New U.S. Census data shows that the number of births out of wedlock in Oklahoma is up. Way up. In fact, some 40 percent of births in Oklahoma in 2011 were to unwed mothers, which is higher than the national average. This represents a significant challenge and opportunity for churches in Oklahoma, which remains one of the most churched states in America.
While an increasing number of churches realize we should minister with and to single mothers, there has been a cost to the removal of stigma to out-of-wedlock births. Namely, more children are being born into broken homes.
Expectations matter. The script for those desiring children used to be, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage.” Today, shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo too closely reflects the reality of women becoming pregnant out of wedlock.
The biggest loser in this equation of out-of-wedlock births is children. A close second, though, is the mothers who raise them. Coming off nearly Scott free are men, who sleep around and take no responsibility for their offspring. We have, in a way, catered to the barbarians in society. We have lost the whole idea of a “shotgun wedding.” This must change.
First, let’s face the fact that this is mostly the fault of men. A woman cannot become pregnant without a man, and the pool of guys out there is getting worse and worse. In his 2004 essay, “Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphey Brown,” Terrence O. Moore predicted we would see what we are seeing ten years later. Moore examined societal attitudes about single mothers, when Vice President Dan Quayle criticized fictional TV anchor “Murphey Brown” for purposefully becoming a single mother. Moore argues that Brown’s son would grow up to be one of two extremes, either a wimp or a barbarian.
Boys without fathers, as it turns out, often trend toward one of these extremes. By God’s grace, a single mother can raise godly children, but it is an uphill battle. Therefore, the church must respond in love by supporting mothers who are single, by telling men who abandon women and children they are living in sin and encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions, and by a recommitment to God’s best for a family, having a mother and a father.
Jesus, while compassionate to the woman at the well (John 4), did chide her for living with a man “who is not your husband.” Our Lord forgave her and restored her, as well as set her on a new path for life. Part of her old, sinful way was cohabitation. The church should not be afraid to tell women and men that God does not want them to have sex outside of marriage, nor does he smile upon cohabitation. God is not trying to spoil any fun. He is trying to protect us from ourselves.
Until a fundament shift in expectations occurs in society, we likely will continue to see the unwed birth rates climb. God’s people, though, can be accountable for our own and our actions. Let’s pray that we will take this Census news as a wake-up call and compassionately help young adult Christians stay on the best path.