Keep People’s Reality Above Your Ideals

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 Bryan Hudson 2 Comments

“Ideal” is defined as, “A standard of perfection; One's conception of what is most suitable.

Following is my response to an article I read that lamented the lack of fathers in the home and the absence of men in children’s lives from an evangelical perspective. The article highlighted negative aspects of “minority” communities by citing bad statistics, which were factual, but not enlightening.

Unfortunately, this article like others I've read did not offer solutions, only an ideal standard––with which I agree in principle. However, focusing on solutions is more helpful than lamentation. I think it is helpful to begin with "ideas" rather than "ideals" which are very differing things. An idea encourages me to first consider the need and understand people. An ideal begins with my concept of people and their needs.

I grew up in the inner city and experienced my share of trouble and foolishness as a non-Christian. I prevailed through the grace of God and the guidance of a father and mother who were married for 48 years until my mother's death (they would have been married for 63 years had she lived). I married a beautiful woman also from the inner city, whose living parents have been married for 65 years. In March of 2019, we will have been married for 40 years! We raised two sons and two daughters. So I completely understand the ideals of father and family, having been surrounded by good, godly, and great men all my life.

That said, I think it is important to keep people’s reality above our ideals. 

Regarding the ideal of the importance of having a father in the home, the availability of good men who can become good fathers is very limited in many communities. We can debate all the reasons, but it does not change the reality that people experience. Pregnant women who do not abort and choose life (which is what we Christians advocate) to become single mothers have even less prospects for a man wanting to marry them and raise someone else’s child. 

Sometimes, because of desperation or outside pressure, some single women think they "need a man” so they allow a boyfriend to move in and become “dad.” From our biblical perspective, this is not acceptable and it does not work for many reasons. In many cases the reality is that the biological father is unfit or unavailable. As followers of Christ, we teach and expect people to serve God, live holy, and practice abstinence until marriage — but that’s another ideal that many fail to achieve. However, many young people live biblically or otherwise avoid pitfalls -- but unfortunately there are no statistics for positive outcomes in our communities. We only focus on the bad outcomes and the related statistics.

I suggest that a practical scenario and “best practice” within difficult and unfortunate situations is for single mothers (single dads too) and their children to become committed members of churches where men at the church provide support. For many urban churches, this is what we do and we consider it our obligation. Men in the church cannot replace a father in the home, but we can do an immeasurable amount of good! 

This is what I have seen during the 18 years I operated a summer media camp for youth. One of the young men, William (not his real name), I mentored since he was 11 years old.  He was raised by a single mother. William was married last May. He and his wife are expecting their first child in February! William is a credit to his dedicated and loving mother, his biological father, and other family in his life, but I was blessed to play a part. Many other young men and women come to mind -- some with less biological family support.

This model of church community and engaged men has empowered single mothers (and single fathers) to raise boys and girls who become successful adults. I’ve seen a lot of good outcomes over my 36 years of pastoral service. Yes, there have been bad outcomes, but the bad results were not worse than bad parenting from a mother and a father, poor choices, or unavoidable circumstances.

In addition to churches and men making the choice to mentor others, organizations in Indianapolis like 100 Black Men, Urban Intiative, Dad’s Inc., Young Men, Inc., the Black Men’s Group, Ross Foundation, Multimedia in Focus, Community R.U.L.E., Raising Others People Kids, Stop The Violence Indianapolis, New Life Development Ministries, and others, that have been empowering single parents and mentoring young people for many years.

The negative statistics are indeed bad and they garner a lot of attention because people's lives are affected, but it would be a much worse situation without all these efforts. Also, statistics do not account for people who succeed despite the same odds and circumstances impacting those who have fallen. It is important to pay attention to every single person and not to view people through the narrative lens of “statistics.”

I think we need to focus on the practices that work. We need to focus on breaking negative cycles of all types. There have been many successes among young people and future success will require many years of good work to bear fruit. We maintain high expectations and motivate people we serve to reach for the best. Our ideals are good, but we start with serving people where they are.

We will need to measure success one person at a time and celebrate those persons. 

There are many more Williams out here looking for people to focus more on their realities than our lofty ideals.

Rev. Bryan Hudson