FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

with Wade Horn | May 3, 2004
Play Pause

Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, reflects on the state of marriages and families in the U.S.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, reflects on the state of marriages and families in the U.S.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dr. Wade Horn reflects on the state of marriages and families in the U.S.

MP3 Download Transcript

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

With Wade Horn
May 03, 2004
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Every civilization is the beneficiary of strong, healthy, intact marriages and families.  As the family goes, so the culture goes.  But when it comes to promoting the health of marriages and families, whose responsibility is it?  The government?  The church?  And how do they keep from stepping on one another's toes?  Here is Undersecretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Wade Horn.

Wade: I am a conservative.  I believe that there are things that should stay in the private realm and government ought to tread cautiously when it comes to interacting with family.  But once the couple makes that decision, once the couple says, "I want to get married" or is already married, we believe that government has a stake in the stability and health of that marriage.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  So what exactly is the government's role in promoting strong marriages and what role belongs to the church?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, the United States has a chief officer who is in charge of our health, you know, the Surgeon General is supposed to kind of keep us healthy as a nation and point us in the right direction and cheer us on.  I was thinking the other day – don't you think we need a surgeon general for marriage and for families for the United States?

Dennis: It sounds like you're doing heart surgery on families, Bob.

Bob: Well, I'm just thinking that the health of marriages and families is every bit as important as our arteries that need a little unclogging.

Dennis: You know, you're exactly right, and if you think about it, we already have the surgeon general.

Bob: A surgeon general for marriage and families?

Dennis: We do.  We have one, and he is in the studio with us today and, in fact, I've heard is said that you can always tell how important someone is in Washington, D.C. by how short or long their title is.  If it's the president …

Bob: … well, that's pretty short.

Dennis: That solves it – the vice president.

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: Okay, that's less important.  But then if you have the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services …

Bob: … it's a little longer title.

Dennis: You know he's way on down in the ranks.

Bob: Well, let's change it.  Let's make him the Surgeon General of Marriages and Families.  Yeah, what do you think?

Dennis: Let's do it.  Would that fit, Dr. Horn?

Wade: That would be just fine.

Bob: Do we need to get that approved from anybody?  Do I need to call the White House or anything?

Wade: I think you need to get an act of Congress, probably, to get that done.

Dennis: You don't think that will work, huh?  Actually, I stole his line.  Dr. Wade Horn joins us on FamilyLife Today, and that is one of the lines you use when you speak, isn't it?

Wade: Yes, it is.

Dennis: I was looking at his face, and it's, like, "Where did you get that?"  Well, Wade Horn joins us, and I have to say, I've been looking forward to our time together in the studio.  I've followed you for a number of years as you were the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative and gave leadership to that for a number of years.  You're an author.  You and your wife, along with your two daughters, live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and we just appreciate you coming and spending some time with us today, because I do believe you are a kindred spirit.

 I have to say, Bob, at the beginning, because this is unusual for FamilyLife Today, to interview someone who is in a position appointed by the president.  In fact, in the history of FamilyLife, we have only interviewed one other political figure in 11 years.

Bob: That was the governor of Arkansas right after he became the governor, right?

Dennis: That's right.  He's a personal friend of mine – Mike Huckabee – and we invited Mike to come in because we believe character is the issue.  You know, I found it interesting, though, Wade, as I did a little research on you, that your first hero was not a Republican but was a Democrat.

Wade: That's right.  Bobby Kennedy was my first political hero, and the first politician I worked for was George McGovern.

Bob: Well, you know, that takes me back to a statement – I think it was – was it Mark Twain who said that a man in his 20's, if he's not a liberal, he has no heart; and when he gets to his 30's, if he's not a conservative, he has no brain.  So I've always kind of felt that that's – do you think?  You're looking at me, like, are we really going to go there?

Dennis: I thought there was going to be some dawn of consciousness that occurred in the 40's.  That's what I was …

Bob: … waiting for that one, huh?

Dennis: All kidding aside, though, you are in a position, much as Bob described – the surgeon general of marriages and families, because you really give leadership to overseeing initiatives that have to do with the health of marriages and families, right?

Wade: Well, certainly under my purview are programs that are designed to strengthen families, and something that we have had difficulty, for some reason, over the last 30 years in doing is recognizing that strengthening families also means strengthening marriages.  But I have the privilege for working for a president who understands that, at the end of the day, the strength of this nation is not just to be found in its GDP or the strength of its military or in the size federal budgets, but that the strength of this nation really is found in the strength of its families, and if its families are not strong, our nation cannot be strong.

Bob: And that's a fundamental presupposition that we start off with here today.  There are some who would say government doesn't have a whole lot of business, shouldn't have a whole lot of business in caring about my family.  That's my business.  That's personal.  You do government; leave family alone.  But you're saying that every society, every culture, the health of that society really revolves around the health of the family.

Wade: That's right, and, in fact, I oversee in the administration of children and families, $46 billion that goes to social service programs to support vulnerable children and families.  Most of that money is spent as a consequence of families either breaking down or failing to form in the first place.  And one of the ways to reduce the need for government services is to build families up.  If we're always waiting for families to break down before we intervene and provide supports, that's a recipe for bigger government and more interference in the family, and one of the things that this president understands is that we need to be prevention-oriented as well, and to put some resources behind helping couples form and sustain healthy marriages, because one of the consequences of that is less need for the kinds of social services that I oversee.

Dennis: What is the state of the union?  And I'm not speaking of the nation.  I'm talking about the state of the unions in the nation.  What is the current state?  Are you encouraged or discouraged?

Wade: I'm very encouraged, but I am cautiously optimistic.  To borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens – when it comes to marriage in America today, it's the best of times and the worst of times.  The fact of the matter is, we still have an unacceptably high divorce rate.  About 40 percent of all first marriages end in divorce, and we have an unacceptably high out-of-wedlock birth rate – about 1 out of every 3 children today is born out of wedlock – that's over a million children a year.

 At the same time, we see the emergence in America of a new marriage movement; a new marriage consciousness, which is really calling people to understand better the importance of marriage to children; the importance of marriage to adults; and the importance of marriage to communities, and a growing recognition in government that the question is no longer should government be involved in promoting and supporting healthy marriages but how should government do it?  And that's an extraordinary advance from "should" to "how."

 And so it's really kind of the best of times and the worst of times, and so, you know, I'm optimistic, because I see this new, emerging conversation about healthy marriages in America which, ultimately, I think is going to transform into healthier marriages on the ground – not just talk about it but actual activity that's helping couples form and sustain healthy marriages.

Bob: Let me ask you a kind of a theoretical but a fundamental question – the state of marriage – who is the superintendent of that institution?  Is that a state function or is that a spiritual – is it a church function?

Wade: Well, from my personal perspective, not speaking as a government official, if you were to ask me who is the superintendent of marriage, I would say the Heavenly Father is the superintendent of marriage.  From a personal perspective, I believe that marriage is an institution that was created by God, and it wasn't created by God to enslave people or make them miserable but, in fact, it was an institution that He knew would bring them most happiness to children, to adults, and to society, and to this world.

 Now, as a government official, I do not believe that government ought to be too intrusive in the institution of marriage.  I am conservative.  I believe that there are things that should stay in the private realm, and government ought to tread cautiously when it comes to interacting with family life.  I don't believe, for example, that government should interfere with the individual decision-making of a couple about whether or not to get married.  But once the couple makes that decision, once the couple says, "I want to get married" or is already married, we believe that government has a stake in the stability and health of that marriage.  And so, in a nutshell, what the president's Health and Marriage Initiative is about is helping couples who have already chosen marriage for themselves, access services where they can develop the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage, because we do, as a nation, have a stake in the health of marriage.

Bob: It's in our best interest, as a people, to have healthy marriages, and the government may sanction – obviously, the government licenses marriage today, but it's a part of promoting that kind of healthy society, even if marriage is ultimately a spiritual institution, the government has a responsibility to help strengthen that institution without interfering too much.  Is that what you're saying?

Wade: That's right.  And the empirical evidence that marriage matters is just irrefutable at this point.  There may be a few people on college campuses that continue to debate whether marriage is important to the health of children, adults, and communities.  But basically the debate is largely over, even on American college campuses, because we know from research that children who grow up in healthy marriages are far less likely to be poor.  They are more likely to be successful at school; less likely to have behavior and emotional problems; adults are happier, healthier, and wealthier when they are married than when they are not married; and communities show less social pathology when there are high percentages of marriages in that community.

 And so the evidence is just overwhelming that we all have a stake.  Yes, marriage is a private choice, but it has public consequences.  And because it has public consequences, even though the choice is private, it seems to us government should be on the side of supporting healthy marriages and not just simply seeking to be neutral about them.

Dennis: I really like the way you put that, and I like where you started, because Bob's question, I think, is a relevant question for today in a debate around the definition of marriage – who ought to originate the definition of marriage?  And here on FamilyLife Today, I think we would be advocates that because God the Father created the institution of marriage and family, that the origins of that definition of marriage come from the church; come from the spiritual community, and if the spiritual community is silent about what constitutes a marriage, then perhaps government, at that point, has to step in and provide a definition. 

 But I think we're living in a day right now that demands the Christian community, the spiritual community, to offer to the nation an acceptable definition anchored, I believe, in the absolute truth of Holy Scripture.

Bob: And when you say "acceptable," you are saying acceptable first before God …

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And then one that can function well in a society.

Dennis: It is ultimately going to be a definition that …

Bob: … that's going to be unacceptable to some groups.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: There are going to be some folks who are going to say, "I don't like your definition of marriage."

Dennis: They're going to scream that I'm not tolerant or the Christian community isn't tolerant, but in the spirit of definition – Wade, you don't know this, but in 1993, FamilyLife, after taking more than a year to do research around the major issues surrounding marriage and family, after interviewing theologians, counselors, pastors, authors, world-renowned experts throughout the United States, we crafted a document called "The Family Manifesto."  The Humanist Manifesto was very instrumental and influential in years past and was signed by just a handful of people.  And we felt like, back in 1993, that a similar document was going to be needed at some point for our nation to be able to say, "Here is the definition.  Here is what the Scriptures teach, and here is what the Christian community can represent to its society, to our nation, to be the salt and light that Jesus Christ called us to."  And when we come to the issue of marriage – I'll not read all of it – if you want to read the entire statement, and we'll actually put the entire Family Manifesto on our Internet site,, but let me just read to you what we said here –

 "We believe God, not man, created marriage.  We believe marriage was the first institution designed by God.  We believe the Bible teaches that the covenant of marriage is sacred and lifelong.  The Bible makes it clear that marriage is a legally binding public declaration of commitment and a private consummation between one man and one woman, never between the same sex."

 Now, I think that clearly represents what the Bible has taught for centuries that has been an age-old definition that has anchored cultures – various cultures throughout history and has helped them not merely survive in the midst of great challenges but thrive.  And what I would say, Wade, is that it's the Christian community, the spiritual community's responsibility to provide the light on the hill, to provide the definition.  And then at the point where there needs to be further definition of protection then perhaps at that point the government needs to step in and provide that.

Wade: I think that there is a need for government, in its realm, to define what it is that marriage is going to be.  And the president has been very clear that his belief that marriage is, in fact, a sacred institution, but, more than that, that it's really about one man and one woman.  And this is not a new idea that government ought define it this very specific way, it was actually part of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which, back in 1996 was passed with huge majority, signed both the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate and signed into law by President Clinton. 

 And a lot of people, when they look at that act, they think in terms of the protection it affords one state if another state decides to define marriage as something other than one man and one woman.  But there's a part of that law a lot of people overlook.  It says that for the purposes of all federal programs and benefits and regarding all federal laws and regulations, marriage shall be defined as one man and one woman.  So the federal government is already on record as defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

 And so, as an administrator in the federal government, I completely agree with that and would have no choice to do anything but define marriage in that way, because it's already been defined by the United States Congress, passed by the Congress in 1996, and signed into law by President Clinton.

Dennis: Dr. Horn, I'd be interested in you commenting on this, but there is so much extra biblical research and empirical evidence that societies cannot tamper with the genetic structure of the family and hope to outlive it.

Wade: I think that there is a great deal of evidence that when families are not strong, that is difficult for society to continue in any coherent way.  And the evidence of that is if you go into neighborhoods where marriage has disappeared, where most of the children are being born out of wedlock, where there are no fathers around, the sight is not very good, it's not a very pretty sight.

 Now, having said that, it seems to me that we don't then write off those communities.  What we need to do is figure out ways to resurrect marriage as an institution and support families and family-strengthening activities so that those communities can, in fact, become strong again.  And one of the things that we've done is we have launched an African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative, and the genesis of this was that one day I was in my office, and three African-American career employees that work for me, my guess is none of them have ever voted for a Republican in their lives.  After hearing me talk for a while about the importance of marriage and so forth, came to my office and said, "Wade, we are very struck by this, and what we're struck by is the need for us to have this conversation occur specifically in our communities," that is, the African-American communities, "and to identify the unique barriers, challenges, and assets that we have as a community to strengthen marriage among African-American couples."

 And so we launched this early last summer.  We've been doing meetings around the country, and there is a growing sense within the African-American community, in part, as a consequence of this, that we really have to think carefully about how we strengthen the institution of marriage so that more children, whether African-American or not, have the benefit of having grown up in a healthy marriage.

 And so there's this new conversation in America that makes me very optimistic.  It's this new conversation that says to me that there is something stirring, and it's not just stirring because of me or the president, but it is stirring because I believe in the hearts of mankind, marriage as an institution, has been written.  And there is a continuing aspiration for marriage that no matter what we try to do in terms of social engineering, it doesn't go away.  We don't have to sell the institution of marriage to people.  It's already there.  All that we have to do is connect with their aspirations, and when we connect with their aspirations and empower them to move to where they want to go, then, it seems to me, good things can happen.

Bob: And we have seen, Dennis, in conferences across the country, listeners to this program who contact us, that as you do empower people by giving them practical, biblical help for their marriage and for their family, it does unlock something that is glorious.

Dennis: There is that genetic stamp that Wade was talking about – our hearts love families.  We want to go back home, and we want to have homes of our own, and I just – I want to encourage our listeners to pray for those in authority for our Supreme Court, for both houses of Congress, for our president, the vice president, for men like Wade – please pray for them that God will give them wisdom to know how to govern effectively so that we can live as the Scriptures tell us we can live – we can preach the Gospel and represent Christ and continue to call men and women to do what's right and to deal kindly with one another.

Bob: And then let me encourage our listeners to do a couple of things individually, personally, in regard to this.  The first is to take some time together to invest in the strength of your union, your marriage.  Get away and attend one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.  They are held in cities all across the country.  We have conferences taking place this month and next month and into the summer months.  You can call FamilyLife Today at 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about how you can attend a great getaway weekend for couples designed to build a stronger marriage, the kind of marriage that we've been talking about today that is not only good for you, but it's good for our country. 

 Call us at 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at for more information about the Weekend to Remember conference for couples.  And then ask yourself the question that President Kennedy asked all of us a number of years ago, when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country."  One of the things you can do for your country is to promote and preserve and protect and defend strong marriages.

 And, Dennis, you wrote on that subject in a book that came out a few years ago called, "One Home at a Time," where you talked about a strategy for strengthening marriages and families all across the country – a strategy that individuals and churches can employ, and I want to encourage our listeners – if you've never read the book, "One Home at a Time," it's available from us here at FamilyLife.  We also have it as an audio book.  I want to encourage you to get a copy and ask what you can do for your country and for the marriages and families in your neighborhood, in your sphere of influence at work or at church.  Be a part of the solution to the challenges we're facing in this area as a culture. 

 Go online at to request a copy of Dennis Rainey's book, "One Home at a Time," or call us toll-free at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 Well, we've got some good news here at FamilyLife, and we want to share it with you and ask for you to help us with it.  We've had some donors who came along recently and indicated a desire to help FamilyLife grow and move forward, especially as we head into the summer months this year.  I think, as you know, summer months are a particularly challenging time for ministries like ours.  Sometimes you will see donation revenue fall off.  And these folks wanted to make sure that FamilyLife was able to weather the summer in a healthy financial position.  And so they agreed that they would match donations given to FamilyLife during the month of May on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  When you send in a check for $50, they're going to match it with a check for $50.  If you send in a check for $20, they'll match that as well, and so on.

 This is a great opportunity for us as a ministry, but that opportunity is contingent upon our listeners stepping forward and saying, "We want to help make that happen."  You can do that today by making a donation online at or by calling to donate at 1-800-FLTODAY.  In fact, it would be a great encouragement to us if you would help us kick off this month-long matching gift opportunity by donating today, either online or by phone or if you'd like to write a check and mail it to us, call us, and we'll pass our mailing address along to you.  Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY.

 Thanks for listening regularly and, again, if you can do anything to help with a donation this month, it would be particularly strategic and helpful, and we look forward to hearing from you.

 Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to explore the sometimes-tenuous partnership between people of faith and the federal government when it comes to promoting the health of marriages and families.  I want to invite you to be back with us for that conversation.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you.  However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website.  If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would   you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.