The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“The Retreat from Marriage: How It Has Affected Religion & Religion’s Response”
South Beach, Florida
Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director, National Marriage Project; Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Jim Daly, President & CEO, Focus on the Family
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: This morning, we’re going to hear from Professor Brad Wilcox, who you know from his bio, is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. Brad did his Ph.D. at Princeton under the well-known sociologist of religion Robert Wuthnow. His area of concentration is marriage and parenthood, and cohabitation and the ways that gender, religion, and children influence the quality and stability of American marriages.
Brad is also the director now called the National Marriage Project, at the University of Virginia. And, they’ve come out with some important studies, even recently, less than a month ago on marriage. So, we are thrilled to have Brad be our speaker on this very crucial topic. And, then, we’ll hear from Jim Daly and I’ll introduce him afterwards. Brad, thank you for coming.
DR. BRADFORD WILCOX: Thanks Michael. So, over the course of the last half century, the U.S. has witnessed a dramatic retreat from marriage, marked by the declining role of marriage as the anchor for the adult life course and the publicly recognized vehicle for lifelong love, sex, and the bearing and rearing of children.
Now, I spend most of my time thinking about how this retreat affects children, adults, and the larger commonweal, but after describing what’s happening in marriage in America today, I will focus on the religious implications of the nation’s retreat from marriage. I will then consider how the nation’s largest religious tradition, Evangelical Protestantism, has responded to this retreat and to what effect.
Finally, I’ll conclude by offering some remarks about how Evangelical Protestants and other civic groups might do a better job of focusing on the family in the United States. So, this is basically, the road ahead for this morning. Basically, I just make the point that over the last half century, the institution of marriage has lost authority, power, and social functions in the U.S. And, the next couple of slides give you some sense—you know, empirically, of what’s happening here.
So, we can see that fewer adults are married. So, looking at middle-aged adults, you can see there’s been a decline in the percentage of U.S. middle-aged adults who are married, from about 88 percent in 1960 to about 66 percent today. Divorce has come up dramatically, as you know, since the early 1960’s. It’s more than doubled. There’s been a slight decline in divorce since 1980, but that’s in part because marriage is becoming a more selective institution, where more educated, more affluent, and more religious Americans now are getting married. And, they’re precisely the types of people who are less likely, other things being equal, to get divorced.
What’s also, I think, interesting and somewhat surprising, given the fact we’ve seen such a large increase in divorce over the last half century, is that marital happiness has also come down. And, this, of course, is somewhat surprising, because you would think that if you’re weeding out all of these bad marriages that, other things being equal, you would see an uptick in marital happiness, but you don’t see that, and I’m happy to talk about why that might be the case in the Q & A.
We also know that marriage is competing now more and more with cohabitation as a place for co-residence, for sex, and now even more and more child bearing, as the next slide suggests. We’re now at the point where we’ve come from five percent of kids being born outside of marriage to forty-one percent of kids being born outside of marriage today.
And, you know, really, much of the growth here in nonmarital childbearing is due to the fact that more and more couples are co-habiting and having their kids in a co-habiting union. So, this is just sort of one more indicator of the fact that cohabitation is really competing with marriage at a variety of levels to sort of capture people’s emotions and sort of how they approach the whole task of family formation.
And, because of these shifts in marriage in America, marriage is less likely to sort of be the context where kids are, not only being born into, but also, of course, being reared in today’s families, as this slide suggests. So, clearly, the bottom line here is that marriage has lost ground.
What’s I think not as well known among many people, including even some journalists, is that this retreat from marriage that I just discussed here, has hit poor and working class Americans particularly hard, people who don’t have a college degree. By contrast, folks who have a college degree have been much less affected by this retreat from marriage.
I’m not going to go through the whole story here, I just did a report on this subject in December, but I can give you one slide that gives you a taste of what’s happened here. So, this is the college-educated group right here. This is folks who’ve got a high school degree or some college, and this is the group who are high school dropouts. And, what you can see here is that, for instance, on this issue of non-marital childbearing, almost all the growth in this area has been among those who don’t have a college degree. And that for college-educated folks, it’s still a pretty exotic activity, to have a baby outside of wedlock.
In fact, among white college educated women, there’s been no increase from 1982 to the present in this particular pattern. So, my point simply is that we talk about this retreat from marriage. It’s deeply stratified. It’s much more likely to affect the types of people who are not in this room.
And, what accounts for this retreat from marriage? Just quickly, I’ll give you some thoughts on what’s driving this because I think it’s important to sort of frame our conversation this morning. Liberals—folks like William Julius Wilson, at Harvard, would tend to express economic explanations. Conservative at places like the Manhattan Institute, Kay Hymowitz, would tend to stress cultural and legal arguments, and my view is that they’re both correct, that changes in the culture, shifts in the economy, shifts in civil society, and changes in marriage law and public policy, have all kind of combined to over determine this stratified retreat from marriage.
So, on the cultural front, although it is the case that Americans, without regard to class, race, and ethnicity, still embrace marriage, they aspire to marriage, they have become more sort of tolerant and accepting of departures from this ideal and practice. And, what’s interesting is there’s kind of a cultural reversal afoot where in the last 40 years, basically, college educated Americans have become more marriage minded in terms of their attitudes, and less educated Americans, working class and poor Americans, have become less marriage minded.
One indicator of this is when it comes to divorce attitudes, where college educated Americans have become more averse, more restrictive in their views towards divorce, in the last 20 years. By contrast, less educated Americans have become more accepting of divorce. So, this is part of the story, and I give you kind of one taste of this, looking at attitudes towards teenage pregnancy among teenagers.
And, you can see the kids who come from highly educated homes, are much more likely to report that they would be embarrassed by a teenage pregnancy. And, the point here is simply that although college educated folks often are more socially progressive in the abstract, when it comes to their own, their own kids and their own marriages, they actually took a pretty, marriage-minded view of things according to the data.
Now, it’s not just about culture, it’s also about what’s happening in the worlds of work and civil society and these institutions are of course very important because they supply money, moral direction, and social support to marriage in our country. We can see, for instance, when it comes to unemployment among men, the trends over the last really three or four decades, in this area, have been that working class and poor men, or less educated men, have been much more likely to experience spells of unemployment than have college educated men.
Now, it’s important for me to note here that this data is taken just before the recession hits, but even in the recession, as you probably well know, the recession has hit working class and poor men much harder than it’s hit college educated men and college educated women. So, the point here is that shifts in the economy have eroded the economic foundations of marriage, particularly for working class and poor Americans.
We’ve also seen kind of this bowling alone pattern, which you’re probably all familiar with as well, but what’s interesting about this bowling alone pattern that is sort of the retreat from civil society is that it’s, once again, it’s stratified. So, people who are moderately educated and people who are high school dropouts are much more likely to have disengaged from civic institutions in this country over the last four years. This is also part of the explanation for why we’ve seen these stratified marriage trends.
Finally, on the policy front. Since the 60’s, family law and public policy have weakened the institution of marriage. We know, for instance, that changes in divorce law account for about 17 percent of the divorce revolution between the late 60’s and the 1980’s. We also know that many means tested policies unintentionally penalize marriage because people can receive various forms of aid of one sort or another when they’re cohabiting without reporting the income of their partner. But, if they marry, they have to report that income and they often then lose eligibility for Pell grants, food stamps, housing aid, whatever.
So, these are the kinds of things that from a public policy perspective have penalized marriage. So, just the bottom line here is that the economic, the civic, the cultural, the legal foundations of marriage have weakened over the last half century, and, in ways have been particularly harmful, in my view, for less educated Americans or for working class and poor Americans.
So, how has this retreat from marriage affected religion in America? I’m going to discuss both kind of a brief theoretical framework, and then I’ll review some of the empirical evidence on this question. The big point here is simply that the fortunes of American religion generally rise and fall with the fortunes of the intact married family, and for reasons that we’ll talk about in more detail in a second. This is kind of the big point here in this section.
The first point, of course, is that kids tend to lead, on average, their parents into either religious practice for the first time or into a deeper engagement with their religious congregations. This is for a couple of reasons. One is that parenthood can be a generative experience. So, for those of you who’ve actually held your own baby for the first time, that can give you an entirely different perspective on life. It may make you more interested, for instance, in pursuing spiritual or religious themes in your own life.
A second point, of course, is that churches, synagogues, and mosques apply religious and moral education to kids, which adults often want to access once they have kids. And, that congregations also offer parent-centered social networks that parents often appreciate the opportunity to plug in to and get support, advice, counsel, as they engage in the tasks, the challenges of parenting.
So a similar story when it comes to marriage. We know that congregations tend to offer social, religious, and moral support to marriage. People often are looking for that when they get married. We know that marriage particularly for men is associated with an embrace of a kind of pro-social or responsible orientation, which has historically been connected oftentimes to religious attendance in the U.S. And, that once again, congregations offer marriage centered social networks that can be valuable to couples who are looking for other folks to kind of help them through the joys and challenges of married life.
The final point I’m going to make from a theoretical perspective is probably more controversial, but I think it’s still probably true. And, my idea is that marriage and parenthood entail a level of sacrifice oftentimes, where you have to kind of give up what you want to do. You have to compromise in things that are important to you, for the sake of your spouse or for your kids.
And, I think that there’s a kind of what Max Weber would call an “elective affinity” between the sacrificial ethos that is associated with marriage and parenthood, and the sacrificial ethos that is often celebrated in one way or another in religious context. And, of course, that sacrifice can be linked to, say, fasting. It can be linked to works of mercy. It can be linked to any number of things in a different religious context, but my bottom line point here is, I think that there’s a way in which this sort of sacrificial ethos associated with family life and oftentimes with religion can build a connection between these two institutions.
By contrast, I think that folks who are unmarried and childless are less likely to have to sacrifice in some important respects. And, so, therefore, they may be more inclined not to identify with or embrace an institution that’s about sacrifice. They may be more inclined, say, on a given weekend to embrace a Starbucks Sabbath or an NFL Sabbath as opposed to a more religious Sabbath.
Another point I want to make too, is, that I think that this relationship between family and religion varies by social context. And, I’m just going to mention two right now. One is gender and one is religious tradition. And, the idea is that people who have kind of lower levels of intrinsic religiosity are probably more dependent on family to draw them into regular religious practice. So, that would be men who are less intrinsically religious on average, in the U.S., and actually throughout much of the world.
And, when it comes to religious traditions, there is a sort of schema in the sociology of religion, which differentiates different traditions. There are sectarian traditions that have a strong sort of more supernatural, strong communal life on the one hand, and there are more churchly traditions that are more conventional, and they have kind of a less of a supernatural flair to them, and less of a communal ethos to them—on average.
And, today, I would say that’s true more of mainline Protestants and white Catholics. And, so, the view I have is that these institutions are more dependent upon strong families to draw people into the pews on a given weekend.
So, what’s the evidence here in terms of these different ideas? I’m using data from the General Social Survey, which is a large national survey sponsored by NORC, the University of Chicago. What I’m doing here is I’m comparing adults in different demographic groups with people who are unmarried without kids. And, what you can see here is that being married with children makes you much more likely on average in the U.S. to attend services on a weekly basis in the U.S., compared to adults who are not married and don’t have kids.
What’s interesting though, I think, about this, too, is that people who are unmarried, but have children are actually even less likely to attend than unmarried adults who don’t have kids. So, it’s not that parenthood kind of generally speaking draws people into religious practice, its marriage and parenthood in that order that’s associated with more religious practice in the U.S. And, then, we can look at different patterns of religious attendance and slice and dice this in a variety of different ways.
What I did is looked at attendance two times a month or more from the ‘70s to the present. We go from 44 percent to 39 percent over this timeframe in the U.S. as a whole, and 33 percent of the decline is related to the family, is related to demographic factors in the statistical models that I ran for this particular presentation. So, that’s I think interesting in part because it’s a fairly large percentage when you look at things statistically speaking. It’s also the biggest factor in the models that I ran.
And, we also find that we look at these patterns by gender that men’s attendance has been affected more by these shifts in demography in the U.S. than have women’s patterns. So, it is the case that because of these shifts in American family life, men have been more likely to disengage from regular religious practice than have women.
And, we also find the same story when it comes to religious traditions. You can see here that for mainline Protestants and for white Catholics, you look at the whole population, there’s a fewer percentage of these people now attending on a regular basis, now, as compared to the 1970’s. And, that family change accounts for a decent proportion of white Catholics and a good proportion of the mainline Protestant decline.
And, what’s interesting here, of course, too, is there’s been no decline among Evangelical Protestants in terms of their regular attendees. In fact, there’s been an increase. So, this just reinforces my point that the impact of family change has not been equal for every religious tradition.
So, why has Evangelicalism actually, in fact, grown during this retreat from marriage in the United States? There are a couple of religious and communal things that I would point out. Probably many of you know that many Evangelical churches have kind of a dynamic entrepreneurial culture to them that can be attractive to people in this day and age.
They often tend to have a strong communal life that’s also a source of attraction, and this sort of more supernatural orientation. So, this is kind of more of the sort of sectarian point about one of the points of attraction about many Evangelical churches. But, the other point that I want to make here is that I think, for some Americans who do not like, do not accept, the general retreat from marriage, Evangelical churches and Evangelical institutions are attractive because they offer them a kind of refuge that is more family-focused. No pun intended.
So, to conclude on this particular section, the basic idea is that there’s been a retreat from marriage. It’s by-and-large undercut the vitality of institutional religion in the U.S., but particularly so for the more churchly traditions. There’s a kind of ironic example here. In the mid 2000’s the United Churches of Christ, a mainline tradition, ran a God Is Still Speaking campaign.
I’ve got actually a picture in the upper left-hand corner here. Where they had, for instance, in this particular advertisement, they had a very conventional two-parent white family coming into a church and in that ad they literally injected people who were in these non-traditional families. Single parents, gay and lesbian couples, other kind of non-traditional people, from that church context. And, then, they ended off by saying in the UCC, we accept everybody. We don’t do this kind of thing.
Now, what was ironic though about this was that they spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on this campaign, but in 2007, because of declining membership, declining funds, they had to end the campaign. And, so, my point here simply is that I think—the irony is that these more mainline traditions have been quite accepting of the family changes that have been happening in our country. But, the irony is that I think these very changes have undercut their own religious base. And, of course, this is less true for, as I said traditions like Evangelicalism and Mormonism.
So, the third part here is how have Evangelical Protestant churches and institutions, responded to this retreat from marriage and to what effect? And, I focus on Evangelicalism because it’s now the largest religious tradition in terms of active participants, as we’ve just seen, in the U.S.
In terms of understanding where Evangelicalism is coming from in its approach to family, we have to of course, appreciate the fact that they generally take a kind of more literal approach to the Bible, where they would take a variety of passages sort of at “face value.” Where there’s a long-standing tradition of familism. By that I mean, kind of a belief that the family plays a key role in securing the sort of social foundations of society, but also should be an important source of meaning and purpose for individuals.
They’ve also been actually influenced by pretty therapeutic ethos since the 1970’s. It’s no accident, for instance, that Dr. James Dobson was a therapist and brought that kind of therapeutic mentality into his work with families. And, the final point is that Evangelical churches and institutions, have used the family as a way of building a sense of collective identity in kind of a traditional sense. So, it’s been a kind of a topic or an issue that they’ve used to build a sense of solidarity internally, and also to build boundaries with other groups and with the society-at-large more generally.
Now, their response, their resistance to the retreat from marriage has been directly linked to an embrace of marriage as institution, encouraging their members to sacrifice for their spouse, to love their spouse, that kind of thing. They focused also a great deal of attention on men, on encouraging men to step up and be better fathers and better husbands. And, just more generally, encouraging both men and women to invest in parenthood.
And, in general, what I would say is they take kind of a neo-traditional approach to family life, one which affirms many traditional values, but also is neo in the sense that they’re embracing more expressive practices in the home. You know, being more affectionate, more empathetic with your kids and with your spouse.
The one exception, I think, to this generally resistant posture is that my work indicates that there has been actually a fair degree of accommodation on this issue of divorce in the Evangelical world. That there’s been a shift, for instance, in attitudes towards divorce among Baptist pastors, who make the largest single group of pastors in the larger Evangelical tradition. I’ll talk more about the divorce case in a second.
Now, the public profile, as I’m sure everyone knows here that the public profile, the public response on the family related issues has been largely moralistic focusing on a limited set of cultural issues. Things like abortion and gay marriage, and has, generally speaking, avoided the economic issues that are related to the shifts in family life that I pointed out earlier.
Now, why is this? Well, I think it’s partly about theology. Evangelicals take a pretty individualistic approach to theology, stressing the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the of a moral regeneration that follows from that relationship. But, I think it’s also about, at least for much of the ’80s and ’90s, about the fact that they were allied with the Republican Party. And, so, for that reason, in part, they tended to not weigh in on the more economic kinds of issues.
Now, in terms of evaluating their success, I think it’s pretty mixed. On the one hand, they actually have at the state level, been very influential in getting same-sex marriage amendments passed or marriage amendments passed in many states across the U.S. But, on things, for instance, like divorce law reform, there have been a number of Evangelical family policy groups around the states that have failed to make any headway on the divorce law issue.
And, I think more generally for much of the ’80s and ’90s, and even more recently, the public positions of many Evangelical institutions and leaders have alienated a substantial share of the public to turn them off to what Evangelicalism might have to say on a variety of family related issues. I think in part because of their more narrow focus on a certain subset of issues.
So, how has Evangelicalism, then, impacted its own members? What’s the sort of the effect on the beliefs and behaviors of Evangelicals? And, what we see is that I think probably their biggest effect has been on the attitudes of their members who are much more likely to express reservations about divorce as the slide suggests, and to say that they oppose pre-marital sex.
Now, of course, it’s important for us to see here that it’s—there’s still a fair degree of heterogeneity even in the Evangelical world, where not everyone’s opposed to divorce, and not everyone is opposed to pre-marital sex, but compared to the larger population, they’re much more likely to express kind of more familistic ideas. And, when I look at what predicts attitudes in the GSS, I find that religion is the most powerful predictor of family attitudes related to things like sex and divorce.
But, when it comes to behavior, the picture is more mixed, probably particularly when it comes to teenage sex. I’m going to differentiate here for a number of these outcomes. Active church-going Evangelical Protestants, people who attend several times a month or more from those who are nominal who attend just infrequently or not at all, because you’ll see there’s some pretty big differences as we go forward here. But, on the issue of first, sex, there is not a big difference between these different groups.
On the issue of non-marital childbearing, there is a more marked difference as you can tell here, where active church-going Evangelical women are much less likely to have a baby outside of marriage, compared both to the nominal groups and those who are not Evangelical. When it comes to parenting, what we find in the research is that people who attend regularly tend to be more involved, more affectionate with their kids. That’s actually true across the board for all Americans who attend religious services. They tend to be more involved and more affectionate with their kids, compared to folks who do not attend religious services.
So, for instance, when it comes to dads, church-going Evangelical dads spend about three-and-a-half hours more per week in youth related activities like Boy Scouts, you know youth soccer and religious youth groups. So, that’s a meaningful difference, but they’re also more likely to take kind of an old school approach to discipline, much more spanking, for instance, among active Evangelicals. They’re also more likely to monitor their kids.
And, so, for these reasons, I would stress once again the idea that they’re taking kind of a neo-traditional approach. It’s traditional in their approach to discipline. It’s neo in the emphasis on being involved and affectionate with one’s kids.
On the marriage front, what we see is that Evangelical couples, by-and-large, do the best when it comes to marital happiness. And, they also report comparatively low levels of domestic violence. On divorce, people who are attending are about 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who are unaffiliated. And, that would be true actually for Evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Jews. But, what you also see in this research is the nominal Evangelicals do the worst when it comes to domestic violence and when it comes to divorce of really any group in the population. So, they really are doing poorly and I’ll talk more about why that’s the case in a second.
So, I want to say just two quick words about explanation here for the findings. One point to make here is I think that kind of generic effects of religion are across tradition. So, across Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and Judaism, etc., and the point is that these traditions, in their own ways, have rituals and discourse. They have social networks that endow marriage and parenthood with some degree of sacredness and supply people with resources that allow them to navigate the challenges of contemporary family life.
It’s also important to note though that they can supply people with a kind of what we call in sociology “sacred canopy.” A sense that the world is meaningful, that has purpose, that God is with them and is guiding them through life. And, we know from the research on families, one of the biggest problems facing many families is sort of the issue of stress, which can come up in connection with unemployment, with losing your home, defaulting on your mortgage, with any number of issues. The death of a loved one, etc., and that people who are religious by-and-large, tend to handle stress better than those who are not religious.
This is one of the ways in which kind of religion, generically speaking, can be helpful to both marriage and parenthood. But, I also think that there’s some distinctive factors in play for Evangelicals that account for the fact they tend to do particularly well when it comes to marital happiness and parental involvement. And, I think what they have (and I’m not Evangelical myself) is a particular view about the role that a parent, for instance, can play in a child’s salvation.
So, the idea here is that it’s not important just to get your kid into Harvard, it’s important to get your kid into Heaven. And, that orientation can shift the way you approach the parenting enterprise. They also, as I’ve said before, have a kind of familistic mentality that’s connected actually empirically to more emotional engagement in the family.
And, the final point that I would make is that I think Evangelical churches and institutions, are often the most likely of religious institutions, generally, with the exception probably of the LDS church, the Mormon Church, to focus especially on men. And, this focus allows their men to be better husbands and better fathers. And, it’s one of the few institutions where men are actually being regularly challenged to engage in the life of the family.
I mentioned the fact that nominal Evangelicals actually do pretty badly. And, when you see stories in the press, for instance, on Red State, Blue State, or on the fact that generally speaking, Christians are as likely or more likely to get divorced than non-Christians, what you’re really seeing are stories about this very phenomenon. So, why is it that nominal Evangelicals tend to do badly?
Well, I think it’s important to note that many of these people are nominal Southern Baptists actually and I think partly it’s about a kind of a socioeconomic status or oftentimes working class whites. They often actually hail from a Scottish-Scotch/Irish heritage, which is centered of course in the Appalachian regions and then, also, in the Deep South. And, we know actually that this heritage is linked to, for instance, higher rates of risk taking and murder actually in these particular regions. And, so, this kind of heritage may be also linked to some problems in the family.
I think also it’s possible too that nominal Evangelicals are also perhaps more likely to abuse their own religious tradition. So, it could be, for instance, that notions of male headship that people have internalized at some level, are more likely to be used in a kind of an abusive way by nominal Evangelicals who are not embedded in a particular church community.
The final point I want to make about the nominal pattern is I think it also helps us to understand why it is that many Evangelicals are concerned about the family. And, that is that they often see their own family members or their own neighbors, or their own communities, affected by the retreat from marriage in ways that have affected them and concern them. And, this is reflected by Al Mohler and some other Baptist leaders. The Southern Baptists experience family trouble like everyone else. And, Mohler goes on to sort of talk about why we need to address that as Southern Baptists.
Now, I also mentioned that Evangelicals have kind of backpedaled to some degree in divorce. They have not by-and-large done the same thing in homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And, why is this the case? Well, there are a couple of things that we could say; I’ll just say two things right now.
One is that there’s a comparatively small number, of course, of Evangelical gay and lesbians compared to a rather large minority of divorced Evangelicals. So, just kind of from a sort of practical pastoral perspective, it’s easy to focus on the gay issue and not on the divorce issue. But, it’s also too about—it’s about building collective identity against another.
And, I think one reason that Evangelicals, as I mentioned earlier, have focused so much on marriage and family related issues is that this has been an important way that they’ve kind of established that they are distinctive, that they have a distinctive vision of the good life. And, so, part of their focus on same-sex marriage and homosexuality more historically has been about signaling that they are not with the general modern program.
And, this quote from Al Mohler, which actually was written in an op-ed by the New York Times kind of illustrates the point. “Southern Baptists are engaged in a battle against modernity, earnestly contending for the truth and authority of an ancient faith. To the culture critics of religion, we are the cantankerous holdouts against the inevitable, but so far as Southern Baptist convention is concerned, the future is in God’s hands.”
So, part of all this is about, I think signaling that they have a different view about things in general, and gay marriage has been one, importantly, that they’ve signaled that both to their own membership and to their broader society. So, the bottom line here is kind of a mixed record of success.
I think on the one hand, that Evangelicals and Evangelical institutions have not had much success in the larger public arena. In fact, they’ve turned off as you know a large share of the public. On the other hand, I think when it comes to kind of their own, they have achieved a fair degree of success in the cultural front and some success when it comes to actual behavior and things like marital happiness and parental investments in kids.
The last thing that I want to say this morning is to talk briefly about why I think the renewal of marriage actually is important. I’m just going to give you three quick slides that illustrate some trends in the research on this topic. One point I would make about marriage and family more generally is that kids who grow up apart, for instance, from their fathers are more likely to get in trouble.
So, for instance, boys here are about twice as likely to end up in prison by the time they turn age 32, if they don’t have their father in the household. And, this is controlling for things like education, income, and it comes from the work of Sara McLanahan, my mentor at Princeton. And, there is also an important association between family structure and girl’s outcomes.
Here, we’re looking at teenage pregnancy for girls and you can see that if dad is around for the entire duration of a girl’s childhood, she’s much less likely to become pregnant as a teenager. Whereas if dad leaves when she’s in school, it doubles her risk of teenage pregnancy. And, if dad leaves before she turns six, it increases by seven times. So, it’s a pretty clear association between having a father in the household and girls avoiding this particular outcome.
And, then, when it comes to this issue of child abuse and neglect, we see from the most recent federal study on this that the gold standard literally here is the intact married family. This is actually just a slide from the federal report. And, the kids who are in every other kind of family structure are more likely to be physically abused, sexually abused, emotionally abused. So, the point here simply is that kids who are growing up in an intact married family are more likely to thrive and even survive.
And, this is a view that’s not just mine it’s the view that’s shared by people like Ron Haskins at Brookings, Sara McLanahan, and Elizabeth Donohue at Princeton, who talk about the fact that these shifts in our country on marriage have been brought about by the freedom to pursue individual fulfillment. They say, “But many analysts now believe that these individual choices can be damaging to the children who have no say in them and to the society that enables them.”
In my view, Evangelical groups and other groups who are working on these issues need to embrace a more holistic agenda that addresses the range of challenges facing marriage, particularly those facing working class and poor communities. And, if they embrace a more holistic perspective that can do two things. One, it would enable them to rehabilitate their public image to some degree, and would also enable them to build coalitions with the groups that don’t necessarily share their politically conservative reputation.
And, I think a holistic agenda would do a couple of things. It would try to renew the economic, the legal, the civic, and the cultural foundations of marriage for our day. And, as I end my remarks here, I would actually just echo Micheal’s comments yesterday. I actually believe that what happens on the economic front and on the cultural front, it is actually much more consequential than what happens in Washington, D.C.
So, I think one of the primary challenges facing our country is how do we create a culture that is more family friendly and more marriage friendly. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Jim.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Brad. Thank you very much.
We are delighted that in response to this, that we cannot only get a practitioner, but the President of Focus on the Family himself. Jim Daly, many of you have already gotten to know in the last couple of days, is the President and CEO of Focus on the Family. And, he succeeded Dr. Jim Dobson in that role and he’s written two books: Finding Home and Stronger.
Jim, thank you for coming.
JIM DALY: Michael, I appreciate it. And, both you and Jenny, thanks so much for the invitation. Great hosts, I appreciate it so much.
I was thinking yesterday about Jeffrey Goldberg’s introduction, his funny story about buying five Playboys. So, do you want to go there?
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you have a better one?
MR. DALY: Okay. I’ll share one, because we’re amongst friends, right? So, I studied at Waseda University for one year of college, and I didn’t take any Japanese before I went there. And, actually didn’t even eat any Japanese food before I went, which is a mistake, because I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy.
But, I’m in this Japanese class and Kobe Ashesensae is a third generation professor. He’s writing his English/Japanese dictionary, and it’s elementary Japanese. And, in this class we’re making up sentences three weeks into the class—you know, “See the dog run. See the cat fall down.” Whatever it might be and I had a splitting headache this day. So, I thought, I’m going to impress the teacher and I’m going to say, “Today, teacher, I have a headache.” So, I’m trying to get all the words together.
And, it’s the formal Japanese class, you know, where you stand up when he walks into the room, you stand up when he walks out, white shirt, black tie. And, he’s drilling the class, “Oye, oye, oye, oye.” And, he gets to me and I said, “Keo wah sensei oh toma guy e tie das.” And, and he turns around and he’s just laughing and shaking his head. And, I didn’t know what was going on.
That night, I got home with the Japanese mother and father, the home group I was with, and I gave the sentence to her and she starts laughing. So, basically, in perfect Japanese, I said, “Today my testicles hurt.”
It’s “otama, atama.” So, be careful if you’re in Japan and you’re male.
So, that’s it. I so appreciate Dr. Wilcox and the research. I read the paper that he derived that from and you know there really was nothing in there that I could disagree with. I think everything that he’s seeing in the research is very accurate.
When I look at Focus on the Family, for me, as the practitioner, as Michael asked me to present that perspective and what Focus is doing in the area of marriage. I’m one of the families from the ’60s. I’m walking down the hallway with Don Hodel, who is of course, President Regan’s Secretary of Interior and Energy. He came in as a—he was a Board member to Focus on the Family, came off the Board to help Dr. Dobson with the transition, to kind of take the wheel for a couple of years until they identified the other guy.
And, my wife and I used to pray for that poor guy who would come behind Don Hodel. I just didn’t know it was going to be me. And, just because of the iconic nature and stature of Dr. Dobson, I mean it’s very difficult between Billy Graham, Dr. Dobson, and Chuck Colson. You know, those are legends in Christian circles in the United States and around the world.
And, so, as I was walking down the hall with Don Hodel, he turned to me and he said, “You know, the Board and I and Dr. Dobson, we believe you’re the guy.” And, my first reaction was, back up and I said “no, no, no, no” and I was laughing. I just said, “I can’t be the guy.”
Much to Brad’s research, I was from the family of the ’60s. I was in the beginning of the deconstruction of marriage, my family. So, my mom and dad—I did have the raging alcoholic Irish father. And, when I was five years old, I can remember one night our family was destroyed. He came home drunk. My mom wasn’t at home. He’s pounding a hammer on the floor, sitting in a Lay-Z-Boy, saying, “I’m going to kill your mother when she comes home. I’m going to kill your mother when she comes home.” And, that’s the night our family ended.
And, for me, when you look at your passion coming from your pain, that’s probably my story. And, my mom, as a 60-something single parent mom with five kids, she tried to work two or three jobs. We often didn’t have food, didn’t have milk. I would eat Cheerios with Kool-Aid. That doesn’t taste very well, by the way. And, so, it was difficult.
And, I’m walking down the hall with Don, and trying to think this through. And, the irony of it, for me, was in my context as a Christian, I believe God gave me just about every family type to experience so that I could understand what the culture’s going through. It may be a big statement, but I had a typical dysfunctional home. I lived with a single parent mom as a little boy. She remarried, a stepfather who was a military drill sergeant. I called him “Hank the Tank.”
They were married about—a little short of two years. And, when I was nine, my mom died of cancer. My stepfather left the day of the funeral. I went into foster care. I was there a year. The foster father accused me of trying to murder him. He was going senile. I then ended up back with my biological father. A year later, he died. Then, I ended up living with my brother and going to high school.
So, in that context, for me, I loved school and sports. That’s where I found my structure. And, at 15, I became a Christian through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A football coach, a public school teacher took an interest in me and said, “You’re worthy, you’re worth something, and I’m going to come alongside you,” and I’m so glad he did. He changed the course of my life by believing in me and teaching me things that my father was not there to teach me.
And, so, I became a Christian at 15. I wobbled along. After college, at 22, I really got serious with God after making all the foolish errors of my youth, and went to work in the paper business. I worked for International Paper. I was going to be an international business guy, did my MBA, and then, ended up, in 1989, coming to Focus on the Family. So, that kind of gives you a background.
I’m very unlikely. I’m not the person that I think Focus should’ve put in this position to be blunt, except for the fact that I have a passion for the family, for all the reasons that Brad talked about. I believe that a two-parent home, where there’s a loving mother and father, children do best. And, I think it’s important to the culture to protect that and to defend it and to encourage it.
At Focus on the Family, getting to the practitioner points, we probably help,it’s right around in the area of about a million marriages a year. We have a radio program in the U.S. heard on a weekly cumulative basis of about three million. Globally, it’s probably right around 270 million. We’re in about 136 countries with radio distribution.
I’ve worked with governments around the world, probably more than 70 in the idea of family, family formation, family protection, including China, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa. I had the privilege of sitting down with Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, talking about the importance of family to which his administration said, “If you’re here to help families, we believe family is the basic building block of the culture, and we will help you help our families.”
That gave me a deeper appreciation, not so much for the liberal conservative debate, but just the fact that what’s important is family. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. And, I think that’s one of the big shifts within Focus is, compared to, where Dr. Dobson was the Ph.D. from USC and Children’s Hospital, I just had to live it. I was only living 15 miles away, but I was the little boy living the scene that I expressed to you. And, so, for me that’s where my heart comes in.
I know there are children that are desperate. I know Focus on the Family can play a role in helping those kids. We have five major strategic objectives at Focus. One is Evangelism. I know we may disagree about that, but from a Christian standpoint, if that is true, I do want to express it to people around me, what I believe about Jesus Christ and salvation through Christ, and all the benefits of that.
And, that drives me and motivates me, but then it’s marriage, parenting, advocacy for children, which is a fairly new one at Focus on the Family. That’s playing out in the area of “Option Ultrasound.” We’re replacing ultrasound machines in clinics. Our estimate is about 90,000 babies have been saved through that process, also an orphan care initiative “Wait No More,” which started just a couple of years ago.
In the State of Colorado, my heart breaks for foster children where parental rights have been terminated and we have about 120,000 kids in that position in the United States. Eight hundred and fifty were in Colorado. The state was in charge of 850 kids.
Through the work of churches on the front-range, working with family services in Colorado, we’ve moved that number from 850 kids to 350 in two years. The most they’d ever placed in a given year, it was 80 kids. So, that’s good. And, I applaud everybody that’s worked in that regard. The issue of marriage, for all the reasons that Brad identified, it isn’t—
CARL CANNON, RealClearPolitics.com: Jim, can we interrupt you for a moment?
MR. DALY: Oh, sure, sure.
Mr. CANNON: You said five, but you only listed four.
MR. DALY: Okay. Oh, culture—engaging in the culture, sorry.
MR. CANNON: Thank you.
MR. DALY: I appreciate that. So, Evangelism, marriage, parenting, advocacy for children, and engaging the culture. And, in the engaging in the culture part, I’ll just add, for me, it’s about tone. I feel that one of the mistakes that we’ve made in the Evangelical community is that as Tim Keller said in his book, Counterfeit Gods, that Christian leadership has been so much about the victory and winning that we’ve become the predator and the world our prey. That’s a knee-buckling statement and a profound one for me. And, I think—
MR. CROMARTIE: Say it again.
MR. DALY: Yeah, that—this is my paraphrase. I don’t have the book right here, but I think it says that Christian leadership has become about the victory and that’s led to us becoming the predator and the world our prey. That’s not very much a Christian doctrine.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And what did you say his name—
MR. DALY: It’s Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, basically talking about idols in the culture, idols in our life and that’s the idol of political power, if you want to go right to the section of the book.
And, I think that’s one of the errors that we’ve made, to be forthright and honest. And, when I say “we” it’s just a general “we.” I’m not talking about any specific leader. I’m just saying as we’ve looked at the battle, and we talked about the culture war; much to Al Mohler’s quote there that Brad provided.
I do believe very firmly and I think my whole childhood experience is God’s in control. I’m not. And, I learned that as a very young child through—you know the issues with my father, the issues with my stepdad, the foster father. There wasn’t a lot of stability. I had to trust that I could wake up today and do the best I could do. And, I have that confidence in Christ that he’s in control.
So, I’m not as rattled by the marriage debate. What I want to do is concentrate with the Christian community to see marriages within the Christian community reflect the nature and character of Christ. Tom and I were talking earlier. He illuminated something. So did a friend. I can’t remember the person writing the book, but Evidence that Demands a Verdict is a famous book by Josh McDowell about his quest to disprove Christianity, only to find that he was converted and became a believer in that quest. Tom said someone is writing a book called A Verdict that Demands Evidence, and that’s quite a play on words, and I think that’s one of the big things in the church. When you look at Brad’s research, you look at nominal Christians particularly they have higher incidences of abuse and all the social pathologies that Brad mentioned. You know, that’s very unfortunate.
And, I think even within the Christian church where the divorce rate among—amongst the committed Christian is 35 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent. It’s too high, and we, I think, have bought into the idea of no fault divorce. And, for that reason, I’m not as concerned.
It’s important. We want to take a stand in the public square. We want to be able to project a philosophy, a conviction about the importance of marriage in the culture and why it’s important. All the reasons that Brad said when two committed men and women are—a man and wife are committed in marriage, they’re going to do reasonably well.
I think when it comes to the younger Christians, they are very much about Orthopraxy, doing the Word. And, I appreciate that, and I believe that’s where the church needs to head. And, that is less about Orthodoxy—and when I say less, I don’t mean forget it or de-emphasize it. It needs to be the foundation of what we do. What motivates us to feed the poor, what motivates us to do what we do at Focus on the Family?
It’s out of the love of Christ for humanity that we do these things, but that our Orthopraxy, what we do, advocating for children, helping a woman make a choice for life, because we believe that’s the better choice, thus, the Super Bowl ad with Tim Tebow. We believe that there are good things that derive from a stable, healthy marriage. And, we want to stand in the public square and at least be heard.
We know it’s controversial when it comes to the same-sex issue. It’s not a hatred at all. Quite to the contrary. We want to simply stand and try to project something that we believe like Brad’s research affirms, what is best for the culture and society. I know that’s controversial, but we believe that that is a Biblical position, and we want to stand that way.
So, with the younger Evangelicals the key there I think is to engage them in the doing of the Word. So, you see a lot of young entrepreneurs now like Tom Shoes.
Where you buy a pair of shoes and he gives one to someone in Africa. You have other coffee companies now that are sprouting up where they’re selling cans of coffee with seven key themes: Feed the poor, cure malaria in Africa, help a child, and $3.00 of the $10.00 can of coffee goes for that. Very entrepreneurial and I love it.
And, I think they are reinvigorating the Christian church to remember Orthopraxy, the doing of the Word, and I think that’s going to be hugely and profoundly important as the next generation of younger Christian leadership arrives. I think you’re going to see more of an emphasis on that and I’m grateful for it.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Jim. I’ll get people in right away. Andy Ferguson, you’re first.
ANDREW FERGUSON, The Weekly Standard: This is for Brad. A couple years ago, Yuval Levin and Pete Wehner wrote a piece that was much discussed amassing all of the evidence that in fact the culture was reviving in traditional ways. That crime was down, drug use was down, teen pregnancy was down, all these indicators according to cultural health.
And, at the same time, what I think they left unsaid was that marriage was falling apart as an institution. How do you put those two things together if you assume that marriage is the building block and the health of society?
DR. WILCOX: That’s a great question, Andy. And, what I would say is that I don’t—I mean, I think that marriage and family life play an obviously central role in fostering the welfare of kids, but there are other things that affect kids too, whether it’s the income of their parents or whether it’s the strength of their schools.
And, so, I think in part it could be the other institutions besides the family we’re doing a better job in their respective domains. I sent a letter into Commentary Magazine in response to their piece. And, one of the things that they didn’t really address was the fact that over that very same time frame, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of young men in prison.
And, so, one reason I think black crime has come down so much since the early 1990’s is that we have tons of guys in prison who have, among other things, probably oftentimes have come from a home without their own fathers. So, I think on some of the outcomes that they were looking at, the story is a bit more ambiguous than their Commentary piece would suggest.
MR. DALY: I’d add to that just anecdotally, a story about a prison where they wanted to supply Mother’s Day cards for Mother’s Day and they had to go back to the factory because just about every prisoner sent a card to their mom. When Father’s Day rolled around, they thought, oh, we’ll do the same thing. So, they brought a boatload of cards for dads. Not one prisoner sent a card. And, I think that points out the problem that we have there. I think another statistic that I found interesting when it comes to poverty, because a lot of media, when they’re talking to Focus on the Family they’ll say “You don’t seem to fight poverty.” But, actually, when you look at some of the research, keeping marriages together is the most important thing we can do to fight poverty.
I think a child is 82 percent—I’m trying to remember who did that. It was Robert Rector, but a child is 82 percent more likely to fall into poverty if dad’s not in the home. The other statistic that’s interesting is that the U.S. leads fatherless homes in the world with about 40 percent of kids 18 and under not having a dad in the home. So, I don’t think a very healthy statistic for us.
MR. CROMARTIE: Dan Harris, Mike Gerson, and Tom. Dan Harris.
DAN HARRIS, ABC News: Thank you. First let me just say that by the—I’ve been coming—I’ve been lucky enough to come here for five or six years, and I think even by the lofty standards of this—this junket, this one has been particularly good. All three, and of the three, this one just for me has been particularly interesting, so thank you both.
An observation and a question. For me, it’s interesting to hear about this retreat from marriage and then to try to square that with the over-weaning emphasis we at ABC News place on the Royal Wedding.
MR. HARRIS: So, I guess, having said that, my question for you is actually maybe, slightly tangential, but we hear about marriage education. There’s been a big push for many years, starting I believe under George W. Bush. What is your sense on the efficacy of that? And, as we turn to cutting the budget, is this something that we need to keep or get rid of? And, you can put me back on the list because I have more questions. I don’t want to hog.
DR. WILCOX: So, the Bush Administration pushed through a healthy marriage initiative, spending about $500 million over the course of a number of years on marriage related activities, and we haven’t actually gotten much evaluation research in on those programmatic activities, except for one piece of marriage education that was targeting unmarried couples. And, that was called “Building Strong Families.” And, with the exception of the program in Oklahoma, which, by the way, has had a longstanding healthy marriage initiative in that particular state for about a decade.
The programs that were evaluated—I think there were about eight. Seven of those eight did not work at all. And, only the one in Oklahoma worked. Now, part of this could be that with many public policies you see there’s a kind of learning curve where it takes them some time to figure out how to do this thing and do it well. That’s one explanation.
Another explanation is that actually this particular group was unmarried couples and they’re trying to help them have better relationships and some of them get married. And, maybe they’ll do better with a similar set of programs that are actually targeting low-income married couples. And, we haven’t yet gotten the evaluations, but my frank sense of things is I don’t think that the government can do a particularly good job when it comes to marriage preparation or relationship skills. I think that’s probably better left to civil society.
And, for me, on the policy front, I’m much more interested in things like PSA’s on marriage and fatherhood, much like we’ve done work on the smoking issue. And, sort of trying to see that as a way of changing public attitudes and maybe public behaviors. But, I think the more that the government gets involved in kind of the nitty gritty relationships, I think that it doesn’t have the resources in terms of moral, religious, otherwise, to really make a strong difference on that particular domain of family life.
MR. DALY: I would only add that some countries are trying different things. Australia, for example, is just extending compulsory counseling for those that want divorce from I think 30 days to 60 days or 90 days. Some of those things, a government can do. I think it’s very critical, because some marriages will be saved.
MR. CROMARTIE: Say that again. They’ve done what?
MR. DALY: They’ve moved—I think they’ve had a 30-day waiting period for a couple that is seeking a divorce. So, they have to have counseling. And, I think they have extended that either to 60 or to 90 days. It’s just a longer waiting period. And, I just think that may be a more effective way for government to play a role.
I would agree with Brad. I don’t know that any political solution to this is a wise solution. I think the other thing, though, with government policy, and Brad’s comments outline this, is what can government do to encourage family? I think government has a compelling interest for all the reasons that we talked about, all the data, to strengthen and encourage family development.
And, I just think from Focus’ standpoint that as we move forward, that’s what we would like to see. An example, Family Medical Leave Act, during the Clinton Administration, was very interesting. When you read the rhetoric from the Christian community, it was going to destroy small businesses, but when we look back now in hindsight, I think it was a good thing.
It allowed people who were adopting, who had new babies, all of the things that bring a great deal of stress onto the family. It allowed them more time to be at home. I think we should’ve supported something like that, not rejected it out of hand simply because it was a Democratic proposal. So, I think we need to be a bit more fair-minded in that way, which is one of the reasons with the Obama Administration—there’s very few policies we’re going to agree on—but his initiative on fatherhood is something I applaud him for. I think that’s a good thing for him to speak up about fatherhood and the importance of fathers in the home. I was raked over the coals by the right on that, but it’s the right thing.
MR. CROMARTIE: Michael Gerson, you’re next.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: I would like both of you to comment a little more on these economic issues that Brad raised. At Brad’s recommendation last year I went down to Bedford, Virginia, which has the highest unemployment in the state, and talked with men, middle-aged men, a little bit younger, some of them, in job training programs. And they’ve seen a massive shift where there are no longer—it’s a furniture manufacturing area of Virginia—where there are no longer high pay/high benefit low education jobs. They don’t exist anymore.
And, you have a lot of service jobs where there’s a tremendous preference for whatever reason, to hire women in those jobs. A lot of their children go into the military because of the situation that they’re in. And, men are left with this tremendous psychological blow from being breadwinners to being the unemployable section of that population.
And, I’m just trying to get a feel. Job training wasn’t doing much for these men in this economic environment that they were in. And, I just want to get a feel on how the church reacts to that, because it’s so different from suburban Christianity and the growth of mega churches and all sorts of things. It’s just an entirely different kind of social environment that’s determining family structures, and I’m just curious what the responses are to that.
MR. DALY: I think—from my perspective, I think the church provides a very unique environment for men, and Brad mentioned that. In terms of the network, a lot of churches encourage men to be good fathers, good providers, all those things. In Colorado Springs where, like everywhere else, unemployment has hit hard. I know even in my own church and the churches I’m engaged with in the community, the men’s groups are profoundly important. I mean oftentimes people find jobs through those networks and connections, but in addition to that, just that encouragement man-to-man about not being able to provide and those kinds of things, psychologically, I think, are hugely important for the men that participate. And, I think that’s one of the great benefits that churches bring to community.
DR. WILCOX: I think on the religious front I think one thing also that churches can do, and other religious institutions can do is to try to figure out what else men can do in the family context besides just be a provider, particularly given the current economic shifts that we’re seeing in this country. So for instance, maybe it’s the dad who takes over—you know, religious education on Sunday afternoons. That’s his thing.
In other words, to sort of give men a sense that they can do unique things in and for the family. They’re not just connected to a paycheck. I think that’s certainly one of the things that religious institutions can do to help men in our economy. Particularly working class and poor men who have been hit hardest as I mentioned before.
On the policy front, too, as I said in my remarks, I do think that groups like Focus on the Family and other kinds of family organizations, whether it’s FRC or NOM or others—you know, other kind of pro-family groups have been with some exceptions, largely MIA on the economic front. And, not to mention the health care front.
And, we know that for many working class and poor families—you know, a catastrophic illness, a job loss can be devastating and lead to a vicious cycle that ends in divorce. So, if they’re concerned about strengthening marriage, I think that they can do more in terms of advocating for public policies that help shore up the economic foundations—you know, of working class and poor families.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to embrace a Democratic agenda on every issue, but they need to, I think, be more intentional about articulating and identifying public policy positions that allow you to speak to these very real issues.
MR. CROMARTIE: Tom, you’re next, and then Barbara.
TOM KRATTENMAKER, USA Today: Thank you very much. I wanted to add—this flows perfectly out of Michael’s question, but I wanted to ask Jim what you think of this notion that Professor Wilcox was just articulating? Economic policy and so forth, suggesting that Evangelicals have been reluctant to take that up because of an alliance with Republican policies, could you see Focus going in that direction, and could you see Evangelicalism more generally going in that direction?
MR. DALY: Well, Tom, we can’t answer a hypothetical question. I’m kidding. That’s what politicians say, right?
No, I can see that. I think Brad’s criticism is fair. It’s real. We need to do something. The question will be what can we agree upon. But, I think we need to be fair-minded enough to (a) acknowledge the problem; and (b) hopefully work in a bipartisan way to find a way to solve those problems.
I’m very concerned about the politicization of the faith. I mean I think fundamentally, that is at the core of my concern. I think being owned by a party is dangerous.
And, it doesn’t allow us to do things that we need to do that are far more honest and straightforward, like we’re talking about, because the constituency won’t understand it, or will be brutal with that kind of leadership. So, we’ve got to find a way to articulate that and also find common ground, just to use an overly used phrase, but I’m willing.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: I have a question for both of you. I’m thinking about the next generation. And, one area that I think, Brad, I was a little bit surprised by your statistics on views of same-sex marriage, for example.
And, I mean I’ve interviewed Al Mohler who recently said that basically there’s a tidal wave of support coming out from the next generation and society as a whole in support of same-sex marriage. And, basically there’s no winning. That was the message he gave me that we’ve given up. We will lose this battle, that was his view.
So, I’m interested in that. What I’m also interested in is whether you see the generational fault lines. What are the issues where you see differences?
The other thing I’m interested in is it’s my sense, my instinct, that more and more kids are “un-churched.” Like, probably a lot of people in this room may not go to church now, but they might have gone when they were kids. I don’t know, but a lot of the baby-boomers did.
So, I’m curious if you’re seeing—maybe you’re seeing booming numbers of teenagers in churches, but can you just talk to me about whether you’re seeing a larger un-churched generation—you know, under 20.
DR. WILCOX: Well on the first point, I think that other things being equal, I think it is the case that same-sex marriage seems like it’s coming, whether it’s five years, ten years, I don’t know. And, that if you look at Evangelicals, there’s much more either tolerance or acceptance for that among younger Evangelicals than older Evangelicals. But, still, obviously they’re more conservative than the population at large.
On the second question, in terms of the population of young adults being un-churched, it is the case that more young adults are reporting that they have no religious affiliation. And, there’s been a modest decline. And, there are debates about this in the sociology of religion literature. But I would say there’s been a modest decline in actual attendance.
But, what’s complicating all this is the sort of the point that I made in the lecture this morning. And, that is that I think this retreat from religion, if you will, has been more impactful for the more churchly traditions. You know, for white Catholics, for mainline Protestants, and I don’t really see it in the Evangelical world, because they have these other things going for them, the community, the supernatural orientation, the family focus, all that kind of stuff tends to keep their fold much more loyal.
MS. HAGERTY: But, as a society—
DR. WILCOX: Yes.
MS. HAGERTY:—we’re still seeing it as an overall decline, right?
DR. WILCOX: Yes.
MS. HAGERTY: And, what—well, this is a much larger discussion, but kind of what implications does that have for religion as a whole?
DR. WILCOX: Well, I think—you know, for implications for the society, as a whole, is we don’t have the religious center, so to speak, as much anymore. So, there isn’t kind of a religious—you know, moderate ground for people.
You’re either sort of maintain this more intense Orthodoxy. Largely in Evangelicalism, but of course, but also in some Mormon and Catholic and Jewish and Muslim contexts. But, the problem of course, is there isn’t really a kind of a way for these different communities to speak the same language, to understand one another. And, that is manifest—you know, whether it’s Bill Maher or at the cultural level, or on various political debates.
MS. HAGERTY: Right.
MR. DALY: I think both are in play. I think secularization of culture and the Christianization of culture, I think both are increasing, but I think because of the polarization that’s—again, Tim Keller has talked about that. And, I think it’s accurate.
You look at people like Greg Laurie and Kevin Palau and others are running very large youth conferences around the country and they are well attended. And, there is a fervor within, I think, the youth that is—I think it’s healthy. I think it’s good. I think it’ll—you’ll find it’ll be—they’ll be greater commitment.
MR. CROMARTIE: David Kuhn and then Paul Farhi.
DAVID PAUL KUHN, RealClearPolitics.com: A few thoughts actually related to the several points made. One, you’re right. I mean you see an increase in the secularization of America, but as Brad would say, if you break out the religious attendance, as Brad knows very well, if you break out the religious attendance differently. Our weekly attendance was remarkable over the last 40 years is how steady it is.
So, in other words, you have these two separate spheres, but when we talk about this increasing secularization it hasn’t seemed to affect the 40 or so percent of Americans that still regularly attend church.
On Michael’s point, which I think is really fascinating, obviously, since I’ve read a lot about men. What’s interesting psychologically, which goes back to the service point that Brad was making is what you see in prayer meetings like the Wednesday prayer meetings, or men’s groups, and, you actually saw this with George W. Bush’s, right. A prayer meeting background. What’s fascinating to me in this dynamic is that you actually see it as one of the few moments where men will acknowledge a powerlessness that is almost antithetical to manhood, right?
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes.
MR. KUHN: And, so, I find the therapeutic component to this fascinating. What comes from that practically, I don’t know, but it’s interesting.
So, is there even enough data to know how cohabitation affects marriage attendance—I mean church attendance, compared to marriage itself. Because what I always wonder is, is it just the woman’s influence on the man? Women attend church more, they go to prayer meetings more.
Or, is it the institution itself? So, what are your thoughts, Brad?
DR. WILCOX: Well, I think you make an interesting point about vulnerability for men. I think it’s one area where I think even Evangelical churches and Mormon communities do a better job than other traditions, by-and-large, insofar as they have often sort of all male activities. And, where they are basically encouraging men to get real about whether it’s pornography or an attraction to a woman in the office, whatever it might be, and, to express that. To be honest about that and then to try to address it in a kind of a accountability context. So, I think that that exists and it can be helpful for guys to have that opportunity.
On the cohabitation front, it’s pretty clear that adults in the U.S. who cohabit are less likely to attend religious services, with the experience of cohabitation, even in one’s past, is linked to lower levels of religious attendance going forward. Now, why is that? Well, it could be for any number of reasons, but of course, one reason, I think, is that people who cohabit know at some level that most religious traditions, particularly the more conservative ones, don’t approve of that.
So, if the stigma was to lift, maybe the association would weaken. I haven’t actually seen any evidence, whether the cohabitation effect varies, say, for mainline Protestants versus Evangelical Protestants. It very well may, but just that on average, folks who cohabit are less likely to attend both in the moment and then down the road as well. Whereas, marriage is—you know, formally linked to more attendance.
MR. KUHN: Yeah. It’s almost an impossible question because if you’re attending church once a week, you’re going to have a dramatically lower cohabitation rate.
DR. WILCOX: Yeah, that’s true.
MR. CROMARTIE: Paul Farhi, you’re next, and then Tim.
PAUL FARHI, The Washington Post: Thanks. I’m curious about same-sex marriage and if a—there is much research on some of the topics that you’ve brought up here, Brad, church attendance, family formation, effect on children. Is it possible that same-sex marriage shows a completely parallel kind of behavioral sociology as traditional marriage?
DR. WILCOX: That’s the $100,000 question, I think, in the social sciences right now.
I actually think that same-sex marriage would bring more stability to gay and lesbian relationships. I think that’s quite plausible—you know, for all the sort of institutional reasons that we could sketch out.
I guess for me the question is whether or not kids in same-sex households will do as well as kids in intact biological households. And, there have been about 40 studies looking at same-sex families, and most of them have the—basically the no difference story. That is, the kids in same-sex households look no different than kids in heterosexual households, but there are some pretty important limitations with much of the research.
Number one, often times the comparison group is a heterogeneous group of heterosexual households. They’re comparing same-sex couples, lesbian couples, for instance, to single parent heterosexual women. And, so, you know, what do you make of the fact that there maybe aren’t meaningful differences between those two groups.
They also, with one exception, have fairly small samples, often less than a hundred kids. And from a statistical perspective you can’t draw very strong conclusions from that. So what I would say, looking back at the literature on divorce is that we really didn’t have a good sense of how divorce impacted kids until we had a good longitudinal large-scale representative surveys in the 1990’s, after the divorce revolution in the 1970’s. And, so, I would say that we’ll have a much better perspective on how kids in same-sex households do, particularly kids in places like Massachusetts where their parents can legally marry, in about 15 years from now, will be my take on that issue. I guess the only thing that I would say is that there are some differences when it comes to—among heterosexuals, we know that biology does tend to matter.
For instance, adoptive parents do worse than bio parents, on average, and I’m an adoptive parent. So, you know, I don’t like that but it is sort of the finding. And, we also know that kids do better in stable contexts by-and-large. And, that lesbian households are actually the least stable of any—you know compared both to gay couples and compared to heterosexual couples. Why is that? Well, we’re still sort of looking into that but I think one thing we know is that among heterosexual married couples, women are much more likely to initiate divorce.
Two thirds of divorces are legally initiated by women, and women tend to have a better sense of a—you know, a given marriage, a given relationship, I think. And, they have higher standards I think generally speaking than men do. And, so, one reason perhaps that lesbian relationships are less stable is you have two women who are in a romantic intimate relationship kind of evaluate what’s happening. And, may be more likely for one reason or another to end that relationship. So I think given the biology argument and given the stability argument that we might see some differences in 15 years, but right now, it’s basically a no difference story.
MR. FARHI: The follow up I would have for Jim is—and I’m—I know I’m way ahead of the curve here, because clearly the research isn’t terribly well formed yet, but what if it does turn out that same-sex marriages create a lot of positive social effects. How do you—I mean you can’t ignore that and yet, I understand there is a Biblical injunction against this. How do you accommodate that into your response?
MR. DALY: Yeah. I mean, I’ll be interested in looking at the research. I think for us we believe that family by God’s design, there are certain qualities both in male and in femaleness that children derive benefit from. And, I see that in my own family.
I’ve got two young boys and mom deals with them differently than I do. And, I think that’s critical in the healthy development of children. Does it mean that a same-sex couple can’t do a good job? I believe that can happen. I don’t want to be silly about it, but is it the best situation for a child to be in? I would say I think the research as it unfolds, I think we’re going to find that the answer is it’s not the best situation for all those reasons.
MR. CROMARTIE: What if the research does then show there’s huge implications possibly.
MR. DALY: I’m doubtful that the research will show, but—you know, this is—if it’s a hypothetical, I’m doubtful the research is going to show a—
MR. CROMARTIE: In 10 years from now, we will have a session here on that.
No, I’m just kidding. Tim, you’re up next.
TIMOTHY DALRYMPLE, Patheos.com: I have a question for Brad, and if I can get his response, and then ask a question of Jim. I know there’s been different sets of data from different institutions. So, the Barna Group had data on divorce in which Christian divorce rates seemed about the same, and in some cases, worse. And, then, I know Brad Wright came out with a book. Another sociologist came out with a book that sought to debunk some of that. And, then, point to some other research. So, you’ve pointed to the difference between nominal and active, and I’m just wondering, as a technical matter, how those were distinguished in this case.
DR. WILCOX: In my work, we just looked at folks who attend several times a month or more and folks who attended less than that. And, we found that those who attend several times a month are more—about 35 percent less likely to divorce, compared to unaffiliated Americans. Or, as for conservative Protestants who were nominal, they were 20 percent more likely to divorce than the unaffiliated over the conservative completely secular American group.
So, it just goes to the point that particularly, I think, in the Evangelical world there is a big difference by kind of church attendance, by being integrated into a religious community—
MR. DALRYMPLE: Right.
DR. WILCOX:—and those who are tend to do better on things like divorce. And, those who are not tend to do worse. And, when it’s a Scotch Irish thing that Shelby was getting riled up about, or something else, you know—
—and maybe Jim is riled up about that too.
MR. DALY: We’ll have a drink later.
DR. WILCOX: You can beat me up later. So—
SHELBY COFFEY, The Newseum: The definition of eternity is how long an Irishman holds a grudge for an imagined slight.
DR. WILCOX: Okay. So, but there is this difference between nominal and church-going. And, I think that often that difference gets lost in some of our discussions about things like—you know, divorce and any other ills that we focus on.
MR. DALRYMPLE: So, nominal in your data meant those who attend once a month or less.
DR. WILCOX: Basically, yeah.
MR. DALRYMPLE: Yeah, okay.
DR. WILCOX: And, many of them have actually been much less than that—
MR. DALRYMPLE: Yeah.
DR. WILCOX:—attending—you know, twice a year at Christmas, Easter, kind of thing or less than that.
MR. DALY: Right. Can I ask a quick question on that? Have you differentiated those that are reading scripture on a weekly or daily basis versus those attending church? Because there’s been some research that for divorce, for example, those that are actually active individually reading the Bible, that it’s less than one percent. I don’t know if that’s valid. I don’t know the background of the research yet, but it may be interesting in future research to ask that question, beginning to build that database on those that are actually reading the Bible, because I think that ends up being a differentiator.
DR. WILCOX: I haven’t looked at that issue, but I did a study on relationship quality with whites, African Americans, and Latinos, which was covered in the Washington Post. And, what we found for that particular study was that looking at church attendance together as a couple, and looking at shared values as a couple, and looking at shared prayer as a couple, apart from grace at meals. The strongest predictor of those three things of having a high quality relationship was praying together as a couple.
So, my take away from that was the more people integrate their faith into their home life, into their daily life, and that would speak to your example just now, the more likely they are to benefit in their marriages. But we couldn’t look at divorce in this particular data set.
MR. DALRYMPLE: My question for Jim, you’ve been gracious in acknowledging excesses in how Evangelical Christians address certain issues and the kind of cultural moral issues. And, of course, Focus was designed to address particular issues related to the family, but I’m just curious. Was it ever the case, from your perspective, that the Christian writer or even just Focus in particular, boiled Christian social engagement down to fighting abortion, gay marriage, and pornography?
And, a second question is, will the opposition to gay marriage ever take on such a high public relations cost that it becomes no longer worth fighting? Just maybe continue to say, “This is something we disagree with.” And, yet, fighting it legislatively and legally, could become so onerous or so damaging to the brand, so to speak, that it wouldn’t be worth it anymore?
MR. DALY: Well, I think what’s difficult is that for the culture to expect Christians to embrace something that seems and is, according to the reading of scripture, antithetical to the belief system. I think that’s a lot for the world to expect of the church. So, I think the answer to that is what we’ve got to do is do a better job of being you know the salt and light.
We need to be able to express God’s love. And, then, in the Christian context when you’re a part of the body, there’s a greater discipline to what’s expected. I made this comment in the Denver Post. We’re expecting the world to act like the church and accepting the church acting like the world.
And, I think we’ve got to sort that out a bit. Jesus is very clear about leaving judgment of the world to the Father—it’s not our role. And, I think when we talk about who’s going to defend God’s righteousness in the culture, again, that’s above my pay grade. I think for me it’s about my discipline and my journey, my walk, and being able to be a good example so that somebody might be attracted to that and say, “What do you have that’s different?” “How could you come out of the childhood that you came out of with joy?” That’s a question I love to answer.
MR. DALRYMPLE: Yeah.
MR. DALY: And I think we’ve got to just be a little quieter, do the Orthopraxy in our personal lives. Stand firm on Orthodoxy, and hopefully attract the world to that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Sally.
SALLY QUINN, The Washington Post: I wanted to just follow up on what Tim was asking. I read all kinds of statistics about Evangelical divorce. People who are not in favor of Evangelicals will say, “Well, you know, they have a higher divorce rate than anybody.” “I mean, they’re all hypocrites because they talk about family and yet they get divorced a lot.” And, there is a lot of divorce among Evangelicals.
And, so, it’s interesting to me why, when you have that kind of religious background and when the focus is on the family, why there is that much divorce. And, for Jim, I’m interested in your view on divorce, because when you described your own family, it was clearly the right thing to do for your mother to leave.
MR. DALY: Um-hmm.
MS. QUINN: She had no choice. And, clearly, in a lot of cases, it is the right thing to do. And, so, at what point do you say to people who are unhappy in their marriage, you have to stay together because marriage is a good thing. And, you know, if you’re a true Christian, you’ll stay together and you’ll work on it. At what point do you say, “It’s not worth it?”
DR. WILCOX: So, the first part of your question, once again, it is the case that—you know, nominal Evangelicals—people say that they’ve had a born again experience, but don’t regularly attend services are more likely to divorce than the population as a whole. Whereas, Evangelicals who are regularly attending services are less likely than the general population to get divorced, so there is a story there.
But, still, as Jim acknowledges it’s still the case that a decent minority of Evangelicals who are churchgoing get divorced. So, it’s not like the divorce is not an issue in—you know, any given Evangelical community. It is.
But, my point also is that I think that part of the desire to focus on the family comes from a position of pain. You know, pain in one’s own marriage, history, or pain in one’s own family with one’s own children, with one’s own brother, sister, neighbor, whatever community. So, that position of pain can motivate, I think, some Evangelicals to try to do more to strengthen family life so that they don’t have to experience that again. Or that their kids don’t have to experience that again.
Now, on the issue—I just want to touch empirically on the question of Jim’s life history, because I think it’s important for us to realize that the empirical research suggests that kids who are in high conflict marriages do better when their parents separate. So, if there is domestic violence, if there’s regular screaming fits, it’s in those situations where it’s better for the children, for the children’s sake, for their parents to separate. But, by different estimates my colleagues at U.Va., Bob Emory and Paul Amato state—only about a third of divorces now involving children are coming from these high conflict situations.
And, about two thirds of divorces involving kids today are low conflict divorces where—you know, mom and dad have grown apart, or mom’s grown apart, or dad’s grown apart. Where there’s an attractive new colleague at the office, whatever it might be. And, it’s in those—
MS. QUINN: You keep mentioning this person in the office.
That was not a Christian thing to do.
DR. WILCOX: Yeah, but, my point simply is that you know in most cases involving kids and divorce today, it’s in these situations where actually from the kid’s perspective, it’d be better for the parents to stay together. And, I think that’s where, at least from my perspective, we could do more as a culture and as a society to encourage those adults, those couples, to realize that someone’s going to pay a pretty big price, from their decision, from their action, if they go ahead and get a divorce.
MS. QUINN: But, is it a bad thing to divorce if you’re not happy?
DR. WILCOX: Well, as a sociologist, I can’t say. I mean—you know, that’s sort of not my place. But what I can say is, from the perspective of the kids, I would say if you really care about your children in that situation, if you want to put your kid’s welfare above your own personal happiness, then the thing to do would be to stay together.
MR. DALY: I think your illustration’s a good one. And, what I had to go through—Focus would actually—we counsel about 66,000 folks that call us with 25 state licensed counselors. We refer hundreds of thousands of others through a network of state licensed counselors around the country. We have about almost 4,000 counselors that are part of a database that we support.
And, in that context, certainly with abandonment, biblical divorces, adultery, abandonment, those kinds of things. Certainly, life-threatening things like my mother faced. We would say, “Yeah, you have to get to safety.” Ideally, it’d be great again for that couple to be able to reconcile and find a way to make that work. That’s our position.
But, to divorce simply over a lack of happiness that’s probably the letter that comes to Focus on the Family that grieves me the most. A Christian couple, you’ll get a letter after a radio program that we’ve done and they’ll say, “You know what, we just don’t like each other anymore.” Well, that’s marriage.
And, you know there are times—
—I remember my wife and I had that discussion once. She said, “I know I’ve got to love you. I just don’t like you right now.” I think in our culture, we’ve become such the fast food culture, the throw away culture, it’s infected our marriages. And, marriage should be a long lifelong commitment. And, with the exception of abuse and adultery, from a biblical standpoint.
So, I would say don’t give up. I think the other statistic that really is interesting that couples that are thinking of divorce when they’ve done the studies. Those that have fought through it and after five years, they are much happier than those couples that have divorced and remarried. They are less happy. That’s interesting. Tough stuff happens in life. It’s a lot better to simply go through it and to overcome it.
MR. CROMARTIE: A thirty-second intervention here by David.
MR. KUHN: Fair enough. One thing I would say on the statistics that you brought up is I would underline Brad’s really powerful statistic. That if you’re attending church once a week, the dynamic shifts entirely. And, that’s part of the problems with so much religion reporting today. I mean it’s a church attendance or other metrics that show dramatic correlation. And, because of course it’s like—I just looked it up, because I just regarded the reporting immediately when I saw this report about obesity being correlated to church attendance recently.
As soon as I saw it I started to just like disregard it, because obviously you know what’s going on, right? The minute Brad saw that, he saw—we obviously know that—where is the Evangelicalism. Where are people more likely to attend church? Well, it correlates to more working class whites, working class generally, and they’re going to see a much higher rate of obesity.
It correlates to middle America, right? To the South and Missouri, etc., so there’s much higher rates of obesity—
I feel like Jim Webb is going to come down here and intervene in this Scotch/Irish debate. I mean that’s the danger of reporting about this stuff, right? That that obesity study should’ve been—is entirely disregarded for that reason, right.
We know right away what’s going on there. Just to add that to underline Brad’s point that it’s not how people practice their religion than what necessarily is the religion that they inherited from their parents.
MS. QUINN: Okay. Can I just ask a question about what he said?
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes, quickly, and then Micheal, you’re next.
MS. QUINN: Okay, quickly. Okay. Going to church is like—as effective as a diet, is that—I mean if you go to church more regularly you—
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Won’t get fat.
MS. QUINN:—you lose weight.
It’s the opposite.
DR. WILCOX: It’s just a confound point—you know, in sociology and economics and psychology, we talk about confounds. And, we have to basically, you look at a correlation between factor “x” and factor “y.” You have to think about what might confound them. What factor “a” might confound the “x” and “y” association.
I haven’t seen this study, but I mean it’s certainly the case that people who go to church more often could be heavier than those who do not, but that could well be because of the fact African Americans attend more and that working class and lower middle class Americans in the South attend more. And, it’s sort of those things. The class issues, the race issues that really account for the association between regular church attendance and being heavier.
So, we have to—you know, as we talk about the link between religion factor “x” and “y,” whatever outcome might be, we have to just pay attention to the fact that it could be some of what we call confounds in the literature that may be confounding the association between religion and whatever the outcome we’re looking at.
MR. CROMARTIE: I’m about to call on Micheal, but it occurred to me, Shelby, you had about three or four interventions. You’ve never been able to finish your sentence, and you should just go ahead and finish all your Scotch/Irish jokes—(Laughter)—right now. Is that okay Micheal?
MICHEAL FLAHERTY, Walden Media: Yeah.
MR. COFFEY: Okay. God invented whiskey to stop the Irish from ruling the world.
I think Micheal will back me up on this theology. No, I think these have been wonderful presentations. I, as a U.Va. grad, took pride in the way you put that through. There is a thing in the intelligence world called “causation versus correlation.” And, I do think there is—it’s one issue worth keeping straight that because you go to church does not mean that the statistics for churchgoers are necessarily caused by their going to church.
The other question I would ask of Jim. I saw a speech by Os Guinness a couple of weeks ago at the C.S. Lewis Institute. And, he talked about the way in which there have been a couple of major changes in the culture we have. When Christianity basically became this—the religion of Rome. And, then, another period in the medieval times as we call them, when Christianity, in effect, gentled the barbarians of Europe. He said it may be a time for another awakening and diffusion in the culture that is—would be vitally necessary. Do you see that?
MR. DALY: I do.
MR. COFFEY: And, how does that play out in your thoughts?
MR. DALY: I don’t know if it’s a new paradigm, but I think it’ll be the revisiting of the old one. I think this century will end up looking a lot more for the Christian community, a lot more like the—hopefully not in the ways of martyrdom, but in the way of service. I think the Christian face will look far more like the first, second, third century, where we’re known for our deeds. And, I think that’s what you see in the younger generation, particularly. I think they’ll be less rhetoric and it’ll get back to evidence that demands a verdict, or a verdict that demands evidence.
I think that’s the trend and I think that’s what Os is relating to. I think Tim Keller, certainly Rick Warren and myself and others feel it, sense it, from a spiritual context. And, that’s the direction it’s going.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Micheal.
MR. FLAHERTY: Just quickly, a follow-up on—
MR. CROMARTIE: And, then Peter.
MR. FLAHERTY:—Shelby’s point. I think it’s all coming full circle, because when you talk about Christianity going up against the barbarians, it was St. Patrick—(Laughter)—and the great people of Ireland calling in the monastic tradition in the land of Saints and scholars.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have the Irish save civilization.
MR. FLAHERTY: Yeah. And, I fear I’m going to become a Power Point slide as an overweight churchgoing angry Irish person. (Laughter) I think I fit into every one of those groups, but I had two questions. My first one is just a real quick one for you, Brad. In terms of the growth in the LDS church and the growth in Evangelicals, can a lot of that account for the escape from mainline Protestantism and Catholicism.
DR. WILCOX: That’s a great question. And, I think a portion of it, yeah, as the people who have been raised in these more churchly traditions—you know, experience an intense encounter with the supernatural that leads them in the Evangelical or—I’ve been to Salt Lake and Provo a couple of times. And, I’ll meet these people from Central America who were raised Catholic and who are now Mormons. So, I think it’s part of the story, but there’s also a retention issue.
And, that is that Evangelical and Mormon churches do a better job retaining their youth, keeping them in the fold, through the life course. And, that’s related, in part, I think to the sort of stress that they often place on the importance of faith and parenthood.
MR. FLAHERTY: And, also in the LDS example, they’re just—they’re having more kids. Right? So, if they hang on—
DR. WILCOX: And, in fact, one reason that Evangelicalism has grown over the course of the 20th Century, is that up until recently their fertility rate was higher than was mainline Protestantism. So, yeah, I mean fertility makes a difference. If you combine high fertility with high retention, just from a sociological perspective, you don’t have any—I mean just do the numbers, you know.
MR. FLAHERTY: And, Jim, my other question was for you. You mentioned what happened with the number of foster kids in Colorado. I feel like that’s one of the great untold stories, is what Focus is doing specifically on foster care? And, you know, my dad was a public defender and the stories are heartbreaking that you get.
And, the number—is it 120,000 nationwide? I mean—
MR. DALY: Roughly.
MR. FLAHERTY:—that seems like such a finite number—
MR. DALY: Right.
MR. FLAHERTY:—with the number of Christians that we have and the number of churches that we have. And, you know, is there ever—you know, a goal to have that number be zero. And, to follow-up on Paul’s question, would Focus be open to the idea of gay adoption to get that number down to zero and get kids out of foster homes?
MR. DALY: So, the first point. The answer’s yes. We do have a goal in Colorado. We’d like to start there, obviously. We started with 850, we’re down to 350. The health and human services in the State of Colorado said virtual zero is about 50 kids in the process at any time.
So, we’re excited about it. We do think it’s a great story. We’ve actually done eight events. We’ve had 1500 families start the adoption process in those eight events. And, I do think it’s a fabulous story. Very much again like the early church. I mean what we were known for, saving babies that were disposed of in the river or left to die of exposure in Rome, back to the Roman example.
That’s what the early church did. We built hospices, hospitals, orphanages, and I think that illustration of foster care, and for the church to engage foster care. Here is the way that came about—I’m working out at the YMCA. There’s a woman there, a Christian lady I knew who worked in the adoption area, Debi Grebenik. And, she looked down that day. It’s five in the morning. I thought that’s one reason. It’s so early for a work out.
And, but I said, “Debbie, are you doing okay?” She said, “You know, we’ve got about 850 kids waiting to be adopted.” And, I said, “We must have 3,000 churches in the State of Colorado.” And, I said, “Let’s go to work on it.” And, that’s how that was born, that early morning at the YMCA.
But it’s just a matter of attention and somebody thinking about it. And, certainly being in foster care that compelled me to do all I can do. Here’s a heartwarming story. Debi—you know what happens to these kids when they turn 18, the checks are turned off and they’re just booted out.
And, two 17-year-old girls were adopted in the State of Colorado by a couple of Christian families. And, Debi said, “How does it feel?” to one of the 17-year-old girls. And, she said, “Well, the thing I’m so thrilled about is that at least when I leave and I get married, I’ll be able to call home and ask Mom how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving.” Wow. Yeah.
And, you know, man, I feel that, because I was that little boy. I didn’t know how to tie a tie, because I didn’t have a dad.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And, what about gay adoption?
MR. DALY: That’s the tougher question. Again, for us, from a biblical standpoint, we want to concentrate on putting those kids in what we believe is the best home possible that’s a male/female home with a mom and dad. And, I—you know, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I don’t want to be harsh or anything like that, but I want to try the best option at this point that I’m aware of.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And, does the same apply to single adoption?
MR. DALY: Yeah, it’s the same point. I mean I think we would want to try to put those kids in a home where there’s a mom and dad as the first order of business. I’ll leave the other options open as we go through, but—and it’s a tough discussion. I’d like to see some of the research.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter David, you’re up.
PETER DAVID, The Economist: Brad, the thing that haunted me as a surprise in your presentation was the strong correlation with marriage failing and poor socioeconomic status. And, in a way, I thought that was counterintuitive because I mean I would’ve thought that amongst the less educated and the poorer conventional social norms would be stronger than among the better off.
We have more options and more prone to experiment with lifestyles and so, do you have any research about what those less well-off people aspire to? What the sort of lives they would like to lead, what are their attitudes to marriage? Do they want to get married and bring up children in a conventional family setting, but they’re being thwarted in some way by circumstances, or have they explicitly and consciously repudiated the idea of conventional stable marriages?
And, if I might just have a quick run with Jim. I was a little puzzled by your answer on gay marriage when you said you’ll look with interest at whether research eventually shows that gay marriages can produce the same advantages for childrearing and marital stability as heterosexual marriage. I’m not quite sure whether you’re saying that—you know, these scriptural injunctions that you believe exist against gay marriage could be—
MR. DALY: Overcome?
MR. DAVID: Overruled—you know, by social science, empirical research, or should be. You know, why even if it turns out the social utility was on the side of gay marriage, presumably, you would still be opposed to it.
MR. DALY: I think that’s true. I mean what I’m saying; I do want to see that. I think it’ll be interesting. It’s like the genetic makeup. Is same-sex attraction genetic or is it behavioral? I don’t think there’s anything conclusive yet. I know that may come as a shock, but we’re looking at that research pretty closely as well.
We think it’s more of a byproduct of several factors. So, I think to answer the question from a Christian perspective, the answer is no, we would not be in favor of placing a child in a home that’s less than a biblical orientation of family, meaning single parent, same-sex parents. We believe it should be a man and woman committed in marriage, but I’ll interested in looking at the research. I don’t want to be close-minded to it. I want to see what’s there.
MR. CROMARTIE: And, then, Brad.
DR. WILCOX: Yes. On the first question, so what’s very clear in the literature is that marriage remains, once again, an ideal or aspiration for Americans of all stripes, all classes, all races. But despite that reality, marriage patterns are deeply stratified, and partly it’s about the economic things that I’ve discussed. Partly, it’s about differences in civic participation that we’re seeing now, but it’s also, as I suggested, about some sort of subtle shifts in the culture when it comes to things like attitudes toward non-marital childbearing and the acceptability, the stigma of that kind of thing, for instance. You know, so as I showed in the slides, it’s still the case that for people in this set, broadly defined if your teenage daughter was to come home and say, “Hey, dad, you know, guess what, I’m pregnant.” That would warrant a different response in this milieu than it would in a high school educated or less educated context.
And, so, there have been sort of more sort of subtle shifts in terms of stigma and other attitudes that—that make working class and poor Americans more open in a sense to having a child outside of wedlock. And, the other thing though is that parenthood means something different.
This is a point that’s been made by Kathy Edin at Harvard. That if you’re a woman for instance working at McDonald’s and you’re 21 years old and you’re in a relationship with a guy, and you get pregnant, you’re orientation towards that pregnancy is going to be rather different than a 21-year-old who’s finishing up a B.A. at U.Va., for instance, who has a sort of trip ahead of her, or maybe law school and then wants to do law practice and then get married at age 30 and have kids.
And, so, what we see among less educated Americans and women in particular, is that they actually look at the advent of motherhood with great excitement. And, they don’t have a strong professional career ahead of them. And, so, for them they may be ambivalent about their boyfriend as a potential husband, but they welcome the pregnancy to a large degree, because they want to be a mom. And they view motherhood as something that’s really great.
So, what we’ve seen in the cultures has been a kind of disconnect between marriage and parenthood, and that’s happened at a variety of levels, but practically, that plays out differently for people who don’t have the same professional educational prospects as more advantaged Americans do.
MR. DALY: You know, Focus’ database in the 33 years Focus has been in existence, we’ve had about 17 million people go through the front door. So, our active database at any one time is about 2.3 million, but we did research about five years ago. Sixty percent had a college degree and the divorce rate within the group was 16 percent. So, I find that interesting. It correlates with what Brad has found as well.
MR. CROMARTIE: Dan Harris, and then Mike Gerson.
MR. HARRIS: Jim, I’m interested in your orphan care initiative. I mean it sounds incredible. I wonder what would your fiercest critics say about it. Have you been accused of having—is it a play on—
MR. DALY: Oh—yeah.
MR. HARRIS:—for those who argue for abortion rights might argue that it’s a positioning thing.
MR. DALY: There really hasn’t been many critics. In fact, in town, in Colorado Springs, the Independent newspaper is owned by John Weiss who—he’s a Berkeley grad, worked on Henry Waxman’s campaign. He called me up. “I’d like to talk with you.” We sat down and had coffee. And, he said, “Boy, I just didn’t realize Focus did anything that good.” Oh, good to meet you, John.
But, you know, it allowed me—because he said, “No, the perception I’ve had of Focus on the Family is that you’re about 90 percent politics and maybe 10 percent family.” It’s the exact opposite. We’re eight percent on the policy side. Ninety two percent of the budget goes toward basic bread and butter family stuff, marriage and parenting.
And, so, it was really interesting. And, he said, “Anything I can do to help support what you’re trying to accomplish, let me know.” And, he said, “We carpet bombed Focus for 17 years. We’ll start writing more favorable articles about you.” Which I don’t know how that plays in this room, but the point being there is that again, I think when we’re doing the right things, even those that—it may disagree with us politically, they’ll be positive about the impact we have on the culture. And, that’s a good thing.
There was a Los Angeles Times reporter, I can’t remember her name. That was probably to me, a question that was just—it didn’t even hit me at the time. She said, “Is the reason you’re doing this is to keep children from same-sex couples?” I said—I never thought about that.
And, it—you know, just that idea that we’d be so defensive about it and so militant and calculating that that would be our motivation that we better scoop up these kids, not at all. It had not even crossed our minds. But that was probably the most bizarre question that I received on it.
MR. HARRIS: But, people who are pro-lifers are sometimes accused of caring about life in a very limited sense, bring them into the world, but don’t pay any attention to their actual life once they’re living it. And, I just wondered whether—
MR. DALY: Yeah.
MR. HARRIS:—this orphan care initiative was, in a way, an attempt to push back at that argument.
MR. DALY: No. I think it’s right for Christians in the culture to have a very holistic approach to this. I think if we’re going to be pro-life, once that child is born, we need to be pro-mother, pro-child, and do everything we can do. It does talk about the widow and the orphan. The Jewish definition of widow is the abandoned woman—you know, either by death or by departure.
So, I think the Christian community has quite a responsibility for both. And, it would be good for us to demonstrate more social responsibility in that regard. I’m looking forward to it.
MR. CROMARTIE: Mike Gerson.
MR. HARRIS: Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Are you done, Dan?
MR. HARRIS: Yes, thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: I mean you didn’t speak all day yesterday. You could probably speak for another five minutes if you like.
MR. HARRIS: You know, without a teleprompter, it’s tough.
MR. CROMARTIE: Mike Gerson and then Kirsten.
MR. GERSON: Let me just raise one issue that hasn’t been raised in the context of marriage and premarital sex. We’ve seen a broad cultural trend where you—well, biological trend where you have the earlier onset of puberty and then a much-delayed marriage.
MR. DALY: Right.
MR. GERSON: Okay. And, that’s not—you know something that the media created or even a moral issue in a certain way. It’s a profound cultural and sociological change, where you have people from—you know 15 to 28 that are not married. My experience in the Evangelical church is that most Evangelicals look the other way with this profound social change. That you know it’s different than it used to be. Okay. But, I’m just wondering how that affects what you do at Focus.
MR. DALY: Um-hmm.
MR. GERSON: And, also just—you know, how this affects marriage as a whole, this kind of change.
MR. DALY: Dr. Al Mohler’s written extensively on this. And, he’s a big encourager of younger marriage for Christians. Marry at a younger age. And, I think that’s a wise thing for all the hormonal reasons that we all know.
But, also the idea of education is important. I think Focus on the Family with Dr. Dobson, particularly, as a Ph.D. I think we value that idea. Sixty percent of the database people have a college degree. I think there’s an idea that that’s an important thing for both a man and a woman, if they want to pursue college.
So, how does it affect us, what we’re doing right now? We’ve got a very robust web site called “Boundless for Family Formation.” It’s aimed at pre-married twenty-something’s, to talk about the importance of marriage and family formation and to encourage them to think it through and to begin to engage.
I saw that USA Today piece, I think, earlier this week, the front page, talking about the “hooking up” culture. Probably most of us in this room graduated from college before that was happening, but they don’t date, you’re just friends with benefits, you know, tonight’s the night.
What a temptation though. Think of all of us when we were in college. I mean wow, that—you know, you don’t have to go out on a date. Just, I feel frisky, do you want to meet. I mean that is—
DR. WILCOX: There’s more alcohol involved. It’s not just—(Laughter)
MR. DALY: But I think—
MR. CROMARTIE: Is that right, Brad, really?
DR. WILCOX: That is the bigger issue, I think, on the college campuses. And, that’s something we’re very interested in. The other story was about how virginity is up within college campuses. So, again, you see this polarization. You see a lot more sexuality on college campuses and you see a greater commitment to virginity within college campuses. So, both are gaining strength.
MR. CROMARTIE: Explain that Brad, please.
DR. WILCOX: Well, I think it does go to the polarization point. I mean we have new data from the National Center for Health Statistics, which suggests that there has been actually an uptick in virginity among young adults, which is a kind of surprise. And, we don’t really know why that’s the case.
MR. CROMARTIE: Now, I want to know why.
DR. WILCOX: Well, I mean, we’ll probably know in a few years, once we can—
MR. CROMARTIE: You’re going to wait for the data? Just give me a hunch.
Give me a theory. Just say this is my subjective intuition as to why there could be more potential promiscuity but less—
DR. WILCOX: Okay.
MR. CROMARTIE: I sound like I’m joking, but I’m not. I really want to hear if you have an idea maybe, of why.
DR. WILCOX: You know, I really—I have to say sometimes I have to say I want to look at the data on this issue.
MR. CROMARTIE: No, you always say I want to look at the data.
DR. WILCOX: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I’m being honest. I don’t know why it’s—why there’s been an uptick in virginity, but there has been a slight uptick. So, that’s interesting. We’ll look at it and try to figure it out.
On Michael’s point or his question, the sort of delay of—you know, sort of there’s this growing gap between puberty basically and the age at first marriage. And, I think it does present tremendous challenges to more traditional religious young adults and their communities. So, I would just sort of say that obviously, it’s a big challenge facing them.
And, what we know from the broader literature on twenty-something marriage that was kind of the sweet spot seems to be the mid 20’s. I mentioned to you, I think, a while back—you know, Mike. And, where people have actually acquired a certain measure of maturity, but they’re not yet set in their ways too much—you know, to have more difficulty making that transition to being a couple and compromising and establishing a life together.
So, and yet, we’re actually seeing that kind of first-age of first marriage is now in the late 20’s. So, we’ve kind of come past that. So, what I would say to religious communities is they can actually make a public case that actually you’d be better served by getting married in your mid 20’s by-and-large. And, it could be the case that people who are imbedded in a religious community and who have that support could actually negotiate an earlier age at first marriage. You know if they have the advice, the counsel of people older and wiser than they are when it comes to married life.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. David, quickly on this point.
MR. KUHN: Yeah, very quickly. It’s related to the point I brought up before that you have a rise in secularization, but a steady church attendance rate. And, so I would be interested in the data—that you can—it’s totally logical in my mind, and I guess I’m in a younger generation a lot of people here then that you would have a group that has an increasing rate of—or a decreasing rate of virginity. Excuse me, an increasing rate of virginity, delayed tendency to have sex, and at the same time, you would have the hyper-sexualization, because you certainly see that on college campuses when you’re young.
You certainly have like the Christian kids and that’s always the kids who actually attend church and actually pray, who kind of segregate themselves. You even see this among professional athletes with men. You even see that like the Christian athletes, as they’re called, but again, it’s really those who attend, etc., will kind of separate themselves from sort of the social scene to an extent, which of course, they’re a great minority. But I think that it’s totally logical to me that you would have a rate of increased virginity, et cetera, among some kids.
At the same time, you still have this general pattern towards sort of the—I mean everything you’re saying about the hyper-sexuality or the hooking up culture. Where that if you ask a girl out on a date when you’re 19 it’s unique, et cetera, instead of just meeting her at a party. So, to me it’s actually a logical trend.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, David. Okay, Kirsten Powers.
KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX News: Yeah. So, when you were talking about not being in favor of gay adoption and that you feel that—you know that the perfect situation is a mother and a father. I don’t actually disagree that the perfect situation is a mother and a father, and I think there’s a lot of sociological data to back that up.
However, we don’t live in a world where the perfect situation presents itself very often. And, even if you put a child in a family where they’re both married, we know that they can get divorced. We know that it can be highly dysfunctional.
The father could molest the daughter, for example. The mother could be an alcoholic and be abusive. I mean there’s all sorts of things that happen within the context of a mom and a dad. So, I’m just sort of curious how you—how you reconcile that—you know, with sort of holding up this ideal that really doesn’t exist that often in my experience.
And, then, second of all, when you have so many children in foster care, which is a very unstable situation, as you would know from your own personal experience, is it better to leave them in foster care than to put them into—to allow a gay person to adopt them?
MR. DALY: Well, again, fair questions. I think from a—again, I’m representing the Christian community. So, for us, we don’t dictate what’s going to happen with gay adoption. The State will decide that, state by state, probably.
For us, I think it’s important to engage the church to adopt. And, I have my hands full simply doing that. From a biblical perspective, I believe and I think the committed Christian community would believe that’s a better option is to place a child in a home that has a mother and a father, because of the inherent attributes of a mom and a dad. Children learn things from mothers and fathers that are different than two men or two women.
MS. POWERS: But, we know that there’s not as high a rate of adoption as—I think you would like there to be in the Christian community, right? So—
MR. DALY: It’s increasing.
MS. POWERS: It’s increasing, but it’s nowhere near where you would think it would be, and I think—
MR. DALY: It’s the highest sector in the nation, though. I think the Christian community adopts more than any other group.
MS. POWERS: I know, but I also know that it’s not—I mean if every Christian family was adopting children, we would have no problems.
MR. DALY: Right.
MS. POWERS: Do you know what I mean? But, the—I guess but you do have gay people who really do want to adopt. Do you see what I’m saying?
MR. DALY: I won’t endorse that.
MS. POWERS: Yeah.
MR. DALY: What I’m saying is they can do what they’re going to do. If you’re trying to get me to say it’s okay, that’s not—
MS. POWERS: I’m not trying to get you to say anything—
MR. DALY: Yeah.
MS. POWERS:—I’m actually just trying to get at how you just deal with the reality of children living in foster care—
MR. DALY: Right.
MS. POWERS:—and you have these people who actively want to adopt them and be parents. And, at least of the data that we have to date, suggests those children won’t fare just as well. I don’t understand why there would be opposition to it.
MR. DALY: Well, again, that’s even John Weiss in Colorado Springs—that’s one of the things he would like to do. I said, “John, do it.”
MS. POWERS: Um-hmm.
MR. DALY: Don’t just—just don’t expect me to do it. It’s okay. Go do it. You’re free to do it, but for me, as a Christian, I want to—I’m staying true to the biblical understanding of what we believe.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you want to add to this Brad?
DR. WILCOX: Not really.
MR. DALY: Brad’s going to stay far away from that one.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, I think, on this note, ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking our two presenters this morning for their excellent presentations.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, accuracy, spelling and grammar.