Spike Lee on fatherhood & the black church

Filmmaker Spike Lee has a new movie out, Red Hook Summer, about a middle-class black teenager from Atlanta who spends the summer with his grandfather, a no-nonsense preacher in poverty-stricken Brooklyn.  Both comedy and social commentary ensue.  The movie sounds quite good and very pro-church.  In an interview with Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, Lee himself does some preaching:

TWP: Bishop Enoch fulminates against a number of ills that plague the black community — from violence to coarsening pop culture to gentrification. In one pivotal conversation, he and Sister Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) speak candidly about the pressures on African American parents trying to bring kids up, often alone. Those sequences felt like very personal statements from Spike Lee.

SL: Three out of four African American families are headed by a single mom. That’s 75 percent. And I will put my left hand on 10 Bibles and my right hand to God and say that’s the main correlation to the highest drop-out rate and the highest prison rate, and it manifests itself ultimately with these young brothers killing each other with this insane pathological genocide that’s happening, whether it’s in D.C., New Orleans, Brooklyn, Chicago. It all comes back the fact that — and I’m not trying to demonize these single moms, they’re doing the best they can, working two or three jobs to keep it together. But these young boys, and young women, with no father in their lives, how can that not affect their relationship with black men? It’s the domino effect.

I feel for these single moms and I feel for the children of single moms because they’re crying out for help and they need their daddy and Daddy ain’t around. Daddy ain’t been around. So where are these daddies? A lot of these guys are locked up or just out on the street. It’s not a good look, okay? All I’m saying. It’s not a good look.

via Spike Lee talks about ‘Red Hook Summer’ – The Washington Post.

America’s culture gap

Democrats are often citing a widening economic gap between the affluent and those barely scraping by.  The controversial social scientist Charles Murray, who is more on the conservative side, says that’s just the half of it.  There is a growing cultural gap between the affluent (who still, usually, get educated, get married, and go to church) and the working class (who increasingly raise children without marriage and are becoming more and more secular).

Note how this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, that religion is for the poor and uneducated, and the upper crust lives a hedonistic, permissive lifestyle.  It’s actually the reverse!  And this isn’t a racial thing:  Murray is looking specifically at the demographics of white people. (Lower-income blacks, for example, tend to be very religious, unlike lower-income whites.)

Murray, drawing from his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 explains his findings in the Wall Street Journal from earlier in the year.  He describes  two fictional-but-based-in-fact cities, the upper-income suburb of Belmont and the lower-income community of Fishtown (both predominately white):

In Belmont and Fishtown, here’s what happened to America’s common culture between 1960 and 2010.

Marriage: In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10.

Single parenthood: Another aspect of marriage—the percentage of children born to unmarried women—showed just as great a divergence. Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic. On just about any measure of development you can think of, children who are born to unmarried women fare worse than the children of divorce and far worse than children raised in intact families. This unwelcome reality persists even after controlling for the income and education of the parents.

In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education—were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.

Industriousness: The norms for work and women were revolutionized after 1960, but the norm for men putatively has remained the same: Healthy men are supposed to work. In practice, though, that norm has eroded everywhere. In Fishtown, the change has been drastic. (To avoid conflating this phenomenon with the latest recession, I use data collected in March 2008 as the end point for the trends.)

The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness in the working class is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force.” That percentage went from a low of 3% in 1968 to 12% in 2008. Twelve percent may not sound like much until you think about the men we’re talking about: in the prime of their working lives, their 30s and 40s, when, according to hallowed American tradition, every American man is working or looking for work. Almost one out of eight now aren’t. Meanwhile, not much has changed among males with college educations. Only 3% were out of the labor force in 2008.There’s also been a notable change in the rates of less-than-full-time work. Of the men in Fishtown who had jobs, 10% worked fewer than 40 hours a week in 1960, a figure that grew to 20% by 2008. In Belmont, the number rose from 9% in 1960 to 12% in 2008.

Crime: The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960 to 1995, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled while remaining nearly flat in Belmont. The reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving it today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate.

Religiosity: Whatever your personal religious views, you need to realize that about half of American philanthropy, volunteering and associational memberships is directly church-related, and that religious Americans also account for much more nonreligious social capital than their secular neighbors. In that context, it is worrisome for the culture that the U.S. as a whole has become markedly more secular since 1960, and especially worrisome that Fishtown has become much more secular than Belmont. It runs against the prevailing narrative of secular elites versus a working class still clinging to religion, but the evidence from the General Social Survey, the most widely used database on American attitudes and values, does not leave much room for argument.

For example, suppose we define “de facto secular” as someone who either professes no religion at all or who attends a worship service no more than once a year. For the early GSS surveys conducted from 1972 to 1976, 29% of Belmont and 38% of Fishtown fell into that category. Over the next three decades, secularization did indeed grow in Belmont, from 29% in the 1970s to 40% in the GSS surveys taken from 2006 to 2010. But it grew even more in Fishtown, from 38% to 59%.

It can be said without hyperbole that these divergences put Belmont and Fishtown into different cultures.

via Charles Murray on the New American Divide – WSJ.com.

What are the implications of  this cultural divide?  I would think it means, for one thing, that churches should concentrate their evangelistic efforts in working class areas rather than the current target of affluent suburbs.  (Working class folks used to be the backbone of the church.  What would be necessary to make that happen again?)

HT:  Roberta Bayer

The Church of England is opposing gay marriage

We often give up on the vitality of Europe’s state churches, but the Church of England–unlike its affiliate Episcopalians in the U.S.–is standing up against the plans of the Conservative (!)  government to legalize gay marriage.  From Mark Tooley:

The U.S. based Episcopal Church’s recognition of same sex unions last month mostly excited a big yawn. More interesting is the resistance of its mother body, the Church of England, to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to install same sex marriage in Britain. The latter’s opposition is more significant because it remains its nation’s established church and still wields political and constitutional powers. . . .

In a secularizing country, the Church of England (unlike U.S. Episcopalians, who mostly just resent more numerous evangelicals) appreciates the threat to religious liberty under a regime of imposed same sex marriage. How would the established church disallow what the civil law requires? The church may have to disestablish, especially if it desires any continued leadership over global Anglicans.

British media quoted church officials dismissing government plans as “‘half-baked,’ ‘very shallow,’ ‘superficial’ and ‘completely irrational.’” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu only slightly more diplomatically lamented that government proposals “have not been thought through and are not legally sound.” The church’s official response rejected the government’s push with vigorous, point-by-point rebuttals.

One organizer of that response was Bishop of Leicester Tim Steve, who declared on his own: “Marriage is not the property of the Church any more than it is the property of the Government. It is about a mutually faithful physical relationship between a man and a woman.” He warned, despite government claims of protection for churches, “If you do what the Government say they are going to do, you can no longer define marriage in that way. It becomes hollowed out, and about a relationship between two people, to be defined on a case-by-case basis.” Imposed same sex marriage would precipitate the “gradual unravelling of the Church of England which is a very high cost for the stability of society.”

via The American Spectator : This Could Be Its Finest Hour.

Why Divorce Calls Children’s Existence into Question

Andrew Root, a professor at Luther Seminary, has a moving and illuminating article in Christianity Today.  A sample:

Just months before my own wedding, I sat with my mom in the living room of the home I had grown up in, as she explained that divorce was the next exit on the highway of our family’s history. It had been several weeks since she had told me that her and my father’s marriage was in serious trouble. Now, she told me more: They had gotten married way too young, noting that if she could do it all over again, she would have chosen another route for her life, someone other than my father to share life with. . . .

I existed only because my mother and father had become one, creating me out of the abundance of their covenant community. Now, standing amid the debris and shock of the collision that ended their marriage, all this felt up for grabs. If I was through their union, who could I be in their division? If I was because of their coming together, who would I be if they nullified the community that gave me life? Could I be at all? . . .

I offer all this philosophical musing to underscore why divorce—which affects about 40 percent of Americans under age 21 today—is so devastating for young people. Our society assumes in conversation about divorce that the real issues are ones of knowledge and advantage. Popular psychologists and TV talk-show doctors tell us that divorce need not be a big deal as long as children know it’s “not their fault.” Such youth just need to know that Mommy and Daddy are voiding their union for their own reasons, ones that have nothing to do with them.

Further, our university-based number counters tell us that divorce should be prevented because it quickly takes away economic and social capital, so young people need structures and programs to keep them from losing their economic advantages.

God, himself in triune relationship, spoke creation out of nothingness for the sake of relationship. In the same way, in his or her beginning, every child is meant to be welcomed into the beauty of existence through the embrace of mother and father.

I don’t wish to diminish the psychological and economic impact of divorce. But if we truly are relational beings, then divorce is centrally an issue not of psychology nor of economics but of ontology—an issue of our very being. It therefore feels a little like being erased, like losing our being in the deep divide that separates our divorcing parents.

When a young person is informed of her parents’ divorce, it might be that her deepest questions are about her being: How can I be at all now that Mom and Dad aren’t together? Now that they are two, she is unavoidably divided. She has one room at Mom’s and another at Dad’s, one schedule at Dad’s and another at Mom’s. As philosopher Martin Heidegger said, we have our being in our practical way of living, in our actions. And now post-divorce, because this young person’s action and living is divided, so too is her very being. Her parents are seeking to reverse, to go back, to be as if the two never became one. But she can’t do this because she belongs (in the very material of her person that acts with and for them) to both of them.

via Why Divorce Calls Children’s Existence into Question | Christianity Today.

Prof. Root goes on to say how the Church can minister to those who have been put through this crisis of existence.   He has written a book on the whole subject: Children of Divorce, The: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being (Youth, Family, and Culture)

The Case for Early Marriage

Christians have been emphasizing abstinence, says University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, whereas they should be emphasizing marriage.  Instead, Christians are buying into the same confused ideas about marriage that the world has been assuming.

Among both Christians and non-Christians, the marriage age has been rising, from an average in 1970 of 21 for women and 23 for men to today’s 26 for women and 28 for men.  “That’s five additional, long years of peak sexual interest and fertility,” he remarks.   The fertility point is often neglected.  “Women’s fertility is more or less fixed, yet Americans are increasingly ignoring it during their 20s, only to beg and pray to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.”

He also deals with objections to early marriage.  For example, the higher divorce rate among those who marry in their teens.  He isn’t arguing for that.   He sees the optimum age as being in the early 20s.  But he also suggests how Christians are uniquely positioned to make early marriages work.

Read Regnerus’s article, which eludes simple excerpting:   The Case for Early Marriage | Christianity Today.

Parents and children are not natural enemies

An interesting observation from Miss Manners (a.k.a. Judith Martin) in response to a question from a young adult who is living with her parents and wanting to know how best to respond to rude questions (“You’re how old and still living with your parents?”):

The people who say this are HOW old?

Miss Manners asks because the generation that considers relatives to be natural enemies is aging. They grew up denouncing their parents’ values, styles of living and psyches; they left home as soon as possible and resented the expectation of telephone calls and holiday visits; and they predicted antagonism from children — their own as well as others’ — at every stage: Babies would ruin your life, teenagers would hate you, young adults would go off and never be heard from again, or, worse, come home.

That other cultures value and seek to prolong family ties does not discourage such believers from declaring generational enmity to be normal human behavior.

But things are changing. You are far from the only young adult living with his parents. And while doing so is always explained in terms of economic hardship and maternal laundry service, those are not the only reasons.

It seems that another generation of parents has reared children who become fond of them. Miss Manners keeps hearing of, and even reading about, college students who keep in frequent touch with their parents, and graduates who are frankly happy to return home, in preference to living in solitude or with yet more roommates.

So you should be hearing fewer such remarks. That aging generation is beginning to realize that if a time comes when they are no longer able to live on their own, it is their children who will decide where to place them.

via Miss Manners: Some young adults live at home because they like it – The Washington Post.

The issue I’d like us to contemplate is not whether adult children should live at home but the observation that the  hostile “generation gap” was an artifact  of the 1960s and not a universal condition, and that children are now growing up who are fond of their parents and enjoy spending time with them. This is progress, isn’t it?


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