So you want to blame the legacy of slavery for fatherless homes? You want to ascribe guilt to your coach or political party? How about wealth inequality? Your sinful uncle or the playboy athlete? Should we blame far away jobs or the poor example of our own family?
If you’re looking to blame someone for the plague of fatherless homes today, don’t accuse your father or political leaders. Go all the way back to the source.
Sin is to blame for fatherless homes and sin came from Adam. When our human father bit into the forbidden fruit, he passed sin onto every human that followed. His sin became our sin (Rm 5:12). Adam was humanity’s best change to score the free kick. He was humanity’s best player. If he couldn’t do it, no one could.
He failed. In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. We’re born bad, despite what your mother tells you (Jn 8:44). We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Not fair? We don’t want fair. We want mercy.
If Adam’s sin is the root, what are the sinful branches that lead to fatherless homes?
- Divorce. Marriage breakup is always the result of sin (Mt 19:6), by one spouse or both. But divorce shatters more than a marriage. It breaks a covenant. It breaks a family. It breaks trust. It breaks father/son bonds. It breaks father/daughter relationships.
- Group parenting. It takes a village, the saying goes. Not so, says Scripture. Parents are given the responsibility to raise, nurture, and shape their children (Dt 6:4-7; Eph 6:4). “Village” parenting quiets the conscience of the father who isn’t around to raise his children. My mother and and wife are doing a great job raising my children. Or, I don’t need to be home because the neighbor plays ball with Johnny and Mary’s teacher helps with math. Today’s stats confirm what Bible believers already know: children raised without fathers are less likely to succeed in almost every area of life.
- Drunkenness. Alcohol is the Great Thief (Pr 23:29-35). It steals a girl’s father by joining him to his buddies. It steals a boy’s father by making meaningful conversation impossible. It steals a child’s father by the hangover on Sunday morning as the family marches off to church. It steals a boy’s father by blocking him from heaven (Gal 5:21).
- Greed. Many fathers are wed to their jobs, till death do them part. He’s always at the office. He could take a job with half the income and twice the family time. Half the income would mean just the basics to survive but all the tools to make his family thrive. The world tells him to take the raise instead. He takes it, accepting immediate joy for future shame (Pr 17:21).
- Girlfriends. Side relationships will burn the marriage certificate to ashes (Pr 6:27). The kids no longer honor or respect him (Pr 5:9-10.
- Interfaith marriage. A simpleton skimps on the foundation and then acts shocked when the walls crack. An idiot ignores the engine light and cries when the car breaks down. A fool marries an unbeliever–ignoring the counsel of Scripture and the wise (Pr 5:13)—and then sits stunned a decade later when his wife walks out the door with the kids. But he created that fatherless home with texts to the girl Scripture forbid him from marrying.
- Feminism. A woman can never be a father. Impossible (Mt 19:4-5). But modern culture says the bike rides fine with one wheel. So a boy and girl make a baby, he takes off and the government picks up the bill.
Influence vs. Guilt
In Deuteronomy 5:9, God says he will lay the sins of the parents upon their children. That is, the entire family is affected by the parent’s sins, even “the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Dt 5:9). But a few chapters later, Deut 24:26 seems to say something different. Children shall not “be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” What’s going on?
Scripture never contradicts itself, including here. Deuteronomy 5 is speaking about influence. Fathers are to live right, because his wicked habits may very well reach his great grandchildren. Those great grandchildren are still responsible for their actions. They “hate” God too. But that hatred can be traced back to their great grand daddy that guzzled Jack Daniels on Sunday morning. Deuteronomy 24 is speaking about guilt. An innocent son is never punished directly for a guilty father.
So a mother’s extravagance may influence her daughter to spend foolishly. But the girl is 100% to blame for her lifetime of debt. A father’s drunkenness, a government’s sinful policies, a school’s poor education, a town’s high crime, a song’s godless lyrics all influence a child to sin. But the blame, the responsibility, the guilt lies with the sinner. Jeroboam’s wicked life influenced his son Nadab so that “he walked in the way of his father” (1Ki 15:26). But Nadab was punished for his own sin (v. 28).
Legacy of Slavery?
We’ve concluded that a person’s immoral behavior may be influenced by the sins of other people or organizations but it cannot absolve them from guilt. What about the legacy of slavery? Has this been the great influence of broken homes? Thomas Sowell has argued emphatically in books and articles that modern fatherless homes in the US are primarily the result of the welfare state post-1960, not the legacy of slavery. For example, in 1960 just before the civil rights legislation, 22 percent of black children were raised in single parent homes. Thirty years later it was nearly 70%.
South Africa is similar. In 1993, 36% of youth lived in homes where their living father was absent. In 2016, the number was over 50%. Each year the numbers rise in SA’s free society. Outside circumstances do influence fatherless homes, no doubt. These stats show, however, that the greater influence isn’t the legacy of slavery but the welfare/grant system. As the great Frederick Douglass said: “What shall we do with the Negro? Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.”
Death is about the only example where a fatherless home is not the result of sin. The church must care for the fatherless (Jas 1:27). But every living father is responsible to raise his children. Ephesians 6:4 has no exceptions. We never have to sin. God always gives fathers a way out (1Co 10:15).
He can quit his job hours away and humble himself by taking less near home. If he must work away from the family, then every moment outside of work and sleep must be given to creative ways of shepherding his family. He writes letters, calls, Zooms, texts. He visits. They visit. He never looks at another woman (Job 31:1). If he does that, I wouldn’t consider this a fatherless home.
There is hope. Single mothers, be encouraged by Timothy (2Tm 3:15). Abandoned son, the Father will not forsake (Ps 27:10). Deadbeat dad, look to Christ (Rm. 8:15).
The guilt of fatherless homes comes from within. The influence of fatherless homes comes from without. The hope of fatherless homes is Jesus.