Evangelicals appear increasingly interested in promoting social justice for the downtrodden and the poor. Caring for the least of these has been a central part of Christian history, since Acts 6 and the church's first seven deacons. Christians started the first hospitals, soup kitchens, substance-abuse centers, and orphanages, and urged the abolition of slavery. The Salvation Army, Youth with a Mission, Mercy Ships, Compassion International, World Vision, and pregnancy centers have strong, noble histories from 20th century evangelicalism.
But an important new angle on social justice is emerging in academic circles that every concerned Christian should understand and acknowledge, a central factor in determining whether one lives in poverty or not. Just 60 years ago, those who had stable employment were seldom poor. Forty years ago, education became the gulf which separated the haves from the have-nots. For the past 20 years or more, though, the unexpected factor in whether our neighbors and their children rise from poverty is marital status. Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institute, explains: "The proliferation of single-parent households accounts for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since the early 1970s."
The Christian's attention to the well-being of marriage among the various strata of society is about far more than mere traditionalism or empty moralism. Marriage is unarguably a central love of neighbor issue.
Bill Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings who served as President Clinton's domestic policy advisor, has explained that an American today must only do three things to avoid living in poverty: graduate from high school, marry before having a child, ...1