To be clear, all of America is in trouble. According to the Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection, only 46 percent of U.S. citizens fifteen to seventeen year-olds are in intact families (raised by their always-married parents) while 54 percent are in broken or reconstituted families. The majority of youth is lost in a labyrinth of love, ambivalence, and sex because neither the culture nor their parents shepherd them through their sexual awakening to sexual maturity.
The seeds of this sexual maturity are sown in early childhood, when a child’s married parents model faithful love of each other, guide him or her through modesty to a criteria of selecting a spouse and courting the right young man or woman, eventually leading to marriage and a family of their own. Without this guidance—without married parents who have modeled a healthy, monogamous relationship since the child’s birth—children generally get lost in pre-marital sex, leading to multiple sexual partners before marriage, in turn leading most into cohabitation and later divorce or permanent single parenthood. The culture has lost its sense of sexual morality.
Most U.S. children today do not have this guidance. In 2012, 63 percent of two-year-olds had married parents; by age five 57 percent had married parents; by age eleven, 51 percent. By the time these children reached age 17, when they are on the cusp of adulthood, with their family formation finished, only 44 percent are in intact always-married families. This marriage crisis is inexorably weakening the nation.
Fortunately, most people do want marriage for themselves and for society; unfortunately, most have severed the connection between premarital chastity and later marriage stability, not knowing that the more sexual partners before marriage the greater the likelihood of divorce. Ninety-five percent of those whose only sexual partner ever is their spouse are still in their first marriage after five years. This figure drops to 62 percent for women who had one sexual partner other than their husband (before they married), and drops down further to 50 percent for those who had two such sexual partners before marrying their husband.
Therefore, if the nation wants stable marriage, we first must reinvest in shepherding youth to be chaste. This has become more and more difficult for parents as the sexual principles of radical feminism and sexual autonomy pervades our courts, schools, colleges and media, and sadly, even to some extent in our churches.
Although all of America is in crisis, the black family disproportionately bears the brunt of the suffering. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s predictions in his 1965 report have come true, likely worse than even he feared. So long as black marriages continue to crumble, cycles of poverty and disadvantage will repeat themselves and become endemic. According to MARRI’s 2015 Index, the fraction of black fifteen to seventeen year olds in intact families dropped from 38 percent in 1950 to only 17 percent in 2012. In our nation’s capital the statistics are even more bleak, only 9 percent are in an intact family at age 17.
According to the “State of the Black Family Report,” 50 percent of black children living in always single parent families are in poverty, while 37 percent of single-parent black teenagers give birth out-of-wedlock. Among always-single black adults, 61 percent of black women and 51 percent of black men receive TANF or welfare. Not only does the absence of marriage drive black youth disproportionately to poverty, but it also generates myriad forms of social dysfunction such as crime and unwillingness of fathers to take responsibility for their children. Nowhere is this more visible than in poor, young black men. Many of the gains of the civil rights triumphs of the last five decades have been washed away for them because they have been denied an even more fundamental human right: their right to the marriage of their father and mother.
But there may be hope – if the black church is up to the challenge of its Christianity. African-Americans are the most church-affiliated, most church-attending and most daily-praying of all Americans, yet somehow the foundational precepts of Christ on matters sexual have disappeared from the conversation and in many of the pulpits, precepts such as sexual purity, marital fidelity and indissolubility. If the black church does not take up the challenge of restoring marriage in the black community no one will, and most definitely not the U.S. government. But if it does, it will teach not only its own flock but the whole of the U.S. how to rebuild the family by rebuilding marriage. The black church could show how a new America can blossom.
Dr. Pat Fagan is Director and Senior Fellow of Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI).
Bishop E. W. Jackson is President of S.T.A.N.D. and Senior Fellow of Church Ministries at Family Research Council.