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The hidden social justice issue

The decline of marriage has led to enormous misery, especially for the poor

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The hidden social justice issue
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Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine you are a young Christian burdened by the state of the world. You want to make a difference.

Let’s get more specific.

You see documented in headline after headline, rising crime, addiction, and deaths of despair. You believe God has called you to be a small part of what He wants to do to redeem the communities most left behind.

What issue would you make your priority in this desire to engage in genuine social justice? One scholar suggests an issue that would probably not be the first, for you, to come to mind: marriage.

Brad Wilcox is a professor of sociology and director of The National Marriage Project at The University of Virginia and a fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. For the last decade and a half, Brad has been studying marriage and family in America and he’s come to one conclusion:

So many of the biggest problems across America are rooted in the collapse of marriage and family life in all too many communities and homes across the country. For all of the outcomes—from our nation’s growing happiness divide to surging deaths of despair to the stagnant state of the American Dream—questions of marriage and family are often better predictors of outcomes for people than the topics that currently dominate our public conversation—like race, education, and government spending.

In a new book, Get Married, and in countless op-eds, white papers, and columns, Wilcox makes the case that traditional marriage and family are the lynchpin to a flourishing life, economically, socially, and spiritually. Consider one stunning fact: “The best community predictor of poor children remaining stuck in poverty as adults was the share of kids in their communities living in a single-parent family. Not income inequality. Not race. Not school quality.”

Wilcox’s work reveals both a challenge and an opportunity for the Church. The challenge is the staggering decline in marriage in America, but the opportunity is for God’s people to lean into what we already know and believe: the Biblical vision for marriage and family is not only right, it is good for our neighbors. There is a tendency, in an age when the Christian sexual ethic is constantly challenged by every major cultural institution, to react with a defensive crouch. We might affirm what Scripture says, but we are often hesitant to talk about it very much. But what if our ethic is itself an apologetic, a respite for a weary world, a recipe for genuine justice in our most impoverished communities?

In our communities, there are shattered families, trapped in despair, lied to by cultural institutions that have made false promises about a sexual revolution that only leads to despair.

Local churches are uniquely situated to help alleviate this crisis. In our communities, there are shattered families, trapped in despair, lied to by cultural institutions that have made false promises about a sexual revolution that only leads to despair, especially among the bottom rungs of society with the least resources and social capital. Churches are the kinds of communities where the broken can find a new family. Imagine if our churches saw marriage as both something to be strengthened within their congregations and a social justice issue to bring to the neighborhood with marriage retreats, counseling, and other innovative approaches.

Ironically, this is coming at a time when many commentators and influencers are urging pastors and church leaders to talk less about marriage, if only to avoid offending those called to singleness or with the tiresome harangues about a so-called “idolatry of the family.” But how can we withhold the beautiful truth about the one factor that has a chance of helping lift communities out of despair? In standing against the sexual anarchy of our age, we are not only resisting wickedness, but we are also offering the world a better way.

Scripture tells us that marriage is a creational good, embedded in God’s world as a mystery that points to the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:32). Our gospel witness can help those who seek see that in the longing they have for the goods of stable family life is a longing for the love of their Heavenly Father and the love of their new family in the Body of Christ.

And it is a healthy Christian community that can buoy families through difficult times. Christian families aren’t immune to despair or divorce, but studies show that faithful church attendance significantly reduces the incidence of family breakup.

All of this means that in an age of despair, churches that take the call of justice seriously will take marriage seriously and not be afraid to champion what God declares to be good.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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