The Great Civilizer

Ten couples sit in a circle engaged in a lively Bible study about marriage. What about when he comes home late? What about when she coddles the kids? At the end, all 10 couples rededicate themselves to putting Christ at the center of their homes. This sounds like a Marriage Encounter weekend in a middle-class suburban church. But it's not. It's a Prison Fellowship Marriage Seminar, and it's being held behind bars. The men are convicted criminals. The women are their wives, struggling to survive alone on the outside. And the Marriage Seminar could be the most important factor in rescuing these families from the scourge of crime. Sociologist George Gilder says marriage is the great civilizer of men. Statistics show that married men work harder than single men, are healthier, more stable, and less prone to crime, drug use, and other social pathologies. Church programs emphasizing marriage and family have proven highly effective in reducing crime. Studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research show that church attendance is the single most accurate indicator of whether urban black men will become criminals. And yet since the 1960s, the number of black men attending church has dropped dramatically. Today the average black church in America is 70 percent female. The drop in male church attendance correlates with a decline in male family involvement. The expansion of welfare in the 1960s meant black women could live better by depending on Uncle Sam than by getting married. Black men were made to feel superfluous and unappreciated in their own families. Many began deserting their families, often resorting to illegal activities as a short-cut to money and respect. It is churches, teaching biblical duty, that can break this destructive cycle and recreate a place of dignity and responsibility for men within the family. Men who are respected as husbands and fathers develop the confidence they need to become leaders in their communities. This explains an otherwise puzzling statistic. The numbers show that mainline churches preaching a liberal gospel have the highest number of female members, often as high as 90 percent. Conversely, churches with a high rate of male members are conservative congregations preaching a clear biblical message of male leadership and accountability in the home. An article in Policy Review tells the story of Samuel Simmons, a member of the Crips gang. After a stint in prison for robbery, Simmons started attending church. There other men with prison backgrounds showed him what it means to accept responsibility in the home. Simmons married his girlfriend, straightened out his life, and eventually became a leader in his church. As Policy Review writes, "more than law, police, jail, or fear of death, having a family induces men to become good citizens." Prison Fellowship Marriage Seminars are one way the church is helping to rebuild families and rebuild inner-city communities. But as divorce cuts into the suburbs, middle-class churches need the same message. The Bible's answer to social decay is men and women coming together in obedience to God to build strong families. There is no more potent prescription for moral and social renewal.


Chuck Colson


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