As a black American who lived through the Civil Rights movement, I would never romanticize America’s past. But there was indeed a time when the overwhelming majority of American children were born to married parents, the divorce rate was very low, and men generally did what it took to provide for their families. Those days are quickly slipping away from us, and unless we make radical changes in our culture, those days may be gone forever. But it is not in the grave yet!
Since 2001, Gallup has conducted a “Values and Beliefs” survey of American attitudes toward various social issues. Participants are asked whether they approve or disapprove of various behaviors ranging from divorce to abortion. In the twelve years the survey has been conducted, approval of certain sexual behaviors—homosexual sex, sex between unmarried individuals and out of wedlock childbearing—has steadily risen. The most dramatic change has been in the approval of homosexual sex, which rose from 40% to 59%.
It was not all bad news for the old-fashioned among us, however. Approval of pornography rose only 1%, approval of abortion neither rose nor fell, and approval of adultery dropped 1%. The current trend, though, is undeniable: Americans increasingly view sex more as a recreational choice than a sacred covenant.
The change in attitudes toward sexuality can be interpreted to support either side of the culture war. Proponents of redefining marriage to include homosexual couples point to growing approval of homosexual behavior and declare that the acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable. The rest of us will remind everyone that this fight was never about hospital visitation rights, but about codifying approval of homosexual behavior into law. But any honest person must admit that as we have accepted more relaxed views about sexuality, they haven’t been associated with greater levels of human happiness, but rather with greater rates of disease, poverty and family instability.
While we can and should see these poll numbers as a warning, it is a huge mistake to assume that such trends can only move in one direction. For example, in 1950, just 16% of married mothers worked outside the home. This began to change rapidly in the 1960s, and many predicted the era of the stay at home mother was over. Since 2000, however, the rates of mothers working outside the home has reversed, and is currently (as of January 2013) at its lowest rate since 1991. Vanderbilt University even released a study recently, documenting the increasing number of female graduates from top tier universities who opt to stay home with their children.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.