Touchstone | Stephen Baskerville | February 2009
“We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to End Your Marriage.”
The decline of the family has now reached critical and truly dangerous proportions. Family breakdown touches virtually every family and every American. It is not only the major source of social instability in the Western world today but also seriously threatens civic freedom and constitutional government.
G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.
Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that “divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”
Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today’s greatest threat to constitutional freedom.
Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other. Maggie Gallagher aptly titled her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage.
Few stopped to consider the implications of laws that shifted the breakup of private households from a voluntary to an involuntary process. Unilateral divorce inescapably involves government agents forcibly removing legally innocent people from their homes, seizing their property, and separating them from their children. It inherently abrogates not only the inviolability of marriage but the very concept of private life.
By far the most serious consequences involve children, who have become the principal weapons of the divorce machinery. Invariably the first action of a divorce court, once a divorce is filed, is to separate the children from one of their parents, usually the father. Until this happens, no one in the machinery acquires any power or earnings. The first principle and first action of divorce court therefore: Remove the father.
This happens even if the father is innocent of any legal wrongdoing and is simply sitting in his own home minding his own business. The state seizes control of his children with no burden of proof to justify why. The burden of proof (and the financial burden) falls on the father to demonstrate why they should be returned.
Trafficking in Children
The child abuse industry also demonstrates how one threat to the family creates another. Just as the divorce revolution eventually led to the demand for same-sex “marriage,” the child abuse deception has led to demands for parenting by same-sex couples.
Most discussion of homosexual parenting has centered on questions of children’s welfare versus the rights of homosexuals. Few have questioned the politics whereby prospective homosexual parents obtain the children they wish to parent. Granting same-sex couples the right to raise children means, by definition, giving at least one of the partners the right to raise someone else’s children, and the question arises whether the original parent or parents ever agreed to part with them or did something to warrant losing them.
Current laws governing divorce, domestic violence, and child abuse render this question open. The explosion in foster care based on the assumed but unexamined need to find permanent homes for allegedly abused children has provided perhaps the strongest argument in favor of same-sex “marriage” and homosexual parenting. Yet the politics of child abuse and divorce indicate that this assumption is not necessarily valid.
The government-generated child abuse epidemic and the mushrooming foster care business that it feeds have allowed government agencies to operate what amounts to trafficking in children. A San Diego grand jury reports “a widely held perception within the community and even within some areas of the Department [of Social Services] that the Department is in the ‘baby brokering’ business.”
Responsibility of Churches
While many factors have contributed to this truly diabolical, bureaucratic onslaught against the family, we might begin by looking within. The churches’ failure or refusal to intervene in the marriages they consecrated and to exert moral pressure on misbehaving spouses (perhaps out of fear of appearing “judgmental”) left a vacuum that has been filled by the state. Clergy, parishioners, and extended families have been replaced by lawyers, judges, forensic psychotherapists, social workers, and plainclothes police.
Family integrity will be restored only when families are de-politicized and protected from government invasion. This will demand morally vigorous congregations that are willing to take marriage out of the hands of the state by intervening in the marriages they are called upon to witness and consecrate and by resisting the power of the state to move in. This is the logic behind the group Marriage Savers, and it can restore the churches’ authority even among those who previously viewed a church’s role in their marriage as largely ceremonial.
No greater challenge confronts the churches—nor any greater opportunity to reverse the mass exodus—than to defend their own marriage ordinance against this attack from the government. Churches readily and rightly mobilize politically against moral evils like abortion and same-sex “marriage,” in which they are not required to participate. Even more are they primary stakeholders in involuntary divorce, which allows the state to desecrate and nullify their own ministry.
As an Anglican, I am acutely aware of how far modernity was ushered in not only through divorce, but through divorce processes that served the all-encompassing claims of the emerging state leviathan. Politically, this might be seen as the “original sin” of modern man. We all need to atone.
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