Family Matters Part 3: The End Of The Traditional American Family

Matthew 12:25 “Any city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

Proverbs 12:7 “But the house of the righteous will stand.”

   The opening line of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood March 2020 blog states, “There has never been a time when the family faced so severe a crisis as the time in which we are now living.”  That is quite a sobering statement. Is the nuclear family a mistake or a freak experiment out of the past?  Is the new modern “forged” family really more beneficial to children?  What does the future hold for a young husband and wife who are just starting their new family together? 

   As we survey the landscape in America, the reality of the nuclear family, which has been the very fabric of our society, is falling apart, and the effect on our culture is felt everywhere. It has been the foundational building block for a healthy society and our prosperous past. However, what has happened in the last 50 years in this country has affected everything that this great nation once cherished, and it is showing up most profoundly in our youth. The culture as we know it is quickly disintegrating socially, morally, and spiritually into the abyss – you might say it is imploding. We are experiencing a social and moral divide not known to past generations (similar to Israel’s third generation of Judges 2). We are on a collision course with a secular worldview and relative morality which our culture has embraced, which leaves us wondering what the future is for this great country as a whole. Recently an article written by David Brooks in The Atlantic (March 2020) stated traditional marriage, and “the nuclear family was a mistake”, and “has been a catastrophe,” to which “we need to figure better ways to live together.”  Can we survive this disastrous downward spiral without a return to absolute morality and healthy families – families that are heterosexual, monogamous, procreative, and life-long? The traditional family is almost non-existent, and if the family does not survive and even thrive, the demise of society itself cannot be far behind.  As the family goes, so goes the society.

   I remember growing up when the family norm of society was a faithful marriage being between one man and one woman, “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part.” Marriage stability was essential for societal flourishing. Divorce was rare. Marriage was seen as the first major entrance of adulthood. Families had several kids and were known for working hard, having minimal debt, and being content with living with less. Hollywood actually put out G rated movies for the family. Rarely would you hear any cursing or see any nudity or bed scenes on the screen – it was taboo. If a guy lusted to look at dirty magazines, he had to go to a specific place to view his addiction. General speech was civil and respectful. Families actually sat down at the dinner table and ate homemade meals together, and spent time together paying games. What you saw on billboards, TV, and advertisements was honorable, modest, and family oriented. Sensuality and sexuality were away from the public eye. Dads worked and moms stayed home nurturing the kids. Women actually wanted to be mothers and found great joy in their children. There was little consumer debt because people paid cash. If they didn’t have it, they usually didn’t buy it. The dollar went a lot farther and things cost a whole lot less. What you bought lasted a long time because it was quality built – made in the USA. We didn’t get confused with so many choices because there were only 2-3 items to pick from. Storage facilities or huge master bedroom closets were unheard of. We just did not have a lot of stuff to store. Milk was still delivered to the front door fresh. People actually sat out on the porch and talked. Family came first. Our extended family mattered. We honored the aged and looked forward to being with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

   The majority of families went to church. People brought their Bibles. Family values were biblical values. People feared God and lived accordingly. The Bible was read in the public school and school curriculum referenced the Bible often. Although the TV was a relatively new household item, it did not dominate our lives quite yet. It was only in black and white with limited channels. Public radio was civil discourse. People actually talked to each other face to face and wrote letters and read books with pages. We traveled little. We stayed and bought local. Although we had financially very little, we were happy and satisfied with what we had. The family was central to everything we did. We found our identity as human beings in our family. Home was a safe haven.

   Although the sinful nature of man still existed and families did struggle, it was not so visible or pervasive. I think one example of the first beginning signs of the downward slide came with the invention of TV dinners – where a family could sit watching TV and eat a quickly heated, prepackaged, processed meal, which removed them from the dinner table, enjoying a healthy home-made meal, and meaningful conversation. Convenience and entertainment became more important than what was truly good for the family. How fast things have changed in just a short amount of time.

   Although there is some debate as to the actual numbers, it seems that as of January 2020, the national divorce rate is around 7-8% (based on the 2018 US Census). A Pew Research Center poll revealed that 39% of respondents said marriage is now obsolete. What is heartbreaking is that the Christian divorce rate is between 28-30% (Social researcher Feldhahn’s recent review of Barna Research’s 2008 survey) (Sociologist Bradley Wright in 2010 put it at 38%.)  Whatever the final number is, Christians who divorce are not much better than our secular culture. When kids are tossed between parents every other weekend it affects their own view of wanting to get married, and increases the chance of their own future divorce. My parents just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary which is almost unheard of today. I recently told a repairman that I had been married to my wife for 33 years, and he was shocked. He asked me, “To the same woman? How is that possible?” 

   Today, marriage with Millennials is down and cohabitation (increased 29% since 2007) is up. Today there are more unmarried couples shacking up than ever before. Single parenting is almost the norm. Blended families are more often than not a reality in many children’s experience. Brooks stated in his Atlantic article, “Children of single parent or unmarried cohabiting parents tend to have worse health outcomes, worse mental-health outcomes, less academic success, more behavioral problems, and higher truancy rates than do children living with their two married biological parents.”  “40% of children today are born to unmarried mothers.”  “One third of children are fatherless.”  Marriage is no longer valued, protected, or honored as it was 50 years ago. Even the traditional definition of marriage being between one man and one woman is past – the dad, mom, children family is almost extinct. Marriage is now seen as a later option of adulthood after a person has fulfilled other pursuits or life experiences.  According to the Pew Research Center, half of Americans 18 years or older were married in 2017, which is down 8% from 1990. Gender confusion is rampant where the modern dysfunctional family is now described as having two daddies, or two mommies. Homosexual or lesbian couples adopting children is now the new norm. Historic families are now in the minority with only 1/3 of children growing up in a traditional nuclear family. We are in a societal shift of the wholesale rejection of traditional marriage as an institution. The destructive effects are everywhere.

   Young married couples are choosing not to have children because of the painful memories they experienced in their childhood. Their desire is to focus more on developing their careers without kids. Many feminists, who made their careers their number one goal, are now in their late 50’s and wish they were able to be mothers with children, but it is too late. They are rich and successful, yet their career was not as fulfilling as they had hoped. Many couples are waiting to have children because they feel unable to financially provide for a family, or because they think their busy schedules won’t allow them to adequately care for a child. Couples are electing to have smaller families. The “one child and we’re done” syndrome is everywhere. The average American family has 1.5 kids. What happens to the .5 child?  We are barely keeping up with the death rate. With families who have an only child, their child misses the joys and interaction of having siblings and being part of a larger family experience.  In 2012, it is said that the average family had more pets than children.

   Parents today have fewer rights in their parenting role. The state usurps that role constantly, projecting itself as the savior and main guide to a child. The state’s agenda is to be the chief “educator” (or indoctrinator in whatever the state deems socially acceptable) of a child from early childhood (as young as three years old in daycare or state sponsored preschool) to age 21 (in the liberal university system). A former First Lady was known for pushing her views of state-sponsored parenting in her book It Takes A Village. Hillary Clinton believed that parents should not be permitted to teach or train their own children without being supervised by the government. Sadly, more parents are willing to abdicate their God-given parental role to someone else, rather than shoulder their responsibility. Parents are farming out their young children to someone else’s influence, just to be able to chase their fleeting dreams without distraction. Daycare facilities are rising up everywhere.

   We have a culture that has no problem killing children up to the day they are born (2019 New York State abortion law). Almost 62 million children have been aborted in the US since 1970. Yet, people are in an uproar over some fish not even native to California. They are demanding it be given ample river water to survive, as drinkable fresh water flows to the ocean affecting millions of people who desperately need water. This culture is more concerned about cruelty to animals (PETA) than cruelty to babies. Michael Fox, Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States said, “The life of an ant and the life of my child should be granted equal consideration” (Inhumane Society, Fox Publications). I wonder if Mr. Fox allows his household ants or cockroaches to roam free through his wife’s kitchen pantry?  I wonder if he supports abortion – the eradication (or extermination) of the unborn? This view is unconscionable.

   Both moms and dads are working long hours to pay for all the consumer goods they have acquired, and to pay off their voluminous debt load. Children often come home after school to an empty house. Everyone in the family is constantly busy. Similar to an airport, they touch down for refueling, and then they’re off again. Rarely do families sit down and eat a meal together. Most families have microwaved meals or fast food dinners, because no one has the time to cook a well-balanced meal. Instead, we have energy drinks which are supposed to supplement our bad eating habits. Because of the high price of homes, more are spending several hours commuting to work so they can afford cheaper housing in the suburbs. This means they are living farther away from other family, friends, and church relationships. Because the day is shorter with a long work week commuting, and parents are working more overtime to get a little extra cash to get ahead, most parents come home completely exhausted. This means they have less time interacting together as a family, and more time sitting in front of a screen vegging. Weekends are just another opportunity to be busy with sporting events or outings, without any real rest, or chance to contemplate why they continue their insane fast-paced lifestyle. We have no time for any depth, so life becomes very superficial.

   Everyone is constantly on their smart phone or glued to a computer screen. Instead of everyone watching one TV screen, everyone now has their own individual screen and preferences. The smart phone phenomenon has changed us. It has been said the average time a father has in any real conversation with his kids is about 15 minutes a day. Some say kids have as low as 3 minutes of meaningful time with dad. Because of the amount of possessions most families acquire, they need a bigger house (or storage units) to store their stuff. Kids have more expensive toys to keep them occupied than ever before, but their attention span is growing shorter and shorter, and they are still not content with what they have. Because most parents can’t afford a large backyard, the kids have little room to run and play, and if they do go out in the backyard, it if full of weeds because who has the money or time to fix it up?  Those active little boys need their medication so they will be quiet, sit still, and stop running around the house because we surely don’t want them to bother anyone. Radical feminism desires to replace men completely and do away with the burden of children. One lesbian told me she would rather have a dog than a child because her pet was more fun and didn’t bother her. I asked her who was going to take care of her when she was old if she had no children?  She smiled and kept working.

   We have a broken educational system where children are not motivated to learn and could care less about their uncertain future. Public education today is more discipline than education. Most teachers feel most of their time spent in the classroom is just trying to keep order. Kids know more about superheroes than they do about US history. They know more about using their smartphone and iPad, than how to work hard and pass chemistry. Many of our high school grads can barely read, write, and think critically, let alone try to spell. The college campuses are seedbeds of liberalism, secular humanism, moral relativism, and communistic thinking, which steal away the minds of our youth and implant ideas of discontentment, rebellion to authority, governmental entitlement, and racial rage. Kids in the public system can receive condoms and visit an abortion clinic without parental knowledge or permission, but they can’t be given even an aspirin by the school nurse. Teenagers know more about navigating the web, than being able to do laundry or cook a meal. They know a lot about sex, but very little about virginity, purity, self-control, or faithfulness in marriage, and what it means to be a real man or woman. This present youth culture is more disrespectful and rebellious toward authority and social rules than any other time in American history. Most youth have no work ethic and cannot even keep a part-time job. But they seem to think the government is going to pay their parent’s mortgage, give them free college tuition, pay off their student debt, and give them free phones – because they are entitled to it right?

   Parents are spending millions on sedatives and alcohol to cope with the daily routine and pressures of life, but then they wonder what happened to their kids when their children follow their example and get smashed at a party or wreck the car because of buzzed driving. What moms and dads excuse in “moderation,” the children usually take to excess. “Medical marijuana” is seen as a legal “safe” alternative to tobacco, but the medical community is adamant that it is destructive. Drug and alcohol abuse are at an all-time high among young people. Vaping is just filling our kids heads with toxic smoke instead of wisdom – and they better get the right mix or it could kill them.

   Children are being exposed to technology younger than any other time, where they freely surf the web, immerse themselves in social media, game away good hours of a day, or binging all night on YouTube videos. Everyone, young and old, have a smart phone. Children as young as third grade are being exposed in school to sex “education” and discussing their possible sexual orientation. They are being told they have a gender choice when it comes to which bathroom or locker room to use, or what sport they can play. We have a real crisis and game changer in women’s sports today now that transgender men are allowed to participate as women. Gender is now said to be based on one’s momentary feelings, not in reality what they actually were biologically born with – yet their DNA never lies, and no matter what surgical procedure a person goes through, it can’t change that fact. Our boys are encouraged through fashion and peer pressure to dress and act like girls, and our girls are pressured to dress and act like boys, and we don’t even know which is which (gender neutral clothing), or what they ought to be (bisexual, asexual, or pansexual). Our culture has lost rational sanity.

   We are all connected, yet so disconnected, easily distracted, fragmented in our thinking, lonely, and depressed. We text rather than talk, digitally dump on YouTube and social media about meaningless activity before we actually converse with real people. We look down rather than look up. Kids as young as 10 years old are being exposed to porn. Porn is the number one vice of most teenage boys. Girls are also viewing porn today at an alarming rate. Most young men think that being good at computer gaming is a great character trait and admirable by young women – which it is not. The smart phone has changed us forever to prefer a screen and retreat into a private virtual world, rather than talk face to face. We have become passive observers - anonymous spectators. This digital vampire is sucking our life and time out of us. We are obsessed. It is the first thing we grab in the morning habitually, and the last thing that puts us to bed. Because of the smartphone, we have no solitude.  It  is where we find our identity. 36% of Americans admit to being online constantly. We check our phone every 4.3 minutes. (Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. 2017)

   Consumer debt has overwhelmed the average American family. Very few people actually own anything. Everything is borrowed – cars, houses, RV’s, furniture, big toys. Debt ends up siphoning funds away from important family projects, or helping the kids get through college, or being able to help young adults start their new married life. Many retirees are still paying off their mortgage. With most parents financially strapped, they are limited in what they can do with or for their children. Many seem to value their stuff more than gaining financial freedom. The average amount of consumer debt per US household is $5,700. 41.2 % of all households carry credit card debt. “The borrower has become the lender’s slave,” (Proverbs 22:7, 27). 

   In a culture of moral relativism and social engineering, everyone has an opinion about everything, but no one seems to know anything for sure. When it comes to parenting advice, there are so many voices presenting so many different ideas, usually authoritatively, by those whose own families are in a shambles. Chants of self-worth and behavioral modification are vogue, but there are no real solutions given to change the sinful heart of a child. We are told that children are basically good, even when they continue to do bad things. We are told that spanking is abusive and detrimental to a child’s self-esteem, but no one can seem to get little Jimmy to stop screaming and throwing food in the restaurant. If it takes a village to raise a child, do you honestly want others to raise your kids?  Is it really this bad?  Yes. The modern family in America is in real trouble.

   To top it all off, the church in America has become more secularized and similar to the depraved culture around us. “Christian” families are not in much better shape than their non-Christian neighbors. The children that are produced by either are very similar in their children’s interests, entertain-ment, pursuits, attitudes, actions, or verbiage. It is a sad reality in some “Christian” homes that the children are given over to pornography, promiscuous sexual relationships, sensuality and immodest fashion, drug and alcohol abuse, educational apathy, foul language, verbal disrespect, and a complete disinterest in spiritual things. Being a youth pastor for over 30 years has caused me to realize that many of my students, even those from so-called “Christian” homes who looked religious and compliant, were actually not truly saved, and it was visibly evident at home. How they lived Sunday at church and how they lived the rest of the week was drastically different. We need to wake up and admit “the years the locust has eaten” away at our homes and bring our lives in line with God’s Word.

   Church attendance has become optional with so much happening on weekends. Commitment levels are at an all-time low in members who should be available to serve in ministry. As a pastor, it is difficult to get someone to commit to teach a children’s Sunday School class more than once a month. Most churches are all fluff with little substance. The band’s smoke & light show draws crowds – but not the preaching of God’s Word. Many students graduating from a high school youth group never return to church again once they are in college. At one time, the Bible was central to everything we did as a family, but now, we have lots of Bibles, but we are biblically illiterate and the obvious results are profound. Rather than bring our Bible to church, we bring our smart phone, which we can use to read our online Bible, but sometimes we end up conveniently checking other things during the service, which ends up being a major distraction. We can’t pass on to our kids spiritually what we personally don’t know or value. What we are passing on by bad example is contradictory to many things that Scripture clearly teaches.

   The Bible is clear that as we approach the last days, our culture, and specifically our families, will be in disarray. I believe in a linear trajectory of history. Things will continue to get worse before they get better when Christ returns to set up His literal Kingdom on this earth. 2 Timothy 3:1-9 states, “In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving (without natural family affection), irreconcilable (unwillingness to forgive), malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness (false religion) although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these . . . always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth . . . men . . . who oppose the truth, men of depraved mind . . . but they will not make further progress, for their folly will be obvious to all.” Romans 1:21, 22, 24-26, 28-32 states, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . . For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions . . . And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

   As you read these biblical signposts, it sounds like the evening news!  Yes, evil has continued throughout history, but it seems like what is happening now, especially in the family, is much more global, intense, reprobate, and shamelessly decadent. What is missing is a stable family gospel influence on our culture. These present characteristics and lifestyles are directly affecting our marriages, and specifically our children. Unless we rescue our children, through the gospel, from the onslaught of this world’s depravity, by strengthening our marriages, taking charge of our families, and specifically taking our parental role seriously, we will be swept downstream with the coming destruction of this fallen sinful culture. The time is urgent. Psalms 11:3 states, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  Answer: build a lasting generational legacy through the lives of our children by the true knowledge of and faith in God and His Word, and by the grace of God found only in Christ Jesus alone. Our only hope as Christian parents to survive this is to passionately raise up this next generation with a love for God and His Word, which clearly addresses all aspects of life - including marriage, family, and parenting. What we desperately need is a return, as Christian parents, to the biblical principles of parenting and family. The Gospel will change the hearts of our children, but we need consistent gospel-centered parenting. Simple obedience will bring great blessing.

   Moses called the families of Israel at the end of Deuteronomy to a similar challenge. He said, “If you diligently obey the LORD your God being careful to do all His commands . . . all these blessings will come upon you if you obey the LORD your God . . . the LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways . . . But . . . if you do not obey the LORD your God . . . curses will come upon you and overtake you . . . because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments…” (Deut. 28:1, 2, 9, 15, 45). He said, “It is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach . . . the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deut. 30:11, 14). Moses challenged them by saying, “I have set before you, life and prosperity, death and adversity . . . so choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants . . . by loving the LORD . . . obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life” (Deut. 30:15, 19, 20).

   Second Corinthians 5:17 states, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” – with a pattern of life completely different from this sinful world. Second Corinthians 6:17 quotes an Old Testament passage saying, “Come out from among them and be separate.” Colossians 2:8 warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”  Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  I am afraid that unless we get back to the basics of what a biblical Christian family should be, and we realize that only the gospel can change the heart of our kids, thereby changing their behavior, we will continue to be swept out to sea with the secular tide and completely lose our voice in this world.

   Whether or not the traditional American family is ever recoverable, is in God’s hands, and if it will survive, it can only happen through the power of the gospel. It appears to be irrecoverable, similar to our national debt, which cannot be fixed by our governmental leaders who have no real desire or ability to fix it. I believe that we are on the verge of the Rapture when God snatches out His church (2 Thess. 2:6, 7), just before things on this earth go berserk. I believe this present culture is heading off the cliff, but that doesn’t mean we, as Christian families, have to follow. It may mean we have to take drastic measures during these drastic times. We must redeem the time and take God’s Word seriously so we can see our family become light in a dark world, and give us a platform to speak into people’s lives with the power of the gospel. Jesus is coming back soon, but until the Lord calls us home, we must biblically love our wives, shepherd and manage our children well, and make Christianity attractive to others by what people see lived out in us (Phil. 1:27).  Our family must genuinely live out our relationship with Jesus Christ, especially in our homes. John MacArthur in his book Successful Christian Parenting states, “only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation.”  The Christian biblical family is not without hope, if Christ is alive and well in our family (Col. 1:27).

Dale Payne

Click here to see a comparison between the family a hundred years ago and what it is today.



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