I am not a reader of Kevin DeYoung’s blog. But I had to read it after this Preston Sprinkle tweet came through my feed:
So yeah, I had to click the link. The article is titled “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.”
Personally, I’d be more interested in reading an article titled “40 Questions for Christians who spend more time worrying about homosexuality than global poverty.” It’s not that this topic isn’t important. It’s just that the Christian focus on it seems wholly disproportionate relative to other serious moral issues (as I argued in “Ten things that are more disturbing than gay marriage“).
But I pressed on and read through DeYoung’s article. As I did the following questions in particular caught my attention:
14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?
16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
What struck me is how so much more complicated the issues behind these questions are. (The same is true of several of the other questions.) So let’s take a closer look.
Immediately we face a problem with (14) as stated. To see why, consider the following two scenarios:
(a) Child is raised by a loving single mom.
(b) Child is raised by a loving mom and a clinically psychopathic dad.
I assume DeYoung is not committed to the view that (b) is preferable to (a). And that means that while a father and mother household is aspirational, it is not an absolute. Clearly it is preferable to be raised by a loving single mom than a loving single mom and a psychopath.
This means that 14 requires a ceteris paribus (or “all other things being equal”) clause. Thus, we have:
14′. All other things being equal, do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
On this charitable reading, DeYoung is claiming that all other things being equal, children do better when they are raised by a father and mother than by any other familial arrangement, including (i) a divorced single parent, (ii) a widowed single parent, (iii) two grandparents, (iv) an older sibling, (v) two gay parents.
DeYoung’s followup question in (16) suggests that the unique quality (all other things being equal) owing to father/mother familial relationships means that these ought to be privileged over (i)-(v).
I’m not sure what this privileging would mean. However, I think one would have to be very careful that it didn’t result in a stigmatization of children who fail to be in the optimal familial relationship.
I also don’t think it means that support and resources should be privileged to father/mother familial relationships. These other familial relationships are already at a disadvantage so if anything they should receive more support.
I suspect that in behind (14)-(16) are questions about issues like the availability of ARTs (Artificial reproductive technology) and access to adoption. That is, since a father/mother relationship is ceteris paribus the optimal relationship, families that conform to this standard should have privileged access to ARTs (e.g. IVF, surrogacy) and adoption.
This does raise an interesting question, however. Indeed, if we’re not careful, it could become a slippery slope. What if, ceteris paribus, children do better with parents of a particular socioeconomic status or educational level? Should access to ARTs and adoption likewise be privileged to those couples that have the optimal socioeconomic status and educational level? What if children statistically do better with same race parents than mixed race parents? What if they do better with parents where fathers have a set of masculine characteristics and mothers feminine characteristics? What if they do better with parents of a particular religious (or non-religious) persuasion? And so on.
I guess the lesson is this: before you invoke a ceteris paribus clause that privileges the kinds of parents that are statistically preferable, and before you propose to direct special resources toward those (potential) parents over others, you better think through all the implications of that choice of action.