As well-meaning people with opinions – everybody from politicians, scholars and journalists to the guy sitting at his kitchen table – try to figure what’s wrong with our country, how we got here and how we find the solution, I continue to think that we make life much more complex than it needs to be. An example of what I’m talking about was last November when ABC News did a week long series of why China is kicking our collective butts with regards to education, innovation and technology. While the focus was on the usual talking point solutions to bridge the gap, such as government spending, nobody bothered to ask the question of the strength of Chinese families and commitment of Chinese fathers when compared to the deterioration of American families and the disappearance of American fathers.
To be sure, there’s much to be critical of when it comes to China, mostly as it relates to the government’s human rights issues and religious persecution of a growing thriving ‘underground’ church movement. But the people themselves get it when it comes to understanding the traditional value of families, respecting the role of fathers and instilling the value of education, hard work as well as discipline in their children.
While it’s difficult to get an accurate grasp on statistics coming out of China, it’s widely understood that Chinese women rarely have children out of wedlock and only 20% of Chinese marriages end in divorce (source: CNN). In the U.S., however, almost 50% of all marriages now end in divorce (up 50% from 1960) and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 59% of all children were born to married couples in 2010 – plummeting from 93% in 1964.
Regardless of your interpretation of the data and how we’ve gotten here, the reality is more American children are growing up either without fathers or, at best, fathers who are physically and emotionally distant. The results to our country have been a socio-economic disaster as men have failed to effectively lead their marriages, their families and their homes. Biblically speaking, men are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Men are commanded to raise their children through teaching and modeling love, discipline and respect (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). And finally as men, we are suppose to look to God in seeking and loving him as our role model (Mark 12:30).
It should come as no surprise that we’re failing as a country because we’re failing as men and as fathers. The moral decay of the last 50 years and the financial collapse of the last decade are the fault of fathers who didn’t teach their children not to be greedy – be it on Wall Street or Main Street – and men who sought not to avoid immoral choices and decisions in their lifestyles.
As a country, we need less government intervention through well-meaning social engineering programs that have the unintended consequences of destroying the fabric of the American family and work ethic. We need to return the mission statement given to us by JFK – “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” As men, we need to stand up and be accountable. We need to spend less time on the couch and more time in the yard with our children; less time in the office and more time at the kitchen table with our family as well as less time on the computer and more time in face to face communication with our spouses.
We need to teach and model to our children the value of hard work and education. We need to teach them how not to give up in persevering through any struggle that comes our way. We need to model love and respect in our homes by the way we treat our wives and how we walk with the Lord. We need to teach them selflessness and sacrifice in helping as well as assisting those in need.
August 31st Posted in: Christian Living with 2 Comments
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you can draw a direct line between the drop in the savings rate among families (not to mention the simultaneous rise in debt) and the proliferation of credit cards which began in the late 1970s.
Most studies indicate that people spend anywhere from 25 – 30% more when using credit cards rather than cash. The reason is simple: when you use cash, you’re forced to fit your spending within your budget. Forgive me for the 5th grade math lesson, but if you have $500 in your checking account, you can’t spend more than $500 if you only use cash. Cash forces the purchaser to plan and prepare before they go shopping so they will know what they’re going to buy and how much they’re going to pay. The purchaser will also have more to save and more to give to others in need. “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” 1 Corinthians 16:2
On the other hand, using a credit card forces you to fit your budget around your purchases as the “buy now, pay for it later” or “charge it” mentality takes shape. The accountability factor is removed until you hit your “credit limit” which is often thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and prepares to meet them. The simpleton never looks, and suffers the consequences.” Proverbs 27:12
The end result of the “charge it” mentality is that the average American family carries $8,000 in credit card debt – often times with crushingly high interest rates of 20% +/- and without the ability to deduct the interest for tax purposes. Remember, credit card companies are in business to make money and are quite profitable. They wouldn’t offer “points” or “rewards programs” unless their profits from interest and fees were greater than whatever “rewards” they’re paying back to consumers.
While my wife and I have always lived a prudent lifestyle and maintained a budget. We realized that it’s a lot easier to stay on budget when we use a cash system for our purchases as opposed to charging our purchases and then later deducting from our budget. Whereas before a trip to Publix or Target was put on the credit card and later deducted from the budget; we now take a set amount from our bank’s ATM every Monday which is our household allowance – food, supplies, etc. for that week. The result is that frustration of going over budget every other week has been replaced by a peace that comes from staying on budget.
It’s no surprise that biblical principles of financial stewardship caution us regarding borrowing. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8. “Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.” Proverbs 22:26-27. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the further we get away from God’s Word – as a nation, as families and as individuals – the more debt-ridden and stressed out we become.
So what’s the answer? In my opinion, burn your credit cards or, at the very least, keep one for emergency purposes or for monthly automatic debits that can easily be accounted and budgeted for on a monthly basis, convenience (e.g. buying gasoline) or occasional one-time needs (e.g. renting a car). In the next newsletter Next month, I’ll discuss “good debt” such as a home mortgage and the road map for your house to be a home and not a debt anchor around your family’s collective neck.