Fatherlessness and the War on Poverty
Religion & Liberty Online

Fatherlessness and the War on Poverty

In addition to reading Joe Carter’s striking by-the-numbers piece on the War on Poverty, and in keeping with Sam Gregg’s reflections on the deeper social and cultural forces at work, I heartily recommend taking in Josh Good’s excellent retrospective in AEI’s The American.

Leveraging a lengthy quote from Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family, one I’ve put to use myself, Good notes the “inverse impact of changing family structure on productive work and a flourishing economy”:

The fact is, poverty is not merely a material problem. A half-century after the dawn of the War on Poverty, we would be well-served if President Obama addressed the American public on the cultural aspects of poverty…Americans truly interested in serving the poor more effectively will do well to recall this insight, from the late theologian Herman Bavinck:

“For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as … devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition [and] as with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person. The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents … [transforming] ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses.”

…Culturally, we are wrong to provide perpetual relief, in the name of compassion, when development is what is needed. Single mothers and rootless fathers require not more material relief but job training, purposeful education, life-skills coaching, and, most of all, personal investment from trustworthy individuals who can mentor and instill different habits. The truth is that only the free market backed by stronger civil society can lift people out of poverty in a sustainable way.

If President Obama really wants to set us on a course to greater income mobility, he could confront head-on the problem of father absence, perhaps in his January 28 State of the Union address. But instead, after $20 trillion in real spending on the War on Poverty, I anticipate we’ll hear a public call for still more federal spending aimed at aiding “our neediest citizens,” or overcoming income inequality through new government-led reforms.

There is a religious/spiritual element that dovetails with the cultural one, of course. As I’ve argued elsewhere, boots-on-the-ground Christians in the culture at large have a strong and unique role to play in all of this, in addition to pursuing a more effective approach via policy.

Indeed, as Jonathan Last’s conclusion suggests, religious persons may offer the only effective counter to the many false promises of modernity that have led to the various dilemmas the family now faces.

Read the rest of Good’s piece here.

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Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.