how to live in a complicated world. Not all families were healthy, and the children were often trained in those environments to mimic bad behavior. But there were usually other good role models that children could emulate. Often these alternative role models would be extended family members and neighborhood men and women. One’s friend’s parents could also strongly influence the path a child would ultimately take, as could adults at church and school. It is fair to say that most children treated all adults with a respect we do not see anymore. As the 1960s rang in, the nation gradually moved away from God, and Judeo/Christian values and families became increasingly fractured. This has deeply affected and changed communities of every stripe, but it hit first and especially hard in minority families.
A study of 1880 family structures in Philadelphia showed that three-quarters of black families were nuclear families, composed of two parents and children. Data from U.S. Census reports reveal that between 1880 and 1960, married households consisting of two-parent homes were the most widespread form of African-American family structures. Although the most popular, married households decreased over this time period. Single-parent homes, on the other hand, remained relatively stable until 1960; when they rose dramatically. (African-American family structure)
While 25% of children across all ethnicities are currently being raised without a father in the home, this statistic nearly triples among African-Americans:
In the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in 1925, 85 percent of kin-related black households had two parents. When Moynihan warned in his 1965 report on the coming destruction of the black family, however, the out-of-wedlock birthrate had increased to 25% among the black population. This figure continued to rise over time and in 1991, 68% of black children were born outside of marriage. U.S. Census data from 2010 reveal that more African-American families consisted of single mothers than married households with both parents. In 2011, it was reported that 72% of black babies were born to unmarried mothers. As of 2015, at 77.3 percent, black Americans have the highest rate of non-marital births among native Americans. (African-American family structure)
While many are trying to fix the symptoms of the problem, they are often unaware or even refuse to see the actual cause of the breakdown of the family across all ethnicities in America. The families are casualties of war. It isn’t a physical war (although violence has risen alarmingly) but a spiritual battle, a battle of worldviews. The model promoted by Progressives for over half a century is a rejection of God’s creation of the family. They have replaced the family and essentially made the government the “husband” and provider for the unwed mother and the “father” to her children, with horrendous results. As with most human efforts to “fix” or replace God’s design, it failed miserably. We know our battle as Christians is not primarily against people but is truly a fight against powerful forces behind the scenes, whose DESIGN has been to destroy the family. (Ephesians 6:12) Family is the bedrock of society. The government cannot fill those roles and was never intended to. Poverty and violence have skyrocketed in America. Children learn by observation and imitation, for good or for bad.
The 1967 anti-smoking PSA recognized this in “Like father like son”:
The Apostle Paul, who was young Timothy’s father in the faith, gave him instruction about discipleship which applies not only to church leadership but also to father-son relationships:
and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
God created Adam and Eve in Genesis and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” The building block of society was created. We find the Scriptures instructing fathers concerning the importance of teaching their children and grandchildren by spoken word and observable behavior, which they will imitate and pass on.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
Sadly, this does not mean that if a child is raised in an intact and spiritually-minded home, he or she is guaranteed to turn out well. Not at all! We all know that children often rebel against how they were raised, and human beings have free will. Nor does it mean that a child raised in a single-parent home will turn out badly. The statistics deal with the mere probability of outcome, not certainties. We also know very well that raising a child or children alone is very often not the parent’s choice but a circumstance far beyond his or her control. Our job as the church is to come alongside such individuals and do our best to help in every way possible.
Also, we are not at all dismissive of the mother’s role in raising children, and mothers have a very high degree of influence on her children. Mothers and grandparents often step up to the plate if a father is absent or wayward. In fact, Paul acknowledges two women, Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother, who powerfully influenced Timothy’s spiritual development. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Yet it is often much harder for women without the reinforcement of a father in the home. We remember the oft-spoken threat of mothers, from tv shows or perhaps movies – “Johnny, or Suzie, JUST WAIT UNTIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME!”
Neither of our mothers said that, so perhaps it’s only fiction. But mothers do often rely upon fathers for that all-important backup. And yet we know that fathers who are not living in the home for one reason or another – often beyond their control – can still have a mighty spiritual and ethical influence on their children’s development. Moving out should never mean “moving on.” Those precious children are well worth all the energy one can expend.
I (Don) am the oldest of six siblings and came from a “broken home.” My mother had no choice but to divorce my father in my very early teens. My father was an atheist and abusive to all of us physically and emotionally. He was unfaithful to my mother and often resorted to physically abusing her. I think I emulated his anger and behavior to some degree for a time. When I was 15, I met Joy, and we began dating. Her family was Christian. They accepted me (I don’t know why) and did something else. They prayed for me and invited me to church, and though the church was completely new to me, I went along, and I’m sure it contributed to my eventual salvation. This is not meant in any way to diminish my mother’s influence. She worked hard, often at two jobs, just to keep the family afloat, and she was a tough disciplinarian. And she protected us as best she could. But one thing she could not do was model “manhood” to her three boys. She couldn’t teach us how to be men. I learned a great deal about being a husband and father from my father-in-law Vaughn. I also had other good male role models in my life. Somehow these men knew I needed advice and correction. A broken home does not doom anyone to failure. It is an obstacle that can, with the help and grace of God, be overcome, especially if others see a need and find a way to help.
But though individuals can and often do overcome broken homes and/or poor parenting, it certainly appears to us that our nation and culture may not be able to rise above the overall damage that has been done. The Bible speaks of woe for the nations that forget God. In order to “forget God,” these nations had to know Him at some point in time – and then very foolishly cast Him aside. Yet, as Christians, whatever may happen, we take great comfort in knowing that the Lord will not forsake us, his children. No matter what the future may hold, we know who holds our future.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and savior, Jesus Christ… (Titus 2:11-13)Ω
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