Written by Jason Williams
We are a nation in crisis. Our great-grandchildren are already in debt, nearly ten percent of the American workforce is still unemployed, and the stock market makes Charlie Sheen look like Mr. Rogers. But if the economy improves, everything’s going to be okay, right?
America’s greatness does not lie in its economic prosperity; it goes deeper than that. America’s value is in its values—specifically, its family values. And when marriage becomes passe due to a no-fault divorce culture that passes the legacy of disposable relationships to its children, no amount of money can repair the damage.
Divorce indeed leaves a destructive legacy. Parental divorce leads to an increased risk of suicide and higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness; in fact, parental divorce has been shown to be more devastating to a child than parental death. And when divorce goes viral (as social science proves it has) in a phenomenon called the “Divorce Cycle,” children of divorce are far more likely to have a marriage end in divorce.
Statistically, parental divorce increases a child’s risk of school failure while decreasing the likelihood of college graduation and achievement of a high-status job. The end result is that children of divorce, even into adulthood, are at the highest risk of being impoverished. The poverty itself then becomes an engine for further detrimental outcomes, such as criminal activity, dependence, and poor health. Poverty is the symptom, not the disease, however. Despite the positive impact an economic upswing would have on poverty in general, it would do nothing to diminish the economic impact divorce has on the people involved.
While we obviously need jobs in order for parents to put food on the table, the real key to redeeming our country is redeeming the family and its values. An essential step in that equation is reforming our divorce laws. Law first reflects culture, then drives it. No-fault divorce began as a convenient way to divorce without showing cause through legal fictions or other judicial entanglements. It has engendered, however, a “Marriage Etch-a-Sketch” mentality where you can shake the slate clean if it doesn’t work out like you’d pictured. The same legal power that brought about our decline must now be harnessed to revive and strengthen marriage.
Indeed, a turnaround in America’s economic situation right now would merely be the equivalent of slapping a fresh coat of paint on a dilapidated house. For the structure of family to be stable, it must be built on the solid foundation of marriage. Despite its supreme importance, for the last 40 years, easy, no-fault divorce has steadily eroded that foundation. As a result, the American family is collapsing. Far from being a mere legal contract two willing parties enter into with the mutual understanding of an escape clause, the institution of marriage is a holy bond that hearkens to the essence of what it means to be human. While I believe that the American experiment and the joint concepts of marriage and family are founded on God and his principles, you don’t need to be religious to recognize that the foundation of our society is crumbling. Or to know that for any foundation to survive, it must be built upon the rock and not the sand.
With our foundation in place, we must next reinforce the structure and repair what is broken. Our country and our families share a common framework: responsibility and integrity. As families, we must be responsible for our actions to each other, and when necessary be responsible for each other. We must work out problems, not run from them; make time for each other, not wait until we get time. Our actions must be guided by what will be best for our families over the long haul, not by succumbing to whatever makes us feel good in the moment. And we must once again look out for each other, not hope or trust that somebody else will. When we become responsible as people, we become responsible as a nation. Responsibility, private and public, is our only hope for structural integrity in both arenas. It takes work, but anything worth saving is worth working for. Is there anything worth saving more than America and its families?
Finally, once the foundation is laid and the structure in place, our work is not over. If the house is to be a home, we must be committed to each other. A marriage bond isn’t held together by the glue of love but rather the epoxy of love and commitment. For families as well as nations, commitment means being able to respectfully acknowledge our differences while embracing our common humanity. We must have solidarity, and the key to unifying our families and our nations is love. If we can love our neighbors (including our in-laws) as ourselves and commit ourselves to them, America will once again be the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous nation on Earth. But these attributes will not be the source of our greatness, just the natural result of it. A divorce culture, however, can neither grasp nor abide the concepts of love and commitment because it favors the convenience of lust and transience, which leads to ruin.