What is one of the most defining marks of a socially stable individual? Is it the school district they’ve grown up in? Is it the college that they attend? Is it how many activities they were involved in when they were young? In a recent article for Breakpoint.org, John Stonestreet presents research from a Mexican sociologist that points to the fact that the traditional family—that is, a biblical definition of a family—is that defining mark.
Looking at 351 academic studies in thirteen countries on five continents, Fernando Pliego found that, “The members of…traditional families enjoy better physical health, less mental illness, higher incomes, and steadier employment. They and their children live in better housing, enjoy more loving and cooperative relationships, and report less physical or sexual violence.”
On top of that, Stonestreet quotes him as saying, “Every time I set foot inside a prison, I see the results of splintered families. So many prisoners I talk to tell me about growing up without a dad.” Stonestreet adds, “Intact families matter.”
But what do we do with this information? As Stonestreet rightly notes, the data clearly hasn’t convinced our society. By bashing this data over people’s heads to win an argument, we won’t necessarily win their hearts.
I’d like to suggest four tactics that we should consider in light of these findings.
1. Consider the importance of the family unit in the next election.
Every four years we have an opportunity to make an important decision about the direction of the next four. Whatever side of the aisle you are on, at least consider the implications that policies have on the family unit. If the family unit is as important as this research seems to suggest, what are the policies that will actually bolster, and not degrade, its importance?
2. Be a model of a healthy family.
No doubt it’s easier said than done, and this coming from a young guy like me. Being a Christian doesn’t require that you have a wife and kids (1 Corinthians 7:25-40), but if you do, the Bible is clear about how marriage and family should function (Ephesians 5:22-33). Isn’t it a blessing that following God’s will for the family unit leads to his glorification and our benefit? Our families and marriages not only reflect God’s glory (and in the case of marriage, Christ’s love and redeeming work) but as these studies show, they also benefit us and our children.
3. Invite people into your family.
Have you been blessed by a strong family and some extra resources? Think about how you can be of help to those who are family-less. It is not coincidental in light of this research that God’s heart goes out constantly in the Bible to the widow and the orphan – so much so that James says true religion is visiting the widow and the orphan in their affliction (James 1:27). Can you invite someone into your family? Whether that’s as small as giving them a meal in your home, to putting that empty bedroom to use, think of ways you can help those who don’t have a family unit like yours.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly:
4. Invite people into God’s family.
The truth is that the family unit will never be perfect, and it is not what will ultimately save people. But we have good news for all people, especially for those who are widows and orphans in this world. God has made it possible for us to be in his family—a family that will be for our eternal blessing. As 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Tell people that this can be true of anyone who believes in his name (John 1:12).