Choose your measurement –– hugs, spending time with their children and participating in their activities, keeping track of where the kids are, sharing in domestic responsibilities, helping put the children to bed –– and you’ll find that evangelical Protestant men who attend church regularly make the best husbands and fathers in measurable ways.
This, of course, flies in the face of the stereotype: evangelical men are patriarchal, autocratic, control freaks who browbeat their wives and beat their children. Instead of the authoritarian man who puts up barriers between him and his family, the evidence shows an affectionate guy who is actively involved and emotionally engaged with his family. Even the fact that they don’t help as much around the house doesn’t keep their wives from singing their praises. Evangelical husbands socialize with their wives and their wives report greater happiness and they enjoy more expressions of affection than wives whose husbands are not “true believers” and regular church attenders. Nor does the fact that they believe in corporal punishment mean that evangelical dads commit domestic violence; instead, they have lower levels of violence in the home. In fact, wives and children report that these dads are “understanding,” give “love and affection,” are “more likely to praise,” are “emotionally attentive” and, perhaps most important, “spend time with them.”
Sadly, though, those husbands and fathers who identify themselves as mainline Protestant, but do not attend church regularly, are not as family-centered in their orientation (instead they focus more on social justice) and tend to be more rigid and less involved with their wives and children.
This information is reported by W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist from the University of Virginia, and is taken from his book –– Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands. Wilcox, who is Roman Catholic, analyzed data from three nationwide representative data sets: (1) The General Social Survey (more than 30,000 adults were surveyed from 1972-1998), (2) The National Survey of Families and Households (more than 13,000 adults were surveyed in 1987-88 and 1992-94 with an 82 percent response rate) and (3) The Survey of Adults and Youth (more than 13,000 adults and over 6,000 youths were surveyed over the telephone in 1998-99). The analysis also included studying articles on family and gender issues in two Christian magazines from 1970 through 1990 –– Christianity Today (evangelical Protestant) and The Christian Century (mainline Protestant).
Wilcox also reports that fathers in general are more involved today than ever before. For instance, in 1965, fathers spent only 2.8 hours a day with their children compared to the 3.8 hours a day that they spent in 1998. This increase in family time constitutes 65 percent of the amount of time that mothers spend with their children (compared to the 51 percent of a mother’s time that fathers spent with their children in 1965).
Fathers are also spending more time helping around the house –– about half as much as their wives: married men have increased their weekly hours of household labor by more than 100 percent (4.7 hours in 1965 compared to 10.4 hours in 1995). Ironically, the increasing help around the house does not lead to stronger marriages. One study even suggests that it is associated with a stronger likelihood of a couple divorcing. The key seems to be whether the woman considers the help “fair” and her perception of “fair” is determined by the emotional support that she receives from her husband. Likewise, the emotional involvement of fathers with their children is key to the children’s sense of well-being. Evangelical fathers who attend church regularly tend to pay particular attention to the emotional dimension of family relationships.
Wilcox’s analysis indicates that evangelical Protestant fathers view marriage and parenthood as a sacred responsibility; thus, religious commitment is associated with a family-centered lifestyle. Clearly, Wilcox destroys the old idea that insensitive and authoritarian fathering is associated with evangelical Protestant men.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is a Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute. She writes about contemporary issues that affect women, family, religion and culture in her regular column "Dot.Commentary."