Without the Family, There Is No Freedom

According to a 2006 study released by the Barna Institute, 86% of Americans are “concerned about the moral condition of the country”—and they should be. The family—the bedrock of our society and our freedoms—is in a heap of trouble.

Consider the statistics: Approximately 50% of all marriages—even among professed evangelical Christians—end in divorce. That’s according to the National Marriage Project, a research organization at Rutgers University. And for the first time in American history, as the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported, married couples make up less than 50% of American households.

Nearly 40% of all U.S. children are born out of wedlock. According to a recent government report, the number of unmarried-couple households with children has risen to more than 1.7 million—up from under 200,000 in 1970. The ramifications are alarming. For example, children living with a single mother are six times more likely to live in poverty than are children whose parents are married. The same study found that children in stepfamilies and single-parent families are almost three times more likely to drop out of school than children in intact families. Living in a single-parent home also causes a disconnect among children between family and marriage.

Finally, 43% of all U.S. women will have at least one abortion before their 45th birthday. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the most common surgical procedure in the United States is not by-pass surgery or even cosmetic surgery—it is abortion. Indeed, in 2002, approximately 1.29 million women in the U.S. had an abortion, and 49% of all unintended pregnancies today result in abortion.

These statistics tell some painful truths about America at the dawn of the new millennium. First, they show that our priorities have clearly shifted. Despite the billions we spend on childcare, toys, clothes, private lessons, etc., a concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives.

Second, they suggest (as many have been saying for years now) that major religious institutions have virtually little to no moral impact on American society—apart from politics, that is. The Christian church is a prime example. Having become intensely political, Christian leaders today work feverishly to enact such anti-gay measures as same-sex marriage amendments while doing little to shore up the traditional family.

Third, the data supports the premise that the decline in the family leads to a decline in our democracy. Indeed, the family is where children should learn self-government, basic moral values and the beliefs that determine the future of democratic institutions. Thus, it stands to reason that without stable families, we can have no hope of producing self-reliant, responsible citizens.

Fourth, the increasing loss of the family structure leads to destabilization in society of “mediating structures”—neighborhoods, families, churches, schools and voluntary associations. When they function as they should, mediating structures limit the growth of the government. But when these structures break down, society—that is, people—look to mega-structures, such as the state, as a source of values. In America, the state-financed public schools and day care centers have increasingly assumed the role of providing “values” for children. As history teaches, the authoritarian state gladly and aggressively assumes this role and becomes a substitute family.

Finally, traditional marriage plays a critical role in the structure of free societies by interposing a significant legal entity between the individual and the state. None other than D. H. Lawrence once recognized: “The marriage bond is the fundamental connecting link in Christian society. Break it, and you will have to go back to the overwhelming dominance of the State, which existed before the Christian era. The Roman State was all-powerful, the Roman father represented the State, the Roman family was the father’s estate, held more or less in fee for the State itself. Now the question is, do we want to go back, or forward, to any of these forms of State control?”

Lawrence continued:

It is marriage, perhaps, which has given man the best of his freedom, given him his little kingdom of his own within the big kingdom of the State, given him his foothold of independence on which to stand and resist an unjust State. Man and wife, a king and queen with one or two subjects, and a few square yards of territory of their own: this, really, is marriage. It is a true freedom because it is a true fulfillment, for man, woman, and children.

There can be no easy fix for these problems. Certainly, there are no legislative or governmental solutions. Morality and the decline of the family have become convenient platforms for those on both sides of the political aisle. Having reduced the very real problems plaguing America’s families to soundbites bandied about in the quest for political dominance, today’s politicians are the last people to look to for a solution.

The solution, if there is one, is to be found where the problems start: with each man, woman and child taking responsibility for keeping their family together. So for a moment, let’s forget about politics. Forget about the debates over who gets to marry whom. Instead, let’s look around at what’s left of our neighborhoods, what’s left of our communities and what’s left of our families and put our kids first.

Because the bottom line is this: without the family, there can be no true freedom.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at Information about the Institute is available at

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