The word "father" appears 972 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible.
Clearly, fatherhood is a religious issue. Unfortunately, what we profess and what we practice as a society (Mississippi being measured as one of the most religious states) are far apart on this issue.
If fatherhood were only a religious issue, like debates over mode of baptism, it would hardly be fare for this page. Unfortunately, it is a cultural issue as well - an issue that some say threatens to undermine our society.
The Fatherhood Initiative (fatherhood.org) reports that more than 24 million American children - one in every three - lived apart from their biological fathers in 2009. For African-American children, that rate was 64 percent. In 1960, only 11 percent of children lived in father-absent homes.
The Initiative asserts that children without their fathers in the home are at least two to three times more likely than children who live with their fathers to be poor, to use drugs, to drop out of school, to be seriously ill, to experience emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse and to engage in crime.
Fatherless children are also more likely to be incarcerated; among girls, they typically have sex earlier and get pregnant earlier.
Fatherlessness costs society in other ways as well. According to a study by researchers at the University of Virginia, direct federal payments to father-absent homes in 2006 totaled just shy of $100 billion - not including community payments, indirect costs related to poor outcomes from father-absent homes and reduced tax income from low-earning families.
One can certainly imagine that a lesser economy today, with more people on public assistance programs, means even greater costs.
And with each generation, the problem gets more dire.
"In 1960, about 1 in 13 children in America under age 18 (8 percent) lived with his or her mother and no father," said the Virginia study. "In 2006, the fraction was 1 in 4 (23.3 percent). Furthermore, 34 percent of children live absent their biological father. Today, half of all children, and 80 percent of African-American children, can expect to spend at least part of their childhood living apart from their fathers."
Fatherhood Initiative founder Roland Warren says fatherlessness must be reversed one man at a time.
"I grew up without my dad and kind of broke that cycle," he said. "My boys have had me involved, so I know in one generation you can turn the corner."
We believe that one of the best investments that churches and other entities in our communities can make is promoting responsible fatherhood as a key moral value.
The Apostle John reminds us just how crucial a father-child relationship is - not only on the physical plane but on the spiritual: "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1).