While sexual attraction may be nature’s way of ensuring the continuation of the race, marriage is created to establish stability in relationships and enhance the raising and care of the next generation. And that stability is critical to a stable and productive society. “Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being,” said the National Institute of Health in a 2014 report. “With the exception of parents faced with unresolvable marital violence, children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage. Consequently, society should make every effort to support healthy marriages and to discourage married couples from divorcing.”
But despite its apparent value, marriage is in trouble in the United States and elsewhere. According to Pew Research, 40 percent of children born today are born to single parents or parents living with a non-marital partner. The birthrate of non-married women has soared since the 1960s while divorce rates have fallen, ironically as millennials delay marriage, cohabit or forsake marriage altogether.
Civil and religious efforts to support and maintain families have been overwhelmed by the corrosive effects of modern society – promiscuity, drug addiction, media that glamorizes sex and drugs, websites promoting affairs for married people and non-monogamous multi-partner relationships and so on – and which paints monogamy as boring, old-fashioned and stifling. But religion is still a bulwark against divorce. Latter-Day Saints have a 1 percent divorce rate, Jehovah’s Witnesses 6 percent, and a Pew study of Muslims in 2018 found about an 8 percent divorce rate. Religiously active Catholics are 31 percent less likely to divorce than non-religious couples, according to the study.
According to Pew Research, by the time U.S. children turn nine years old, more than 20 percent of those born to a married couple and over 50 percent of those born to a cohabiting couple will have experienced the breakup of their parents. “The declining stability of families,” said Pew, “is linked both to increases in cohabiting relationships, which tend to be less long-lasting than marriages, as well as long-term increases in divorce.”
One could surmise that what some call the “fluidity” of the modern family is a result of more emphasis on sex and less on responsibility for one’s partner and for the resulting children, although in fairness, some birth parents have put a child up for adoption in recognition of their inability to care for a child and in hopes that the child will have a better life through adoption. And while breakdown of the nuclear family is not unique to North America, the United States is second worst in the developed world for teens living in single-parent families.
If there is good news on the family responsibility front, however, it is that Americans are more willing than most to adopt – to make a child a member of their family and assume a life-long commitment to that child’s well-being, to help knit up the threads of broken families and displaced children. And Christian families are twice as likely to adopt as the population in general. Indeed, faith-based adoption agencies have proven invaluable in child welfare efforts especially in light of a spike in the number of children in foster care or awaiting adoption, as a result of the opioid crisis.
Faith-based adoptions have a long history of helping children. One agency, Holt International was born in the mid-1950s. Following the Korean War, Harry and Bertha Holt, Evangelical Christians who had a farm near Creswell, Oregon, sent money to Korea to help orphans, but wanted to adopt children themselves. But to do so took an act of Congress.
In 1955, the two senators from Oregon sponsored the Bill for Relief of Certain Korean War Orphans, which Congress passed specifically to allow the Holts to adopt four boys and four girls from Korea. The Holts, who also had six children of their own, brought their adopted children home from Korea, and the resulting publicity brought a flood of letters from those who also wanted to adopt war orphans. So the Holts went on to take responsibility for the fates of thousands of mixed-race Korean children, the offspring of American servicemen and Korean women. Within a year, the couple had established the Holt Adoption Program in the United States (followed later by a Holt agency in South Korea), which became one of the largest international-adoption agencies.
Korean society made such children outcasts, and the Holts devoted their lives to the task. One daughter, Molly, passed away in Korea earlier this year at age 83, after 50 years working at the Holt’s Ilsan Center. She was lauded by the former Prime Minister of Korea, Oregon’s U.S. Senator and many people whose lives she affected. And the Holt organization has continued working in many parts of the world.
Holt’s Vice President of Policy External Affairs, Susan Soonkeum Cox, was adopted from Korea in 1956, has worked in international adoption and child welfare issues for more than 25 years and is a member of the Hague Special Commission on Intercountry Adoption. According to Cox, Koreans even today do not readily adopt children. “The stigma of single parenting and adoption is still very powerful today,” she said, even though Korea has boomed since the war and now has the 12th largest economy in the world.
While other countries are slowly beginning to embrace adoption, Americans have a long history of adoption, it’s a part of our culture. Today, helped in part by faith-based adoption agencies, Americans adopt more children than any other country, from places like China, India, Korea and Africa. As a result, families of faith and the congregations they attend have become multi-racial in many cases, to the betterment of our society. And in addition, many parents today adopt children with conditions like heart problems or HIV and there is a continuing need for adoptive parents, especially for those special-needs children.
“Wanting to save a child is not enough,” said Cox, “to adopt you have to be really sure you can love a child that is not born to you.” Happily, there is ample evidence that when children are left in the wake of social upheaval, there are thousands of loving people willing to knit up the broken threads of the social fabric and welcome a child home.