In study after study, the absence of fathers is linked to a host of what social scientists call "adverse outcomes" in the lives of children. These adverse outcomes affect all of society—increased crime, substance abuse, and dropping out of school, to name but a few.
The "adverse outcomes" can also be more "personal," although just as devastating: increased incidents of mental illness, sexual promiscuity, and an inability to form stable and lasting relationships.
Since there's no serious doubt that fatherlessness is bad for our kids, the obvious question is: How do we get fathers to live up to their obligations?
Loren Marks has identified what should be an obvious answer. He teaches at the School for Human Ecology at Louisiana State University, whose focus is studying the family "as a system" and how it interacts "with local and global environments."
An important part of that environment is religion, and Marks' specialty is the impact of "faith involvement" on families.
As part of his research, Marks and fellow researcher David Dollahite studied 130 families across the country, including Christians, Jews, Mormons and Muslims.
They found that "religious beliefs and practices play a critical role for many men in their involvement with children." While this may seem obvious to you, it's vitally important to remind ourselves of this "in an era when many fathers are disconnected from or uninvolved with their children."
In an interview with the Australian magazine Mercatornet, Marks listed some of the reasons why religious beliefs and practices make such a difference for many men.
First, "married couples who are actively involved in the same faith tend to have stronger, happier marriages and this impacts father-child relationships in a positive way." Second, "religious fathers are far less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs than non-religious fathers, and an estimated 80 percent of child abuse is alcohol related."
The third factor is the belief that "fathers will be personally accountable to God for their good (or bad) fathering. This [creates] a sacred motivation to be a better father." It's this factor which sets religious life apart as a maker of better fathers.
As Marks told the interviewer, even the finest secular institutions cannot provide the "focus on the sacred" and the "sense of relationship with God" that creates the accountability Marks and Dollahite found in the men they researched. Neither do these institutions provide the "close associations and positive models" that reinforce these beliefs and practices.
Marks' findings are important "news" because of our culture's attack on the power of faith. Any claim of religion's destructiveness, however groundless, will attract lots of attention. The New York Times bestseller list is full of books about the "adverse outcomes" allegedly stemming from the "focus on the sacred."
Not only that, but people also bristle at the suggestion that faith can make men better. Well, as Marks documents, it can—in precisely the area it matters most.
For 30 years I've seen how faith has transformed men behind bars, so Marks' report doesn't surprise me. Nor should it surprise anybody: that is, if they're willing to consider the obvious.
Copyright © 2007 Prison Fellowship
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