WHAT is the condition of the Adventist home that we should speak of its revival?
First the good news: Our youth are currently more audacious in witness than they have been in many years. They don't hide their Bibles under their coats. Said an academy principal: "Some Adventist youth are more desirous of being truly Christian than are some Adventist adults."
Our pastors tell me that we have more Bible study in Adventist homes. But perhaps the best news from several pastors, and some of you, is that more of our families are becoming aware that some thing is lacking, that revival is needed. They are hungering for a commitment that will transcend material concerns. Their hunger should challenge us.
As for the bad news: Our homes have become permissive. Denominational standards often are given only lip service; there is a sad gap between profession and practice. Adults and youth often show loss of confidence in basic religious beliefs.
Other gods have entered our homes. Personal devotion is sporadic; family worship is little ob served, and, even where carried on, it seldom involves the whole family. If Bible study is increasing it is as an expression of personal need rather than as a family endeavor. Which suggests another problem area:
Loss of family cohesiveness. Everyone is going his own way, doing his own thing. The most serious consequence is loss of a confiding relationship. Said an Adventist educator: "We have more money to spend on each other, but less time, less personal concern."
Another problem of the Adventist home is that it is assimilating the thinking and practices of the society about it. And families about us are in trouble, "trouble so deep and pervasive," said a major report to the recent White House Conference on Children, "as to threaten the future of our nation" (see "The American Family: Future Uncertain," Time, Dec. 28, 1970, p. 34) indeed to threaten all Western civilization.
Problems of the Home
What are the problems of the home? Here are six of the most significant:
1. Disintegration. More than 2,000 times today in America a judge will rap his gavel and speak two fateful words: "Divorce granted." More than 770,000 couples who stood at the altar and pledged each other their love forever will this year declare family bankruptcy an 800 percent increase since the Civil War. America's divorce rate is six times that of Canada; three and one-half times that of England; three times that of France.
And divorce does not end the problem, for in most cases the problem is not in the marriage, but in the persons involved. Second marriages fail more frequently than first. Someone has said, "Some old-fashioned mothers who can remember their husband's first kiss have daughters who can't remember their first husbands." An adult heard a 10- year-old boy in Hollywood tell his girl friend: "I really love you. When we grow up I want you to be my first wife."
2. The transition from a spinning-wheel society to a steering-wheel society. Sum it up in one word: mobility, which has trans formed the family from an "extended" or "kinship" family to an "isolated or 'nuclear' " family. In this context it is not quite so pleasant to recall that our church is often called the "Advent movement."
3. Women's changing role. Her aspirations often now are focused outside the family. Forty percent of American women are employed (ibid., p. 35). (The percentage of Adventist workers' wives employed runs closer to double that figure.)
4. Affluence and materialism. The affluence of our society has made it easier for families to have more things, which has in turn created an appetite for still more things, thus demanding more in come, more work, more family separation. The result is a society where families give one another things, instead of themselves.
5. Weakened societal support for families. Said the chairman of the White House Conference on Children, Urie Bronfenbrenner, a noted Cornell psychologist: "The battle today is not between children and parents; the battle is between society on the one side and families on the other, and we've got to reorder things so that human values can again get some recognition."---"Somebody Let It, Please God, Be Some body," in Time, Dec. 28, 1970, p. 37.
6. Weakened moral values. To day many think sin is relative, if not fiction. Good and bad are determined by society rather than an unchanging moral standard. God is dead; and man, who left his father's house to go it alone, stands, as Dylan Thomas wrote:
"Too proud to cry, too frail to
check the tears,
And caught between two nights,
blindness and death." 1
These, then, are the problems of homes in Western civilization, and Adventist homes tend increasingly to reflect the society about them.
What can we do to revive them?
Yes, we could make God the center of our homes. Yes, we should have morning and evening worship. Yes, we should study the Bible more. But there is more yet to be done:
Here are three practical steps toward family revival shared with me by educators, principals, teachers, pastors, parents, and students.
Control of the Television
First, re-establish control of the television set or sell it. No single medium has been so responsible for introducing the values and nonvalues of the world into Adventist homes. No other medium has done more to rob us of time to witness.
The average American family spends six and one-half hours a day with television. From birth to high school, children spend far more than twice as much time viewing TV as they spend in school. The preschool student has spent more hours with TV before he enters kindergarten than a student spends in four years of college classes.
What does television teach?
A media expert, John R. Hamilton, suggests that our children learn seven lessons from television:
1. It provides an interpretation of life. A set of perceptions, a filter, through which life is subtly distorted. As children listen to sermons, read books, evaluate parental commands, television provides a reference point for interpretation. And that reference point is secular humanism. Or have you noticed that all those happy, harmless TV families are much too occupied enjoying life's adventures to feel a need for salvation through Jesus Christ? If God appears on TV at all, it is on those stuffy Sunday morning talk shows, which also say something to our children. A current TV ad asks: "If you can't trust Prestone, who can you trust?" The implied answer is nothing.
2. TV distorts vocations. Occupations are shown as drudgery, endured to make money for leisure time. Or they are unrealistically glamorized. Is it any wonder that after participating vicariously in such stimulating vocations, youth find real lifework boring?
3. TV cheapens love. Our sons learn about "falling in love at first sight based on a girl's natural-looking eye shadow and a common fondness for mushroom pizza." Our daughters are taught that "passionate love is found be fore and outside of marriage."--Vanguard, April-May, 1973, p. 8. 2
4. TV conditions children to quickie solutions. It creates a dilemma and then in 30 minutes, minus commercials, neatly re solves it. After years of conditioning to quickie solutions, children become frustrated when real-life problems won't disappear so readily. "Some scholars believe that the campus unrest of the sixties was due in part to the first crop of the TV generation reaching college age and being impatient with the slow machinery of the school administration, the prolonged war in Vietnam, and other delays." --Ibid.
The pastor of one of our college churches suggests that conditioning to quickie solutions and immediate gratification has made our youth susceptible to neopentecostalism, which seems to offer no lifetime warfare, but instant sanctification, confirmed by speaking in tongues.
5. A related problem is activism. With its fast pace, quick cuts, music to match tempo and artificial level of excitement, TV conditions children to expect a high level of activism and excitement in real life. "Flannelgraphs and storybooks seem pretty dull in comparison." --Ibid.
6. TV programs and ads beamed at children encourage greed. Hamilton reports logging 306 ads during 13 hours of children's TV. He summed them up with two words: Greed and materialism.
"I have," he said, "observed children sucking their thumbs while glued with glazed eyes to the friendly television ..., re moving the thumb at intervals long enough to say, 'I want that.'" — Ibid.
Says an Adventist principal: "It takes more to satisfy youth today.. They're always asking, Ms that all?' it's never enough."
7. TV features phony families. Fathers are incompetents, particularly in child-rearing, where they are bumbling figureheads. Parents are "hapless buffoons," outwitted by their children. Children are never punished physically, but are deprived of privileges, which are restored when their parents later are proved wrong.
Writes Vance Packard in the Hidden Persuaders: "All this sly sniping at parent symbols takes place while mother, unaware of the evident symbology, chats on the telephone, content in the knowledge that her children are being pleasantly amused by the childish antics being shown electronically on the family's wonderful pacifier." Page 140. 3
I suggested that television also robs us of time to witness. It does more. It subtly conditions us to inaction.
Let's look at Sister TV Addict.4 Daily she spends several hours in front of the TV set, identifying with the TV personalities, but she does so with no direct emotional contact with them. As a result she finds herself increasingly isolated from meaningful relationships.
Repeatedly her emotions are aroused she feels compassion, pity, sympathy. But she fails to act on them, for the situations are not real. They are merely fictions concocted by the script writer for her entertainment.
But the consequences of Sister Addict's failure to act on strong emotions for good are far from entertaining. She is actually inhibiting her ability to respond positively to people, to problems, and to life. What is Laodicea after all but programmed nonresponse?
The process may be illustrated by an incident that took place in the home of friends. The two children were encouraged to act out Bible stories during the meditation period each day. A favorite was the story of David slaying Goliath. The children had a wooden sword, sling, and shield, which they used in dramatizing the encounter. One night the boy, 6, was Goliath; the girl, 10, was David. Bravely she twirled her sling and hurled an imaginary rock at Goliath's forehead. Slowly he clutched his face and toppled to the floor. Springing to his side, she placed her foot on his chest and raised the sword to cut off his head.
Her little brother looking up, saw her caught up in the excitement of the story, and with a flash of fear on his face said, "Not really, sister, not really."
Each time Sister Addict's emotions are aroused while watching dramas on TV, and she feels motivated to act, she goes through an almost unconscious rationalization: "Not really," something seems to say. "Not really." And she relaxes. Once, twice. Again. Again.
She goes to church on Sabbath. The minister speaks of a new missionary program the church is launching. Volunteers are needed. Sister Addict is stirred. And she responds, just as she has, day after day, week after week, be fore the TV set, by doing nothing. "Not really," something seems to say. "Not really."
And on some day when fundamental religious freedoms are threatened, responsible spokesmen will seek to arouse the addicts of the world to action. "Act," they will cry, "or freedom will soon be but a memory!"
"Not really," something will seem to say. "Not really."
Re-establish Family Cohesiveness
A second point. We must re establish family cohesiveness.
A rock group rode to fame singing a ballad of a runaway daughter. It includes these words:
She's leaving home
After living alone
For so many years.
Another group sings of "lonely people in the midst of the lonely crowd."
An academy principal told me of four graduates who came to tell him they hated to go home. Why? At school they had to get up at a certain time, live up to regulations, go to study hall and to bed on schedule. Wouldn't their homes provide relief from it all?
"That's just the point," they told him. "These things tell us that you care about us. Our parents' indifference tells us that they don't care."
Said one of the boys, "Here, there is always a hot meal. At home with Mom and Dad working, I'm lucky to get one hot meal a day."
A graduate student, working on juvenile delinquency, reported at a Wisconsin University sociology seminar that he was having difficulty in collecting data. His project was to telephone a dozen homes around 9:00 p.m. and ask the parents whether they knew where their children were. He said that the first five calls were answered by children who had no idea where their parents were! And sociologists rate family cohesiveness as the top factor in prevention of juvenile delinquency!
I wonder when it will dawn on us that parenthood is a full-time job. It's part of the high cost of loving.
Our children need us to listen to them. After Time magazine ran an essay on the American home that said, "Stop, look, and listen to the kids," a college girl wrote a letter that appeared in a subsequent issue:
"I love my parents and I know they love me, but they've ruined my life. Your paragraphs under 'Listen' very well sum up what I'm trying to say. I could never tell my parents anything, it was always 'I'm too busy . . . too tired . . . that's not important . . . that's stupid . , . can't you think of better things? . . . oh, your friends are wrong . . . they're stupid.' As a result, I stopped telling my parents anything. All communication ceased.
"After four . . . years in a ... girls' school (I did have two or three wonderful teachers) I'm now stuck in a ... woman's college. Only the best for me! They knew I didn't want to come here, but made me anyway. Their daughter wasn't going to be corrupted! I had already been saved from the evils of early dating and doing things that everyone else did.
"What is the result of this excel lent upbringing? I'm 18 years old, drink whenever I get the chance, have smoked pot, and as of a very eventful Thanksgiving vacation, am no longer a virgin. Why? Was it my parents or just me? I'm so very confused but who can I talk to? Not my parents. My parents could read this and never dream it was their daughter.
"I have only one important plea to parents. . . . Listen, listen, and listen again. Please, I know the consequences and I'm in hell." (Signed, a college student, Ohio.)
I believe that a confiding relationship with each other and with God must be at the heart of revived homes.
Here is a final suggestion for reviving the Adventist home: Teaching and Living Moral Values Thirdly, we must dedicate ouragain to teaching and living the moral values of the Ten Commandments.
Today standards long held are dissolving; cynicism plagues man kind. The result, says Author David Klein, is that the nonreligious parent, or the formalist, has literally no way to influence his child. He is aware of the utter emptiness of no belief at all; yet he can hardly hold up his own life as a model on the one hand indulging in materialism, on the other, enforcing puritanical morality. How can he teach his children to do right if he cannot justify the right?
I think of the experience of an official of the Urban Coalition who spoke to a group of student leaders from America's foremost colleges recently. He told them to be good kids, not to pop pills or bomb buildings or opt out on responsibility by fleeing to Canada or Morocco.
A student leader from Harvard respectfully asked him: "Why not? On what moral basis are your ethics founded?"
With obvious embarrassment the official replied, "I'm sorry, I don't know."
Ask Adventist youth leaders and educators what one influence above all others costs us the loyalty of our youth, and they will answer: The gap between what parents and pastors teach and what they practice. "The biggest need of the church," an educator told me, "is for consistency in Adventist homes."
Professing one thing and practicing another is a sure cure for a kid's religious experience: Putting a "stop sign" on the TV set and then coasting through another program or two after the approved one goes off; talking sacrifice and practicing extravagance. Preaching that the Sabbath is for good works and then using it for a good sleep. Upholding the Ten Commandment "speed limit," while living as if the Lord conceded you an extra five mph. Preaching that the Lord is coming soon, and then living as if today is going on for ever.
We must teach our children the moral values of the Ten Commandments and be consistent in our witness to them. And then will the hearts of the children be turned to their fathers. And then will our light break forth speedily, and the Ten Commandments will be a hedge about our homes, as the Lord has promised.
One night some years ago my children and I were discussing a number of break-ins in our neighborhood. I left to speak to a PTA and when I returned home went into my son's room to kneel by his bed and pray, as I often did. There I saw his Bible in the window, its open pages propped against the glass.
My wife explained: "After you left, the children continued talking about the break-ins. Douglas got the idea that he would open his Bible to the Ten Commandments and put it in his window so that any robber trying to break into our house would be confronted by the commandment, 'Thou shalt not steal.' "
And I prayed for the faith of a child. And that our home might be a testimony to the neighborhood of what consistent allegiance to the commandments of God truly means.
1. "Elegy," The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1957, by New Directions Publishing Corporation. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
David Higham Associates, Ltd., and the trustees for the copyright of the late Dylan Thomas. Used by permission.
2. Used by permission.
3. Copyright © 1957 by Vance Packard. From the book, The Hidden Persuaders by V. Packard. Published by David McKay Co., Inc. Used with permission of the publishers.
4. The following material is adapted from the author's book, The Mind Manipulators, The Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1974.