Palin, Prejean and Pre-Marital Ambivalence
Unwed, single, teenage mom Bristol Palin was being lauded on talk shows Wednesday — National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy — for encouraging other teenagers to abstain from sex. Meanwhile, Carrie Prejean (Miss California) was defending her title — and her advocacy of “traditional marriage” — because of sensual and revealing photographs taken of her when she was a teenage model.
I’m confused. Are we in favor of teenage sexuality or not? Are we OK using teenagers to model lingerie until they become public figures? Are we not OK with unwed teenage moms until they admit their mistakes on national TV?
I ask because teenage sexuality is one of the leading causes of illegitimacy, which believe it or not is more pandemic than the swine flu and more damaging to the institutions of family and marriage than any same-gender commitment ceremony in California or Iowa.
You’ve seen the stats on pregnant teens:
- They are far less likely than adult women to receive timely and regular prenatal care.
- Their babies are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birthweight, much more likely to live in poverty, and twice as likely to suffer abuse and neglect.
- Fewer than half of teen mothers age 17 and younger graduate from high school, and fewer than 2 percent earn a college degree by age 30.
- Eight out of 10 fathers don’t marry the teen mother of their child, and daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
And so on. And yet illegitimacy gets a lot less attention from religious and political leaders than other, less pressing and less destructive social issues. A new book called “The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered,” by Emory University law school professor John Witte Jr. explains the culture’s (and religion’s) ambivalence about illegitimacy.
“If the historical doctrine of illegitimacy was a Christian theology of sin run amuck, this new form of illegitimacy is a constitutional theory of sexual liberty run wild,” Witte told Religion News Service.
Witte notes that 38 percent of all American children are born illegitimate, and illegitimacy rates have more than doubled since 1975. According to the Institute for American Values, illegitimacy’s cost to American taxpayers is $112 billion annually for anti-poverty, criminal justice, education programs and lost tax revenue.
Talk about a pandemic.
“There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents,” Witte says.
So, in a nation awash in illegitimate parents, why aren’t we hearing more from religious and political leaders about this widespread social problem?
Why aren’t Catholic bishops withholding communion from illegitimate parents? Why are evangelical and black church leaders campaigning for opposite-sex marriage to save the family? Why aren’t progressive Christian leaders pushing for more social programs to help children conceived out of wedlock? Why aren’t Mormon leaders opposing polygamous relationships (which are common) rather than polygamy (which is not)?
Why is D.C. council member (and ex-mayor) Marion Barry warning that “All hell is going break loose” if the District isn’t careful in its approval of same-sex marriages. “We may have a civil war,” Barry said Tuesday after the council agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. “The black community is just adamant against this.”
Why isn’t any community adamant against illegitimacy?