Most people would still agree that divorces, if not invariably bad, are at least sad. Christians have traditionally thought that the marriage vows are meant to last till death. In recent years they have tolerated more permissive attitudes on divorce, but they continue to consider the breakup of a marriage as something to be avoided if at all possible. Probably most non-Christians, too, would side with the ideal of stability in marriage.
Yet despite such general agreement that divorce is undesirable, the rate continues to climb. Divorces among Americans last year exceeded one million for the first time and rose 6 percent over the previous year’s figure, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. And the number of marriages significantly declined.
The Church is well aware that it should be responding to the increasing number of troubled marriages. One reaction has been the more liberal spirit toward divorce that is evident in both conservative and liberal churches. More constructively, most churches have also begun new focuses upon the home and family life. The things that make marital partners get along with each other and with their children now come up frequently in sermons and Christian educational activities.
But this is not enough. The Church should begin to attack the problem on a much longer-range basis. It should examine some overlooked presuppositions that may be a key to the problem.
One of these, one that may lurk behind much domestic strife, is the assumption that marrying is the normal thing to do. Our children are brought up to believe that they are expected to marry and become parents, and that if they don’t conform to this pattern people will think there is something wrong with them.
It’s time to take a different tack. Probably the biggest reason for broken homes is that the marriage should never have taken place—that the man and woman should never have married anyone at all. The greatest threat to family life today is not too many divorces but too many marriages.
Some people will be tempted to reply, “Yes, that’s right. Not everyone has a temperament suited to marriage. Some people just cannot live with another person.” This reply takes us back to a fallacious presupposition, the idea that celibacy is aberrant, that a person remains single only if some abnormality in his character makes him unable to adjust to marriage. The presupposition arises not from the Bible but from our pagan culture. The Apostle Paul considered celibacy to be desirable Christian behavior. Monasticism, despite its excesses, produced positive results. Paul believed that marriage was second best (“it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]”).
Our culture convinces people that sexual intercourse is necessary for fulfillment in this life, and that a house is not a home if only one person lives there. We set up expectations for marriage and family life that are often not realized, and then trouble sets in.
The place to begin a turnaround in the divorce rate is at the point of the philosophy of marriage being passed on from parent to child. Parents ought to teach the principle that marriage is by no means for everybody. They ought to warn of the possibly tragic consequences of marriage for the sake of marriage. Christian parents ought to go beyond this to teach that it is God’s will for many people not to marry, and that God has many things to be done in the world that are best done by single people. We should look upon matchmaking as a risky activity. And we should not try to persuade those who do marry to bear children. For some marriages, children are a blessing. For others, they are a strain.
Maybe we have celebrated Mother’s Day and Father’s Day long enough. Perhaps it is time to replace these celebrations with Marriage and Family Day and Singles Day. This might help to establish the needed principle that marriage is not for everyone.
Do you know what universe your next-door neighbor inhabits? Do you know what the possibilities are? If not, or if you want a refresher course in basic world views, James W. Sire’s book The Universe Next Door is for you.
Sire doesn’t try to be scholarly in the main text, though he does footnote extensively for those interested in reading further. He wants to get at the heart of each system—Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern pantheistic monism, and “a new consciousness,” which has its roots in naturalism, Eastern pantheistic monism, and animism. He succeeds. But the strongest chapter—and the book’s most valuable contribution—is his thorough analysis of the new consciousness. Sire rightly says of it that “a world view of immense cultural impact and penetration is in the process of being formulated.” We see evidence of this in the growing sales of Carlos Castaneda’s books, “one of the major doorways now open to the new consciousness,” Sire concludes. Our culture has become saturated with the tenets of this philosophy. Remember the popular Jonathan Livingston Seagull?
The average Christian is often unaware of the world views slipped into his mind via the daily newspaper, talk show, or popular film. He or she may unwittingly accept aspects of them. Sire shakes the reader out of that complacency and challenges him to reconsider the world views he claims to hold.
A Squeeze Can Hurt Or Help
Postal rates for magazines are climbing much faster than the general rate of inflation in the United States. Religious publications will be affected much more than others because they are distributed almost entirely by mail, not through newsstand sales. Also, most of them are already dependent on subsidy by a denomination or organization, and thus are at the mercy not only of their own revenues but of their sponsors.
The trend does not necessarily spell disaster for Christian publications, but it does call for serious study of future prospects. This matter deserves priority consideration at the conventions being held this month by the Evangelical Press Association, Associated Church Press, and Catholic Press Association. Coordinated research would seem highly desirable at this point. How much governmental or denominational subsidy can be expected, and at what point does it jeopardize editorial integrity? Should not the options of newsstand sales and alternative delivery methods be considered seriously?
For evangelicals, a more basic question is whether their present journalistic state can be considered good stewardship. There is a considerable sameness in the content of Christian periodicals; the much discussed “pack journalism” is not limited to secular magazines. Crucial contemporary issues are being bypassed. Space is filled instead with repetitive inspirational pap. Far more money is being put into packaging than into substantive reporting. Significant new insights are rare. And despite all the emphasis on evangelism in recent years, there is precious little of it even in the most biblically oriented publications. With no newsstand sales, the evangelical community keeps talking largely to itself.
Getting Time On The Tube
The rapid growth of the broadcasting industry has been a boon to proclamation of the Gospel around the world. Countless Christians can trace their conversions to radio or television messages.
But broadcasting in the United States, is apparently at one of those awkward stages through which all fast-growing creatures must pass. There is both good news and bad news for evangelicals in the current situation.
First the bad news. Some television stations, especially those affiliated with the networks, are refusing to sell time to religious groups. Practices vary, but some refuse to sell not only program time (for thirty-minute preaching telecasts, for instance) but also time for spot announcements. However, they often give away the slots they will not allow Christian organizations to buy. These “public service” airings are usually at hours when there are few viewers. The net result is that few evangelicals get on channels that have this policy, and very few get prime-time exposure.
The good news is that some stations are abandoning this policy. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the networks (whose strong recommendations influence the practice of their individual affiliates) are reconsidering the whole matter. If the networks reversed their stand, then many more stations would open time slots for paid religious broadcasting.
The issue has just come to public attention again in Texas, where sponsors of a Dallas evangelistic penetration effort were unable to buy prime time for their spot announcements. Two stations refused to sell. One of those stations also aroused the ire of some of its viewers when it refused to renew the contract of a preacher who had been buying time for a weekly program.
A third station in the area has a different policy, and it offered to sell space for the spot announcements even on the evening news or at other prime hours. Even so, a judgment factor was involved. The station manager was quoted as saying he was willing to air the commercials then because he considered them “extremely well produced and uplifting.”
If the public is to be offered more good religious programming, the networks and their individual affiliates (as well as the independents) must be free to work out the arrangements. There is little argument that there is room for improvement. The Texas channel that accepted the spot announcements also accepts paid religious programming, but it refuses telecasts that promote a specific church, that make excessive appeals for donations, and that violate the station’s standards of good taste.
We don’t think any more governmental legislation or regulation is necessary to get good religious programs on the air at good times. We do think it is high time that the networks and stations take another look at those policies that have not allowed religion the same exposure as politics, deodorants, and beer.
Games Are For Playing
Sunday was a day of peace and worship during America’s colonial era and during most of its first two hundred years of independence. Then something happened, according to Frank Deford, a writer for Sports Illustrated. In the first article of a series on “Religion in Sport” Deford observes, “After three centuries, Sunday changed overnight.” Now the Sunday trip out of the house is not to visit a church but to see a game or play one. Professional football, “the Sunday game,” has become “the passion of the land,” and the churches “have ceded Sunday to sports, to games.”
Whether or not churches have ceded anything, the fact remains that the passion of the land is too often athletic rather than spiritual. It is for hockey, baseball, soccer, and basketball, as well as for football. Increasingly of late, that passion has become violent. Not only do players get into fracases in and out of the game, but fans are involved also.
Americans enjoyed their athletics during most of those first three centuries. Games were fun. The participants played; they seldom fought. Spectators let off steam by cheering. Opposing teams were not the “bad guys,” just the “other guys.” During this long period “good sport” and “sportsmanlike” were terms of honor. The United States was spared the bloody stadium battles that frequently erupted at championship soccer matches in Latin America and similar events elsewhere.
Now things are changing. Violence is on the rise, and the fans are as responsible as the athletes. The person who pitches a pop bottle at the head of an outfielder is likely to become as much of a hero as the game’s best batter. Hockey has become a new craze in America, and the fans scream for blood. They frequently get it. Skulls are cracked; bones are broken.
Enthusiasm for good, clean sport is one thing. Arousing unholy passions is another. A game or sport is no longer that if mayhem results.
Paul exhorts believers to live peaceably “so far as it depends upon you” (Rom. 12:18). If the Christians working among athletes are having the impact that some claim, there ought to be more evidence of it in the way games are played. A good example in this area could help restore a wholesome quality in American life. Fans can do their part by applauding good conduct, not bad.
When The Good Isn’T Good Enough
No two Christians are identical. Every one is called by Christ to take on certain responsibilities. Whether we are one-talent or multi-talent persons, Christ expects us to devote ourselves to the work he has assigned to us.
Jesus himself had an assignment. He came to earth to accomplish certain things, and he had to withstand the temptation of being diverted to other work. He could have spent all his time doing very helpful things that would have been greatly appreciated by the people of Palestine. Instead, he chose to do what he had been sent to do.
For Christians today, as for Jesus then, there are hard choices. Goals must be put in the proper order.
The best possible example of how to arrange one’s priorities was provided by Jesus. In Luke 4, he took up the task of preaching after his temptations in the desert. His time was limited, and he knew it. He sought opportunities to teach in the synagogues even though not all who heard him there appreciated his teaching. He also taught in the open country, in the marketplace, and in homes.
To be sure, Christ also healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed the hungry. These accomplishments were very impressive, and people crowded around Jesus to get close to the miracle worker. They begged this extraordinarily helpful person to stay in their neighborhoods to do more good.
He refused to be diverted from his primary task, however. He told them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”
The Bible is full of other good examples of getting priorities in order. Paul wrote, for instance, “One thing I do …” (Phil. 3:13).
Many Christians are tempted to abandon their primary assignments in order to do other good work. It is a problem for the laity as well as the clergy. God has called many believers to secular work, and he expects them to do it well. The teachers, the carpenters, the farmers, the surgeons, are no less important in God’s sight than the preacher. All are expected to accomplish what they have been called to do. Being a good wife and mother is sometimes a tedious job for a woman, and she may be tempted to do less than her best in order to take on other assignments. When these temptations come it is time for the Christian to take another look at priorities, remembering Christ’s example during his short ministry
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