Carolyn Moynihan

Shape or be shaped: Christians in an era of marriage decline

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan
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February 6, 2013 (Mercatornet.com) - Christians throughout the West are dismayed at plummeting church attendance figures. They blame video games, or left-wing teachers, or Richard Dawkins. But perhaps the real answer is closer to home -- their own families.

Divorce, single motherhood and cohabitation have been destabilising family life in America and other developed countries for decades. About one million children in the US each year experience the divorce of their parents, and more than half the children born to women under 30 are now born outside marriage. Reproductive technologies are also adding ambiguity -- and potential fault lines -- to family relationships.

Christians as a whole seem as likely as the average American to be caught up in these trends. At the same time religious practice and church affiliation are declining. It seems obvious that these twin crises of marriage and faith are related, but what are the dynamics? Did religion decline and then marriage, or did marriage decline and then religious practice? There is research that points both ways.

Without attempting to settle this question a new report from family scholars at the Institute for American Values investigates one way in which fragmentation of the family impacts on the individual believer and therefore on churches. The report, Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? focuses on the religious and spiritual lives of young adults who experienced the divorce of their parents.

Reviewing a raft of studies on the subject, co-authors Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Zietlow and Charles E Stokes conclude that, compared to those who grew up in intact families, these young people on the whole feel less religious and are less likely to be practising a faith on a regular basis. Specifically:

Two-thirds of young adults who grew up in married parent families, compared to just over half of children of divorce, say they are very or fairly religious.

More than a third of people from married parent families currently attend religious services almost every week, compared to just a quarter of people from divorced families.

This highlights a very significant fact: as in all other areas of life, parents play a key role in their children’s spiritual formation and religious practice. Normally, they are the ones who take them to church, teach them their prayers, talk to them about God and answer their questions about matters of faith. Their loving care makes intelligible the belief that God is a father (the Father) and also like a mother, fostering the child’s trust in God and acceptance of his will as taught systematically by the church. Studies show that the greatest predictor of the religious lives of youth is the religious lives of their parents.

When this “domestic church” is ruptured by divorce it can therefore undermine a child’s whole religious life. For one thing, many parents stop attending church. Children of divorce are less likely than those from intact families to report that their mother encouraged them to practice their faith (about half compared with four-fifths), and even less likely (about one-third compared to two-thirds) to report this of their fathers. This does not seem surprising given that children generally live with their mother post-divorce, and also given the bitterness of many fathers over access arrangements. Still, as in other areas of life, loss of dad’s input leaves an unfillable gap in children’s lives.

And lest anyone think that the amicable divorce, in which both parents stay involved in the child’s life and minimise their conflict with each other, would be less disruptive to a child’s faith, the report finds this is not generally the case. In one study the grown children of “good divorces” often compared poorly with those who grew up with unhappily married parents. And those raised in happy, intact marriages were more than twice as likely to attend religious services compared to those from low-conflict divorces.

On the positive side, some individuals from divorced families eventually become much more religious. The report notes that “as young adults, children of divorce are surprisingly likely to feel that they are more religious now than their parents ever were.” However, the note of scepticism towards parents here indicates a reason that young adults from divorced families are more inclined to reject the church (or other religious community) of their childhood, either switching to another or describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.

The church response

The question begging to be answered at this point is how faith communities can prevent some of personal suffering, social chaos and haemorrhaging from their own ranks that comes from the disintegration of marriages and the increase in unstable cohabiting relationships. This is not, however, a question that the Shaping Faith report itself gives us a lot of help with. Its chief concern is pastoral responses to children of divorce and other broken families.

In this respect alone much ground has already been lost. In a national US study, of those young adults who regularly attended a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds said that no one -- neither from the clergy nor the congregation -- reached out to them, while only a quarter remembered receiving that kind of help.

Also, the report notes that where the underlying ideal of marriage presented to a congregation is the “companionate” or “soul mate” model (as opposed to the institutional or child-centred model) the strong focus on the couple relationship can make it more difficult to see the family as part of a religious community, and for couples to take their troubles to the pastor. More about this important subject later.

In contrast to the neglect of young people from broken families, a paper by Evangelical Lutheran pastor Amy Zietlow, which forms the second part of Shaping Faith, describes how local congregations can become places of refuge, nurture and healing for them. Pastors and youth leaders should work harder on providing faith role models. They should listen to those affected by divorce and provide an environment where they can question and search as they come to terms with what has happened. The church (building) itself can provide a “sanctuary” and place of hospitality for young people divided between “mum’s house” and “dad’s house”. These are all good, practical suggestions.

It is not until the very end of the report, however, that the all-important question of preventing divorce (and other forms of family breakdown) is addressed head-on. A final recommendation notes:

"One of the most profound ways that we can support children of divorce is by helping there to be fewer children of divorce in the first place. It is more important than ever for churches to reflect deeply on their role as custodians of the marriage tradition, and to engage actively in preparing and strengthening congregants and people in the community to have healthy, lasting marriages."

How? Well, a little agreement among churches on what the marriage tradition is would be a good start.

Unfortunately, the Institute for American Values itself is currently sowing confusion about that tradition by leading a campaign to embrace same-sex marriage as part of the solution to marriage decline. They are proposing as a remedy the very thing that at least some churches and other marriage advocates see as fatal to the institution and a symptom of what is already wrong with it.

The case for gay marriage rests largely on the assumption that marriage is a committed romantic relationship between two people to which sexual intercourse of a procreative character (if not outcome) is incidental rather than of the essence. In other words, it depends for its credibility on the soul-mate ideal which has supplanted the child-centred, institutional ideal of marriage -- and in doing so has contributed massively to decline of marriage in the West.

This is because the soul-mate marriage, with its undergirding of equal gender roles and economic contributions and its carefully planned births, seems to work for upscale Americans but has proved unattractive to or at least unattainable by people down the socio-economic ladder. The IAV itself in its manifesto for a “new conversation about marriage”, as it does in the Shaping Faith report, identifies “soul-mate issues” as one of the problems besetting marriage, overlooking the fact that gay marriage would institutionalise this very model.

The real solution: marrying romance and children

What is really needed, as family law professor Helen Alvare indicates in a response to Shaping Faith, is a new conversation about healing another kind of divorce -- that between the romantic couple and the children they are capable of generating.

It’s too late to begin such a conversation when a couple is about to marry. By that time (and given historically high ages at first marriage in the U.S.), men and women in the United States have been instructed over and over and over again that sex is one thing and children are entirely another…

Without “re-orienting” (early and often) what is most celebrated in American culture about what men and women do together (sex, romantic love) -- away from the couple themselves and their individual and joint happiness -- how are we to get to the place where children’s interests are privileged? In the earliest discussions of sex and life skills and vocations, then, schools and churches and families need to link the relationships between men and women to children.

Alongside state and federal governments, churches have a massive role to play in this mission, Alvare, a Catholic, observes. She adds, “It is a bit shocking, in fact, they have not played it to the hilt by this time in our nation’s marriage crisis.”

In another response economics professor Catherine Pakaluk, also a Catholic, stresses the need for churches and pastors to exercise their teaching prerogative about marriage with far greater clarity and energy. If they want to stop the damage that family breakdown is doing to individuals and the church, and start making an impact on family formation, they need to exercise “visionary leadership on basic moral teaching,” she says.

With IAV’s efforts to get conservatives and churches to embrace gay marriage as part of the solution to the decline of marriage, the task of achieving clarity on basic moral issues just got more complicated for the Christian community as a whole. Those most likely to suffer the ill effects are, again, the children.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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TLC pulls ‘19 Kids and Counting’ from schedule following Duggar molestation allegations

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By Ben Johnson

SPRINGDALE, AR, May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The television network TLC has removed the Duggar family's reality show, “19 Kids and Counting,” from its schedule, at least temporarily.

Multiple news outlets have confirmed that the show, featuring the large and expanding evangelical Christian family, will not be on the air until the network makes a final decision about the program's fate.

The network had previously removed “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” from its network after “Mama June” Shannon had been seen associating with convicted child molester Mark McDaniel, possibly exposing her children to a sexual predator. Shannon has told the entertainment news outlet TMZ that she would sue the network for unfair and inconsistent treatment.

TLC has not made a final determination as of yet and aired a Duggar marathon Thursday evening as the controversy brewed.

Friday's move comes after media outlets obtained police records showing Josh Duggar, as a young teenager 12 years ago, inappropriately touched as many as five girls, often while they were sleeping. The police records show the incidents began in March 2002, the month the oldest Duggar child turned 14. He admitted the incident to his parents that July, but another incident took place in March 2003. At that time, the family sent him to a program that required counseling and hard physical labor.

Three years later, a letter containing details of the molestation was found, and its recipient notified police, who launched an investigation.

One of his victims told police, after Josh returned in July 2003, he had clearly “turned back to God.” No further incidents have been alleged.

Duggar's wife of six-and-a-half years, Anna, said Josh revealed the painful episode to her two years before they got engaged.

Since the allegations have been made public, Josh Duggar admitted his long ago wrongdoing, calling his teenage actions “inexcusable.” He also resigned his job at FRC Action, a pro-family lobbying organization.

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Some figures have offered the Duggars their reassurance that, whatever sins Josh committed as a teen, he can be – perhaps has been – forgiven by God.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a presidential hopeful, said that Josh “and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

He said those who leaked the story were motivated by “insensitive bloodlust” to destroy the Duggar family. “There was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past, and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims.”

God, Huckabee said, forgives all sins.

“In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption,” Josh wrote.

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Rebecca Kiessling of Save the 1 - United States Steve Jalsevac/Vatican City
Rebecca Kiessling

I told her I was conceived in rape. She told me to prove I shouldn’t have been aborted.

Rebecca Kiessling
By Rebecca Kiessling

(Savethe1) - Why should I have to prove my worth and my right to life? When I first learned at the age of 18 that I was conceived in rape, I instantly felt targeted and devalued by our society because I’d heard what people said about pregnancy “in cases of rape.” Right away, I felt I was in a position where I would have to justify my own existence – that I would have to prove to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living.

I’ve since found my own value, identity and purpose in Christ, being created by God, in His image, and for a purpose, so I no longer feel I need to prove my worth to others in order to feel worthy. Instead, I share my worth out of gratitude for my own life being spared and in order that others may see the value of those who are still at risk – those who are in harm’s way as yet unborn and being targeted for abortion in the clinics, in legislation, and in people’s hearts and minds.

Whenever I speak, I share this aspect of my journey, but people are shocked to hear that I actually do get challenged to prove my value, to demonstrate my positive contribution to society and to justify my right not to have been aborted. This recent e-mail is a case in point. It was a tough inquiry to receive, but you’ll see my hopefully patient (and prayerful) responses below, and the ultimate outcome of the exchange:

I’m feeling sad and skeptical about rape babies.  I’d love to consider myself pro-life due to biblical reasons, but I just don’t really see what good can ever come out of a rape baby. I still think that it sometimes furthers the victimization of a rape victim. And it’s also because I’m very sad and disturbed by your blog.

I just think sometimes that it would be better if these babies never existed -- that every single one would naturally be miscarried by God’s will, so no one could bully them for their skeleton in their closet. Like I said, the subject manner disturbs me to the point where I vomit. I wish that every child was conceived in love and not violence because that's the way it should be. And I'm sad to say that the only way I could fully believe all of you rape mothers and children is if you were to pray for the peace of God that transcends all my futile understanding and my volatile, overly-sensitive emotions. 

There is no story in the whole world that can fully change my mind. The only way I could ever is if I were to befriend a victim or become the Bride of a man whom was the product of abuse. I'm so sorry to be brutally honest; it's just that my heart grieves to the point where I feel the struggle to overcome the sin of prejudice. I'm so angry at God that he allows this to occur.

Dear __, I appreciate you going to our blog and taking the time to reach out to us.  Your concerns are the most common, but research shows that rape victims are four times more likely to die within the next year after the abortion vs. giving birth. Dr. David Reardon's book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault explains this.  So it's a myth which gets perpetuated -- that a rape victim would be better off after an abortion, that her child would be a reminder of the rape, and that she would even see her child as a "rape baby," as you put it.

I understand a lot of what you're saying.  You would definitely feel differently if you knew someone personally.  I wished I wasn’t conceived in rape, but I do believe now that God definitely brings good out of evil, and uses tragic situations to bring healing.  He doesn't intend the evil of course, but his trademark is redeeming really awful situations.

-- Rebecca

Her reply (again, challenging for me to read, but I think she candidly articulates a lot of what most people really wonder or think):

What has God done in your life personally besides this blog that has made your tragic family life worth the pain? Tell me what you have been doing: like marriage, dating, children, jobs, friendship, volunteer work; any of that. I am curious to see how God has given your life joy and purpose. I'm sorry if I have ever been difficult to handle. I'm emotionally impulsive when I hear something sad.

First of all, my birthmother and her husband legally adopted me 3-1/2 years ago because my adoptive family was really screwed up (long story of abuse and abandonment.) My own adoption by my birthmother was our fairy-tale ending.  She says I'm a blessing to her, I honor her and I bring her healing! I love adoption -- my two oldest are adopted (very open adoption,) and we adopted a baby with special needs -- Cassie -- who died in our arms at 33 days old. It was an honor to take care of her and was definitely one of the most important things I'd ever done in my life. She died because of medical malpractice.

Married for nearly 17 years, we have 5 children now – two adopted sons and our three biological daughters.  Here's my son's story. He wrote it last September at 12 years old.

Besides being the president and founder of Save The 1, I also co-founded Hope After Rape Conception. I'm a family law attorney, though I closed my law practice to have my children and to home school until 2-1/2 years ago.

I make baby quilts which I donate to pregnancy resource centers and I give to moms in unplanned pregnancies. My birthmother taught me to sew! I also taught my children to quilt, as well as many of my friends and their children. I've volunteered with orphan care, Sunday school, feeding the disadvantaged, free legal work, volunteer work for a maternity home, and helping in various ways with pregnancy resource centers. I changed the hearts of Gov. Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on this issue during their presidential campaigns!

A large part of what I do is helping others to understand their value, identity and worth because lots of people struggle with these issues -- not just those conceived in rape. I hope this helps!  -- Rebecca

Her final response – from someone who said “there is no story in the world that can fully change my mind”: 

Dear Rebecca, thank you so much for your time to straighten out my emotional acting out -- I'm really glad you told me about your life. I really think I'll be okay now. I still wish that men wouldn't rape, but at least the world knows a lot more than they used to and I can say that I'm pro-life to my college professors without paranoia or anxiety. I even talked about helping people like you with my mom and dad. They told me I'm too sensitive in personality to be involved directly in domestic politics; yet, I'm praying about being a free English tutor for troubled families as well as being an anti-pornography informant or activist. After all, the porn industry has been statistically linked to the sexual violence pandemic. I'm so glad that you are living life well and to the best of your ability; keep telling people that just because your birth father was an evil scumbag doesn't mean that you are. Thanks Rebecca, you have really touched and strengthened my heart. With much sincerity.

 

BIO: Rebecca Kiessling was conceived in rape and nearly aborted, but legally protected by law in Michigan pre-Roe v Wade.  She's an attorney, pro-life speaker and blogger, and President of Save The 1. Her own website is www.rebeccakiessling.com

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Boy Scouts president: We need to allow open homosexual leaders

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By Dustin Siggins

May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates says the youth organization must change with the times and allow open homosexual men to serve as Scout leaders.

Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, said in a speech at the 2015 Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Annual Meeting Thursday that the Boy Scouts would have to adjust to "the social, political, and juridicial changes taking place in our country -- changes taking place a pace this past year no one anticipated."

According to Gates, the way to balance the religious affiliations of "some 70% of our scout units" and avoid "a broad [court] ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard" is to offer individual troops a flexible membership policy. 

"For me, I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs, allows religious organizations -- based on First Amendment protections of religious freedom -- to establish their own standards for adult leaders, and preserves the Boy Scouts of America now and forever."

"I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement," said Gates, who said that BSA should "seize control of our own future, set our own course, and change our policy in order to allow charter partners -- unit sponsoring organizations -- to determine the standards for their Scout leaders."

This is not the first time that Gates, who led the military to end its two decades-long Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, has supported gay Scout leaders. Last year, he said that he "would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country."

In 2013, BSA allowed openly homosexual scouts for the first time. That policy reads: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” and took effect on January 1, 2014.

A year ago, Gates said he "was prepared to go further than the decision that was made" to allow gay Scout members, but decided that "to try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement - with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own."

This week, though, Gates said that "events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore."

"We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy, from some councils... in open defiance of the policy," said Gates. 

However, Gates' remarks may have come too late to prevent internal challenges from splitting BSA. Due to the 2013 vote, a number of Scouting alternatives launched, including the organization Trail Life USA. The latter group says it aims "to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens." 

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In January, Trail Life USA said it has "over 540 Troops in 48 states and the registration of nearly 20,000 adults and boys..."

Furthermore, the decision by BSA to allow gay scouts has led to criticism from people on both sides of the debate. Homosexual activists say the group did not go far enough, whereas many Christian parents and organizations say BSA is bowing to public pressure from homosexual advocates to affect its membership, despite its Christian roots.

Corporate pressure has also been aggressive. Last year, Walt Disney World threatened to not allow employees to volunteer for BSA as part of its VoluntEARS program in 2015 if the organization does not allow gay Scout leaders. Diversity Inc. reports that Merck & Co., Ernst & Young, Major League Baseball, and AT&T are just some of the other companies that have pressured BSA to further change its policies.

LifeSiteNews asked BSA whether Gates' comments indicated support for a totally flexible scout leadership policy, or just related to gay scout leaders, as well as whether BSA would take a stand against state and local laws that deny First Amendment rights to people who oppose same-sex "marriage."

BSA declined to comment, telling LifeSiteNews in a statement: "Dr. Gates’s remarks speak for themselves. ... It is important to note that no decisions were made during the National Annual Meeting. A decision is expected no later than the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board meeting in October."

A video of Gates' remarks is below. The comments about membership standards begin at 8:40.

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