Why families are critical for human flourishing

Research reveals high priority of intact families in California’s progressive culture

January 28, 2020

Last week a new study about the state of the family from researchers Wendy Wang and Bradford Wilcox caught my eye. The study was titled, “State of Contradiction: Progressive Family Culture, Traditional Family Structure in California,” and as the title indicates, the research focused on trends related to families in California. Wang and Wilcox studied trends in the state because “California has been at the vanguard of family change in America.” And it’s true. Home to both Hollywood and Silicon Valley, for nearly a century the state of California has exercised an outsized influence on the patterns and trends of American life. 

Because California is known for exporting its culturally liberal values, one might assume that the conclusions of such a study are easily predicted. But on the contrary, the research Wang and Wilcox present is noteworthy specifically because of its unexpected conclusions. Far from revealing what one might assume about family life in one of the most deeply progressive regions of the country, the results of the study reveal the stunning degree to which intact families, especially among California’s elites, are a high priority. 

In their report, the researchers conclude that California has “a higher share of stable, married families than the nation as a whole.” Indeed, the percentages are striking. As Wang and Wilcox demonstrate, roughly 67% of “California parents are in intact marriages, compared to 63% of American parents . . . Likewise, 65% of children ages 0-17 in California reside with their married, biological parents, compared to 62% of children in the United States.” 

When it comes to the best-educated portion of California’s parents, the numbers are even more staggering. 80% of California’s parents holding at least a college degree are presently in intact marriages compared to only 61% of non college-educated parents. And despite the fact that the best-educated Californians overwhelmingly affirm the idea that diverse family structures should be celebrated and welcomed by society, the same group is also most likely to affirm the importance of the traditional family structure in their own lives. Moreover, the researchers found that in some of California’s wealthiest zip codes, the rate of divorce was effectively zero. As Wang and Wilcox stated, “It turns out that some of the most elite neighborhoods in the state—including several in Hollywood and San Francisco—have virtually no single parents.”

Recognizing that marriage works

So while there is no shortage of elites in California and elsewhere rhetorically defending progressive views on the family, there is in fact a notable contrast between their words and their actions. But why do these elites not practice as they preach? Simply put, they recognize a very basic truth about the family: marriage works. In terms of family stability, financial security, and raising healthy and successful children, stable marriages make for stable families—and stable families lead to flourishing.

And if we pause to consider it for a moment, it is little wonder that the best prescription for success in life is simply to do as the Bible says. Today we tend to think of “family values” as quaint or backward or, at the very least, tired. Our culture has moved beyond the traditional family structure as something essential to American life. That’s why talking about family values conjures mental images of the ‘50s television show “Leave it to Beaver” or culture wars of the late 20th century. 

Frankly, that which we typically associate with “family values” are things we’d rather forget. For many reasons, some deserved and other less so, those words and ideas are politically charged and evoke memories of overbearing religion in American life, of an attempt to impose moral order on a nation desperate for liberty. But that notwithstanding, there is something about the idea of an intact family, where a mom and a dad seek to raise their children in a loving and supportive home that touches directly upon the cravings of the human soul.

At root, every one of us wants to be loved and accepted. From birth, we are in need of nurture and care. And as we grow, we need love and support. Making our way in this sinful and fallen world is difficult under the best of circumstances. And that is why the Bible’s teaching about the family has such deep resonance.

Biblically speaking, the ideal of the family is not perfection but love and commitment. Instead of the dad-as-ignoramus caricature of the modern father portrayed in sitcoms, the Bible depicts the father as the provider, protector, and leader of his household. Likewise, the Bible’s picture of the Christian wife and mother stands in stark relief to the images we’re accustomed to seeing in pop culture. A wife and mother is presented as a wise, tender, compassionate nurturer, caregiver, and (to quote Jen Wilkin) indispensable helpmate. In the Scriptures, marriage is a picture of mutual commitment, of shared sacrifice, of lifelong partnership and devotion. 

And there is an important lesson here. The Bible’s teaching on marriage works because in practice, even marriages which fall short of the biblical ideal—as every marriage does—are still powerful. Stable, intact families lead to flourishing because they go with the grain of God’s design for humanity.

Christians should be encouraged by the results of this study. What we are seeing play out here is at least an implicit endorsement of the truths from God’s Word about the family. It demonstrates that biblical values are not arcane relics of the past, but the blueprints of God’s design. Seeing the results of this study should remind us of Paul’s language from Romans 2, where he speaks of the Gentiles who are without the law living in accordance with the law because it is written on their hearts. 

Sexual libertinism and the eschewal of cultural norms are not a recipe for success or fulfillment. Elites in California may think diversity in family structures is fine for others, but there is a reason they choose not to practice these alternative family structures themselves. So at the risk of sounding judgmental or outdated, perhaps it would be best for these so-called elites to preach as they practice. Because it turns out that there is still something valuable and compelling—indeed eminently practical—about close-knit, intact families. They work.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24