Fatherhood - a call for redemption & movement

Fatherhood. This is a word with much power. When we hear the word a variety of emotions and images come to mind, how they are shaped are dependent upon our personal experiences with our own father. In the church, there is a wide range of attitudes toward the title “Father” and its use in the church. There are movements that encourage men “to be men” and other movements that strive for gender equality and sensitivity in addressing God as Father. I suspect that there is a profound reason for God choosing to reveal Himself as “Father.” Perhaps God knew just how much this role would need to be redeemed.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2004 Current Population Survey Report “Household Relationship and Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years, by Age, Sex, Race, Hispanic Origin,” 23.6 million children (that is basically 1 in 3 children) in the U.S. are “orphaned” by absent biological fathers. The absence of a father makes it 5 times more likely that a child will grow up in poverty. An absent father also increases the likelihood that a child will be diagnosed with asthma, incarcerated for criminal activity, sexually over-active, and obese. These same children are more likely to use illegal substances, be in abusive relationships, drop out of school, and have failing grades. (see www.fatherhood.org) 7 of 10 Americans consider the physical absence of fathers to be the most significant social problem facing our U.S. society. (Fathers.com)

The absence of biological fathers and positive father figures is a key concern in our culture. As a church, we have an opportunity to respond. First, we can encourage the fathers who are positively involved in their children’s lives. Applaud them for their involvement and provide opportunities for them to do activities with their children (both male and female) within the Christian community. We can also provide resources for those dads who are either uninvolved or negatively involved in order to redirect their steps. Most importantly we can help these men to connect with men who might act as a positive father figure in their own lives, because they are more than likely missing this themselves. We need to have discussions about how best to support the men in the church – asking questions such as: “how do we help the men to be strong in their faith and balanced in their interactions with their families?” and “how do we help wives and mothers to provide healthy opportunities for dads to be dads?”

But, we can also be mentors. We can reach into the lives of young people and show that we care. This includes taking time to know the kids at our church and in our neighborhood (as well as their guardians). It can include volunteering with a mentoring program or starting one at your church. For those who are fathers, it may mean attending your children's special events, eating dinner with them on a regular basis, reading a book together once a week, or just sitting and listening to them tell a story about their lives.

So how do we influence our culture - so that this societal problem of absentee fathers might be overcome?

The first step is the conversation. It is becoming better informed ourselves about the important role of fathers and building a strong theological foundation for our understanding of what it means for a man to be a positively involved dad. It means struggling with our nation’s President’s belief that all children have a “father-shaped hole” that needs to be filled, and asking what it means for God as Father to fill that hole and what it means for us in our limited human capacity to follow God’s example. There are some great resources available to start this conversation. The National Fatherhood Initiative is a government supported organization with Christian leadership that has done some great research and has some wonderful resources. Their website is www.fatherhood.org Another organization also with Christian leadership that is striving to change the tide is the National Center for Fathering in Kansas. Their website is www.fathers.com.

The next step is to change ourselves. How does our own relationships with our own fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and children need to be transformed? How does our theology of God’s revelation of self influence our perspective on this topic? Where are our own hurts and places of healing? How does our own behavior need to change? Where have we failed in the past? What fears keep us from succeeding in the future?

Then we need to reach out. We need to find ways to either support dads or become a better dad or role model ourselves.

And throughout all of this we will seek God’s wisdom. Because it is in God as Father that we find the image of father both modeled and redeemed.

So, are you ready to make a difference? Are you prepared to reduce poverty, crime, poor health, and lack of education by supporting the dads in your community? Lets make a difference together.

Amen.

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