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Troubles in the village


By now, everybody has probably heard the sad tale about the pregnant teens of Gloucester, Mass.

 In a high school that usually records four pregnancies annually, this year they’ve already recorded 17.

None of the expectant mothers is older than 16. At least half of the girls, described as lacking in self-esteem and in need of affection, reportedly made a pact to get pregnant, and then set out to find a sexual encounter to make that happen. One of the fathers is a 24-year old homeless guy.

Even though the town’s mayor says “we have not been able to confirm the existence of a [pregnancy] pact,” finger pointing is in full swing.

School health officials complained that in today’s political and conservative religious climate they weren’t allowed to distribute birth control (it’s hard to see how that would help when the girls wanted to get pregnant).

Religious leaders cited the overall moral decline and pollution in today’s society, urging a return to sexual activity and parenthood within the sanctity of marriage.

Pop culture came under fire. With rampant sexual innuendo in today’s music, television, and movies, the hand-wringers ask, what do we expect?

Some social critics observe the widespread acceptance of new definitions of “family,” arguing that they eliminate the necessity of both a “mom and a dad.” High divorce rates mean single parents and children raised by one parent are the new norm.

Celebrity tabloids got their share of criticism for glamorizing the pregnancies of unmarried teen celebrities like 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, who claimed her own pregnancy “was a shock ... so unexpected.”

Where are the parents of these teens, inquiring minds want to know? Economists pipe up that they’re working multiple jobs to pay their mortgage and fill their gas tanks.

The love deficit is also cited. Amanda Ireland, 18, a recent Gloucester High graduate who had a baby during her freshman year, said she knows why the girls wanted a baby. “They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally,” adding, “I try to explain it’s hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m.”

If it takes a village to raise a child, doesn’t it stand to reason that it takes a village to destroy a childhood?

Speaking as a parent, culturewatcher, and person of faith, teen culture has become a river into which flows almost everything I detest about American life and culture.

I am reminded of a Wall Street Journal column that railed like an Old Testament prophet. “The U.S. has a drug problem and a high school sex problem and a welfare problem and an AIDS problem and a rape problem. None of this will go away until more people in positions of responsibility are willing to come forward and explain, in frankly moral terms, that some of the things people do nowadays are wrong.”

What do you do when the village raising the child has lost the spiritual, moral, relational, intellectual, creative credibility, and authority to do so?

As we head in to a political campaign, let me assure you that there is no politician on earth who can fix these problems. And as one who spent 15 years in the media, let me also say the resurgence of cultural transformation will not start there.

I recall a conversation a few years ago with David McFadzean, the co-creator of the sitcom “Home Improvement,” who critiqued an idea I had for a new nationally syndicated radio show. “Dick,” he said, “you and I both know the electronic media has severe limitations. It does certain things well – entertain, inform, create awareness, but in my experience, transformation happens local, grassroots, in community.”

Then he added, “In my experience it happens in my local church!”

Transforming a culture will require an extreme personal makeover. It is a matter of the heart, in the old understanding of the heart as the holistic center of human passion, reason, and volition.

The village will raise healthy children when the individuals in the village become healthy, one at a time, in community. This is going to take time, and it starts with you and me.