Dan Quayle, Murphy Brown, And Jesus Christ
Incredibly, in the recent presidential election campaign, the most intense and the most heated debates involved not the three candidates for President, but a fictional TV character and the Vice President of the United States—Murphy Brown and Dan Quayle! Of course, Murphy Brown was not the first mother on television to give birth outside the bounds of wedlock, but she certainly became the most famous. The honor of being first belongs to a character on the soap opera, ’’As The World Turns,” back in 1961. Other TV characters who have followed the same pattern are: Mary Jo on “Designing Women,” Carla on “Cheers,” Maddie on “Moonlighting,” Suzanne on “Thirtysomething,” Gina on “Dallas,” and Emma on “Falcon Crest.” Now if you already knew that, then I have a word for you: “Get a life! You’re watching too much television!”
But let’s take a quick look at the Murphy Brown-Dan Quayle flap. You are probably aware that in the TV show, Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, is a smart, vivacious, wise-cracking reporter for a television news program. She is single, and in the story line, she has a fling with her ex-husband and becomes pregnant. He cares more about the Brazilian rain forest than about being a father, so she is left to bear this child alone. That she does, with 38 million people watching! The slant of the message is that the traditional notion of the family is all but gone, and that equally valid lifestyle options have surfaced. One of those is the Murphy Brown pattern—the politically correct term is “father optional families”—which states that someone as sharp and successful as Murphy Brown can rear a child alone.
Well, in the midst of what was happening on TV, Dan Quayle delivered a speech (and by the way, you ought to read his entire speech, seven pages long, you will find it to be a rather sensitive and sensible treatment of some of the problems affecting our families), but that speech set off a firestorm—or rather one paragraph of the speech did. Dan Quayle said: “Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown—a character who epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly-paid, professional woman—mocking the importance of a father, bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.'” That’s what he said and the sparks began to fly. The next day the headlines in the Philadelphia paper read: “Murphy has a baby… Quayle has a cow!” Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary, didn’t know how to react. First he defended Quayle, then he defended Murphy Brown, then he jokingly offered to marry Murphy Brown! From that point on, both the jokes and the debate intensified.
Today I want to use this incident as a means for focusing the light of Jesus Christ upon the challenges faced by single parents in our time—and remember that 90% of those single parents are mothers presiding over fatherless families. I wonder what Jesus would say to those single parents. What would He say to a Murphy Brown? Well, we don’t have to speculate. The fact is that there are a lot of single parents in Scripture—too many for us to note them all. So I want to zero in on just one of them—the woman at the well whom we meet in John 4.
Jesus was traveling through the region known as Samaria and as he approached the city of Sychar he came upon a well. It was high noon. The blazing sun and the foot journey had exhausted Him. So He stopped for water. There He encountered a woman who had been divorced five times. Let that sink in a moment. She had known five different men, slept in five different beds, had five different names, five different neighborhoods, five different sets of in-laws! You and I both know that by the time you go through five different husbands, there’s going to be a whole string of kids, each one looking like a different daddy. What’s worse, the guy she is with now won’t even get married. So as this woman approaches the well, what’s heaviest on her shoulders is the empty water jug, but what’s heaviest on her heart is the rejection and isolation she has experienced from others. But when Jesus saw her, He saw her as a child of God. He saw her as one whom God had created, one whom God loved. And what I want you to notice is that Jesus then proceeded to deal with her past, her present and her future.
First, her past.
When the woman walked up to the well, the first thing Jesus did was to ask her for a drink of water. Not much of a request, I suppose, under ordinary circumstances, but if, like this woman, you have not been spoken to or accepted by other people for so long a time, to have some foreigner open the doorway to conversation is a startling experience. In fact, you can hear in the woman’s response the edge of distrust. She says: “Why is it that you, a Jew, would ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” Translation: “What’s an uptown guy like you want from across-the-tracks girl like me? I know your type. I deal with folks like you all the time.” She doesn’t trust Him.
Jesus’ reply to her is incredible. I’ve had trouble all week long getting past the first four words of His response—they are so powerful. He said: “If only you knew the gift God is trying to give you.” If only you knew. If only you knew that God is on your side, that He really cares about you, that He wants what’s best for you—if only you knew. Jesus was saying to her: “I can accept your past. In a society where everyone else has cut you off, I count you in. I want you for my own.”
Think about that for a moment. If you are a single parent think about that. If you’re not a single parent try to put yourself in the situation of a single parent. You see, a single mother becomes a single mother in one of three ways—by death, by divorce, or by having a child outside of marriage. Two of the three have a social stigma attached to them. Therefore, in most instances, the single parent needs someone to say: “I accept you and I accept your past.”
Let’s face some facts you may not know. The trend of fatherless families in this country is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of the world. The number of single parent families in the U. S.—get this—has tripled in the last 20 years. One out of every four children in this country now live in single parent homes and contrary to all our ill-informed suppositions, the rate is increasing fastest among whites, not among minorities. To be sure, the dramatic number of fatherless children among minorities is ripping apart our inner cities, but it is not just a minority problem. Two-thirds of all children born today will live some of their lives in a single parent home. Unprecedented statistics. And if nine out of ten of those single parent homes are fatherless families, then it means that a crushing burden has fallen on the shoulders, the often weary shoulders, of the female.
For the most part, persons who are single parents today did not really ask for the role—it was most often thrust upon them. And it is demanding. The single parent is always on duty. Someone wrote this want ad, “Wanted: Full-time manager of four children and one dog. Hours: 24 hours a day. Salary: None. Chance for advancement: None. No vacation. No sick leave. No retirement benefits.” It was an ad for a single parent—and no one applied! There a wonderful little book by Carol Pearson entitled One On A Seesaw: The Ups And Downs Of A Single Parent Family. You get the message very quickly: one person on a seesaw isn’t much fun. It is a challenge to be a single parent. But Carol Pearson writes: “When I was little, people used to talk about ‘broken homes.’ Now my children live in such a home, but I don’t think of it as broken. Yes, the family is stretched and cracked but it is not broken. It still works. We are still a family.”
Like the woman at the well, single parents need affirmation and acceptance. Every Sunday as I stand at the front door of our church, lots of little children who do not have fathers at home hug me! I don’t know that there is anything I do here more important than that. The single parents in those families need acceptance and affirmation, too. We have many single parents in this church. I want more—because I want them to know that here we accept them and we will love them to the ultimate!
Then Jesus dealt with the woman’s present.
Jesus was honest with the Samaritan woman. He said to her: “Go, get your husband.” Something in His eyes must have made her feel that she could trust Him. Also she said: “Lord, my married life is nothing to be proud of.” And Jesus replied: “That’s true, but let’s deal with that together.” Jesus was saying: “Let’s be honest about your present circumstances. Let’s not pretend that there is not a hurt where there is a hurt. I want you to take a hard look at your mistakes so that with my help you won’t make them again.”
Let us be honest as well. It’s hard for single parents to rear their children alone. We have some single moms in this church who are defying the odds, whose efforts are heroic, who are doing everything they can to beat the odds which are stacked against them. I applaud these women and I’m grateful for them. But it’s hard. God set up the family because every child needs the affirmative action of both a father and a mother. Young boys need some things that a mother just can’t provide no matter how hard she tries. Young girls need the masculine form of affection from their fathers, when those big arms wrap around their little shoulders and a deep voice says “You are my princess. You matter to me”—because if she doesn’t find it in the arms of her father, she might seek it in the arms of someone who doesn’t want to give but to take.
Here are the facts. 80% of teens in psychiatric hospitals are from one parent homes. There are three out of four teens suicides occur in one parent homes. 70% of all teens charged with murder are from single parent home. Studies in 18,000 schools show that single parent kids do less well in school. One study examined 11,000 crimes in three major U.S. cities trying to find a common thread—the only common thread turned out to be that the perpetrators came from father-absent households. Raising kids alone can be hazardous to their health.
Little wonder that just last year the Rockefeller commission emphatically called attention to the need for families which have both mother and father present. Little wonder that some of America’s intellectual ___________________, including some African-American intellectuals have begun to discuss the connection between family form and social ills. Little wonder that syndicated columnist William Raspberry says that “The greatest increase in child poverty in America is directly related to the increase in mothers-only households.” Little wonder indeed.Jesus wants us to be honest about the present. The reason single parents are so much in my heart is because of the incredible uphill battles they have to face.
But, don’t forget, Jesus also dealt with this woman’s future.
Jesus pointed this woman to God’s future and then she said: “I know the Messiah is coming but that’s a long way off.” Jesus said: “I who speak to you am He.” Don’t miss this, please. Jesus first revealed His messiahship to a single mother. She was suddenly transformed by His power. The woman then went rushing back to the city to tell everyone about Jesus. Suddenly, she wasn’t afraid or ashamed to be around people anymore. Wow! The first missionary ever sent by Jesus was a single mother.
Single parents have two sources of strength. They have God and they have God’s church. One of our single parents put it like this: “Dear Dr. Edington, You recently requested that members of our church write to you about their difficulties and triumphs in being part of the Christian family. I have been a single parent for ten years. I have two teenage sons; one in college, one in high school. My task is not easy, but the peace of God is in my heart through Jesus Christ. Yes, I continue to have overwhelming financial problems and I work two jobs. And no, I haven’t found my ‘Prince Charming’ or my ‘knight in shining armor’. But that’s okay ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Thank you for reading my letter. It is from my heart.”
I share that so that you single parents who are weary will not give up. It’s tough, but Jesus Christ is adequate to the task of strengthening you for the struggles which are yours. And I share that so that we as a church might be inspired to greater effort for our single parent families. I dream of the day when some of our people who are handy with socket wrenches, automobile parts, and home repairs will start a Mechanics Ministry so that when a single mom’s car breaks down or the plumbing backs up and finances are tight, we can send a brigade of Christ’s disciples to help. I dream of having an “Oasis Ministry”—a group of our people who will give one night a month to keep single parent’s kids here at the church to give those single parents a break and to love and encourage those kids. I dream of a time when you fathers (and mothers) who are involved with your own child in a shared activity such as camping or scouting or specific parent-child events would sponsor and take with you a child from a single parent family (If you don’t know one, give me a call). I dream of the day when committed grandparents in this church step forward to become mentors to fatherless or motherless children in our church to give those kids some of the things they are missing in life. (Again, if you need direction, let me know.) I dream of the day when we take seriously the command of Scripture—James 1:27—to care for those who have no spouse and those who have no father or mother.
Let me finish with this word from my heart to those who are single parents…
Brian Steinberg was a student at the University of Washington. He was a champion pole vaulter—one of the best in the world. One day while he was practicing on a trampoline to develop his muscles, he fell, hit the edge of the trampoline, and severed his spinal cord. It left him paralyzed. One of his friends came to the hospital to visit him and the friend said: “Fate sure colors our lives, doesn’t it?” Brian Steinberg quickly replied: “Yes, but I propose to choose the color.”
You have that choice. You can choose what you want your life to be like. You can choose what you want your children to have and to be. Come to Jesus Christ and come to this church—we’ll help you select the right color…