jasonbwatson

October 15, 2015

Pretty Simple, Really

Joy Pullman, in the October 3, 2015 issue of WORLD, wrote a brief article entitled “A real head start.” In the article she addressed the fact that preschool and the federal Head Start program are not all that effective in equipping children for academic success. In fact, she quoted a study which found that watching Sesame Street was just as beneficial as Head Start on a child’s academic success. As much as you have to admire the long-running success of Big Bird and his buddies there is no way to justify the $8 billion annual price tag for Head Start if that is really all the difference it makes.

Pullman also referenced the efforts underway by the group Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), which is running ads in New Hampshire and Iowa in an effort to get presidential candidates to lend their support to the creation of government programs for children from birth to age 4. The organizations web site says that its purpose is “to mobilize all Americans in a commitment that cannot wait–investing in early childhood now.” If you follow the link to the “Secure Early Education” page you will read this:

Save the Children Action Network knows that investing in early childhood education is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty. These investments lay the foundation for success in school, career and life. The type of environment and the quality of interaction to which children are exposed in the first five years of life greatly influence the outcomes of their adult lives.

Education may very well be one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty but it certainly is not the most effective way. And educating children in preschools and government programs for the first four years of their lives is not the answer. The Save the Children Action Network page lists the following under the headline “The Problem”: “From 2010 to 2012, more than 4 million 3-and 4-year-olds were not attending preschool, representing more than half (54%) of all children in that age group.” I have no reason to think those numbers are not accurate but I have every reason to believe that is not the problem. Nor is the goal of “high-quality early childhood education” the solution. The solution, according to the Save the Children Action Network is this: “A comprehensive, national early childhood education program would add $2 trillion to the annual GDP within a generation, according to the Brookings Institution. Evidence-based, high-quality early childhood education programs not only prepare children for school but also empower parents to influence their child’s academic success.”

It is interesting to me that the web site includes this nod to parents, since the effort to create a national early childhood education program is really an effort to take children away from their parents at an even earlier age in order to submit them to the influence of the state. It is not difficult to imagine how long it would take before such a program would become mandatory once it was created. Of course an incredibly important part of the problem–which SCAN and other organizations do not want to acknowledge–is the breakdown of the family. Even before the legalization of homosexual marriage we had an epidemic of broken families in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children born out of wedlock in the United States in 2013, the most recent year for which I can find numbers, was nearly 1.6 million, meaning that 40.6% of all births in the U.S. were to unmarried women. According to the ChildTrends Data Bank, only 64% of children in the U.S. lived with two married parents. (Notice that does not say those were necessarily the child’s biological parents, so this figure includes adoptions as well as blended families). This is huge because, also according to ChildTrends, “Single-parent families tend to have much lower incomes than do two-parent families, while cohabiting families fall in-between.” The site also states the following:

Both mothers and fathers play important roles in the growth and development of children. The number and the type of parents (e.g., biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are consistently linked to a child’s well-being. (Nationally representative data on adoptive families are relatively new, and warrant a separate treatment.)

Among young children, for example, those living with no biological parents, or in single-parent households, are less likely than children with two biological parents to exhibit behavioral self-control, and more likely to be exposed to high levels of aggravated parenting, than are children living with two biological parents. Children living with two married adults (biological or adoptive parents) have, in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.

Among children in two-parent families, those living with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage tend to do better on a host of outcomes than those living in step-parent families. Outcomes for children in step-parent families are in many cases similar to those for children growing up in single-parent families. Children whose parents are divorced also have lower academic performance, social achievement, and psychological adjustment than children with married parents.

Given this data, combined with that shared above about the effectiveness of Sesame Street equaling that of Head Start, it would seem that SCAN would be advocating for marriage-based two-parent families rather than more government early-education initiatives. I suspect we will not see SCAN take that route, though, or many other organizations or politicians since that would mean having to address the self-centered focus so prevalent in our culture, having to address the overthrow of traditional marriage and gender roles, the abandonment of commitment in marriage, saving sex for marriage and just about everything else that has been thrown out with the embrace of the attitude so prevalent in our nation today. When the focus is on what works for me right now the focus is solely on self; children are considered very little, if at all.

Pullman’s article highlights another very interesting finding by researchers: what is “most effective for tots’ long-term success is having a married biological mother and father. Other legs up include the number of books in a child’s home and eating meals together as a family.” It seems to me it’s pretty simple, really. Forget Head Start (and Sesame Street). If we want to give children a better chance to succeed, if we want to grow the annual GDP, and if we want to strengthen our nation, what we need to do is get back to the basics–the basic family unit. Father, mother, children. Marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage commitments, not no-fault divorces. Parents who actually read to and with their children, families that sit down at the table and eat together at least once a day–without the television on and without cell phones in everyone’s hands. That sounds like a real commitment that cannot wait. Let’s mobilize Americans to pursue that goal!

November 13, 2014

Good news for marriage

Believe it or not, there may be some good news for those of us who believe in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In late October, United States District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez upheld the Puerto Rican law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled, 2-1, that measures in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee limiting marriage to one man and one woman were constitutional. In both instances, the decisions held that the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, allows for states to define marriage.

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The Windsor opinion did not create a fundamental right to same gender marriage nor did it establish that state opposite-gender marriage regulations are amenable to federal constitutional challenges. If anything, Windsor stands for the opposite proposition: it reaffirms the State’s authority over marriage, buttressing Baker‘s conclusion that marriage is simply not a federal question.”

Baker v. Nelson, the other decision cited above, was a 1972 case in Minnesota in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a Minnesota law limiting marriage to a man and a woman did not violate the Constitution. Baker appealed, but the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question.” Because of the way in which Supreme Court cases work, the Baker case went to the Supreme Court by way of mandatory appellate review. The refusal of SCOTUS to hear the case therefore became precedent because the refusal to hear the case was considered a decision on the merits of the case. This is important, because Perez-Gimenez explained that the Windsor case did not overturn Baker but rather complements it. “Windsor and Baker work in tandem to emphasize the States’ ‘historic and essential authority to define the marital relation’ free from ‘federal intrusion.'”

The Sixth Circuit decision came after a refusal by SCOTUS on October 6 to hear appeals from states that have had their traditional marriage laws struck down by courts, making it an important decision and one that has received considerable attention and no doubt will continue to do so.

Perhaps even more encouraging to defenders of traditional marriage than either decision in and of themselves, though, is the fact that both decisions take aim at the position of those who argue that homosexual marriage is a constitutional right. Perez-Gimenez wrote, “It takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance–this Court does not venture an answer here–to interpret Windsor‘s endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage.”

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote the majority decision in the Sixth Circuit case. He stated early in his decision that recent decisions are mostly ignoring a very, very long history of defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “For better, for worse, or for more of the same, marriage has long been a social institution defined by relationships between men and women. So long defined, the tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries or decades. So widely shared, the tradition until recently had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world,” Sutton wrote. Sutton also wrote that it is not the place of the judges of the Sixth Circuit to make policy decisions for the citizens living in its circuit; rather, its purpose is to interpret laws vis-a-vis the existing laws and precedents, of which Baker still is one. This is a breath of fresh air coming from a federal bench, especially since so many courts seem more than happy to assume the role of making, rather than interpreting, laws. Sutton went on to write, “A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.”

This element of Sutton’s decision is a unique perspective on the issue, as far as I know, and I think it is going to prove to be a very important component of future cases dealing with the definition of marriage:

What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g. with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. This does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring. This explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning.

The reason why this is so important is that is establishes that states do have a compelling interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman–something that others have argued is not the case. If states have no compelling interest to define marriage as between a man and a woman, the argument goes, then states have no reason or justification for restricting marriage to a man and a woman other than legalized discrimination. So keep an eye on this rationale, because it is going to be extremely important.

Sutton went on to reinforce his point by writing this: “If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage.” This is, of course, one of the keystone elements of the argument I have been making against homosexual marriage all along; if we change the definition of marriage to be other than between a man and a woman we eliminate any justification for prohibiting any definition of marriage, whether male-male, female-female, adult-child, human-animal, multiple spouses, etc. Albert Mohler included this observation in his blog post on the Sixth Circuit decision: “He [Sutton] also recorded that in the oral arguments the attorneys arguing for same-sex marriage had been unable to answer his question [as to why marriage should be defined in terms of monogamy]. They could not, he stated, because the only argument they could advance was moral tradition. They could not cite moral tradition as the authority for monogamy because they argued that moral tradition was not a rational basis for law when it came to limiting marriage to a man-woman union.”

Perez-Gimenez stated in his decision, “The people and their elected representatives should debate the wisdom of redefining marriage. Judges should not.” Similarly, Sutton wrote, “The theory of the living constitution rests on the premise that every generation has the right to govern itself. If that premise prevents judges from insisting on principles that society has moved past, so too should it prevent judges from anticipating principles that society has yet to embrace.” In other words, both judges are taking a stand for courts restricting themselves to interpreting law and letting the people make the decision about how marriage is defined. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Windsor decision meant, as well.

Mohler closed his blog with this statement: “Sometimes the right argument just has to be made, even if it does not win at any given hour. The truth will stand the test of time, and Judge Sutton deserves our gratitude and respect for making an argument in defense of both marriage and the Constitution–and for making it so well.” I echo his sentiment, and would add Judge Perez-Gimenez to that, too. In the words of Galatians 6:9, let us not grow weary in doing what is good–and in this situation, it means continuing to take a stand for marriage as God defined it, and praying for those judges who are courageous enough to defend the right of the people to make that determination.

March 4, 2014

The beauty and wonder of marriage

In light of all of the attention the push for homosexual marriage has been getting of late it is not a bad idea to focus a bit on “traditional” marriage–marriage between a man and a woman, as God designed it. A month or so ago Joel Belz wrote about this in his regular WORLD Magazine column. After attending a wedding at the start of the year he realized that as important as taking a stand against homosexual marriage may be, even more important is taking a stand for marriage. “With all the media and political emphasis on legalizing homosexual marriages, it’s way too easy to get diverted by that grisly debate and to forget that the top challenge for Christians is to nurture and then display the wonders of marriage the way God made it to be.”

Yesterday I learned that a colleague of mine was engaged over the weekend. She was excited to tell everyone, to show off her ring…to announce to the world that she has found the one person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. This fascination, excitement and wonder is what the God-designed marriage relationship is all about; this is the attitude we should demonstrate when we get engaged, when we celebrate a year of marriage and when we celebrate fifty years of marriage.

Belz’s point is an excellent reminder–because I suspect most of us do not often consciously think about encouraging and exhibiting a godly marriage as being a Christian responsibility. Sure, we hear it preached and when we do attend weddings we no doubt think about the future and our hopes for the new couple, but like Belz I suspect that most of us think more about opposing gay marriage than modeling godly marriage.

Belz writes that he offered some advice to the newlyweds whose ceremony prompted him thinking. He says he told them that “conventional wisdom” of the past generations has taught that while “marriage is OK” it has also taught that no would should “expect too much from it.” That’s sad but true. The culture in which we live in the United States has bred a certain amount of casualness toward marriage. On the one hand its fine to enjoy what used to be reserved for marriage–living together, sexual relations, even having children together–without getting married. On the other hand, if you do get married and later find it just doesn’t work, just get a divorce. Marriage doesn’t need to be a drudgery and it doesn’t need to be difficult. If the going gets tough just go your separate ways and get going.

The reality, of course, is that marriage is tough. There are times when things do not go as planned. There are conflicts that emerge when two people spend most of their time together and interweave every aspect of their lives. There are physical changes that were not envisioned, there are interests and hobbies that change, there are extended family issues, there are money problems…I could go on and on. None of that “on and on” however is reason to not get married and none of it is reason to get “unmarried.”

“Sometimes…there’s so much emphasis on the grim side of things,” Belz writes, “that we’ve lost seeing marriage in the glorious context God intended it. … In our grown-up desire to ‘get real,’ we’ve let Satan so disfigure and discolor our ideal picture of marriage that we’ve come to settle for way too little.” Marriage was ordained by God. He designed it beautifully and it is a beautiful relationship. So beautiful is it, in fact, that the Bible uses the marriage of a man and woman as an illustration of the relationship between God and the church. In other words, when God wanted to communicate to human beings how much He loves them and the kind of relationship He desires to have with believers and the Church, there was no better example He could give than the marriage relationship as He designed it.

If we take to heart this idea of marriage it will fundamentally transform our approach to marriage. It will change the way married individuals relate to each other, it will change the way other people view our marriages, it will restore the wonder of marriage that little children experience when attending marriages in their childhood. In other words, it will restore the idea that marriage is a truly magnificent relationship designed by God as a gift for His most significant creation, His only creation created in His own image.

Marriage is not easy–not by any means. Indeed, Belz writes, marriage is “an expression of the gospel itself, where both partners constantly and willingly die for each other.” A marriage as God designed it “involves daily dying to ourselves so that we can live generously toward our mate.” These are not concepts embraced by the culture in which we live. The world teaches living for self, doing whatever makes you happy. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Die to self is as opposite from “just do it” as you can get. The fact that marriage is not easy, though, makes it all the more beautiful. After all, the growing and daily-dying process of a godly marriage “enhances intimacy” Belz says, and indeed it does.

Like Belz, I want to adopt the “word and deed approach to teaching the art of marriage,” both “modeling and explaining” how beautiful marriage is and how it works. If enough of us are willing to adopt this approach we just might succeed in presenting a concept of marriage that the world might actually aspire to, in restoring the wonder and beauty of marriage as God designed it.

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