The popular ABC sitcom “Modern Family” recently received several expected Emmy Awards for being the best television show in the business. There is a chicken-and-egg debate about shows like this one. Do they represent culture or do they create culture? Surely it is some of both but I believe it is more the former than the latter.
This popular prime-time show features three decidedly non-traditional families living in a way that anyone from a few decades ago could not remotely recognize as an American family. But if this show represents changes in our society what exactly are those changes?
Consider some facts.
1. 50% of marriages in the United States are still estimated to end in divorce. Yet the divorce rate is slightly down. The reason is that the marriage rate has dropped almost twice as quickly in recent years.
2. A 2005 Rutgers University study found that 8% of coupled households consist of unmarried heterosexual partners.
3. The same Rutgers study found that only 63% of children in the U.S. grow up with both biological parents.
There can be no mistake about the further erosion of our understanding of family when besides redefining marriage as something other than a lifelong commitment we have radically uncoupled the bearing and educating of children from marriage as well.
Many of my Catholic friends believe that the beginning of this slide was artificial contraception. To some extent I agree. (Study the debates about contraception with an open mind and you will see why I say this without fear of contradiction!). Though I do not hold a Catholic view on this question I respect their view for the reasons generally given. Let me explain.
Some gay activists have argued that artificial contraception has rendered so many heterosexual couples sterile as to entirely remove the idea of procreation from the basis of what constitutes a marriage. And now with the rise of in vitro fertilization we have further undermined the relationship of marriage to procreation. Again, popular culture reflects this in the rash of recent movies on forms of procreation that have nothing at all to do with marriage.
Battling same-sex initiatives will almost surely be ineffective so long as we do not understand marriage biblically. Christians and churches need to rediscover the challenge and glory of self-sacrifice, life-long love as the basis for a covenant between a man and a woman in holy marriage. And this relationship is fundamental to raising healthy, well-balanced and spiritually sensitive children.
The strongest (true) defense of marriage is not found in the politicization of the homosexual debate or in passing laws to defend marriage. Clearly the answer is to build strong, healthy and biblically defined marriages. Let the church major on what it can and should do and let the state sort out the parameters of what it will do. Honestly, we have little choice the longer we remain on this cultural road to nowhere. We are going to have to learn how to live in Babylon whether we like it or not.