Everyone has a theory to explain the breakdown of the family: culture, government policy, the sexual revolution, poverty, racism, global trade, etc, etc. A few days back, I shared my theory: unresolved trauma from often horrific life experiences. I said I was going to write about what I think Christians have a moral obligation to do in response and that is what this post is about. Now, before you snort and click away, allow me to explain myself . . .
A few years ago, the ex told me about a woman he knew who lived in a high poverty area and had put her 14 year old daughter on birth control pills. The girl was an honor student, insisted that she wasn’t sexually active and didn’t intend to become sexually active, and didn’t really want to be on the pills but the mother insisted. I told my husband that I thought it was probably a good idea. Not necessarily because the pills themselves would keep her from getting pregnant, but because the discipline of having to remember to take one at the same time everyday would serve her well.
Many of us grew up in homes with bedtimes, we sat down for meals with our families, got handed a vitamin with breakfast by mom and could always find a quiet spot to do homework. Often we don’t appreciate the way these simple routines and disciplines shape and prepare us to manage our lives in the real world. Including using birth control methods effectively.
I was a poor single mom. I have known a lot of much more stereotypical poor single moms (ie not just the black sheep of an intact, well-educated, upper-middle class family). I can personally attest to the fact that is not hard to get condoms or birth control pills. People practically throw them at you when you’re a college student or a single mom. The problem is I have known more than one person who became a parent while a bag of condoms from the local clinic sat on a dresser across the room. Access is certainly good, imo, but making birth control available doesn’t make it used.
Yes, Depo-provera, IUDs and other long-term birth control methods can go a long way towards addressing this problem. I know that Depo shots are very easy to get in most poor areas here in the Midwest. But the questions still remains if we really want to live in a world where we need to administer injections of hormones into young teens en masse, on a regular basis to keep them from getting pregnant? And those more effective birth control methods do not address STDs, but will make going without a condom feel more acceptable. It’s an imperfect bandaid. Bandaids certainly have their place, but they aren’t a solution.
When I talk with my boys about sex, one of the things I try to emphasize to them is that sex is something which carries a social responsibility that goes far beyond their own families. Despite everything we’ve been going through, they are very priviledged. Their parents are educated and involved, they were homeschooled and taught how to deal with their emotional experiences and know how to make themselves do things they don’t want to do. So, yes, they could probably manage thier own sex lives without causing too much damage – just as many people do. But they don’t represent the average American.
It’s a bit like driving, I tell them. Mario Andretti could probably navigate our expressways going 130 mph with no difficulty. But most people aren’t professional race car drivers. If those who were able to safely drive 130 mph on the expressway without consequence started doing so, many people who could not do it safely would start to drive that fast (or faster) as well. So, even though a race car driver could drive that fast on our roads, it would be irresponsible to do so. Sex is much the same way, imo.
I would say the same thing to you and your children as well: the decision to be sexually active isn’t just about you and your family and your partner(s). It’s also about living in a world where stories about growing up fatherless under horrific conditions are practically common place. Not all of us can re-arrange our entire lives to try and deal with the issue, but as Christians, I think that the least we have an obligation to do is choose to live by traditional Christian teachings (which have been considered radical, unappealing and unrealistic since Roman times). And talk about it. Let others know that you are making this choice and why.
Christians have tried everything from rings to dances to tamper-proof locks to encourage their children to wait until marriage to have sex. But research tells us that at best, such things delay the onset of sexual activity by a year or two. Which is better than nothing. If better than nothing is the standard you’re going for, that is. (I did hear tell of one homeschooled mom who was trying to arrange her kid’s whole lives so that they would not know about the existence of sex until their wedding night when it would be a “wonderful surprise”. I’m pretty sure such a thing could be a wonderful suprise only in her own imagination, but she really thought she had is all figured out.) The fact is we haven’t given our kids a reason to wait that can stand up to temptation and questioning.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where sex in and out of marriage is omni-present and completely accepted. (I once had a conversation w/a young Christian who laughingly told me that she is regularly informed that the only reason she remains a virgin is because she was giving in to social pressure. Because refraining from doing something that 95% of people think is part of every normal life is just soooooo conformist. LOL). And no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, experience has made clear that “because God said so” just doesn’t cut it. Yes, God said so. But perhaps he has an actual reason? Like not living in a world where the suffering associated with fatherlessness is widespread and normal?
Ours is not the first era to experience the breakdown of societal constraints. However, I don’t think that the fall-out has ever been allowed to become so enormous before. Right now, the only answer the world has to the problems of fatherlessness are more birth control and trying to use social servies to fix people’s lives more quickly than they can tear them down. As Christians, we do have an answer: God heals the brokenhearted and sex belongs in marriage where children can be provided for – emotionally if not financially. But before we go banging on to everyone else about that, we need to actually be doing it ourselves. Which we haven’t been able to figure out how to do. Or at least we haven’t been able to come up with reasons that stand up to scrutiny and hormones. Sometimes you need a real cause. I say that fighting back against a culture which is producing traumatized, overwhelmed people en masse is a cause worthy of great sacrifices. Even the sacrifice of abstaining from sex outside of marriage.
What would happen if it became commonplace for Christians to take the lead on this issue? If more of us would stand up and say, “I’m going to voluntarily choose to abstain from extramaritial sex as a way to combat fatherlessness“? Might our well-meaning kids be better able to resist temptation knowing that it’s for something that is both real and important? Wouldn’t the world look at us differently if we were know for doing this rather than for having higher rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock children than our liberal, secular counter-parts? This is a problem which is eating communities and children alive. Don’t we have an obligation to try? It is what we’ve been told to do, after all.
Will Christians openly abstaining from sex outside of marriage as a way to combat fatherlessness change anything? I don’t know, of course. Bit if nothing else, combatting fatherlessness is a much more credible motivation for most people than “because God said so“. Yes, it seems like a small stand to take against a torrent, but God has said he will take what we offer for his sake and add the increase. It only takes a little yeast to make the bread rise, after all.