NO More Sermon Stat’s!

Cartoon image of a preacher

Now, hear me out!

Last Sunday morning, as my wife and I were preparing to leave the house for Sunday School, the television news ended and In Touch Ministries came on.  We were greeted by the voice of Dr. Charles Stanley boldly proclaiming, “There are 24 million children in America, today, 24 million.  Eight million of them, 8 million children, that’s one-third of all the children in America, do not live with their fathers.  That’s 8 million children not living with their fathers, which means they have a greater possibility of slipping off into drugs, alcoholism, and all sorts of sexual addictions.”

Sherri and I looked at each other with wide-eyes and arched eyebrows as Dr. Stanley continued, “Where are all the fathers?  …Sociologists say it is the most pressing problem in America…Where are all the fathers?  Who’s going to raise them?”

“Where does he come off saying that?” Sherri gaped.

“Exactly!” I responded, as we turned the television off and walked out the door for the drive to church.

There are a lot of things I like about Dr. Charles Stanley.  He is an amazingly gifted speaker and knowledgable theologian.  Although I didn’t hear the remainder of last Sunday’s broadcast, I did read the sermon outline, and it appears to have been a solid sermon, overall, on the topic of helping our children avoid false doctrine.  His sermon lead-in, though, was way off base!

I’ve posted before on my pet peeve of divorce statistics being used in sermons.  In his misuse of statistics in Sunday’s broadcast, Dr. Stanley managed to offend both my wife and me, causing us to question his integrity as a speaker, before the real sermon even began.

Now, if it was just my wife and me, maybe that’s no big deal.  However, based on Dr. Stanley’s own statistics, if one-third of the children in America are being raised without their father in the home, then we can assume that approximately one-third of Dr. Stanley’s adult listeners (parents of children in nontraditional families) either have reason for feeling offended by his statements, or worse, have received a false message of guilt and hopelessness that is contrary to the good news of Jesus Christ.

If Dr. Stanley believes the statistics he, himself, has stated as being true, then he should be very concerned about what message he is projecting to this very high percentage of his potential audience.  And for that segment of his audience, the audacious claims of his sermon lead-in are offensive and discrediting at best, and potentially misleading and dangerous.

First, let’s look at the validity (or lack thereof) of Dr. Stanley’s claims.  First he makes the claim that one-third of all children in America are not living with their fathers.  Maybe that’s a true statement, and maybe it’s not.  Dr. Stanley’s saying so, doesn’t make it true, so I would question the source of this claim.  What study is this claim based on?  Who performed the study, over how wide a population, what were the study controls, and what is the calculated reliability of the conclusions?  And, for the sake of both the study and the statement, how are we defining “do not live with their fathers”?  Do they never see their fathers at all, or do they regularly spend time with their fathers?  Do they have a step-father in the home, or is there no father present at all?  Is the separation of the father permanent (death), semi-permanent (divorce, terminal illness, or prison) or temporary (employment or military deployment)?  We can’t just throw statistical conclusions around as though they are unquestionable truth.  As an engineer, I fully understand the importance and value of statistical analysis…and I also understand the contextual importance of any conclusions based on statistics.

For the moment, though, let’s set aside questions about the validity of the quoted percentages, and simply agree that we are confident a large number of children do not live with their father full-time.

The greater concern is Dr. Stanley’s next claim that as a result of these children not living with their fathers, “…they have a greater possibility of slipping off into drugs, alcoholism, and all sorts of sexual addictions.”

Dr. Stanley made this bold statement without providing any substantiating basis, whatsoever.  If he based this conclusion on a statistical analysis of a controlled study, he made no mention of it.  And if this conclusion was drawn based on a study, I can tell you while statistical analysis is a very good tool for evaluating data links, it is a very poor tool for establishing cause and effect.

For example, statistics can be used to determine whether there is a higher incidence of addiction to drugs, alcohol, and sexually deviant behavior among children raised with no father in the home as compared to those raised in traditional families.  However, statistics cannot explain the reason for such a link between addictions and fatherless homes (if such a link exists).  Does the father’s absence tend to lead to higher incidence of addiction in the children?  Or is it the other way around…does the presence of addictions in the home lead to divorce or prison, resulting in fatherless homes?  Or do higher incidence of divorce and addictive behavior both originate from some other common cause, such as domestic abuse?  The answers to cause and effect of human behavior are very complex and cannot be proven by a statistical study.

So, I see no scientific basis for Dr. Stanley’s bold assertions that being raised in a home without full-time access to their father results in children having a greater probability of “slipping off into drugs, alcoholism, and all sorts of sexual addictions.”

So, does he have a  biblical basis for such a statement?  I’ve studied the Bible for many years, and have never found any specific statements declaring children raised without a father in their home are more susceptible to addiction than other children.  Nor do I find any general principles that children raised in nontraditional families are inherently more enslaved to sin than those raised in traditional families.

Quite the contrary, in fact.  The Bible includes numerous passages expounding on the general depravity of mankind and our total inability to escape our sin addictions apart from the redemptive grace of God through Jesus Christ.

We are not doomed to sin because of broken homes.  We are doomed to sin because we are Adam’s heirs.

We are not saved from sin by keeping natural fathers in children’s homes.  We are saved from sin by the precious blood of Jesus Christ!

When an influential minister and respected theologian makes such bold statements from the pulpit, to most listeners it carries the authoritative weight of biblical truth.  At a very fundamental level, we expect a minister of the gospel to speak truth.  We trust Dr. Stanley to know the difference between truth and speculation.  So when Dr. Stanley makes such bold authoritative statements from the pulpit, most listeners are likely to accept his words as truth…as being in agreement with God’s word and with God’s perspective.

And do you know how those words are heard by a single mother, or by a father restricted by court ordered custody agreement to being with his children only two days out of fourteen?  I can tell you, because I’ve been that father…I’ve walked many miles in those shoes.  For parents in non-traditional families, such words are heard as “You’re a failure!  Your failure as a spouse has resulted in your being a failure as a parent!  You missed God’s perfect plan for your life, and now the best you can hope for is a lousy second-best fraught with added peril of sin addictions for the children you love so much.”

And do you know how those words are heard by the wife of an abusive husband?  She hears, “Don’t you dare leave!  If you leave your abusive husband you are condemning your children to a life of sinful addictions.”

False messages…completely contrary to the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ!  Completely contrary to the biblical promises given to God’s children and to God’s heart of redemption!

But that’s the false message portrayed by Dr. Stanley’s opening words to last Sunday’s sermon.  The strangest part is that the lead-in really had nothing to do with the sermon content, as portrayed in the sermon outline.  Those unsubstantiated claims added nothing of value to the sermon.  The disastrously misleading and offensive lead-in was simply an attention-grabbing tool intended to encourage the audience to sit up and pay attention.

Oh, how many times are such irresponsible statements authoritatively proclaimed from pulpits across America and around the world?  How often do those unbiblical false statements boldly spoken by a minister of the gospel pierce the heart with a poisonous lie leading to a disastrously incorrect perspective of God?

Too many times!  Too many…too often…

Your thoughts?

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Graceful, Wellspring ]


16 thoughts on “NO More Sermon Stat’s!

  1. Wow and Amen! Very well thought out and well said. This really hits me hard. I am one of those fathers. It took me years to overcome the quilt and shame over my divorce (for all the reasons that you mention) and the two little girls (not so little any more) that I left behind. I pray every day for reconciliation of these relationships.

    It’s because of my relationship with Jesus that I am able to have peace in my life over this. Now, it is my calling to help men (fathers, husbands) like me to understand that we do NOT have to live with all the guilt and we do not have to believe these lies. Our relationship with our Savior puts an end to that. If I continue to beat myself up over my past, I’m effectively saying that what Jesus did for me was not enough.

    Thanks for posting this. It really struck a chord.

    • Welcome to the blog, Hutch!

      It takes a lot of processing and a lot of time with God to learn to see the lies as lies and begin to trust the truth of the fullness of God’s grace, doesn’t it?

      The lie of “missing God’s perfect plan” seems particularly deceptive and easy to fall prey to. The truth is that as a believer in Christ, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, I can have every confidence that I am exactly where God wants me to be, and that everything up to now has been used to lead me to this point in my life, on path for the fullness of the inheritance He has prepared for me before the foundation of the world.

      Blessings to you!

  2. Well said, Joe!

    I heard the opening to the same sermon, and was disgusted. I’m afraid that Dr. Stanley has fallen in with the “let us make everything look as bad as we can” group when he tries to make certain points.

    Talk about false doctrine – he just delivered a truckload of it.

    • Oh, wow! I completely missed the irony you pointed out, Andrew!

      Yes, had he skipped the lead-in, Dr. Stanley may have had a very good sermon on the topic of avoiding false doctrine.

      However, through his lead-in, he delivered a powerful dose of the very sort of false doctrine that we must learn to recognize and avoid.

      Good point!

  3. Thanks for sharing your great insight and perspective on this misuse of statistics. Not having the experience you’ve had as a single parent really kept/keeps me from seeing it the way you and your wife did, Joe. And I’m amazed at the way you unpacked this problem with such precision. It will make me more sensitive to this kind of misuse in the messages I hear in the future. I do think it’s a common problem for pastors these days to use statistics for their own means to and end. I guess it’s all part of that end-times prophecy – “giving people what their tickling ears want to hear.”

    • Thank you, Beth!

      Yes, quoting statistics in sermons seems all too common these days. I think in most cases (as in Dr. Stanley’s recent message) it’s being used as a “hook”…a shock sound-byte intended to grab a listener’s attention and draw them into the message.

      I do enough public speaking and enough writing to understand the need for a hook. Even in this blog, I often find myself searching for just the right post title or opening statement to grab a reader’s attention so they’ll want to read the rest of the post.

      Let’s face it…in today’s world of information-blitz, if we can’t say something to grab a potential reader’s attention in the first couple of sentences, they likely will skip over our message and move onto something else.

      But…that desire for a good hook doesn’t justify irresponsible misuse of information or misleading conclusions. And in the case of a minister of the gospel, there is a higher standard to be met. I don’t mean to place any pastor on a pedestal. I realize they are just as human as any of us. However, when we present ourselves as revealing a biblical message using authoritative language, we have a higher level of responsibility to make sure we speak God’s truth…and that any areas we deviate into speculation we specifically note as such.

      These sorts of lies and misconceptions carry spritual poison, and can cause great damage to people’s spiritual health and relationships.

      God bless!

  4. I’ve listened to him many times over the years. Sometimes he takes a while to build up to his point. Is it possible he went a different direction with the remainder of the sermon?

    • Judging by the sermon outline, he definitely went a different direction with the sermon. Which makes the irresponsible misuse of stats in the intro all the more reprehensible. Not only did he misuse stats to project a false message, furthermore it was not even relevant to his main message.

      As Andrew pointed out in an earlier comment, Dr Stanley began a sermon about false doctrine by first dumping a whole truckload of false doctrine!

      If only he had left the intro off, it would probably have been a good sermon.

      IF ONLY…!!!

  5. Hi Joe, Though I’m not familiar with Dr Stanley, I am familiar with the use of fear and guilt as motivation to do what someone wants. I agree with your premise that many people can interpret his message to mean they can’t leave an unsafe or severely dysfunctional relationship. That message can be nearly as damaging as what he was trying to prevent in the first place.
    Coming from the angle of a child instead of a parent I can say as someone who grew up in a 2-parent home with an abusive dad, this mindset offends me as well.

    • Thank you, Denise, for bringing a fresh perspective to the discussion!

      Yes…to imply (as Dr. Stanley did in his opening remarks) that every child would be better off with their father in their home is just flat out wrong! …and very dangerous.

      Denise I am so sorry for all those hurts you experienced as a child. And I am so thankful for how you are using those experiences to bring insight and perspective to others.

      Thank you!

  6. Nothing get’s by JJP! Thanks for holding Chuck — and all the other preachers of truth — accountable. While we have an issue in this country with divorce, absentee fathers, etc., there is no need to pump up the stats for shock value. All we have to do is look around and simply act and do.

    • Hah! I’m sure plenty gets by me…but some of these truths have been learned through fire and trial, and I’m determined not to slip back into old false perceptions. And equally determined to shine what light of perception God has given me to help others…

      So many in today’s church in America want to focus on social issues of divorce and absentee fathers. I’m becoming less convinced that this should be a focus for the church.

      Shouldn’t we be focused, instead, on sharing the love of Christ and helping and defending the oppressed?

      Wouldn’t we do more good helping an abuse victim leave her (or his) abusive spouse, get a divorce, and find a means of providing for her children, rather than preaching sermons on the sad statistics of divorce and absentee fathers?

      • Total agreement, Joe. It is a version of the game “Gee, ain’t it awful.” I would never presume to know who is a “real” Christian and who is not, but it makes me, outsiders, and the unsaved wonder…if people are resting in Christ, HEARING the Holy Spirit, for REAL, why are they so focused on the wrong stuff? Truly, the world is watching. And it isn’t about us or anyone else expressing their righteous indignation, though that is a starting place – seeing the problem. But learning HOW to communicate it effectively to ease past or blast past the strange resistance to what are, to us, OBVIOUSLY better priorities….well, that is what I am trying to figure out. To “help” others give a rip. Respectfully. Wow. Blessings, Joe! Diane

        • “…But learning HOW to communicate it effectively to ease past or blast past the strange resistance to what are, to us, OBVIOUSLY better priorities…”

          Yes, that is the crux of it…figuring out how to effectively communicate something that is incredibly important…

          ‘Preciate you, Diane!

  7. You’re sharp to catch this one, Joe. I’m afraid this particular misuse of statistics might have passed by me because I’ve heard similar uses. But you’re right; we shouldn’t let our brains gloss over when we hear things like this because it can be very degrading and discouraging to many children and adults who did or are now growing up without a dad in the home.

    Thanks for consistently pointing us to our hope found in Jesus alone!

    • Probably not so much sharp as practiced. I’ve had several years to sort through why certain topics trigger my falsehood alarms.

      I’ve also lived this from several angles…17 years raising kids in a traditional family (though an abusive marriage)…several years as a single parent with 50% custody split…several years as an every-other-weekend dad…and now a parent in a blended family helping raise step-children.

      I’m always blessed by your comments, Lisa! Thank you!

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