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 ]