Missing from today’s religion news is a critically important, positive report about the role of the church in creating stronger and happier families.
Most religion news centers around the latest conservative evangelical leader to endorse a Republican presidential candidate, especially by the national press and cable TV.
When Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump this week, it generated lots of headlines – CNN, Washington Post, NBC News, USA Today; the list goes on and on.
The role of faith and politics in general and the role of religion in the Republican presidential race in particular feel like they override other faith stories.
A goodly amount of the headlines at Religion News Service center on faith and politics, for example. Another example is The Tennessean’s major religion story of 2016 about the faith of state legislators.
Faith, as people of faith know, is about a lot more than its role in the secular political process.
In case EthicsDaily.com readers have missed the good news about the church’s contribution to creating stronger families, here it is:
Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah – sociologists – have released a book titled Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos.
“Much attention has been paid in recent years to the state of the family, especially among African-Americans and Latinos. Countless academics and pundits have pointed to a family crisis, characterized by out-of-wedlock childbearing, fall marriage rates and divorce,” they write in the Introduction.
“Almost all of these commentators ignore the powerful role that organized religion plays in sustaining family life in minority communities across America.”
With a unique focus on the role of churches among these two peoples of color, Wilcox and Wolfinger write, “Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with American families, we shine a spotlight on the many happy couples that are benefiting from their regular participation in a spiritual community.”
They say, “Our book shows that couples who attend religious services regularly – denomination doesn’t matter – are much more likely to enjoy strong relationships.”
Speaking recently at an American Enterprise Institute conference, Wilcox said that black families were more likely to attend church. Twenty-nine percent of black males and 42 percent of black females go to church, compared to 24 percent of Latino males and 34 percent of Latino females. Only 21 percent of white males and 28 percent white females attend church.
The results from church attendance?
“We find that religious attendance among African-Americans is linked to less nominal child-bearing, higher marriage rates and to happier relationships,” said Wilcox.
In church, couples are taught the golden rule, to be faithful and to serve others. Shared faith contributes to couples working on their marriages.
Wilcox did note that black men had a higher chance of ending up incarcerated, being victims of crime and suffering from unemployment.
However, he also underscored, “Most black men will not end up incarcerated. Most black men are not unemployed. And that most black men are not poor.”
“One of the reasons that black men are often flourishing is that they tend to be religious,” he said. “Black men, who are church going, are significantly less likely to commit crime, end up incarcerated, idle or abusing alcohol or drugs.”
Wilcox asserted, “The work the black church is doing to strengthen black families and black men could not be more important.”
Make no mistake, Wilcox readily acknowledges that racial inequality and racial injustice endure in American society.
He believes that the “fragility of the black family is one obstacle that has been tearing away at racial, economic justice in America.”
A few days after Wilcox spoke, a New York Times article pointed out, “Most of the presidential candidates, on the right and the left, sound the same notes on the importance of families for the state of our union.”
The piece quoted a vice president from the liberal Center for American Progress who predictably said, “Marriage is far from the magic bullet to end poverty that some conservatives claim.”
Reflecting CAP’s commitment to more government involvement in anti-poverty programs, the group’s representative said, “It’s important to be concerned about poverty among single-parent households, but the reality of poverty among millions of married couples and their children has been ignored for too long.”
No doubt, government plays a critically important role in addressing poverty. Society desperately needs a more just tax system. Society does need to rid itself of payday lending schemes that impoverish low-income citizens. Society does need to stop gambling that serves as state revenue generating schemes off the back of the poor and middle class.
We are a far cry from a society of better angels.
However, what is too often missing from the political discourse and secular society is the positive role that the church plays in strengthening families – and stronger families make for a stronger, healthier nation.
Wilcox and Wolfinger have made that point loud and clear about two peoples of color.
And that is good news.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.