Does FRC index underline weak link between faith and family?
The conservative Christian, Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) has just released its first “Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.” You can click here to see its full details.
The “Index of Belonging” is 45 percent and that of “Rejection” is 55 percent. The report’s author, Patrick Fagan, who heads FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute, says the following:
“Only 45 percent of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood with an intact family, with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since before or around the time of the teenager’s birth … 55 percent of teenagers live in families where their biological parents have rejected each other. The families with a history of rejection include single-parent families, stepfamilies, and children who no longer live with either birth parent but with adoptive or foster parents.”
An intact family is one defined as one in which “a child’s birth mother and biological father (were) legally married to one another since before or around the time of the child’s birth.”
One thing that really strikes me about the index, which draws on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, is that while it gives charts and breakdowns in a detailed appendix based on ethnicity, state, region, by region and ethnic group, by the country’s 26 largest cities, and other geographical criteria, there is no chart that gives a breakdown on faith lines.
(PHOTO: Does the family that prays together, stay together? The consertavive Christian Hale family in rural Texas pray before a meal. Picture taken September 4, 2007.REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)
This is interesting, not least because of FRC’s overtly conservative, evangelical outlook on the world. Indeed, the report says that the task of repairing the country’s families — which it says lies in the “restoration of the husband-wife relationship” — must be “led primarily by the institution of religion (church, synagogue, mosque and temple) and aided by the institution of education (schools, universities and media). These three—family, church and school—are the prime shapers of relationships.”
Does this assertion stand up to scrutiny? Based on some comparisons, perhaps not. For example, if you were to take the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s massive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which was conducted in 2007, and compare it to FRC’s new index (based on 2008 data), you might draw some conclusions that would shake up a few evangelicals. (I admit the Pew findings are drawn from a different data set so there is an element of apples and oranges in my exercise here …)
The Pew findings certainly jive with most people’s geographical conception of the U.S. “Bible Belt” — the South is much more strongly evangelical than other regions, and in three states — Oklahoma (viewed by many as part of the South), Arkansas and Tennessee, over 50 percent of the adults surveyed counted themselves as evangelical Protestant. In the (liberal) North East and California, only 11 to 20 percent of adults considered themselves evangelical. And in Utah, which is the Mormon heartland, only seven percent were evangelical.
How do these findings stack up with FRC’s on families and belonging and rejection? Well, on the “Index of Belonging,” the North East comes out on top and 50.4 percent, the South rock-bottom at 41 percent. As the FRC report acknowledges: “The South—mistakenly thought of as the most tradition-bound region of the country—has the least family-friendly environment for children.”
Does this mean that evangelicals are failing to live up to the family values they promote? Liberal and secular critics would no doubt be quick to point this out though I’m guessing FRC researchers would respond by saying that other research shows that families that attend church together and pray together (as many evangelical families do) are usually more “intact”, even within these regions. This is just a guess but it would be interesting to see researchers explore these angles. (And there are other studies for example that suggest that white evangelical Protestants have high rates of teenage pregnancy – which helps explain why many took Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in stride. But critics would say it is further evidence that evangelical ideals and reality are far apart …)
The FRC findings also provide further bad news about the state of African-American families. In the Index of Belonging, Asian-Americans (at least some of whom I would guess are South Asian Muslims) come out on top at 62 percent, while blacks are at the bottom at 17.4 percent. Again, as one Pew report noted last year: “African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life.”
When you compare all of these findings, do they in fact suggest an inverse relationship between religiosity and “intact” families?
Another look at my apples and oranges here suggests perhaps not, though not in a way I think that would please come conservative evangelicals. On a state-by-state comparison, Utah tops the “Index of Belonging” list at 59 percent. Not only is Utah the least evangelical state in the union at seven percent, according to Pew, it is also of course the center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more popularly known as the Mormons. And they comprise 58 percent of the state’s population (which is almost identical to the state’s “Index of Belonging” score).
So, is the Mormon faith (which many evangelicals regard as an oddball cult) the best at promoting those good “old fashioned family values?” Based on at least Pew’s regional and ethnic comparisons, is the link between evangelicalism and Christian religiosity in general and strong families weak? Or, is my apple and oranges exercise here (which I admit is just that, so it is not meant to be taken THAT seriously) flawed on a number of counts?
What do you think?