What Does it Mean to be a Boy or a Girl?

Brother & SisterWhat does it mean for a child to be a boy or a girl and how do we raise them to be such in a healthy way? This whole gender issue is huge and curiously so controversial in our culture today. But regardless, the question remains: How do we help our little boys and girls grow up to be good healthy men and women? What does that even mean?

I address this topic in a radio interview I did last week on my recent book Secure Daughters/Confident Sons with the nice folks over at Faith Radio in the Midwest area. It gives a good overview of the book and can be heard on their podcast here. (Scroll down to see the link for the podcast.)

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Jumping Out of a Perfectly Good Plane at 13k Feet

Here’s the video my high-school / skate buddy Jim Woods made of his kindness in taking me on my first skydive with he and his Navy Seal colleagues on a beautiful day over San Diego. It was as thrilling as it was scary and as scary as it was thrilling! The approach to the wide-open side of a plane, wind blowing in, drawing closer to the door, tilting your body outside of the plane as you get in place, the actual leap and the first 3 seconds your feet leave stability is the most unnatural feeling in the world. It goes against everything you know to be right!

Jim had to give me the final nudge. I yelled “NO!” but he thought I said “GO!” so we did! (That was his joke!) As you can see, our initial direction is pretty much head-first down.

But I would recommend it to any and everyone.

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Headlines: Cohabitation Doesn’t Cause Divorce. True?

A number of us who follow such things have been getting lots of questions about the news stories over the last two weeks reporting that research now proves that living together before marriage doesn’t cause divorce. A sampling of these stories are here, here and here. The headlines are stark and definitive: New Research Says Cohabitation Doesn’t Lead to Higher Likelihood of Divorce.

The reason this seems to be such big news is that a boat-load of published research over the past few decades by mainstream scholars has consistently shown that living together before marriage corresponds with a couple’s elevated risk of divorce. And dramatically so. This finding has been so significant and consistent that it’s earned itself a name among sociologists: the cohabitation effect. And the debate in the field has not been whether it exists, but why it exists. I give a thorough overview of this research in my recent book, The Ring Makes All the Difference.

So what do we make of this new study that supposedly proves that all this other research is wrong? A good place to start is to read the study, which would have been a good idea for the journalists who reported on it. The author of this article says unequivocally that her study proves “that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did.”

Before addressing the study itself, it is important appreciate a problem that the newspapers made in their reporting as well as this author in her quote above. In reading a great majority of all the published studies over the decades on the relationship between cohabitation and divorce, I don’t know of one that asserts that cohabitation causes divorce. The cohabitation effect asserts that premarital cohabitation seems to be associated with weaker, less healthy and shorter-lasting relationship both before and after marriage. As stated above, there has been little contest on whether the cohabitation effect is real and this study doesn’t challenge that fact. The big question among scholars is why; what is the linkage in this association? The author of this article, having done her Ph.D. dissertation in this field, knows the theory does not assume causation.

Her study does take an interesting and important approach to this topic in that it examines how age at cohabitation and later marriage impact the cohabitation effect as we know that couples who get married in their mid-twenties tend to have happier, more successful marriages. So it could be assumed that cohabiting couples who do marry at later ages would have lower likelihood of divorce than those cohabitors who married younger. And this is largely what she found. But note how it’s explained in her abstract:

“Analyses…revealed that age at coresidence [moving in together] explained a substantial portion of the higher marital dissolution rate of premarital cohabitors.”

She also begins her explanation in the conclusion of her article similarly,

“The findings discussed in this article indicated that the previously found association between premarital cohabitation and divorce in earlier decades can in part be attributed to the age at which premarital cohabitors began residing. These findings also suggest that the measurement of age has a considerable effect on the observed relationship between cohabitation and divorce.” (p. 366)

So what is she saying? That when you adjust for age at cohabiting and subsequent marriage, we find the risk of divorce is reduced. It is an interesting finding and not altogether surprising. And it clearly admits and affirms the cohabitation effect. But what it does NOT say – anywhere in the study, implied or outright – is that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did” as stated in the author’s press release from which most journalists based their stories.

And what else must be appreciated is that in most sciences, one new study – or even a small handful – does not overthrow the larger body of data that exists on a particular point. But this is precisely how most journalists played it: Newest study owns the field. A contrary finding must be replicated by many more studies over a longer period of time as we have in the literature leading to the truism of the cohabitation effect. As time goes on and more research is done regarding age at cohabitation, we might find that this study is onto something.

But not today. There is no research that even hints at the conclusion that cohabitors as a whole do not face a greater likelihood of relational instability and divorce once they do marry.

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He Is So Freakin’ Cool…

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Divorce Among Conservative Protestants: What’s the Story?

There’s a new study out reporting that not only are divorce rates higher in parts of the country where there is a large concentration of Conservative Protestants, but that these people are also influencing their neighbors to be more divorce-prone. Very bad news indeed.

That is, if it were true, which there is good reason to conclude it is not. Here is a very good analysis of the study itself from the folks at the Institute for Family Studies.

It seem implausible that one could deduce a causational link between Conservative Protestants and higher divorce rates in a community. This has been done before by others and incorrectly. Many scholars have asserted that it is more of what I call a “mobile-home belt” problem, than a bible-belt problem. The authors of this study said they controlled for income/poverty, but I don’t think it can be dismissed that easily. Also it is, as this study admits, it is a “couples marrying and having babies very young” problem – which does increase likelihood of divorce – and they connect this with being consistent with Conservative Protestant teaching. This is a pretty creative leap.

And a side note worth mentioning: Jennifer Glass, who is a fine scholar, is also a leading scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families, a group of academics founded to explain that the married mom/dad/children family triad is certainly “not-all-that” and nearly all alternative family forms are worth being really excited about. This has no impact on how this particular study should be judged – as it should be on its own merits – but it does reveal clear partisanship of the author to a particular family ideal: traditional is bad, new alternative is good.

Anyway, the study is in the news this week, so thought I would offer some additional insight that students of the family should know about.

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Are Young People Really Leaving the Church in Droves?

I have a piece at the First Things blog today on some new research that Andrew Hess and I have done here at Focus on the Family addressing two important questions.

Are young people really leaving the faith in droves? And does it really do any good for parents to work to teach their children a strong Christian faith.

The straight forward answers, coming from very strong mainstream research, are:

1) no they are not leaving, at least in some churches and

2) yes, the influence of parents on their child’s faith retention in young adulthood and beyond is positively HUGE.

Real, substantive faith in God and Christian discipleship are growing and parenting still matters a great deal. Take heart!

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Misunderstanding the “Dark Night of the Soul”

ImageOver at the Gospel Coalition, I have the most recent installment in my on-going fact-checker column. This one addresses the common misunderstanding of what John of the Cross means with his “Dark Night” writings.

“My truck won’t start, wife ran off with my best buddy, my dog don’t love me no more and on top of all that, we just had a nasty church-split. God has me going through a real dark night of the soul!”

Dark Night of the Soul.

If you’ve been around the church for any time, you’ve probably heard people use this phrase to describe substantive black and difficult periods in their lives, typically a bit more trying than the hitches our good ol’ boy here is experiencing…

continue reading

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