At the end of part five, I quoted from the prophet Malachi, chapter 2:
You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
While I think even a smidgen of introspection brings one to the obvious, nay, the self-evident conclusion, that the health and structure of a family will leave a deep imprint on a child, I don’t tend to hear many people talk about the fact that we have an explicit Biblical text which connects the God-ordained institution of marriage with the transmission of the faith. This passage does more than that: it explains that the transmission of the faith was part of God’s actual intended purpose for making the man and the woman ‘one flesh.’
Importantly, this formula harkens back to Genesis 2… before the fall of Man. Malachi repeats it, Jesus doubles down on it, and Paul references it explicitly as well. The institution may be damaged, but it is clear that it is not in anyway abandoned. God’s intention for marriage remains in place; probably because humans were made in such a way so that this intention is ‘built into’ who we are as humans. It is not an arbitrary construct. So long as humans are human, the ‘traditional framework’ will always tend to give people the satisfaction they genuinely seek, and children, being made the way they are, will flourish or fail insofar as they are raised inside or outside of the framework God made them for originally.
When I first started organizing my thoughts in this blog series, I was reviewing my research, and the following chart really struck me in a way it had not previously.
The different lines represent the findings of different surveys over the last forty years or so, and all of them show basically the same thing: beginning in about 1990, there has been a sharp, unrelenting increase in the number of ‘religious nones’ in the United States. We are talking about a shift of tens of millions of people away from Christianity, with no reason to think those people are coming back. Setting aside the obvious fact that such a shift cannot but leave a mark on the larger culture, it suddenly hit me that a change as distinct as this likely had a distinct cause.
What could have happened c. 1990 to have set off such a dramatic increase of ‘nones’ after remaining more or less steady for almost 20 years?
I tried out a variety of theories. There are a number of likely suspects. The schools, for example. One thing I found fascinating, though, is that the trend started prior to the mass acceptance of the Internet (which almost certainly has helped fuel the rise since). But as sinister as much school curriculum is (or as some curriculum designers are, anyway) it is hard to imagine anything being implemented c. 1990 in the schools and having such a vivid and measurable result in so short of time. You would have to go further back.
I’ve played with a variety of theories, and the one that makes the most sense is the disintegration of the institution of marriage in the US itself.
It doesn’t look like much until you overlay them:
Now, the timing and possible correspondence is easier to see.
In the mid-70s, marriage rates began to tank, and divorce rates shot up to record highs. About 20 years later–about the time when the children of those born in these families will have started coming to age–the rise of the ‘religious nones’ is distinctly measured.
What happened in the mid-70s?
Cause, or merely correlation? So far, this is the best theory I’ve got. It’s backed up by a recently released study that not only references the rise of the ‘nones’ but specifically addresses the role of broken homes in fostering an ‘unaffiliated’ mindset.
Their chart of the ‘religious nones’ includes the 2016 figures. The spike and timing of ‘nones’ is easy to spot:
A full 25% of America’s adult population now reports as ‘unaffiliated.’
Let that sink in.
The connection they make to marriage and divorce in this context is compelling:
Previous research has shown that family stability—or instability—can impact the transmission of religious identity. Consistent with this research, the survey finds Americans who were raised by divorced parents are more likely than children whose parents were married during most of their formative years to be religiously unaffiliated (35% vs. 23% respectively).
Rates of religious attendance are also impacted by divorce. Americans who were raised by divorced parents are less likely than children whose parents were married during most of their childhood to report attending religious services at least once per week (21% vs. 34%, respectively). This childhood divorce gap is also evident even among Americans who continue to be religiously affiliated. Roughly three in ten (31%) religious Americans who were brought up by divorced parents say they attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 43% of religious Americans who were raised by married parents.
It would seem, therefore, that the best defense of the Christian faith that we could make would not be on intellectual grounds but on facilitating and maintaining healthy, happy homes… where, of course, the parents, and the father in particular, is prepared and enabled to effectively equip their children with a solid foundation in the faith. We don’t escape this important part of the equation, just because we see how important the family is in helping that ‘equipping’ flourish and bear fruit.
This much was covered in part 5.
But here is the problem: ‘no fault’ divorce did not spring up in our society spontaneously, as some kind of unguided, natural progression. It was ‘sprung’ on us, as part of a greater war on the family that has a much longer history than most will realize. In fact, if I were to begin telling you details of it, most of you would scoff and dismiss it as conspiracy mongering. So, it is best, probably, that you discover it yourself. One of the most informed on this specific topic is Dr. Ryan Macpherson, who in several places ably tells the story of how ‘no fault’ divorce was imposed on the United States through deliberate cunning.
But it essentially boils down to this: certain people came to realize that if one wants to remake society, they must first remake the family. And to first remake the family, the family must be destroyed.
While proponents of this view generally took the line that liberalizing the marriage laws would not harm the institution of marriage but rather strengthen it (only those marriages that were solid to begin with would stay together), the decline in the marriage rates alone tells a different story. There are, however, many ‘smoking guns’ in their own literature which suggests that they knew very well what the outcome would be, and were counting on it. They knew, or at least strongly suspected, that the ‘family’ would be fractured, and, as an inevitable result, there would be a national turn towards what we might call socialism.
One of my favorite illustrations of this is the Jaffe Memo, something that I have been exhaustively studying ever since I came across it.
The value of this document is how it shows, on a single page, the kinds of things liberal progressives were considering implementing about 45 years ago. Notice how restructuring the family is literally the first thing your eye. Notice, too, the myriad of things that they were happy to politicize to obtain their goals. From where you live, to how much money you make, and yes, marriage itself.
This is why it is extremely dangerous for Christians to accept the line that we should keep our religion out of politics. In the 1920s, perhaps, that would work. But these people have made everything political. To keep your ‘religion’ out of politics, given the fact that a liberal views all of reality and every person on the planet as their personal plaything, would amount to a complete and utter surrender to people who cannot be trusted even with small things.
If they have decided to put marriage in the political arena, we are compelled to meet them there. If we do not, and marriage rates continue to fall, and the ‘traditional’ family continues to disintegrate, the trends plainly show that there will be so few of us left in 20-30 years, that we will not be able to make a difference, even if we wanted to.
Now, if this sounds a little conspiratorial, I think the real truth is that you, dear reader, are not paying attention. What I am talking about has already been well-charted. G.K. Chesterton covered it in 1922, in his Eugenics and Other Evils. C.S. Lewis tackled it in the 1950s, directly in The Abolition of Man and indirectly in That Hideous Strength. Francis Schaeffer tied it all together very nicely in the 1970s with How Should We Then Live? What is unfolding around us did not start recently, and there have been ample warnings. Where have you been?
Which brings us around, I think, to some hard truths that we have to come to grips with in the Church.
First of all, we have to acknowledge that there are people actively and intentionally infusing our society with ideologies that are hostile to Christianity–and hostile to the transmission of Christianity. And Christians themselves have imbibed those ideologies, uncritically. They’ve been absorbed from the culture, and we are reaping the results.
If we wish to defend Christianity, then we have to be prepared to identify and equip each individual in our congregation with awareness of what these ideologies are, how they function, what their goals are, and so on. In much the same way that Al Qaeda declared war on the U.S. but the U.S. was tragically slow to reciprocate, secular humanists have declared war on Christianity, and Christians have been slow to reciprocate. I know many Christians who think that the purpose of the Church is, nigh exclusively, to preach the Gospel. But these issues are connected to that purpose, because failing to address them robustly means a less receptive audience, or even a hostile one. Most embarrassingly, it means having people leave the churches themselves, as we have seen happen in the last thirty years.
Second of all, we cannot regard the collapse of ‘traditional marriage’ as a mere political matter or simply the circumstances we happen to find ourselves in, as though it does not have a bearing on the Gospel. It obviously does. It does from a Scriptural point of view–Malachi 2, Jesus’ teachings on divorce, and Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5, come to mind. But it has implications that are not obvious, such as what we are seeing with the mass exodus of Christians away from the church. It was the children that left.
Third of all, we simply must learn to think and act trans-generationally. The secular humanists do! In other words, we have to be thinking about where things will be in thirty, or sixty or even a hundred years. I was a professional church worker for about 7 years… we rarely thought further out than 1 year.
But, just as it took some 45 years for us to begin seeing the actual results of policies established in the 1970s (the results began manifesting in the 1990s, but we didn’t recognize them for what they were until more recently), some of the biggest and most important shifts that we see in our culture happened many years ago. Before many of us were born, in fact.
While we can do nothing about the legacy of those who came before us, we can yet do something for those who will come after us.
And we must.