The Crisis in the Family

Is there a modern crisis in the family? Many Christian say so, pointing to the increase of divorce, the rise of juvenile delinquency, the loss of family solidarity, etc. There seems to be a change taking place in one of our fundamental institutions. Almost everyone will admit that this change is occurring: but instead of finding it a reason for concern, many think of it as just one change among others through which a dynamic society must pass. Others welcome it as an indication of the rise of more freedom from the ties that the family earlier placed on the individual.

When we speak of crisis we must be careful. The word has become a mode, a fashion, a fad. We speak of the crisis of our age, the crisis of world civilization, the political crisis, critical shortages, etc. It may be that there is a crisis in all these areas; but we must still take care, for once words become fashionable we are likely to use them unthinkingly without appraising the actual state of affairs. We may even fall into the temptation of making use of such words without thought to convince someone that our civilization is doomed and on this basis try to win him to the Christian faith. We should not give the impression that the Christian faith is proved by the fact that the world is in a crisis, nor should we intimate that the Christian faith is needed only when things are not going well.

Forces Making for Crisis

Although the reactions of people vary greatly. I believe from the Christian point of view that we must say there is a crisis in the family, a crisis thaI has perhaps gone just as far, or even farther, in America than in any other land. In subsequent articles we shall deal with the Christian idea of marriage and the family. In this article we shall limit ourselves to outlining some of the forces that are making for this crisis of the family as we see it.


Are there not always problems and tensions when the marriage relationship is involved? Everyone of us can remember the stage of swooning puppy love through which he passed in his teens. We call also remember the difficulty of making the marriage choice. This choice looked at once inviting and risky. We wanted to choose. and yet we realized how much was at stake. He can also remember the difficulties of the adjustment period in marriage. At times the honeymoon was mostly moon and little honey. Then there was the time of becoming settled, of buying the necessary things to set up housekeeping. Then when this was barely out of the way there were the additional expenses and uncertainties connected with the coming or the children. This is to ignore completely the problems of raising the children and providing for their needs. We will agree that forming the family and providing for it is our God-given task and that it brings us some of the greatest joys of this life: yet, when we think of marriage and the family, does it not involve as many or more problems and new responsibilities as any other relationship into which we enter in our lives?

Besides these ever present problems there are certain perennial ones that lead to disruption and tensions of a more radical kind. There is one problem that always puzzles me, even as a child, the problem why there are more of one sex than the other. Would it have been so had these been no sin in the world? We will not pass this question off with a laugh or a shrug of the shoulders. It can be made the butt of a joke; but there are too many people affected by this discrepancy to pass it off. There are some whose whole being longs for a partner, and yet such must remain single because of a deficient number of the other sex. To alleviate this problem various organizations have arisen and much has been done to bring the sexes in contact with each other so that mating can take place. This discrepancy has become especially acute because of the attrition of war. The male population dwindles and the female population is faced with increasing competition for a mate. This problem reached such proportions in Germany after the last war that women were openly advertising for husbands.

War also brings into focus another problem, that of being separated because of abnormal circumstances. Many young men go into foreign lands, leaving their sweethearts and wives behind. We are perhaps aware of the sorry conditions surrounding our soldier camps, where the men are separated from their wives and loved ones and are hungry for excitement and emotional satisfaction. Explosive situations have also been developed among immigrants in foreign lands who must be for a time without their wives. The situation among the Dutch immigrants in Australia is a case in point. We see problems of this sort arising in prisons and other institutions where men and women are left without the fellowship of the opposite sex.

The increased number of women who work outside the home is also a source of problems. The sexes may be brought together under improper conditions. There are jobs in which male and female work together under conditions that arouse their passions. This increase of female labor also brings problems into the home where both parents work. The children are left to shift for themselves or are left under the supervision or someone else. who perhaps has interest in the children, but who can never, just because she is not the mother of the children, have the same effect on them as the mother herself. This problem is acute in America where an amazing number of wives work.

The Growing Complexity of Society

Another class of problems arises out of the development of our civilization and its growing complexity. There has been a removal of functions from the sphere of the family. This is a popular theme with sociologists. How are we to look at it? Are these sociologists trying to break down authority, and is there no truth in their claim? We believe as Christians that the family is indestructible, and as we shall point out later, even determined and clever methods to supplant it must fail. However, though the family as a basic unit can not be destroyed, we can understand that in the development of culture and civilization the family need not always stand precisely in the same position. Earlier in our county manufacturing was carried on in the home. Now a home that has manufacturing in it is even an oddity. By far the most of our clothing and even our food is manufactured away from the home and transported to it. Our modern way of doing things forces production in the home to be at a minimum. Education is also further removed from the home. Earlier much of a child’s schooling took place within the home. With the increasing complexity of life this became impossible and the children were taught in schools outside of the immediate home circle. We can believe that the authority for education rests ultimately in the home, and yet recognize that with our level of civilization it is impossible for the parents to provide all the education the child needs. Some things must pass from the immediate home circle as a culture develops. This becomes dangerous only if the idea takes root that the home is therefore less significant or is becoming obsolete.

Now more than ever the youth is being taken away from the home and is subjected to education that originates outside of it. There has been a great increase in the scope and effectiveness of mass media of communication, such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines. The youth is also more mobile. The modern high school youth does not have simply a bicycle; he is likely to have an automobile, which allows him to have a circle or friends at a great distance from his home circle. His car itself is incentive to travel, and he is more likely to be away from home than at it.

The Greater “Spiritual” Problem

Beyond such problems, which are associated with the increasing complexity of our life are the perennial disturbances which strike at family life, there is another type of problem which is less tangible but is nevertheless of the greatest importance. These are the problems that we loosely call “spiritual.” There is a spirit in every culture. This spirit is not completely homogeneous; but among every people there are mighty spiritual forces at work that tend to mould that people in to a specific pattern. I believe the dominant spirit in our culture is that which originated in the humanistic revolt from the Middle Ages. This spirit has had great influence with respect to the question of marriage. What is this spirit, and how does it affect the conception of marriage among us? That is the question we shall seek to answer in the remainder of this article.

First of all, humanism brought with it a naturalizing effect on man’s thought concerning all of life. The Reformation was also a reaction to the Middle Ages; however, it was an attempt to reinstate that which it felt the Middle Ages have seen corrupted. This humanistic movement, on the other hand, was the attempt to put everything on a new basis. It tried to set life on the basis of man’s will, and not God’s will. This was bound to affect the idea of marriage, one of the fundamental institutions in our lives. Marriage could no longer be seen as something made ultimately in heaven. It was seen as a human contract for certain human ends. Since the contract was purely human and for human purposes the inevitable consequence was that when the relationship no longer satisfied these purposes it was fit only to be dissolved. What these purposes are varies. Marriage is thought by some to be the means for the satisfaction of desire. By others it is seen as a practical arrangement by which the support of one or the other parties is assured, certain emotional satisfactions are gained, or some other end is realized. There are others who regard marriage as being not primarily for the sake of the couple involved but for the good of the stale. In all the modern, humanistic theories of whatever kind they may be, there is something in common. Marriage is approached from a non-biblical view of man. Instead of seeing man as one made in the image and likeness of God, with the center of his being of a spiritual character, they see him as something less, perhaps a purely biological being. The spiritual is eliminated. This must mean that the idea of marriage is emasculated and its specifically Christian character is destroyed. Both marriage and its problems are seen from a non-Christian point of view. Man is no longer a spiritual being and so both marriage and its crises are misunderstood and the key to the solution of marriage problems is removed.

Sexualization of the Marriage Bond

A tremendous influence of this naturalization is seen in the present sexualization of the marriage bond. One need not go far to encounter L1lis movement. Entering the corner drug store, looking at a billboard, glancing at the movie advertisements in the evening paper are enough to bring one into contact with it. Sin with respect to sex is as old as sin itself; but if the spirit of an age be predominantly naturalistic it offers fertile soil for this sexualization to take deep rOOL The result in our age is an undue preoccupation with the sexual side of marriage. There is a great stimulation of sexual curiosity, sexual imagination, and sexual desires. The overemphasis of sex results, too in a warped idea of what the sexual side of marriage has to offer. The crux of the difficulty lies in the fact (hat the sexual is divorced from the spiritual, and it is thought somehow to be independent. It is thought that the sexual is in and of itself, and that satisfaction is quite apart [rom spiritual factors. Many manuals on marriage, which are valuable in a real way, fall far short because of this very thing. They stress the techniques of sexual adjustment and totally leave out of consideration the broadly spiritual factors which must accompany and support the physical. The Christian asks whether the physical can stand alone. Is human sexuality the same as that in an animal? But we shall return to this subject later.

Along with the naturalization of the marriage bond there came also an individualization of it. Society was thought to be made up of separate individuals, who were essentially independent of each other. They could or could not enter into contractual relationships with each other for various purposes; but to be truly themselves they did not need Such bonds. All the relationships into which they entered were thought of after one pattern. They were planned associations of separate individuals banding together for certain purposes. We are all aware of groups of this kind. Trade unions and bowling teams are examples. But as we look at individualism we see that it goes further than this. It says that a person is truly himself when he is by himself and for himself. He is then free, able to follow his own dictates. When he enters a group he must give up a great section of his freedom. True enough, it is really impossible for him to live entirely alone; yet ill the group he must give up something that is rightfully and essentially his. To be himself he must be free: yet he must give up part of his freedom. As I see it, the individualistic view can not escape seeing a tension between the group and the individual in his self-realization.

If to be oneself, to be true to oneself, is in conflict with the demands made on one from the group I call not help but think that the individualistic idea is one of the sources of the modern crisis in the family. Individualism lends to break down the group. We can see its effects running through our entire culture, in great measure in the~present disregard for legitimate authority.

As a final source for the crisis in the family we will mention something that has come along with the great change in our Western mentality in the last 30 to 40 years. I refer to a marked skepticism, and sometimes even cynicism, with regard to values and ideals. Losing hold on ideals toward which one reaches can have only one result. One is thrown back upon the moment, upon what actually, exists. This can mean despair opportunism, cynical use of power, etc. What we wish to note here is that the actual state of affairs is elevated either consciously or unconsciously in to the standard of what ought to be. An example of this is the now famous and widely read Kinsey report, which describes the sexual behavior of the American male. It is certainly of interest to know what the American male is do: in this respect. It is distressing, though perhaps not too surprising, that his practice has deviated so far from Christian standards. But the thing we refer to in this report is that it gives the suggestion that since so many of the males are acting as they are, that this is the normal and expected thing. It gives the suggestion that it is the laws rind the Christian standards that are out of tune with the times, instead of warning the American males that they are on the wrong track. It suggests that the laws should be modified to fit behavior. It is easy to see that if the mode or the fashion becomes the standard all hope for following the Christian way will be excluded. Our people get the idea that because the majority do something, it is perfectly normal and even expected. Such an attitude can do nothing else than augment the present crisis in the family.