Recently the US Census Bureau reported that for the first time in history, traditional marriage has ceased to be the preferred living arrangement for a majority of US households.
According to the report entitled, American Community Survey conducted in 2005 and released in August of this year, of the 111 million US households, 50.2 percent are single-parent and/or unmarried while 49.8 percent remain "traditional" households comprised of married couples.
Of those non-traditional households, 9 percent are headed by single fathers, 25 percent by single mothers, and 66 percent are unmarried cohabitating couples representing one-third of all US households. The eclipse of the traditional family has been due largely to the dramatic increase in cohabitation. In 2001, only 8.2 percent of all American couples were cohabiting. This represents a 402 percent increase in cohabitating couples in just four years!
Douglas Besharov, a sociologist with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said "it is difficult for the traditional family to emerge unscathed after three and a half decades of divorce rates reaching 50 percent and five decades of out-of-wedlock births." Besharov's observation confirms the necessity of a socially reinforced commitment to the traditional institution of marriage. Where society modifies its perception of marriage to anything less than the only acceptable relationship for sex and the ideal context for child-rearing; the social commitment to marriage as an esteemed institution falters. The social acceptance of divorce, cohabitation, sexual promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births both contribute to this shift in perception and accelerate the demise of the marital institution itself producing a whole host of societal degradations.
The common perception among many people today is that living together before marriage serves as sort of a "training ground" for future marriage. They believe that by living together they will be better prepared to marry and stay married. However, the evidence indicates quite the reverse. In fact, a strong argument can be made that cohabitation prior to marriage actually reduces your chances for successful marriage. According to studies conducted in Canada, Sweden and the United States, couples that cohabitate prior to marriage have substantially higher divorce rates. The recorded differences range from 50 to 100 percent higher! (Axinn and Thorton, Demography 29)
Furthermore, cohabitations themselves are not as stable as marriages -- and this is true in all western societies. Cohabitations tend to dissolve more rapidly than marriages. The fact is more than 50% of all these unions end in dissolution within five years (Milan, 2000).
If this becomes the normative arrangement for the American family then as indicated earlier the traditional family will experience even further decline and more children will be born out-of-wedlock into significantly less stable family structures. This family instability contributes to increased crime, poverty, school drop out rates, drug and alcohol abuse, government dependence and the likelihood of repeating these same social patterns in the subsequent generation. In all, this family instability and conscious redefinition of the traditional family erodes the essential foundations of society.
In commenting on the recent change in the American family structure Douglas Besharov again said "the only question is whether it is catastrophic or just evolutionary." History has already and conclusively answered this question; it will be catastrophic!
As I have pointed out in previous writings, J.D. Unwin, the noted British anthropologist of Oxford and Cambridge universities, released his comprehensive study: Sex and Culture in 1934, which proved irrefutably that a strong sexual ethic which restrained sex to the exclusive relationship of legal marriage was directly related to the health and prosperity of a given civilization.
Unwin demonstrated conclusively that no civilized society can maintain its productive status and social order once it accepts the extension of sexual opportunities beyond the bounds of marriage for a period of no more than three generations. There is not one single example in all of human history where this social fact was NOT observed. In every such instance, those societies all suffered their demise.
American society stands at a critical crossroads. We will either continue down the path of sexual anarchy, redefining marriage and the natural family to accommodate our selfish sexual desires and in so doing destroy our civilization or we will return to a true understanding of human sexuality, marriage and parenting as revealed in Scripture and confirmed in nature.
This is an area where the Church needs to assert itself in culture by "taking every thought captive, making it obedient to Christ" because the prevailing "thoughts" about sexual ethics and the family are reeking havoc individually, socially and spiritually.
The family is one of only three earthly institutions created by God for the organization of human activity: the Church, the state, and the family. Therefore it is imperative that the Church both live out and defend this vital institution, an institution central to social order and the transmission of values, including the Gospel, from one generation to the next.
For a more thorough apologetic on this subject I would encourage you to read my booklet, Why is Marriage Important? - The reasonable defense of marriage. You can view the complete text online Here. This 16-page booklet discusses the true meaning of marriage as the cornerstone of moral and social order. In it, I offer a thoughtful rationale for debating same-sex marriage and defending traditional marriage.
You can also order Marriage booklets for yourself or in discounted quantitites for your church or group by calling 513-521-6227.
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.