State of the American Family

great stuff from Walter Russell Mead:

[ ]  In the old days, for example, before contraception, every act of intercourse outside marriage carried a substantial possibility of ending in pregnancy.  For women, the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock were life shattering: disgrace, the loss of any hope of a good marriage, economic and social marginalization.  It was very foolish and wicked for young girls to place themselves and their families at risk of all this for a moments’ pleasure; it was much worse for young men to attempt to persuade and cajole girls they did not plan to marry into sex.

[ ]  If we add to that the devastating consequences of sexually transmitted diseases in the era before antibiotics made them treatable, premarital sex becomes an even more dubious phenomenon.

[ ]  These days, the negative consequences of premarital sex, though real and not to be lightly passed over, are much less dramatic.  Some young people may lose their ability to form deep relationships, young women in particular often come to regret the emotional consequences of too many involvements too soon, and the dangers of unexpected pregnancy and its consequences remain, but on the whole young people having sex these days do less immediate damage to each other and to their families and communities than might have once been the case.

[ ]  The biological urges driving young people in particular but people in general toward extracurricular sexual activity are so strong that any relaxation of the moral and social barriers against such activity will have a predictable result.  In our society, with marriage delayed, sexuality pervasive in our culture, the economic and social penalties for premarital sex drastically reduced, parents less concerned, and colleges no longer acting to keep the sexes apart, nature is taking its course.

[ ]  The defense of the family is one of the most important priorities before American society today, but most of the would-be defenders approach the issue superficially.  The most dangerous attack on the family has nothing to do with extramarital sex.

[ ]  125 years ago when most Americans still lived and worked on farms, the family was a unit of production.  Parents were partners in the fullest sense of the word: they worked together to put food on the table as well as to raise the kids.  Kids helped out around the farm with chores and as they grew up took on more and more responsibilities in the family business until the time came for them to launch a new partnership on their own.

Today’s American family is quite different.  Mom and Dad usually work in different jobs far from homes; they get in their cars and drive off.  Home is a place where people spend money and enjoy leisure time; the family bonds around the TV rather than in the corn field.  Both parents have work friends who their spouses know only slightly if at all; they outsource much of the work of raising and teaching their kids to schools.

The bonds between the members of these units tend to be weaker than the bonds on the farm where the parents and children worked together as a team to keep each other clothed and fed.  If we are serious about strengthening the America family, and I think we should be, we will have to think much more deeply about how our society works.

Defending the American family and laying the foundation for strong homes in the 21st century is a much bigger project than worrying about extramarital sex or, for that matter, gay marriage.  Evangelicals and other Christians who want to play a role in the revitalization and protection of the family need to get away from a “moral panic” agenda and begin to analyze the ways our current social and economic order weakens and impoverishes family life.  Then comes the hard work of figuring out how to fix what has gone wrong.  There is a lot of work to be done.  


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