David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

"The American Family Is Making a Comeback"

How about this for some modern logic:

1. Families are a massive blessing to society and to individuals

2. Families are facing extraordinary pressures, obstacles, and burdens.

3. This is an ideal time to redefine what a family is.

The first two premises are taken from Michael Wear’s article in The Atlantic, The American Family Is Making A Comeback and, as Wear’s article demonstrates, almost everyone agrees with them. The fallacious conclusion is what we see going on all around us, especially in politics, the media, the judiciary, and education, but also in the business world too.

Using only Wear’s piece, let’s take a closer look at the facts and quotes supporting the first two premises in order to feel more deeply the fallacy of the conclusion.

1. Families are a massive blessing to society and to individuals

“Our current policies have failed to address this new landscape, and because of it we are inhibiting one of our nation’s greatest contributors to the public good, and Americans’ most personal aspirations: family.”

“It can be easy to miss the value of family to our nation because its contributions are so ingrained into our lives.”

“Its value can be partly calculated by estimating the cost of broken families because when Americans don’t have family to care for them, government must step in to provide those services.”

  • State and federal governments spend billions of dollars each year to care for children in foster care ($9 billion through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act alone.)
  •  There are longer-term costs for children who grow up outside of safe, permanent families as well, including the $5.1 billion the government spends incarcerating former foster-care youth each year.
  • Familial bonds help defray the costs of caring for the elderly.
  • In 2009, 61.6 million Americans gave uncompensated care to an adult “with limitations in daily activities” at some point during the year—an economic value of $450 billion in unpaid services.

“From cradle to grave, the social and personal benefits of a healthy family, and the costs of its absence, are evident.”

“Every family in America is a little business … in fact, the word economy comes from the Greek word ‘oikos,’ which means home. Every home is a little economy. And when those little economies struggle and suffer … then America fails.”

“In 2009, the Brookings Institute released a study that, among other things, said if you graduate from high school, get a job, get married and then have children (in that order), your chance of being in poverty is just 2 percent.” 

2. Families are facing extraordinary pressures, obstacles, and burdens.

“Marriage is on the decline, birthrates are down, and divorce rates are high.”

“The strains on families and family formation are real, rational, and profound.”

“The old-fashioned family plan of stably married parents residing with their children remains a source of considerable power in America—but one that is increasingly seen as out of reach to all but the educated elite.”

“The average American family is poorer than it was 10 years ago.”

“Over the last 40 years changes in the workforce and growing socioeconomic inequality have conspired to stoke familial instability.”

Student loan debt is causing many to delay marriage.

“Today, it is harder and harder to be good parents and good workers for many working families. That’s a tradeoff that is neither good for our country or our families.”

“Our country—whether through tax policy or through the rhetoric of our current president—does very little to support the institution of marriage.”

“The popular conception of the American Dream is a spouse, two and a half kids, and your own house with a car in the garage and a picket fence around the yard. When we talk about the American Dream slipping away, we tend to focus on the possessions: the house, the car, the picket fence. At a time when the income of American families is declining, this makes some sense…. [But] it is a more fundamental hope that is challenged today. The people that make up the American Dream—the spouse, the children, our dearest relationships—seem out of reach for millions of Americans.”

3. This is an ideal time to redefine what a family is.

Given these two premises, we would expect some moves to support families better and some of these are highlighted in the article.

We should consider options—tax credits, interest-rate incentives, family-friendly zoning and city planning—that align America’s interest in marriage as a public good, and stability as an important factor in a child’s educational and social development, with our housing policies.

Wear commends some British moves and calls for something similar in the USA:

British Prime Minister David Cameron has recognized the new burdens families face. He recently announced that policies in the U.K. must pass a “family test,” which means “every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.”

However, there’s a massive elephant stampeding round the room, and it’s the utter refusal to define family in the same way as its Inventor, and also to reject all counterfeit substitutes. As even Wear notes:

For all the “pro-family” policies that progressives are putting forward none of them explicitly value stable, two-parent families over other family types

Democrats continue to show no interest in meeting Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s call to “stigmatize illegitimacy indirectly” through tax benefits available only to married parents.

As the costs of family breakdown become even more apparent, Democrats’ no-judgment approach may seem insufficient in the face of a demographic and sociological tidal wave.

Glimmers of hope

Wear does highlight a few conservative republican efforts to support traditional families while also helping families that face different and less-than-ideal realities. But after summarizing the American dream with a focus on the people who make the dream a dream, he concludes:

Politics alone cannot restore this hope, but it will only further fuel Americans’ cynicism if Washington does nothing to address it.

Let’s not give up the fight for biblical marriage and the biblical family. We may have lost the argument based on Bible verses. But there are going to be plenty of shocking statistics to build arguments upon in the coming years. It’s just sad and cruel to think of the many millions who will be damaged as a result of the biggest and most dangerous social experiment ever conducted.


About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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