Tuesday, April 12, 2022
It's Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Is the Nuclear Family in America Passing from the Scene? Understanding the Difference Between the Nuclear Family and the Natural Family
Is the nuclear family no longer the norm? The New York Times recently ran an article actually celebrating the declaration that the nuclear family is no longer the norm in the United States of America. Jessica Grose is the article's author. She writes, "Over 20 years ago, the sociologist Vern Bengtson gave a lecture in which he predicted that multigenerational bonds would be ascendant in the 21st century. Bengtson," we are told, "who spent decades studying generations of 300 California families," continuing the quote, "pushed back against the idea that the decline of the nuclear family model was bad for society." Now, as we look at this, we just need to take a deep breath and understand that there is something important going on in this article, but it is not about the demise of the so-called nuclear family.
It's about the intentional redefinition of the family, the destabilization of any constant, normative understanding of the family. There's a big story behind this but there's also some research indicated, demonstrated right here in this article, we need to give some attention to it. Grose writes, "Even two decades ago, Americans were increasingly moving from the mom, dad, and two kids family structure that corresponded with the norms and pop culture of the 1950s." Now, the research that's coming in, that is cited in this article, the research that supposedly demonstrates that the nuclear family is no longer the norm, is evidence of the fact that you have young adults continuing to live with parents, especially young men, by the way. More on that in just a moment. You also have an increasing number of multigenerational households.
You have other developments, including the fact there are so many single parents, and you're looking at singleness itself, an unmarried state, being a part of what is described now as the American household. And as you're looking at the nuclear family defined as mom, dad, and two kids, we are told that that now represents less than 50% of all households. But before you hit the panic button, let's recognize you knew that already. First of all, even in the lifespan of people who lived in the so-called nuclear family during the time that they were children and adolescents, the fact is, they don't stay forever children and adolescents. And so, if you look for example at many established neighborhoods in the United States, you're going to see a couple living together, sometimes alone in a house, but it wasn't always that way.
At one point, there were children, then there were pre-teens, then there were teenagers in that house that that does not mean that it is somehow the contradiction to the so-called nuclear family. And what you're looking at here is what you have constantly now coming as the drumbeat of the left in the United States. And that goes back to the 1950s and 1960s. Here's where a bit of historical perspective really does help us. The nuclear family has had its enemies going all the way back to the very moment at which it was invented in one sense. But if it was invented, guess what? It's not the natural family. And that turns out to be the big story here. The nuclear family and the natural family are not the same thing. Christians believe in the biblical revelation of the natural family, not so much the nuclear family. Just consider the word nuclear. It means nucleus.
By the way, it wasn't the nuclear age as in atomic weapons, it was instead nuclear as in the very center of the cell, the cell being society. But wait just a minute, let's look at the natural family. This is the biblical conception of the family. The natural family is the family that emerges from parenthood and from the children who come out of that family and then extended kin. So, you're looking at grandparents, you're looking at aunts and uncles. The natural family means that the very center of the family is the unit that starts out with marriage. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cling to his wife and they should become one flesh. And then, out of that one flesh, marital bond, comes the gift of children and the most important definition of the family according to scripture of the natural biblical family is that it starts exactly there. It starts with marriage and the children that come into that marriage by reproduction.
But the Bible also makes clear that there's another way for children to come into that family and that is by adoption, highly honored in scripture. But the biblical conception of the family is and has always been multigenerational. This is most clear, actually, in the Old Testament where you have, of course, the patriarchs and you look at their line and you look at the fact that if you see Jacob or Joseph, you're looking at a long line, a long multigenerational line of family. As you get to the New Testament, just consider the gospel of Matthew and the genealogy of Jesus and consider that that line also points to the multigenerational reality of the biblical family. So, if the natural family, the biblical conception of the family, is different than the nuclear family, where did that come from?
Well, that's a fascinating part of American history. And yes, it basically is, more than anything else, an American concept. It is also an extremely modern concept. Now, let's be clear, it's not a bad concept. It comes as you think about American life, especially in the postwar period when you are looking at vast expanding suburbs, when you are looking at new technologies, you're looking at explosion of factories and of industries all across America. You're looking at transportation, whether it be trains, and planes, and automobiles, you name it, people can go where they otherwise would not have gone before. And they're living in new settings. And here's something for us to watch, because a lot of Christians just don't think in these terms, where did you end up with something like a suburban neighborhood? How did that happen?
How do you end up with something that's not the country and is yet not the city? Well, let's just think about that for a moment. Let's go back before the suburb, so to speak. Let's go back say, to the burgeoning industrial cities of America at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, most people lived in rather impoverished context, most workers in particular, and they tended to be centered and housed in tenements or in multifamily dwellings there in a very dense population center very close to a factory, an industry, engines of production, generally close to a coast because people were coming usually by ship or to an inland port city, something like you might find on the Great Lakes. Those families were also in the Maine, at least hypothetically multigenerational.
You had not just a mother, and father, and their children, you also had other members of the family, extended kin, you might have had grandparents living in the very same home along with their children and their grandchildren. And that was a matter of economic necessity, especially in an age where you had so many workers in those cities who not only were workers in factories, but they were also first generation immigrants. But those were the cities at the same time. As you look at the other context in which an amazing percentage of Americans lived in the 19th and early 20th century, you're looking at rural America, you're looking at farms, you're looking at an agricultural or agrarian context. And by definition, most of those were also, at least in the larger conception, multigenerational.
You would often have family, and you just look in rural America, look at how many of the mailboxes have the same last name within a certain geographic proximity. It's because you had fathers and sons, you had mothers and daughters and they tended to marry, and they tended to just start another farm, or to carve out part of an existing farm, or to join mom and dad on the farm in a multigenerational project. But still, no one mistook the fact that the most concentrated energy of the family was with parents and their children. Everyone else in one sense was support staff. So you say, "All that is fascinating, but how do we get to the suburbs? How do we get to the 1950s? How do we get to the nuclear family?" Well, we got there because the suburbs were a grand compromise. A suburb was a place near an urban or cosmopolitan center near a city where you could have a housing development with lower costs and you could have single family dwellings.
Now, that just points to something, and that is that even people who don't grow up on a farm or in an agrarian setting, they often do long for just a little bit of land, somewhere where the children can play outside, somewhere where families and children can band together, and you can have little league, and you can have all the things that come with a community in which you have lots of parents, lots of children and all of that energy, and single family homes. But if you are a modern industrial nation, you have to have a planning system. And that planning system comes right down to zoning, it comes right down to building regulations, and in a big way in the United States, it has come down to plans for schools. Because where there are children, there must be schools, there must be provision.
And then, you had something else develop, and that was the modern consumer culture. You had everything from breakfast cereals to cars, you go down the list. You had all kinds of products being sold to Americans, but they have to be marketed to some cultural ideal. What was the cultural ideal in the post-war period? It was a suburban home where you had a mother, and a father, and their children. And stereotypically, just because it was necessary for advertising, follow this folks, this is an advertising development. You had mother, and father, and boy, and girl. That gave you the opportunity to sell a car, to sell a house, to sell a way of life, to sell margarine, to sell whatever you were selling with a picture that made sense to most Americans, either as the existing norm or as an ideal. But it was a happy ideal.
You just look at even the childhood books that I had, the early books in reading in the elementary school where you had mother and father and you had boy and girl. Sometimes, their names were stereotypical in themselves. And the dog was often named Spot. This family will show up if you look at Dodge, Plymouth, Chevrolet, Ford, advertisements for vehicles. They show up when you're advertising something as a retail catalog. You look at the pictures. This is what you see. It's the nuclear family, mom, dad, boy, girl. And guess what? That actually was typical of millions upon millions of American homes. But this was not somehow a new form of the family, it was just a modern adaptation of the fact that wherever throughout human history you find the family, you find primary energy and primary responsibility in mother, and father, and their children, period, constant throughout history, throughout every civilization.
But the cultural left has always disliked the nuclear family. But notice something else, the cultural left actually dislikes the natural family. What you see in this article that ran just recently in The New York Times is an effort to say, "Look, the very notion of family, no fixed definition. It can be whatever you want it to be. There is no right definition of family." And to that, Christians would respond, "Well, here's the deal. Even as you look at the structures of creation, you're going to have to start out in any natural sense with a mother and a father and with the children who come out of that union, maybe added to that union also by adoption, but primarily come out of that union reproductively, and it's those parents who have responsibility for those children." And every society that has worked to any extent has understood that full well.
The Marxists looked at the so-called nuclear family and offering their modern economic advice said, "Look, this is simply turning the family into a consumer unit." Now, is the family a consumer unit? You bet it is. And the only difference between then and now would be that the pictures of family have been adjusted. But there is no doubt, the family is still a consumer unit. It is still the fact that most of that stuff that's being sold in the supermarket has at least some conception of the family behind it and some conception of the family in its advertising. The feminists came along like Betty Friedan and said that that suburban nuclear family is a domestic concentration camp for women. Then you had the sexual revolution itself that said that the family, marriage is not the only location, the only right location for sexual behavior between a husband and a wife.
No, that can be expanded, you can have premarital sex, non-marital sex. And then, of course, that revolution continued until the point you don't have to have boy and girl any longer in a world that is now so commonly summarized in the letters LGBTQ. There's something else here to note politically, the suburbs have been very conservative territory, not by accident. If you look at the political history of the State of California in the modern age, the modern Republican Party and the candidacies of presidents such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came out of suburban California, particularly, they came out of Orange County during those decades in the 20th century. You're also looking at the fact that as you look say at a city like New York or a city like Boston, the suburbs are usually more conservative.
And that's to say where you find parents raising children, you find the voters who vote more conservatively. That's uniform just about across culture. This article in The New York Times quotes Stephanie Coontz. She's well known as an author who's been writing about the need for a brand new, very expansive, highly creative understanding of family, and she's quoted in the article as saying that "the idealized American nuclear family with the father as breadwinner and mother as caregiver, living atomized from the rest of their community was an historical fluke." Well, yes, it was something of an historical fluke, but only in the sense that it was just that snapshot of mom, and dad, and son, and daughter. Nobody believed that that was ever all that was to the family. But in truth, every honest person believes that's actually where it's got to start.
Now, Christians should note this, the separation of those nuclear families from larger extended kinship, that was in itself not a particularly healthy thing. It came with a great social cost. But it's the cost of the modern age, it's the cost of industrialization, it's the cost of someone taking a job and having to move hundreds of miles away from the spot that that individual was born. And so, you have grandparents who are separated and distanced from grandchildren, and that is not what would've happened in an agrarian agricultural America or even a small town America, but it is what happens in modern America. But the problem there is not a brokenness in the picture of mother and father and their children, the problem is in the brokenness to multigenerational extended family. That's a genuine problem.
But the way to resolve it is not to destroy the family unit of mother and father and their children, much less to destroy it as the norm and as the aspiration. It might be the Christians should put it this way. When we look at what the world has called the nuclear family, we don't want less, we want more. But that more cannot come at the expense of destabilizing the relationships between parents and children, the insistence that children need a mother and a father, and that that should be the ideal, it should be the norm. And you should have anything other than that as an exception. Christians understand that it's our responsibility to try to add strength where there is the exception. But we also understand there are limitations to that. And the LGBTQ revolution has made that abundantly clear.
There is no way for example, that according to the Christian worldview, you can basically improve, you might say, the situation within a same sex union. We simply don't believe that that is a biblically acceptable family form. And these days, saying that out loud can get you in a lot of trouble. But if you do not say that out loud, you are not articulating what is clearly biblical truth. But the larger project here is to destabilize the notion of family to drive a stake right through the heart of what's called here the nuclear family. But the reality is, the real object of attack is the natural family. We need to understand what we're up against. And when it comes to families, we really need to understand within the Christian church what it's going to require of us to help families to cope with a situation in which the family itself is being destabilized intentionally before our eyes.
The Cultural Left Hates the Nuclear Family and Its Marketization — But More Importantly, It Hates the Natural Family Built into the Structures of Creation Even More
But next, just to illustrate again the unraveling of all of this virtually at once, I want to take us to yesterday's edition of The New York Times, an opinion piece, actually we're told the final regular opinion piece by contributor Jennifer Finney Boylan. Now, Boylan is identified as "a contributing opinion writer and a professor of English at Barnard College." But very early in the article, there is information that's important to understanding it, and that is that Jennifer Finney Boylan identifies as a transgender woman. The article is basically a statement of outrage of people who will not go far enough with the logic of accepting the transgender revolution. At the center of the author's target is J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, who after all says that she is transgender-affirming, but she suggests that women's sports should include only females.
And Boylan, the author of this article, just goes on to say, "That proves that it's not only bullies but so-called allies who can and will disappoint." But the most important part of this article is where Jennifer Finney Boylan is identified by name in this article, goes on to say, "I'm a trans woman. I'm not an attack on God's creation." Now, where did that come from? In this case, the author was responding to a member of Congress who, addressing the transgender challenge, described it as a direct attack on God's creation. Here's the point, that is indeed the reality. And it's not so much that we say, "Here's just one individual trying to unravel creation, but rather it is sinful humanity trying to unravel creation. Here's a central illustrative example of that." That's exactly what the apostle Paul is doing in Romans 1.
That's exactly what the apostle Paul is saying when he uses the phrase against nature. He was not saying that those who are driven by same sex passions are sinners as if the rest of humanity is not sinful, he was saying, "All humanity is sinful." He will say, "All have sinned and then fall short of the glory of God," but he's pointing to certain particularly heinous sins. And yes, the scripture does present them that way because they are, as Paul says in Romans 1, against nature. And so, as you're looking at the attempt to blur, to confuse, to redefine gender, of course you are looking at what in biblical terms can only be an attempt to try to undo God's creative act. I made that point more times than any of us can count on The Briefing. But I did so not expecting that yesterday's print edition of The New York Times would include an article by an author identified as a transgender woman who would directly say that that argument is untrue.
In this article, the author writes, "I am not an attack on God's creation. I am someone whom God has made just like this. It may be that there is no room for me in your view of the world, but the world contains all sorts of miracles, the wombat, and the seahorse, and the night-blooming cereus. Certainly, there is room in the universe for all of these things as strange to you as we might be." Well, the author has a certain skill in writing, no doubt about that. But this obfuscates the issue. It also raises a crucial question. And this is the question, did God make persons confused about their gender? That is a huge, huge question. How you answer that question is going to have everything to do with how you will understand not only the transgender issue, but the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
‘I’m a Trans Woman, Not an Attack on God’s Creation’: The Basic Issue Appears in The New York Times
But next, every once in a while something comes along, it's on a similar theme, but we simply have to talk about it because it is such a prime example of the rebellion we're talking about here. In this case, the article's by Abeni Jones. The headline of the article in The Washington Post, "I'm Transgender. I Won't Be Getting an X on My Passport." Now, just a few days ago on The Briefing, we discussed the fact that the Biden administration had announced what was presented as a great gain for the LGBTQ movement and "T" or non-binary persons in particular, and that is the fact that a third alternative gender designation is going to be available in American passport, so male, female, and X. Now, that's a huge problem as you just think about the revolt against creation.
But hold on for a moment. Because when it comes to this particular person who identifies as transgender, the X is not enough. It's not acceptable. It's one of those arguments we simply have to consider. This person writes about the question male or female asked by the TSA at an airport. And the author goes on to say, "In 2018, I officially changed the gender marker on my passport from M to F. By that point, I had socially transitioned, undergone top surgery, and been on hormone replacement therapy for years." Yes, that data's all given us right here in this article. "But updating the marker didn't make travel easier. Traveling while transgender only became more difficult." Well, it turns out that the difficulty arose from the fact that routinely at airports, TSA officials would have to ask basically, "Are you male or female?"
Because that does matter in the security screening, particularly where extra screening is called for, because it is physically invasive and the imaging is physically revealing. And the rule has been that it must be a woman TSA agent who would pat down or image a woman coming through for the screening process and a male officer would fulfill the same responsibility if the passenger coming through the TSA line is a man. And now, you have this particular article writer saying, "Look, this is not acceptable. We just must get rid of gender altogether. We have to be rid of gender designations altogether." Speaking of the Biden administration's announcement, Jones writes, "It's a nice symbol of support and putting an X on a passport might really mean something to a select few. But given the trouble that often accompanies being out as non-binary, the move won't advance inclusion as much as the department's announcement claims."
"If the state department really wanted to take a step forward, there's an easier, cheaper, and more powerful option, remove gender from passports altogether." Well, let's just pause for a moment to kind of consider that idea for a moment. Once you consider it, you realize, "This won't work." It is actually a part of the necessary identification of most human beings who have ever lived, who would entirely and enthusiastically agree with that being a part of the identity, unnecessary part of the identity. Later, the author writes, "Stripping gender from passports will let Americans go through security or customs simply as people without having to justify anything. Instead of classifying ever more complex slices of gender identity, we could question the primacy of gender in our lives altogether."
Again, this just gets to the core argument in this article, that you get rid of gender as a meaningful category. "In the future, we may live in a society," writes the author, "that doesn't require trans people to out ourselves at the airport when a traveler's gender and that of the TSA agent who pats them down is no longer a concern, when everyone can travel with safety and dignity, when there's no more loaded male or female and instead just, 'Have a nice fight.'" Now, just notice what's happening here. You have transgender people who, at the most radical estimation, are a tiny, tiny percentage of the American population. On their behalf, we are told that we're now going to simply eliminate the concept of gender altogether so that in this utopian future, just human beings go through the airport and they are just scanned by and patted down by other human beings.
That is likely to be quite offensive to say 98% of those human beings. This is turning the norm of nature on its head, which is just a more secular way of saying, "This is an attempt to unravel God's creation." The fact is that most women who know they're women, most females who know they're female, don't want to be patted down or for that matter, even invasively scanned by someone who is, always use that old designation, male. Truth be known, most males are probably in a similar situation when it comes to a female conducting that kind of examination. And furthermore, most males are quite happy, indeed insistent that the world understand that yes, they are male.
But the one point in the article by Abeni Jones as published in The Washington Post, the one point that is cogent and clear is this, if you are going to unravel a little of the way, you're going to end up unraveling the entire fabric. You pull this thread, you pull that thread, pretty soon, the fabric itself falls apart. That is the logic of this article. Let's just go ahead and declare the entire garment useless. Again, not to stretch the metaphor far, I'm quite certain that the vast majority of Americans aren't buying into this. But notice, that takes us back to the earlier article by Jennifer Finney Boylan, identified as a transgender woman in The New York Times, complaining about the fact that J. K. Rowling, who claims to be a transgender activist, but says only women should play in women's sports, she isn't going far enough.
But of course, that's a cogent argument, when you consider the fact that if indeed J. K. Rowling says she wants to be enthusiastically for the transgender revolution, then guess what? Billionaire author, a transgender revolution is exactly what you just bought. J. K. Rowling evidently still wants to be known as a woman, but she also says she wants to be known as a transgender activist. She can have one, over time, she can't have both.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go on my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.