Dysfunctional Nation

The recently released Index of Family Belonging and Rejection gives the best read (using Bureau of the Census data) so far of the strength and weaknesses of the American family. Rather than concentrating on out of wedlock births or divorces, it zeroes in on the key data: what proportion of our children have grown up with their mother and father married? What proportion who enter adulthood have experienced family as a place where the parents belong to each other and to their children? Or how many had parents who rejected each other and said: “I want you out of my life, forever.”

The news, not surprisingly, is grim: only 45 percent of American children have lived with their married biological parents throughout their childhood. If you think this is bad, keep in mind that when the above children were born (fifteen to seventeen years ago) the out-of-wedlock birth rate was 28 percent. Last year it was 41 percent. As Brad Wilcox’s report on marriage makes clear, marriage rates have also dropped precipitously since then. Given this, probably only 30 percent of U.S. children will have grown up in an intact family by the time this year’s newborns reach the age of seventeen.

In this year’s Index, Black Americans emerge as most disadvantaged: only 17 percent with intact families. Asian Americans are most advantaged (62 percent). American Indians and Alaskan Natives suffer greatly (24 percent), while Hispanics are in the middle of the ethnic group ranking (42 percent). Only 54 percent of White Americans grow up in an intact family.

Utah is the highest ranked state (59 percent); New Hampshire is second (58 percent). Mississippi is the lowest (31 percent), though the District of Columbia is in even worse shape (16 percent).

The list goes on but the main point is clear: America is now sexually dysfunctional. Most of us cannot stand a spouse long enough to raise the children we have brought into the world (the fundamental purpose of the conjugal act).

Sexual taboos, those societal and cultural defense mechanisms – most easily seen in more “primitive” societies – serve crucial roles in social stability. Small tribes could not afford untrammeled sexuality by their youth, which sows chaos within; their enemies could then easily overcome them. Our “enlightenment elite” have spent two centuries tearing down our taboos. Now we pay the price in broken families, lower educational performance, more poverty, less revenue for government programs coupled with more demand for such programs from needy mothers and children. States and cities are on a collision course with fiscal realities: the fewer married people, the less revenue states will collect. The British are learning the same lesson and have put better cost numbers on this phenomenon than we have.

The Holy Family by Raphael (1483-1520)

This problem has deep ramifications for the survival of our republic because the first government is the marriage between fathers and mothers: they are the democratic government of the fundamental society, the family. As that government collapses, there is no way a democratic republic can sustain itself. That sort of government necessitates a virtuous citizenship, in private and public. Unless we reverse this trend, kiss the Constitution goodbye.

Which is what Planned Parenthood got the Supreme Court to do in Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972 – giving legal protection (rather than negative sanction) to the sexual act outside of marriage. Since then we have had a gradual unraveling that has affected every essential institution – family, church, school, marketplace, and government.

The sexual act is the prime energy of human creation; from it all else springs. Nothing human comes to be without it. It is more powerful than nuclear energy. As with that technology, there are natural ways necessary to contain it and maintain safety. Just as there are artificial ways to decouple the nucleus from its atomic subcomponents resulting in massive destructive energy so too there are artificial ways to decouple the sperm from the egg and in the process release massive destructive energy. How far do we have to go before we get truly alarmed? Can a nation that permits this social weakness internally have the strength to protect weak nations externally?

Who benefits? Poverty experts and activists; porn pushers; contraceptive manufacturers, medical specialists in the diseases contracted; antibiotic manufacturers; crime specialists and jail builders; education rehabilitation specialists and addiction experts; rape crisis experts and services; child abuse and neglect service providers. Now, every single one of these is going to cry “foul” if we seek to protect marriage, but none of their professional organizations cry foul over the breakdown in marriage and its debilitating effects on children. Not one.

The rot is so deep that even a major section of the Tea Party Reform Movement, its more radically libertarian end, sees no reason to protect marriage, and on occasion makes the case for sexual license (in the name of freedom).

It seems to me at moments that we are so far gone socially that we are beyond political reform. Only one reform offers hope: the most fundamental reform: conversion. And nowhere is that conversion more needed (sociologically speaking) than in the black church. When only 17 percent of black children are raised with mother and father together, there is something wrong – glaringly wrong, especially at a time when discrimination is lessening.

But where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. It is time for the black church to embrace celibacy as the necessary guardian to marriage. It is time for young black men and women to consider embracing the words of Christ and living a life, not just of chastity but of celibacy. The early Christians embraced this when called. It is intimately connected to the protection of marriage. It is time for black Christians to wake up from their stupor (and then wake up the rest of us).

Whither comes the reform? We all know: He approaches soon in Bethlehem.

Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. is a Washington policy analyst and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Social Services Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.