The Plight of Single Parents

The emotional sting Tina and Brenda experienced years ago has subsided, but their stories ring true in many churches today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 10 million single mothers and 2 million single fathers in America.

For single parents, the enormous pressure of being all things to a family is compounded by the reality of not having the physical, emotional and financial strength to carry out their duties. Some hold down two jobs to provide for their children. Others leave their younger kids with older siblings because they can't afford the skyrocketing cost of daily child care.

The lack of money is one of the main reasons many of these women are forced to choose between buying an old, used car or obtaining healthcare for their children. It's no wonder that some mothers who are rearing their children alone consider single parenting the greatest challenge they've ever faced.

Christian single parents are responsible for providing the spiritual leadership needed in their families--in addition to attending school functions, preparing meals, paying all the bills and helping with homework. In a two-parent home, these responsibilities are typically shared between a husband and wife.

Today, Brenda Ajamian is an aide to David Simmons, a state representative from Longwood, Florida. A politically savvy 60-year-old, Ajamian has worked with politicians such as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But she's not too busy to encourage churches to make an assertive effort at helping women who are struggling.

"Many times these mothers just want someone to listen to their concerns, like I did. And ministry leaders have a mandate from God to do so," says Ajamian, who is an ordained minister.

It was a decade ago that then-Vice President Dan Quayle openly criticized the TV character Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock. Many advocates of welfare reform say the only thing that has changed in the 10 years since then are the alarming statistics and obvious consequences of fatherlessness in America.

According to The American Prospect, a biweekly political publication, children who grow up with only one of their biological parents "are disadvantaged across a broad array of outcomes." The Census Bureau notes that children from single-parent homes are twice as likely to drop out of high school before they turn 18 than children from two-parent homes, and 2.5 times as likely to have children out of wedlock.

For Tina House, the statistics held true.

"My twins were 15 years old when they told me they were pregnant," says House who considered but declined to make both of her daughters have abortions. "I thought back to my own abortions and remembered that the Lord told me not to send Him anymore babies."

That's when the Houses' pastor, Jonathan L. McKnight, of Sanctuary of Praise Church, stepped in. He refused to allow church members to criticize or shun the teens. Instead, he saw to it that House's grandsons had enough food and diapers to last them a year.

Some say the pastor's actions are a far cry from the way churches used to deal with single mothers. According to one church member, who requested not to be identified in this report, one reason churches did not help women in the past was because they considered out-of-wedlock pregnancy a woman's problem or her fault--while the man involved was never chastised.

There was a time in many Pentecostal and Holiness churches when these women were told they had to stand before the church, confess their behavior to the congregation and then ask for forgiveness. If the woman was a single mother due to divorce, she was not permitted to serve in ministry and was told to remain silent in the church.

"There were some congregants who openly struggled with vices such as drugs and alcohol or stealing, but they were never made to come before the church and repent," the member explained.

According to a 1997 Census study on single parents and how they fare, children who live with a divorced single parent have an advantage over children who live with a parent who has never married, and an even greater edge if the parent is the father.

The data revealed that the level of education and financial stability greatly contribute to the overall success of a child. Researchers say that in many cases, low test scores, truancy and promiscuous behavior all stem from growing up in a home with one parent.

Because of the grim outlook on one-parent homes, some women say the church must reposition itself to help families. When Charlotte Decker learned that she would have to rear her teenage grandson alone, she was certain that a few men in her church would serve as a surrogate father to him. She was wrong. She says the more trouble Tyson found himself in, the more her church in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, seemed to avoid him.

"When certain brothers learned that my 17-year-old grandson was returning home from jail, they turned a deaf ear to my request for them to reach out to him," says Decker, who has been a missionary with Youth With a Mission since 1985. Many people like Decker insist that the church has a responsibility to uphold Psalm 68:5, "A father of the fatherless, a defender of the widows, is God in His holy habitation" (NKJV).

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