The Importance of the Family

Last night I watched an interview with J K Rawlins on CNN. It was quite fascinating as she explained why she was spending her very considerable fortune on trying to rid the globe of institutions for children. She made two very substantive points – the first was that institutionalization inevitably imposed on children irrevocable harm, no matter how well run or professional, the institution was. Her second point was that it costs 10 times the resources needed to raise a child in an institution rather than in a family environment.

MDC-T local government secretary Eddie Cross

It was for this reason that she had committed herself to funding the return of children who have been institutionalized, to their families or placing children without families with surrogates in a family environment.

I agree with her. When my wife and I ran camps for children on behalf of Scripture Union we took 60 boys at a time for a week to a bush camp where we tried to give them the time of their lives. We did this for 10 years and found that after 48 hours in camp we could distinguish those boys with families that were in some way dysfunctional. The main reason was divorce or inter personal conflict in families. The performance of such children in school and in life, was always below those who had a balanced, happy home environment.

Then there was the historical example of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union where they experimented on a huge scale with taking children away from their families and raising “perfect Soviet children” in State Institutions. They did this for a decade and then found that the children raised outside the family could not make decisions, could not lead or exercise initiative in the same way that adults raised in families could. As a result, since then all Communist States have made it difficult to get a divorce – this includes China and they have given great emphasis to supporting families and raising children in stable home environments.

The origins of the family are difficult to determine but there is little doubt that the biblical version of the creation of the family has had a great deal to do with it. Bible teaching is clear – God ordained that a man and a woman will leave their families and form a union, the Bible uses the term “one flesh” and that the primary purpose of the Union was to have children and raise a family. Within the family the Bible goes on to dictate that the man is the “Head” of the family and must be prepared to sacrifice everything for his wife.

It is interesting that the Bible, in the same context, gives women complete equality with men in secular, state and business life. They are jointly charged to be custodians of creation. This fundamental division of labor in the family and the principle of gender equality in secular life, is what sets Christianity apart from nearly all other global religions. It also put’s Christians like myself in a straightjacket on these fundamental issues which are now proving to be so contentious in society.

Like it or not, Christians have no choice but to recognize that marriage is a God given union between a man and a woman. Any other form of family that humanity may create in its own wisdom is not God sanctioned. This does not mean that we do not accept those of us who are different in any way, or that we do not recognize the plight and needs of those who have faced the loss of a partner or are single parents. All that we are taught by scripture is that the family, is God ordained and that the relationships involved are insoluble unless by death.

In my view, it is vital for mankind to recognize that the family is the very foundation of a stable and progressive society. It is the best environment in which to raise and succor children. The current social trends in almost all societies are very concerning in this respect. Divorce rates, even in the Church, are approaching half of all marriages, the acceptance of same sex marriages is now becoming the norm rather than the exception and I am sorry, but, no matter how it is dressed up, such practices and trends are a direct threat to society.

Anything that affects the development of children as stable and effective citizens is a threat and in my experience, the best environment for this is a stable, secure, family. When dysfunctional families in any country become the majority, that country is in trouble and cannot function optimally and deliver the desired quality of life to all its citizens.

The great sin of Apartheid was not so much the physical separation of the peoples of South Africa, but the near total destruction of the black family. A survey conducted a few years ago revealed that over 70 per cent of all black children in the country were the product of single parent families. The reasons were many – poverty, the policies that did not foster whole family settlement, the migrant labor system, the provision of services. Was this deliberate? Even if it was not, the collateral damage to South African society is almost immeasurable.

If we are going to foster the family we need to go about it in a deliberate and well-informed manner. First, we need to teach each generation the values and principles behind family life, we need to do that both by teaching and by example. We need to celebrate successful families and stable homes. While we should tolerate homosexuality, to treat this as being “normal” is crazy. It is an aberration but this does not give us the right to punish such life styles and practices and make them illegal.

We need to provide families with the necessary environment to meet their needs – the resources required, decent homes, water, waste management and other services as well as access to health and education services. Home ownership is essential in this equation along with social security nets and minimum income targets and programs.

Then there is the role play of the actors in the family. I once gave a talk to a Rotary Conference attended by several hundred Rotarians, I spoke about growing up with your children. When I spoke about raising the girl child, I talked about the period when girls go through puberty – she suddenly takes a personal interest in her dad. In fact, it can be described as her first love affair and her father is the only man she can really trust for this early experimentation in interpersonal relationships.

At this most sensitive of times, her father must make himself available and give his daughter special attention. One friend of mine took his twelve-year-old to London for a holiday – just the two of them. She is now an adult with her own family, but she still remembers that short time together. Those men who have been through this experience will also remember this as a special time together. As I spoke to this audience I suddenly realized that there was complete silence in that room. The men I was speaking to were all successful, probably did not have the time to allocate to their children at this crucial stage and suddenly appreciated what they had missed.

Girls who are raised in families where the male figure is absent will have problems in her future relationships and in choosing friends and perhaps even a life time partner. This will impact on her whole lifetime. Families are the very foundation of successful societies, one of the main foundations of the future, we tamper with its structure and functions at our peril.

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