Elephant in the room

What can the righteous do if the foundations are destroyed?

Issue: "Bush's tax-cut plan," March 10, 2001

The young woman had been the murder victim in an angry shooting at a housing project less than two miles from WORLDÕs offices. The local paper put it under the headline of Òdomestic violenceÓ and described the details of how the 22-year-old mother had put her daughter to bed that evening two months ago, only a week before Christmas. ÒA second-shift operator for a digital messaging service, she had the night off. She knew tomorrow would be a big day. She was facing her ex-boyfriend ... in court for hitting and threatening her. But they never made it to the courtroom.Ó

Now, in a bit of journalistic analysis, our paperÕs columnist who specializes in family matters was reflecting on how such an awful thing could happen. ÒIs hers a story worth telling? Yes, say domestic violence workers. Because Tanisha Jordan seemed to be doing everything right to get out of a bad relationship.Ó

Everything right? I know the columnist meant to be helpful, just as our society at large does when it tries to think constructively about all that has been smashed to smithereens. But to suggest that there was any surprise associated with this young womanÕs murder is also to tell you whatÕs wrong with much of our culture. The danger signals are everywhere&151;and we refuse to see them.

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The murder victimÕs parents, we are told, Òdivorced when she was a toddler, but she recovered well and had a fairly normal childhood.Ó The stepfather making that judgment came into her life when she was about 3, following her mother and fatherÕs divorce. Her father lives in New Mexico now, but the girl has Òstayed close to him over the years.Ó

Then comes this startling social pronouncement: ÒSo with two father figures, hers is not the story of a woman so desperate for male companionship and love that she was drawn to any man, even if he was mean to her.Ó Such is the sober judgment of the relatives, the social-service experts, and the newspaper columnist. ÒWeÕve looked it all over pretty carefully,Ó they tell us, Òand everything looks normal to us.Ó

Everything looks normal except, of course, for the elephant in the living room.

A divorce, a little girl in North Carolina Òstaying closeÓ to her father in New Mexico, and Òtwo father figures.Ó All that, weÕre asked to believe, is so normal that we must look elsewhere to understand what might have gone wrong in this young womanÕs life.

Did any more need to go wrong?

You can tamper only so much with GodÕs order of things before the whole magnificence of what He has created begins to disintegrate. Just as we discover a delicate balance in the plant and animal environment around us, which we disregard to its and our own terrible hurt, so there is an equilibrium as well in the moral order of things which is bound to collapse when we ignore it.

But here is the scary part.

For a generation and more, evangelicals in America have generally believed all this about Òother cultures.Ó WeÕve watched, usually from a distance and sometimes with a bit more involvement, as the African-American family structure has been ravaged. WeÕve wrung our hands and talked about how devastating all this must be. And weÕre not surprised to learn&151;indeed, weÕve almost come to expect&151;that the story IÕve just related comes from an African-American setting.

What weÕre not prepared for, but should be, is the very same devastation soon to be visited upon our white evangelical society. If divorce, long-distance parenting, and the casual acceptance of Òtwo father figuresÓ have all taken a terrifying toll among black families, why should we suppose we are exempt when all those same conditions are more and more accepted as commonplace in predominantly white evangelical settings?

It is not just that the juggernaut of destruction is rolling, and almost certainly picking up speed. It is that we have come to suppose that all this is normal&151;that we can fragment our families and pay no price for what we do. We are in denial.

Stand at the entryway at your church next Sunday, and see how many people you can count whose families are untouched by divorce and separation. Can you count to 10? Even to five? In most evangelical churches today, divorce is lamented but formally unchallenged. When discipline is exercised, those who are disciplined can easily move across town to another ÒgoodÓ church that is not quite so fussy. And tens of thousands of little boys and girls, having been equitably dealt with in what we call civilized custody proceedings, are being shuttled around our evangelical neighborhoods every single weekend.

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