briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 17, 2020

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Thursday, September 17, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

In the COVID-19 Pandemic, It’s Clearer Than Ever That Marriage and Family Really Matter

In the midst of this pandemic, much is being revealed, much is being clarified, and Christians looking at this situation have to understand that under the conditions of pressure, reality becomes more and more revealed. You find out what’s really stable. You find out what’s really established. In many cases, you find out what’s really true, even what’s really basic or foundational. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that in the midst of this pandemic, it has become abundantly, undeniably clear that, just to take an example, marriage and family really matter. They matter hugely. I’ve been collecting research on this over the course of the last several weeks and studies have come in, as if you needed studies, telling us that, for example, as National Review has reported, the married weather the COVID financial storm better than singles.

Now, this is just about the financial stability of a unit. If the unit is one, it’s much weaker than if the unit is two. And if that’s a strong unit, the strongest unit of all being, of course, marriage, as designed by God, as the molecular unit of human society, a man and a woman in the monogamous, exclusive covenant of marriage, it makes a huge difference. Peyton Roth and Bradford Wilcox reporting for National Review tell us “the coronavirus pandemic has exacted a devastating toll on men, women, and children across the United States, but some Americans are weathering the COVID-19 financial storm better than others. Our research, they said, suggest that married men and women have proven to be much more resilient in the face of this storm than their single peers.” The researchers point to some things that are just patently obvious, and that is the fact that those who are married tend to suffer from loneliness less than those who are not.

And again, one of the purposes of marriage, as the historic Christian wedding ceremony makes clear, is the gift of companionship. It’s not just friendship, it is companionship. And between a man and a woman united in marriage, it is a particular kind of companionship. And it has great rewards, especially when you have to depend upon one another. These researchers tell us, “We found, for instance, that singles were nearly twice as likely as married adults to say they felt lonely every day or nearly every day during the previous week.” But then they go on to write, “But marriage offers couples more than social and emotional security, it is also a critical source of financial stability during good times and bad times. Marriage,” they write, “puts families at a financial advantage by providing them with two potential sources of income. Moreover, research shows that marriage reduces the odds that a household will go through costly family transitions, encourages greater support from family networks and builds habits of financial prudence, all of which shore up additional security against financial hardship when the tides of fortune turn.”

Now there’s a very important issue here that goes beyond what many people think about. Yes, when you have one added to one, it’s two, but it’s more than that, and this is a part of the mystery and the magic of marriage. When you have a man and a woman come together in marriage, it’s not just two individuals, it is in the main two families, two existing networks, both of which are available to assist in time of trouble. That turns out to be really, really crucial. In other words, it’s not just addition, it’s multiplication. But Roth and Wilcox go on to point that the economic comic value of marriage has become even more apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They write, “A new survey spearheaded by the Data Foundation and NORC,” that’s the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, “shows how married adults are weathering the pandemic’s economic challenges better than singles. In analyzing the second wave of data from the COVID Impact Survey, we find that married men, women, and families are less likely to experience hunger, to be less dependent on public assistance, and to be better prepared to cover unexpected expenses during this pandemic, when compared with single adults and families headed by single parents.”

Now, as you look through this particular research, it’s also important to recognize that the researchers have controlled, in such a way that marriage becomes a variable they can point to independent of other issues. They explained it this way, “Even when we control for factors such as race and education that might seem to better explain why some Americans are more financially resilient than others, we still find that marriage is a significant predictor of who is getting by during the pandemic. In the midst of increasingly difficult and uncertain times, marriage is helping Americans steer clear of hunger, government assistance and financial destitution.” Now the point here is simply to underline the goodness of God’s creation and in particular, the gift of marriage. As a matter of fact, it underlines the reality that no society that dishonors marriage can actually survive because you can look at the alternative, honoring marriage means multiplication of strength. Dishonoring or subverting marriage means the division of strength.

It’s not just addition and subtraction, that would be important enough. It’s like multiplication and division. So this is one those reports of which the headline is almost sufficient. The married weather the COVID financial storm better than singles. And of course, there are benefits that have nothing to do with the pandemic, they are merely revealed in the midst of the pandemic. The strength of marriage, the goodness of marriage has not awaited the pandemic to become a parent, but it is interesting that in this context, it is more and more undeniable.

Part II

A Majority of Young People Live with Their Parents: The Eclipse of Marriage, the Decline of the Family, and the Delay of Adulthood

But there are some other very important research projects underway. One was reported recently by the Pew Research Center. The headline of this study, “A Majority of Young Adults in the U.S. Live With Their Parents for the First Time Since the Great Depression.” Now, again, just think about this. This tells us something about the impact of the pandemic, and of course, the economic fallout of the pandemic and the near shutdown of the economy earlier this year, continuing effects. But what you see here is testimony to the goodness of family, even beyond marriage or established in marriage, and then represented by the growing concentric circles of family.

Now, here’s the point. Many of these young adults, the majority of them now living with their parents at a certain age group, of fact, unparalleled since the great depression, here’s the fact, you can’t live with your parents if you don’t have them. The researchers at Pew tell us, “The coronavirus outbreak has pushed millions of Americans, especially young adults, to move in with family members. The share of 18- to 29-year-olds living with their parents has become a majority since U.S. coronavirus cases began spreading early this year, surpassing the previous peak during the Great Depression era.” So, actually, the headline here says since the great depression, but the very first paragraph of the study tells us that the rate now is even higher than during the great depression.

Now, why would that be different? Well, here, we have to return to the issue of marriage. The delay of marriage among young adults means that many of them do not have the strength that they would have if they were united as a household in marriage and instead, they’ve had to return to their parents’ homes. Now, this is not to make a moral judgment about every single one of these individuals and their families. It’s just to point out that as a trend, this is actually upon reflection, pretty much what we would expect to see once we know that long years going into the pandemic had seen a decline in marriage among young adults. That means a weakening of what should be a stronger situation economically, emotionally, socially, for many, if not most, of those young adults. And as you look at this research, it’s also clear that many of these young adults who’ve had to move in with their parents do not have any immediate or short term prospects of living again on their own.

Now this gets to one of the major purposes and responsibilities, not only of parents and families, but also of a society, and that is launching young people into a successful adulthood. Now, this has become such an issue for this particular generation and our society that there are many who have made the word adult into a participle, as in adulting. If you have to make adult a verb, then you have a problem. Something is clearly broken in our society, which is to say, we can do all kinds of things that previous generations could not do, but we evidently can’t get married and stay married the way previous generations did. Something has to explain why young men and women in their early 20s, routinely got married, were married and stay married in previous generations, but now the average age of first marriage for most American young people is approaching 30 for young men and about 27 or 28 for young women.

Now, you don’t want to over blow this kind of research because young adults, as defined in this research, would be those aged 18 to 29. That’s a very big spectrum. And furthermore, we don’t really expect that most 18 year olds are going to be out on their own. And especially in the context of a pandemic, there’s a lot of reason why young adults, the youngest cohort, aged 18 to 24, would be at home or very near home in the midst of this kind of financial and social crisis. But the big fact here for us to consider is that this is a trend that began a decade and more, indeed two or three decades in many ways, ahead of the arrival of the pandemic. But the pandemic has made very clear that these patterns are enduring and have consequences.

We as Christians understand, that would be inevitable. When God creates human society and he creates the structures and he declares them to be good and makes very clear that human flourishing and happiness and joy can only really take place within the institutions, within the order of creation that he has made, then we should expect as Christians that when that order is subverted or avoided or when there is rebellion against it, you’re going to see inevitable social consequences. And we as Christians also know that behind those social consequences are very real lives. Men and women, young and old, whose lives are effected by the vulnerability brought into the entire equation by the eclipse of marriage and the decline of the family. And of course, the most vulnerable of all are the youngest of all, children.

The last section of this report on the Pew study also tells us something interesting, and that is that differences among young adults living with their parents, racial and ethnic differences in the past have narrowed considerably. This is a far wider situation. It’s a bigger shift in the culture than can be explained by other factors, such as race and ethnicity. And that should ring a bell because when we talked about that first study by Roth and Wilcox, we pointed to the fact that they said that when you control for other factors, marriage still turns out to be overwhelmingly important, and you have the same kind of parallel here. Even when you take other factors into account, this is a big shift in the larger society as a whole.

Part III

Is Parenting an Essential Function of Society or a Just Another Hobby? A Pandemic Parable from Silicon Valley

But there’s a third report out that also deserves our attention. It’s similar in the story that it tells. In this case, the author is Wendy Wang, and the research was undertaken by the Institute for Family Studies. The headline, “The Share of Never Married Americans Has Reached a New High.” Wang reports, “America is the middle of two simultaneous trends related to marriage. Marriages today are more stable, thanks to the steady decline of divorce rates since the 1980s. At the same time, however, a declining share of Americans marry.” Now let’s just pause here for a moment. One of the things we have to recognize is that the nation’s decline in the divorce rate has to be answered for in part by the decline in the marriage. Just to state the obvious, you can’t get divorced if you never had been married. You have to get married in order to get divorced.

But the big fact is that looking at the completed year of 2018, “A record 35% of Americans ages 25 to 50, or 39 million, had never been married, according to a new Institute for Family Studies (IFS) analysis of U.S. Census data. The share was only 9% in 1970.” Now that’s a blockbuster. If you look at 1970, that’s just 50 years ago, a half century ago, only 9% of adult Americans were not married in the case of never married. Now it’s 35%. So that percentage has jumped from less than 10% to over 1/3 of all Americans in this age cohort, ages 25 to 50. Wang then writes, “Many factors are related to the rise of never-marrieds. Young adults have taken their time to enter marriage. The median age for first-time marriages today is 28 for women and 30 for men. Back in 1970, Americans typically got married in their early 20s. Also, young adults today often live with their partner before getting married. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative living arrangement for couples, even if they do not plan to get married.”

Now here’s another bit of research that’s really, really important for us to recognize. Non-married cohabitation between men and women, that is a man and a woman living together but not married, those cohabitation rates have skyrocketed in recent years. But here’s the fact, it isn’t leading to marriage. Whereas in previous times, lower levels of cohabitation often were an indication of what would be a delay in marriage, now marriage is just off the screen entirely for many of these couples forever. But there’s something else that’s very clear in this research, and that is that one of the key issues explaining why more young men and young women aren’t marrying each other is that many young men have not successfully gained the kind of education and economic stability that would allow for a woman to want to look to them as a desirable partner in marriage.

As Wendy Wang reports, “A stable job is important in marriage formation, especially for men. According to single men, in a recent IFS California survey, not having a stable job is one of the most important reasons why they are not married.” In 2018, more than half of prime aged men without a full time job were single. The share, she tells us, is much lower among men who work full time. And indeed, you’re looking at a distinction between 55% and 32%. That’s pretty massive.

So you look at all of this, these three major research projects and what they underline is the goodness of God’s creation, the glory of God’s purpose in marriage and the consequences of marriage being subverted or avoided or even delayed in so many cases. Under the conditions of the stress test of COVID-19, the absence of marriage turns out to have remarkable consequences and even the secular world is taking note of them.

Part IV

What Are the Consequences of Denying the Goodness of God in the Gifts of Creation?

But then fourth, I want to turn to a news report that made the front page of the New York Times in recent days. And this one’s not so much research as it is a focus on something else that’s come out in the midst of the stress test of COVID-19. The headline is this, “Time Off for Parenting Angers Childless in the Tech Industry.” A pair of reporters tell us, “When the coronavirus closed schools and child care centers and turned American parenthood into a multitasking nightmare, many tech companies rushed to help their employees. They used their comfortable profit margins to extend workers new benefits, including extra time off for parents to help them care for their children.” The next line is crucial. “It wasn’t long before employees without children started to ask: What about us?”

Now the big issue here is equity. As presented in the article, it isn’t fair, say those employees without children that employees who do have children are being given special allowances to care for those children under the conditions of COVID-19, the pandemic. The coronavirus has created a situation in which most parents with young children have become home schoolers one way or another. And of course, the entire context has changed the equation and many employers are trying to figure out how to respond. But this is not just about any or all employers, it’s about the high tech industry. And the article is Dateline from Oakland, California. You can look at neighboring Silicon Valley as indicative of this trend. These tech companies, as the New York Times notes, have a lot of cash and they decided to spend some of that cash to keep their treasured parenting employees in place while understanding they’re going to have to give attention to their children that they didn’t have to give, hours they didn’t have to devote before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But the equity issue comes up very quickly because when you’re talking about California in general, and you’re talking about the tech industry, and you’re talking about Silicon Valley, you’re talking about an area in which there, yes, are many married couples who have children, but there is also a very significant percentage of the population that doesn’t have children, married or not, and that sees having children as something of a lifestyle choice, maybe even a hobby, that they just haven’t decided to undertake for themselves. Thus, this is phrased in the form of an equity issue. It isn’t fair for employers to give to their employees who are parents a leeway, privileges that they do not give to other employees as well. That’s a particularly acute issue in Silicon Valley, in the tech industry, and that’s acknowledged in the headline of this New York Times article.

The article looks at a company known as Salesforce, “When Salesforce announced that it was offering parents six weeks of paid time off, most employees applauded. But one Salesforce manager, who is not permitted to talk publicly about internal matters and therefore asked not to be identified, said two childless employees, reflecting a sentiment voiced at several companies, complained that the policy seemed to put parents’ needs ahead of theirs.” Later in the article, we read, “And parents are frustrated that their childless co-workers don’t understand how hard it is to balance work and child care, especially when day care centers are closed and they are trying to help their children learn at home.” And the article goes on to explain in cultural terms, “The divide is more pronounced at some technology companies, where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.”

What’s the point here from a Christian biblical worldview perspective? Well, for one thing, if the experience of having children is not nearly normative across the society, then pretty soon, the society is divided between the people who are into that and the people who are not into that. And then you have, in the contemporary context of people declaring the necessity of fairness, you have the argument that equity and fairness mean that you cannot privilege in any way, you can’t give any preference whatsoever, to those employees who are parents over those who are not parents. And in the larger context, it’s not just employees, it’s citizens.

But here’s the point. I mentioned that one of the key responsibilities of any civilization is to arrange for young people to be ready to be functioning adults, and right on time. A failure at that is a weakening of the entire society. We’re experiencing that in this country right now. But another of the most necessary functions of any society is to reproduce. And by that, I mean, yes, biological reproduction, I mean, having babies and devoting the time to what is necessary to raise those children in order that they would become eventually successful citizens and members of the society. A society that doesn’t do that, by definition, ceases to exist.

Now, oddly enough, right now across the planet, we see many societies that have embraced that kind of suicidal future. The birth rates in some countries are now so low that there is no way to see a future for the survival of those societies and nations. Japan, for example, will be one of them. The birth rate so low, and by the way, immigration and adoption issues that are basically almost unknown, in Japan, the future is simply a matter of math. One very telling matter of math right now in Japan is that in that nation, adult diapers vastly outsell diapers for babies.

But finally, as we’re thinking about how Christians should understand these issues, it’s a good time for Christians to remember another basic principle of historic Christian thinking, drawn from the Bible and the logic of Christianity. It comes down to this. When God gives us goods, goods like marriage, family, civilization, society, joy, when he gives us those things, he gives them to us in a composite picture. That is to say, he gives them to us as a whole. He doesn’t have a basket and he puts joy in this one and parenthood in another one. He doesn’t put work and labor and economy in one basket or put something else in another box. It comes as a composite whole. He didn’t put human beings in a jigsaw puzzle of goods, he put them in a garden that he had created.

The basic principle comes down to this. When we try to divide what God has put together, we weaken everything. We try to have parenthood without children. We try to have children without parenthood. We try to have society without marriage. We try to have this without that. When God has put them together, we try to have labor without reward and reward without labor. None of this works. It never works for very long. And every society that denies the unity and the goodness of what God has given us, it embraces its own end in so doing.

But here’s another issue, a society that doesn’t acknowledge the creator God who gave us these good things and gave them to us as a whole, as a composite, well, a society that doesn’t recognize God is not going to recognize the fundamental goodness of what God has given us in the gifts of creation. Without a divine creator, there is no meaning to the cosmos whatsoever other than what we write on it. And there are many in our society who believe that at some point in human history, we just decided to write onto the existing order, marriage, parenthood, law. But of course, that’s a fiction. We did not write these things onto the cosmos, the creator put them there in the first place, and frankly, made their existence undeniable. But just because their existence and goodness and divine source are undeniable doesn’t mean that millions and millions of people won’t expend almost all their energy in trying to deny them.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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