Fatherlessness is one of the greatest problems and social epidemics of today's society. Its devastating effects can be seen throughout the United States, with 24 million children in America -- one out of every three -- living in biological father-absent homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
In an exclusive interview with the Gospel Herald, Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship church in Dallas, Texas, discussed the crucial role fathers play in forming a strong society and why the church must be on the frontline addressing the issue of fatherlessness.
Pastor Evans, known for his popular books and teachings on how a "kingdom agenda" impacts men, women, families, and society, is also the president of The Urban Alternative, a national organization dedicated to the proclamation and application of the Word of God.
GH: You have previously stated that "Fatherlessness is the scourge of our time." Why is this issue such a particularly devastating one?
TE: It's devastating for a number of reasons. First of all, it is a key element to the breakdown of the family, and the family is key to the well being of society and social order. So, when families break down, you have a lot of repercussion from that, from poverty to crime to lack of discipline. You have the male absence from influencing the generation. Since God's covenant was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you have an interruption into God's covenantal plan. The repercussions are staggering for the community when fatherlessness abounds.
GH: You frequently emphasize that fatherlessness is not just a social problem, but a spiritual problem, and thus can't be solved with a social solution. Why should the church, and not the government, be on the frontline responding to this crisis?
TE: The primary role of the church is to reflect God's value system in society and to train people in that value system. It's not the government's responsibility, nor are they equipped to do that on the most local level where the need exists. Churches exist in every community and therefore have access have access to the communities where those needs are and can be felt. It's not a top-down solution, it's a bottom-up solution. Churches are simply the best localized means to provide that.
GH: Today's culture furthers the idea that men are insignificant within the family structure--you see this idea promoted constantly in television shows, movies, etc. So, you have men asking 'Why should I be a part of my child's life when culture continually gives more credibility to the female without asking the real questions about the role of men?' How would you respond?
TE: I would say that your self-definition and your responsibility cannot start with the culture. If you start with the culture, then you'd be reacting to the culture. That's why, again, it's spiritual, because if you start with God and His expectation and His demands, and how He has created your DNA, then you're responding to a higher order. So, men who say such a thing are responding to a lesser authority rather than a greater one. That's why a re-calibration needs to occur to respond to a greater authority.
GH: What advice would you give to parents attempting to raise their sons be strong and courageous men in a culture that is continually redefining masculinity and destroying the traditional family structure?
TE: You know, that's why I wrote the book "Raising Kingdom Kids," because you have to incorporate the Christian kingdom worldview in defining the family. The kingdom worldview says "We operate under divine rule, under God's standards for mother, father, and how children are to grow up." So, in establishing that worldview, then you are transferring those principles to your children, but that means you have to learn them yourself. When you learn those principles and transfer those principles, then you're fighting against the culture and not acquiescing to it. The problem is, because media is so strong today, it's easy to acquiesce to it because you're being bombarded by it all the time. Because of this, parents must have an even more definitive role in concert with the church in influencing their children for light and righteousness.
You're raising boys to take responsibility for a family as they grow up. You're raising girls to choose the right kind of man. Having a boy become the right kind of man establishes the blueprint for how the family should continue to develop.
GH: The issue of same-sex marriage has taken a dominant position in the church in the past several years, primarily because it re-defines the family. How do you think this re-definition of the family will affect the already rampant issue of fatherlessness both now and in the future?
TE: Today's culture tells the next generation that this redefinition is legitimate, especially if it's authorized and legalized. Therefore, you have competing definitions and conflicting definitions, and that leads to confusion, which is why we have got to emphasize the Biblical definition of the family as created by God--not society. If God created the family, the He should be the ultimate definer of what it is, and that should be our point of reference.
Same-sex marriage confuses the balance that God created when he created male and female. He created a balance, where both sides would bring something to the table that would reflect the uniqueness of the creation. There is no reflection of the uniqueness of creation in same-sex marriage.
GH: So, if the church wants to bring up young male and female leaders in their congregations and effectively evangelize their city, it must address the issue of fatherlessness. Ideally, how does this look within the church?
TE: Our big initiative is the National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative, which promotes the idea of adopting a public school and providing surrogate parenting to students. The same thing can be done in the church, where men become surrogate fathers to boys in particular, so that they have a right-to -passage kind of initiative. Young men need a positive influence, especially when they don't have a strong male figure in their lives. They can be influenced by a great, godly man in the church, which gives men a great mission in the church to influence these kids.
GH: Do you have any examples of how the National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative has positively impacted fatherless children in the United States?
TE: Absolutely. Of course, when we adopt schools, we have hundreds of kids who are being mentored by students from the people we've trained. Even in our own city, our church has adopted 155 schools and provided mentoring and training and other services to the average students in those schools. We've seen students complete education who were subject to dropout; we've seen young men clarify their identity. We have a high school heroes program where we get high schoolers to influence younger people, younger kids, and it's the most natural way, because schools provide a natural environment for reflecting these principles continually. Every community is made up of churches, schools and families.