37-year-old Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs recently flew back from Toronto to be with his girlfriend Kim Porter while she gave birth to his twin girls – D’Lila Star and Jessie James. Diddy already has two sons – Christian, 8, with Porter, and Justin, 12, who live with his ex-girlfriend, Misa Hylton-Brim. This isn’t Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Roughly 50 percent of all black children, 25 percent of Hispanic children and 16 percent of all non-Hispanic white children grow up in a household with only their mother.1 In the 1950s, 77 percent of black American families were united, compared with 85 percent of white families. But between 1970 and 2000, the marriage rate for blacks dropped by half. It wasn’t as severe for other ethnic groups, but the idea of marriage as an indispensable condition of child rearing is trending downward – both in America and Europe.
Last year, 59 percent of all first-born French children were born to unwed parents. “Marriage doesn’t have the same importance as it used to,” said France Prioux, who directs research on changing social trends for France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies.2 Couples such as Sandrine Folet and Lucas Titouh, who share a 15-year-old partnership and two children, have no intention of getting married. “I don’t know many people in our age group who are married,” says Folet.
Many social commentators point to misguided government policies as the reason for the ‘disconnect’ between marriage and children rearing. But a new book suggests a more profound cause. If the author’s conclusion is right, the church might want to reconsider its modern-day message and, perhaps once again reconnect marriage with child rearing.
For over two thousand years, the gospel was understood as a script with four chapters: how life ought to be (creation), how it actually is (the fall), how life can be made better (redemption) and what it will be one day (the final restoration). The Apostle Paul said this is the script for marriage.3 Christ also referred to it. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, he read from the first chapter – creation – to describe what marriage ought to be.4 Christ next drew from the second chapter – the fall – to remind the Pharisees that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard… it was not this way from the beginning.”
Later, when the Sadducees concocted a scenario about an unfortunate woman being married seven different times to seven men who were brothers, they asked Jesus which one she’ll be stuck with in eternity. He drew from the fourth chapter of the script – the final restoration – to clear up their confusion.5 This four-chapter script describes marriage as an indispensable condition of sexual consummation and child rearing.6 For over two thousand years, it was a screenplay for understanding our entire life.
Regrettably, in the 1800s, many churches “lost” this script when they “whited out” two chapters – creation and restoration. The remaining two chapters – the fall and redemption – disconnected the gospel from most of our week, including work, marriage and child rearing. Instead, it emphasized “my personal relationship with Jesus” and How To Get To Heaven. This might explain why 27-year-old Tim Wagner, who grew up without a father in Washington DC, gave no thought to marriage when his 19-year-old girlfriend became pregnant. “Nah, man, it wasn’t really discussed. We’re just friends.”7 Could it be that Tim never read a script linking marriage to child rearing?
This is the discovery made by Kay S. Hymowitz in her new book Marriage and Caste in America.8 In Ms. Hymowitz’s view, many have lost what she describes as the “life script” describing a meaningful connection between marriage and child rearing. It’s not that these parents don’t love their children; it is that they don’t have a “script” for being parents. “As a core cultural institution,” Hymowitz writes, “marriage orders life in ways that we only dimly understand. It carries signals about how we should live, signals that are in line with both our economy and our politics in a larger sense.”
True. The ancient rendition of the gospel provided “signals” for ordering our public and private lives – our economic and political life as well as our souls. It linked monogamous, heterosexual marriage to child rearing. It shaped children into adults who display the requisite skills and self-discipline to flourish. This, notes Ms. Hymowitz, requires not a village or cohabitation but two married parents.
The average words heard per hour are 2,150 for a professor’s children and 1,250 for working-class children in homes with parents. But children of single mothers on welfare hear their mother use only 620 words per hour, according to Ms. Hymowitz. These children find it particularly difficult to thrive in a knowledge-based society. They rarely learn the art of conversation. And conversation, Thomas Aquinas once wrote, is what constitutes civilization. If the church recovers the four-chapter “script” she might once again connect marriage to child rearing; along with playing a part in shaping society.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Demographic Supplement to the March 2002 Current Population Survey.
2 Molly Moore, “More Longtime Couples in France Prefer L’Amour Without Marriage,” Washington Post, November 21, 2006, p.A22
3 C.f., Ephesians 5:31-33
4 Matthew 19:4-9
5 Matthew 22:23-30
6 C.f., Revelation 19:7, 21:9, and 22:17
7 Neely Tucker, “Dad, Redefined,” Washington Post, December 17, 2006, Front Page
8 Kay S. Hymowitz, Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, (Ivan R. Dee, 2006)