Can the Family Survive?

We are honored to have Charles Donovan from the Family Research Council write a series of articles for The Outlook. Not only is Mr. Donovan an eminently qualified expert in the field of family values, but he and the Council represents form a crucial link between the American family and policymakers in the United States government. We commend these articles to our readers for serious reflection and action. The Editors

One night, just over a decade ago, nme Christian leaders met in a hotel room in Washington, D.C For all of them, it was a time of great concern that called for common prayer. For one of them, Dr. James C. Dobson, President of Focus on the Family, it was the culmination of a day that changed his life.

What had brought Dobson to the nation’s capital that day was an opportunity to speak to a preliminary meeting leading up to the White House Conference on Families. That event, the fulfillment of a promise made by Governor Jimmy Carter as he sought the presidency, had begun to collapse in controversy. Not the least among its problems was the inability of the conference organizers to agree on the definition of “family.”



As Dobson recounts these events in Rolf Zettersten’s biography, Dr. Dobson: Turning Hearts Toward Home, the challenge posed by the White House Conference was clear. Among the eleven-member steering committee for the conference, there was only one Christian leader. Moreover, the mechanics of the conference, with a nationally prescribed agenda and top-down organization, threatened to replay the culturally radical outcome of the International Women’s Year Conference in 1977, an event that endorsed abortion on demand and a panoply of novel gay and lesbian rights.

With that grim, governmental projection in mind which they could not endorse, the nine Christian leaders prayed on their knees, then rose to consider what could be done to give the traditional family a voice in national affairs. How could they help to guarantee that, if the federal government was ready to abandon its longterm neglect of the impact of public policy on families, it would not do so by veering off in an even worse direction? Among the decisions taken that night was one to establish the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.


In the past 13 years, the Family Research Council (FRC) has sought to fulfill the vision of that first night. Under the able direction of men like Mike Lynch, Jerry Regier and current President Gary L. Bauer, FRe has worked to give legislators a new “lease on family life.” Through conferences, research reports, advertising and education campaigns, FRC staff have addressed such issues as welfare reform, the impact of the tax code on families, obscenity law, sanctity of human life issues, adoption reform and parental choice in education.

Above all, the Family Research Council has struggled to ensure that government at all levels examine the likely impact of policy changes on the family as an institution, before enacting them. As domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan in his second term, Gary Bauer chaired a White House task force on families that took on precisely this responsibility. One of its primary achievements was the issuance of a Presidential Executive Order requiring federal agencies to publish family impact statements, akin to environmental impact statements, before proceeding with new regulations or policies.

US Government

The theory behind the Executive Order is fairly Simple. Preservation or strengthening of the family unit has only sporadically been a priority concern in national policy. To a great degree, this has been because family policy—the law of marriage, adoption, inheritance, abortion, education and so on—has traditionally been a prerogative of the states, not Uncle Sam. In addition, the national government has only rarely dealt with the family as a primary IInit of analysis or concern. Cabinet Departments sprang up around particular constituencies such as veterans, laborers and businessmen, or classifications such as the impoverished or the migrant. An early effort to buttress the family unit occurred in the 1930s with the passage of Aid to Dependent Children, the forerunner of today’s AFDC program, designed by the Roosevelt Administration to rescue the children of widows and abandoned mothers from poverty.

After mid-century, involvement of the national government in family life rapidly increased. The federal income tax began to expand, starting off with a generous exemption for children that began swiftly to erode because of inflation. The federal role in education grew. The Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty fired its first salvos with a host of new welfare programs. New decisions by the federal courts impacted the family and family values, sometimes positively, often not so.

Cultural Changes

Behind all of these developments was an even deeper set of cultural changes, from the sexual revolt of the ‘60s, to the no-fault divorce revolution begun in 1970, and the feminist movement. All in all, families came under tremendous stress, with many more centrifugal than centripetal forces at work. A new form of extreme individualism, often unwittingly backed by government policies (for example, welfare policies that made marriage less economically advantageous than cohabitation), took root.

The data summarized below, much of which the Family Research Council routinely brings to the attention of policymakers today, confirms the enormous destabilization of the family that has taken place. In 1960, 5.1 million American children lived with only their mother. In 1991, that figure had risen to 14.5 million children, nearly a three-fold increase.

Increased divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing are contributing to this trend. Although the trend line is stable and has even begun a slight decline, more than 1 million divorces have occurred in the United States each year since 1973. Nearly a third of all births in 1990 28 percent were out-of-wedlock. Among blacks, the figure is 65 percent. Our nation’s abortion rate, among the world’s highest, masks the true dimensions of the problem: some 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States today are non-marital.

Economic Concern

These gray statistics are of concern for both moral and economic reasons. The first economic reason is for the children themselves. Being born into (or forced by divorce to join) a single-parent household has measurable, negative economic impact on the family. 55 percent of all children living in single-parent families are poor, compared to only 11 percent of children living with both mother and father.

Children living with mother-only are not only more likely to face poverty, they are significantly more likely to drop out of school, to have general health problems, to suffer an accident or to commit a crime. While these problems are generally associated with poverty itself, poverty alone doesn’t explain them. In fact, a 1988 study found that the proportion of Single-parent households in a community accurately predicts its rates of violent crime and burglary, but the community’s poverty level does not.

The second economic reason is for society. Not only does each of the above problems constitute a resource drain for society, from building prisons to spending for health and income support, but society also suffers from what could be called the lost gifts of a happy childhood. The diminished education outcomes of children missing a parent costs society in terms of productivity and creative contributions. These are items that support payments, from welfare grants to child support, can never supply. They constitute a deficit of meaning that must be the concern of family policy.

Moral-Spiritual Concern

If the family is in difficulty then, the question remains, what is responsible for its decline, and how can it be reversed? The Family Research Council believes, as it has from the beginning, that the roots of the modern family crisis are ultimately spiritual. Barely over a generation ago, the British nation, rescued from the German onslaught in World War II, celebrated its salvation by using Ralph Vaughan Williams’ stirring music, intoning, “Take it, O God, for it is Thine.” Today only 3 percent of the English people deign to even call themselves Christian.

What transpired in a generation there, can happen may, in fact, be happening—just as swiftly here, especially with a pervasive media willing to promote a culture of hedonism and materialism. Spiritual revival must be the primary focus of our churches and of families, bill the cultural and political forces that reinforce the spiritual vacuum must also be addressed if the family is to revive. “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes” (Nehemiah: 4:14b).


The goals of the Family Research Council embrace both specific public policies and a framework for long-term engagement by Christians in the public policy process. As a sampler of important initiatives and principles, FRC has endeavored to:

• Encourage every congregation to establish a community impact committee. Concern over separation of church and state has often propelled church bodies into neglecting missions that are properly theirs before they become issues of public policy. All politics is local, the adage says. So is most public policy. Throughout American history, convicted people of faith have taken up the cross of need in their communities without waiting for government to act. From the education of children to the care of the mentally ill and the handicapped to the needs of workers, congregations have taken action without waiting for government commissions to devise rules or raise funds.

This form of witness is powerful in such areas as pornography and abortion where the courts have removed most local control. The crisis pregnancy center and Sheltering Church movements, and the successful Enough Is Enough campaigns that have succeeded in closing pornography outlets across the country, are examples.

Many churches have established community impact committees as a way to overcome the crisis-fatigue model that often overtakes committed Christians in the social concerns area. Under that model, a pressing need is suddenly identified and an action group is formed of members who typically exhaust themselves and resign in frustration when the problem isn’t solved after months of around-the-clock efforts.

Community impact committees must be built for the long haul. Focus on the Family has developed excellent materials and a special one-day Community Impact Seminar to assist churches in forming such committees. Information on the seminar is available from Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995.

• Restore the promotion of family time as the key to a sound economy.

Modern economic debate typically focuses on the deficit, growth and taxes. The Family Research Council looks at all of these issues from the standpoint of the family time deficit, the growth in family estrangement and the tax on parenting. Parents today spend 40 percent less time with their children than did parents in 1970. This dramatic change in parent-child interaction is turning up in adolescent indicators from drug abuse to mental illness to suicide.

Both detachment from parents, and the seeming parental preference for career advancement over more homely pursuits, are taking their toll on the young. Families are overtaxed. Workplace policies increasingly reward out-of-home care of children and penalize mothers who make a full-time commitment to child-rearing. Regulatory policies discriminate against families who desire to have one or both parents work from home.

The combined effect of these factors is to divide families further in a culture that frequently asserts a false conflict between the cultures of youth and adult. When a parent spends less time with a child today, the child is likely to spend more time with the marketeers of MTV and Reeboks. The Family Research Council brings a full-time family perspective to the economic debate, seeking to remind members of Congress and the Executive branch that there’s more to an economy than GNP, and more to a GNP than goods and services—there are hearths and homes.

• Reweave a social fabric worthy of the best in us and our children.

Something is grossly wrong in a society that trusts the judgment of a 14-year-old girl to enter a clinic and decide to have her unborn child destroyed without her parents’ knowledge, but distrusts those same parents to decide how to use their own tax contributions to educate that child.

Something is very wrong in a society that protects the right of pornographers to sell material that makes sexual violence seem pleasurable, but bars civil recovery from pornographers by the victims of sexual crimes who found the violence anything but pleasurable. Something is very wrong in a society where an estimated 2 million couples wait to adopt children and nearly that many are discarded each year because they are “unwanted.”

Restoring respect for the sanctity of marriage and the blessing of children are the core themes of the social issue mission of the Family Research Council. FRC truly began on its knees, and as far and wide as our speakers and analysts range—to Congressional hearing rooms, the set of Nightline and MacNeil-Lehrer, or the front pages of Washington Post—we will go only so far as our knees carry us.

Charles A. Donovan currently serves as Executive Staff Director for the Family Research CoIllIci!, a Washington, D.C. based research, policy and lobbying organization. As staff director, Mr. Donovan supervises and directs the day-to-day operations of FRC which is dedicated to ensuring that the interests of the family are considered and respected in the formation of public policy. He is also active in the formation of nationwide strategies and as a writer for FRC’s publications.

Mr. Donovan has extensive experience as an editor/commentator. He is co-author, with Robert G. Marshall, of Blessed Are the Barren: A Social History of Planned Parenthood (lgnatius Press, October 1991). He has appeared on ABC’s “Nightline,” CNN, USIA’s Worldnet, CBN, the USA Radio Network and numerous other programs, and his writings have appeared in USA Today, The San Diego Union, The Cincinnati Enquirer, the journal First Things, among others.

As a nationally known speaker, Mr. Donovan has addressed audiences across the United States and abroad. He presented a paper before the International Congress on the Family, Brighton, England in 1990, and served as a participant in a conference on family break-up at Rockford, Illinois, in 1989. That same year Mr. Donovan addressed the national Legislators Conference in Chicago sponsored by Americans United for life. He has testified before Congress and the Conservative Democratic Forum in the US House of Representatives.

Prior to joining FRC in February 1989, Mr. Donovan served as Deputy Director of Presidential Correspondence at the White House beginning in 1983, writing policy statements, presidential messages and proclamations. He joined the Office of Presidential Correspondence as a writer/editor in April 1981.

From 1978 through 1981, Mr. Donovan was Legislative Director in the Washington office of the National Right to Life Committee, developing strategy and heading the lobbying program for the national committee.

Mr. Donovan has worked as a contributor to the sports pages of several publications and as an assistant in the clean water research at the Taft Research Center of the US Environmental Protection Agency in his native Cincinnati.

He is a 1974 graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English. He and his Margaret have three children and reside in Arlington, Virginia.