This home is ideal: father and mother faithfully together after twenty years of marriage; white frame house in upstate New York; children making good grades in the local school; warm fellowship at a sound evangelical church. And then Anne, the eighteen-year-old, who has just graduated from high school, announces that she is pregnant. Whatever is to be done? This is chaos. It doesn’t happen in families like ours. It can’t happen to us. I mean, we’re Christians. How shall we hold our heads up? How shall we respond? Shall we be furious? Grief-stricken? Mortified? Shall we hide her? Should we move?

This home, on the other hand, is not ideal: there has never been a father about—only a succession of men; roaches scuttle among the drainpipes under the sink in one corner of the fourth-floor walk-up in Manhattan; the children are pushed from one grade to the next in the local school without ever learning to read; church is a word that doesn’t mean much of anything. When Lucille finds that she is pregnant, it isn’t even worth an announcement; one more baby in the house is nothing new, and half the girls she knows get pregnant by the time they are eighteen.

Two situations, very similar, very different. In both of them, some pressing questions are raised. The questions appear on at least three levels: the practical (where shall the girl go to have her baby? how will it be financed? what ought to be done with the baby?); the psychological (who will be a friend and confidante to the expectant mother? who will advise her? who will listen to her side of things—her feelings and hopes and fears?); and the moral (what about all this business of random sexuality? what about pre-marital sex? is there a question of good and evil involved here?). What sort of answers would Christians give to these questions?

This is an era when it is popular to say that there are no “easy answers.” That can mean two things: either that the answer is clear enough but very difficult to attain, or that we don’t know what the answer is to begin with. It is common enough to hear the Church protesting that it is not offering easy answers to the world; the vehemence of the protest arises partly, it would seem, from a certain embarrassment over having gotten ourselves a bad reputation in the world by standing apart from the agony of men and shouting “Ye must be born again!” at them. The fear that this reputation may be all too accurate has led some Christians to forswear all “God talk” and to address themselves entirely to the immediate material, psychological, and social needs of men. The evangelical section of the Church, however, cannot do this, convinced as it is that when the chips are down, no amount of sunshine and soap and security and money will quite do the trick, since we are creatures that really are made for God.

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The jostling claims of time and eternity never seem to be wholly settled, and perhaps this is good. Perhaps it keeps us awake and alive and pressing ourselves with hard questions as to our priorities. And perhaps it forces us to learn and keep on learning what a great mystery the Incarnation is—that great event in which time and eternity, flesh and spirit, earth and heaven, met and were caught into each other. But it keeps coming down to questions like whether we shall use social work and medicine, say, as lures to get men where we can “give them the Gospel,” or whether we should put our efforts first of all into preaching and witnessing, with the idea that, once a man knows God, other problems appear in their proper perspective.

Any Christian who has spent much time in actual engagement with social problems (alcoholism, drug addiction, disease, poverty, broken homes, unwed mothers), will tell you that you can’t cook up a theory and beckon to people to come fit in. You’ve got to get in there and live with things and try to help, all the while learning a little, perhaps, about what is at stake in being a “witness” to the Gospel.

The last few years have seen an enormous awakening in the Church to the problems of society, and the appearance of many efforts to minister to men in the name of Christ. Many of these efforts, because they are directed to social problems that attract widespread attention, are familiar to us—various youth and ghetto and drug programs. The “sexual revolution” is a phenomenon that is leading society a merry chase at the moment, but whatever popular sexual mythology is abroad, there is nothing new or exciting about one matter: childbearing outside of marriage.

This is not an article on the Christian idea of marriage. There is such an idea, but it is not the subject here. The subject here is the Church’s response to the situation that arises when people don’t bother to marry. For in our society, whether a girl is Christian or non-religious, rich or poor, if she finds herself pregnant outside of marriage, she has problems. And they are not the sort of problems that disappear under the sound of preaching. Gestation pursues its implacable way.

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Here is one instance of Christian response to this problem, although it is not a solitary instance. (The Swanscott Home in Utica, New York, the Florence Christian Home in New Jersey, the Salvation Army homes across the country—there are any number of efforts being made by Christians in this field.) On a lovely, tree-lined street in Manhattan’s East Seventies, there is a “brownstone” (New Yorkers’ term for buildings that were built as private houses), like thousands of other brownstones on the cross streets of the island. There is no sign on the front, but if you ring the bell and go in, you will very likely meet before long a cheerful, energetic, grey-haired woman who will make you feel as though she had been expecting you.

She is Josephine Schenkweiler, and she and her husband Lou are “Mom” and “Dad” to fifteen or so girls, all of them pregnant, and none of them married. The atmosphere in the house (it is called Heartsease Home) is very convivial and family-like. If you are lucky enough to join the family for a meal, you will find yourself at a long table with Dad at one end and Mom at the other, and a great deal of laughing and joshing going on over the steaming dishes. After the meal the girls fall to their various tasks of clearing up and putting away. Much of the work of the house is done this way.

The girls come from every possible background situation—from respectable homes, Christian homes, black homes, white homes, suburban homes, ghetto homes, the lot. They are referred to the home by parents, pastors, adoption agencies, the Bureau of Children’s Welfare, the Children’s Aid Society, and the courts. Some of the girls, when they arrive, consider themselves “above” the other girls by reason of some social or religious credentials, but they soon learn that, on the one hand, everyone is in exactly the same boat here, but on the other, no one is held in contempt, or even pity. There is a realistic acceptance of each girl and her situation, a welcome to whatever help Heartsease can offer, and an unsentimental facing of the problems arising from the pregnancy.

A social worker on the staff talks with the girls, and their families if possible, before they come to stay, and counsels them during their time at the home. The merely “routine” issues common to every case present a tangle of problems: whether the girl ought to keep her child, whether she is psychologically and financially able to do so, and if not, whether short-term or long-term foster care is advisable until the mother can provide a home for the child, or whether the child should be legally surrendered for adoption through an agency.

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Besides having to face and decide upon these practical matters, a girl often finds enormous emotional difficulties when she takes up life with a dozen or more girls from backgrounds vastly different from her own, and it is often in the informal, impromptu conversations on these personal matters that staff members are able to speak to the point which is, Christians believe, at the center of whatever perplexity, fear, shame, or joy may be occupying a person at a given time. For it is the conviction of the staff at Heartsease that for a girl to know Christ is for her to begin to know real life. It will not solve a single one of the practical problems raised by her pregnancy: that is why the daily routine of the staff is overwhelmingly taken up with very pedestrian, not very “religious” matters. The consequences of one’s choices and acts do not dissolve upon one’s submitting to the lordship of Christ. To be Christian is not to be exempted from the plodding business of being human: indeed, it is to begin to understand that very business as the serious business of moving toward the perfection and glory for which we were made. It is to know the God who is Redeemer as well as Creator—that is, the one who takes the havoc we make of our lives, and retrieves and remakes it all, and turns it, beyond our imagination, to modes of glory.

Some of the girls find this out, and bear witness to their new faith. Others can’t see it. But all of them find something at Heartsease that they may or may not ever have known, and that is love. St. John insists that this is something that has its springs in God. To that extent, then, they have all seen God, whether or not they recognize his name.

This is one example of Christian response to one of society’s problems. There are, as I say, many other examples that could be cited, and, heaven knows, many other problems. Perhaps in some sense similar to the way in which God aroused the Church in other centuries to address itself to particular issues (doctrinal definition in the great councils, periodic reform, world evangelism), he may now be asking us to enter more fully than we have ever done into participation in his Incarnation—that manifestation of the Word in flesh. Our wing of the Church has been very active indeed in disseminating the Word by the word: perhaps we have a great deal to learn about the ways in which the Word becomes flesh.

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