An endless array of faces greets me most mornings as I drink my coffee. The headlines tell the grim stories: “Four face trial for slaying of woman,” “Rapist gets 19 ½ -40…” “Police charge man in homicide…” and on it goes. I am reading these stories in Lancaster, Pennsylvania not in a major metropolitan hub like New York City. This is Pennsylvania Dutch country—where the Amish live and farmers work. Expected stories from big cities have become common fare for rural America. What are we doing about this alarming trend?
The disturbing regularity of these stories is a call to address issues far deeper than the partisan debates that preoccupy so many. The faces behind the stories are mostly male and their crimes reflect violent disregard for the value of life. But behind each story is always another story and I fear it’s a common one. I suspect that most of these perpetrators were the victims of family deprivation long before they committed their crimes. I point this out not to excuse their behavior or to disagree with judgments and punishments rendered against them, but to draw attention to the deeper issues.
The most formative years of life are the ones spent in our homes and families of origin. Sadly, there are more dysfunctional homes in our communities than ever before. In these homes, children suffer from deprivation (nurture withheld from them) and perpetration (wrongs done against them). The home is the place where we forge our identity, security and learn to relate to others. It’s the place of character formation. As faithful parents provide loving nurture, discipline and mentorship, they shape the futures of their children and the communities that surround them. Healthy homes are a blessing to communities. Of course, I realize that it’s possible for people from good homes to commit vicious crimes, but it’s statistically less likely —much less.
Go to our prisons and interview criminals. You’ll quickly discover a series of childhood stories that share common themes. Adult behavior rarely appears out of nowhere. These stories would share themes of childhood deprivation and adult perpetration. As a counselor, I see this pattern regularly. I counsel adults struggling to overcome the deficits of delinquent parents. I see them struggle to live wholesome, mature and relationally sound lives after enduring years of neglect and abuse in their homes.
When trying to understand destructive attitudes, emotions or behaviors, people will often say, “I guess it all goes back to my father or my mother….” Then they tell their stories of emotionally aloof parents or overbearing and demeaning parents. Then there are those who never had stable parents. They had fathers who walked in and out of their lives or mothers addicted to drugs. Their stories are more common tan most realize. What do we think happens to children who grow up in these environments? Are we surprised that they “act out” or carry unresolved anger and rage? What are they supposed to do with all the hurt and pain?
The connection between home-life and adult behavior is clear and it sends a strong message to those who care about the health and wellbeing of society. Something preventative must be done to stop this alarming trend.
Ironically, during this same trend, communities have been misled to question the value of their Churches. This is often done because Churches are tax-exempt organization and people wrongly measure contribution by dollars. Yet the Churches might be our best hope for helping families. I know our Church is continuously assisting marriages and families to help them become healthier.
Churches are uniquely positioned to fulfill preventive roles by strengthening marriages and families. As Churches commit themselves to building strong homes—especially promoting intentional fatherhood, communities will experience important preventative benefits. Churches can be a powerful voice for turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick Street
Millersville PA. 17551
If you are unconvinced about the urgency of my concern, consider that according to recent reports, one out of every 100 Americans lives behind bars. “Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008).
We tend to think of prisons as places we put people to protect society, but recidivism rates show that protection of public safety requires more than putting criminals out of sight for a period of time. Each year, at least 700,000 prisoners are returned to our communities. “More than five million people are under community supervision — either probation or parole — on any given day in the United States,” noted The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2008.
They tell us that, “Success rates among these offenders are not high: more than 40 percent of probationers and more than half of parolees do not complete their supervision terms successfully. In fact, parole violators account for almost 35 percent of admissions to state prisons, and nearly half of local jail inmates were on probation or parole when they were arrested.”
On average, it costs about $20,000 per year to house and keep each prisoner. With more citizens incarcerated than any other country, overcrowded prisons in America are straining budgets and unable to offer needed reform. Perhaps it is time to think of ways to build healthier homes by assisting parents and families. I fear that one dysfunctional generation passes their dysfunctions to the next one and the one after that and it becomes worse with each one. Something must be done to stop this trend.