Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Marriage Logic Out of Focus


We shouldn't underestimate its value in establishing and sustaining legitimacy.

Granted, in the realm of faith and church, not everything can be based on logic, since "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal sin and our need of a Savior, not a mathematical algorithm or flowchart.

So to a certain extent, some arguments of faith won't have the same type of logic as 2+2=4.

But the logic factor still plays a part in how we share our faith, doesn't it?  That's one reason why I oppose the Personhood movement, because I don't think it's smart to slap a one-sentence pro-life bill together and expect our legal system to just fall lock-step in behind it to protect the unborn.

Marital Status Wars

I also had to shake my head at Jim Daly's blog post published on Crosswalk.com recently, where he asks, "Are Married Men Better Workers than Single Ones?"

Daly is the successor to James Dobson at the helm of Focus on the Family (FOTF), and although a lot of their material is Biblically sound, sometimes their attempts at contextualizing the Gospel for our North American culture tend to read like The White Person's Guide to Upper Middle Class Protestantism.

In other words, it sometimes seems as though FOTF has become such an influential organization, it tends to feed on its own importance.  Although they have good intentions, they can appear to assume too much, and don't work as hard as they could at determining real correlations between social dynamics, sin patterns, and what should be our Christian worldview.

Case in point is Daly's eagerness at proving that men with a wife and kids are better workers than unmarried men (without kids, presumably).  And he tells us that a sociologist friend of his, Dr. Brad Wilcox, has the numbers to back it up.

Now, with a sociology degree myself, I'm not going to accuse a fellow social scientist of being in error - let alone a sociologist who's also a believer! We're a rare breed, indeed, even if I am more social than scientist.

But let's look at a couple of Wilcox's theories anyway:

• "On average, men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers."

• "Key sectors of the modern economy - from household products to insurance to groceries - are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children."

All in a Day's Work

Actually, at first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to dispute. If you think about it, men going home every night to a hungry wife and kids have a different incentive than single guys to work "harder" and make sure they are providing shelter, food, and clothing for their loved ones.

If by working "smarter," Wilcox presumes that married men take less risks with their employment status since they've got a family to support, then he's probably right there, too. I've been told by my employers that generally speaking, if I were to marry and have kids, I could ask for a pay raise and likely get it, since I'd finally have a reason to justify a higher salary.

And you can't get much more logical here than Daly's observation that the more kids people have, the more consumer goods they purchase. In terms of stimulating the economy, getting married - ka-ching! - and having kids - ka-ching, ka-ching! - are two easy ways to do it.

Behind the Numbers

However, with all due respect, the critical flaw in Daly's article involves the conclusions he tries to reach with these otherwise unimpressive statistics.

Guys who are just starting out in the job market tend to be single because - surprise! - they've just graduated from high school or college, and simply aren't married yet. Which means their buying power is smaller than a guy who's been married for thirty years and has been climbing the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, Daly tucks in what he thinks is a disclaimer about men who haven't yet found their spouse.  But is marriage the urge it used to be? Aren't more and more young adults deferring marriage and kids so they can get some sort of career track going?

Then there's the whole married thing itself.  "Married" men doesn't indicate how many times they've been married, does it?  Serial marriage can also increase the number of kids, which helps support Wilcox's Point #2, but it doesn't exactly speak to the morality of such trends.  In addition, "married" doesn't indicate their sexual orientation.

Which may partly be where Daly intended to go with this article.  Might he be trying to point out how heterosexual married men benefit society more than gay married men?  Which, actually, I believe to be true

Unfortunately, however, Daly's stats don't prove this.

To be frank, the gay married couples I know are more committed to each other than some heterosexual couples I know.  The evangelical church's opposition to gay marriage won't be won by the claim that gays don't love each other as much as straight people love each other.  And although I would agree with Daly's assertion that gay parenting does more harm than good, that's when compared to heterosexual parenting.  I have a hard time believing that kids being bounced around in foster care and state care are better off than if a gay couple wanted to provide a safer, more stable environment for them.

Unresolved Conclusion

Daly attempts to conclude his musings with this exhortation:

"If healthy marriages lead to strong economies, wouldn't even the most hardcore secular economist agree that it makes good sense to redouble our efforts as a nation to encourage and strengthen the multi-millennial institution of matrimony?"

But do healthy marriages necessarily lead to strong economies?  Look at tribal cultures in primitive parts of our globe, where family structures far stronger than even what we see in many North American evangelical families have failed to generate the economic might of which we can boast.

Plus, money isn't a terribly Biblical motivation.  People who follow God's plan for sex and families will be blessed, but that isn't necessarily a financial blessing, is it?  Look at Germany, which officially recognizes same-sex civil unions for financial and adoption purposes, and has one of the strongest economies in the world.

For Daly to preach to America's economists on the benefits of economic abundance stemming from healthy traditional families, he's first going to have to preach to the choir - literally, if he can find enough churches that still have them - about how the divorce rate in America's evangelical church mirrors that of the unchurched culture.  Besides, the reason our holy God forbids homosexual marriage has more to do with Christ's deity than financial pragmatism.

Our Battle Isn't Against Flesh and Blood, or Unmarried Folk

Meanwhile, a lot of the FOTF faithful will still find what he says to be reassuring and affirmative.  Not especially bad things, but in terms of portraying a logical argument of why evangelicals support heterosexual marriage to an increasingly cynical culture, probably not entirely helpful.
What also isn't helpful is the need Daly seems to have for drawing a superiority play between men who are married, and men who aren't.  Sure, he tries to qualify his topic by saying he had no "intent to hurt those who wish to be married but are not," but even in that statement, he assumes that everybody wants to be married. Which, while being true for most men, isn't true of all.  And even if it was, why rub our noses in the notion that married men are better for America's economy?

Deep down, is Daly revealing a hidden animosity towards single guys?  He wouldn't be the first believer to have one.  Is the Apostle Paul right about everything else except the ministry benefits of not being burdened with a spouse?

By not incorporating good logic in his assertions, might Daly be risking offending people who are on his side, and losing even more credibility with his opponents in our unchurched culture?

He doesn't have to win me over with the argument that marriage benefits society.  Even secularists know that.  But the corollary, that singlehood is detrimental to society, isn't exactly Biblical.

Are married men better workers than single ones?

Ask wives whose husbands are married... to their jobs.

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