By: Thomas F. Booher
I can still remember watching shows centered around family when I was young. Very young, like seven. You remember them: Family Matters, Growing Pains, Full House, The Cosby Show. Family Matters held on til 1998; Growing Pains 1992; Full House 1995; The Cosby Show 1992. Now look at the lineup of shows today on stations that you would expect to be family oriented. Let's take the obvious one -- ABC Family. They boast shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Switched at Birth, The Vineyard, Twisted, and yes, Baby Daddy. With exception perhaps to The Vineyard, I think you get the idea of what these shows are about, and not only are they not about the traditional family and its values, they are diametrically opposed to them.
It's not as if going back to the family sitcoms of 20 years ago will fix things -- obviously it was on the brink of extinction even at that point. The actors in those shows have track records that indicate they weren't really much for family values anyways. What we do see, however, is that even up to about 20 years ago, pagans still found it worth promoting the family unit to the masses through television. It brought in money. But all that has changed.
If you go back to the late '60's and early 70's, only about a third of Americans thought that premarital sex was morally acceptable. By the mid 80's over 50 percent said that premarital sex was acceptable. Today, that number is over 60 percent, and close to 70 percent in teenagers and young adults. In a span of about 40 years the numbers have flipped -- and the television shows reflect this change.
I don't have the time to watch a lot of television, and that's probably a good thing. Just last night I decided to start watching a show with my wife, Damages. We saw the first three episodes of the first season, which debuted in 2007. It's about this lady who gets this big break, hired to work with the most powerful lawyer in town. This powerful lawyer, a woman, played by Glenn Close, is going after a billionaire by the name of Frobisher, who has made his fortunes largely by talking up his company and stocks to thousands of employees, who were tricked into buying in and now have lost everything. Glenn Close wants to bring this guy down, so she will work endlessly, along with her employees, to bring about justice.
Frobisher is clearly painted as a bad guy. He is loaded, but has family problems. He sleeps with hookers in the back of cars, does drugs, acts like he loves his wife, and comes to the place where he will have someone killed in order to protect his fortune. He's disgusting. Then there is Glenn Close, and while being a tough cookie, is likable. You root for her and for the young lady that she hired, Helen. Close tells Helen at one point in the second episode to never have kids. They get in the way and they want all of your time. Close has a kid who is into hardcore pornography, and it turns out that he is sending grenades through the mail to his own mother at work in order to scare her. She doesn't get her son and for all that she does have together in her professional life, her personal life is in shambles.
This is the connection point between the good guys and bad guys. Helen, a good girl, has sex with her boyfriend, who becomes her fiance. Her fiance's sister, another good girl, repeatedly hookups with a friend. The show seems to depict how Americans want it these days -- to have fun with multiple partners and never pay any consequences. The fiance's sister got pregnant in the past and had an abortion, something she wants to keep a secret.
The point is that premarital sex and family problems affect the good guys in tv shows just as much as bad guys these days. What you don't see the good guys having, usually, is murderous thoughts, adulterous affairs, or drug problems (though they may have had these in the past). I haven't seen a lot of tv shows, but this pattern holds true for the ones I have seen, such as 24, Fringe, Lie to Me, Alias.
In our world today, premarital sex is acceptable, pursuing your own careers at almost any cost is acceptable, but we want to have happy families too, someday. We want it both ways, but we can't have it both ways.
Glenn Close and her husband, her son's stepdad, go to some sort of psychiatrist or psychologist to get help with their son. This is where the world thinks the answers are. Television always paints the parents as clueless, weak, even desperate to get their children back in order. The children are bratty, rebellious, and hard to understand because they are lost themselves. Even rough and tough Jack Bauer had family problems.
Why is this so? Why do the good guys all have weaknesses in this area, just like the bad guys? Because it's true in reality. The producers of the show know that we will connect with the good guys, so what better way to make us invest in the show than to draw us in where we too hurt the most -- with our spouses and children. We want to see some kind of resolution, some kind of closure and family union with the good guys, because we desperately want that for ourselves in the real world.
You may think the Christian community is different. Of course, to some extent it is. True believers are more likely to be faithful to their spouses and love their children because of the Holy Spirit. But remember, David was a man after God's own heart and murdered Uriah to have an affair with Uriah's wife. We still do unspeakably wicked things as believers. I've heard that some hotels have experienced the most porn use when a youth pastor's convention meets there. I've heard that women have abortions nearly as much within the church as without. I know we men view nearly as much pornography within the church as without. We have largely followed the world off the cliff of sexual morality and family integrity.
How did this happen? How did we chase after the world? Well, we are still sinners. That's true. But I think it runs much deeper than that. I think it is because pastors and parents have failed their flock. I think pastors have not taught their congregation the importance of parenting, or how to parent. Consequently, I think Christian parents are largely clueless on how to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
You may think you see encouraging signs in the church that will change all this. I do not. Don't appeal to family integrated churches. I've been to those, and frankly what I find at all churches, including those, are rebellious children who will not sit still in church or even pretend to listen to the pastor. Why is that? Because the parents largely refuse to discipline their child and make them sit still. I have even seen parents look down approvingly on their children flopping around in the pew like a fish out of water, talking above a whisper, and crawling out into the aisles! This is a distraction to others, and it teaches the children nothing about the seriousness of coming before God in worship on Sundays. And if this is how the children generally behave on Sunday mornings for the public to see, how do you think they are behaving at home in private? This is due to the child's sinfulness, but it is also due to the parent's neglect to parent.
We have forgotten Proverbs 22:15, that "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline removes it." My Dad said if he acted like many children in the church do today, he would have been marched out and spanked. I would have been too as a child, and for the most part, I sat still in church and made some attempts to listen. That is not so much a testament to me as it is my parent's training and discipline.
I am encouraged to hear that more families are reading the Word or a devotional together. I am discouraged that it is only 20-30 minutes a day. If we think that covers what God says in Deuteronomy 6 about teaching our children of God as we rise up, as we lie down, as we go about, we are delusional. If you think that, you need to wake up.
The change in culture toward sexuality is why homosexuality and pornography are becoming more respectable, even accepted. Only you, Christian, can turn that around in your own life, in your children's, and perhaps in the world's. And this holds true whether you are married with children, married without children, or single and looking. Another problem young Christians have is that they don't even want a biblical marriage. They say they want a Christian spouse, but that is only attached on to a long list of petty and frivolous desires that have nothing to do with holiness and everything to do with carnality and selfishness. They get these desires from their own sinful hearts, fueled by the culture around them through pop music, movies, television, even romance novels.
The problem is deep. I hardly see a ray of hope because I have been to big time reformed churches, and small country reformed churches. They all have the same problem. We don't love our families first, probably because we don't love God and His glory most. We are more concerned about making money, working hard, getting ahead, enjoying personal time, even studying God's Word for ourselves to the neglect of teaching and loving our own children and spouse.
What we need is a revolution in thinking about the family. We need to see the family as our first calling. We need to see that especially as pastors, understanding that there is a reason why a pastor must manage his own household and children well if he is to be qualified to be a pastor. This is because the family comes first, it is our first and only indispensable calling, yet we treat it as the last and only dispensable one. Pastors need to not only lead by the example of their family, but also preach to their congregation how to lead their families well.
I have a whole podcast series on pastoring and parenting on this very thing, and I would encourage you to listen to it: Pastoring and Parenting
May God have mercy on us. May we repent in sack cloth and ashes.