Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

At the end of the day, anyone with common sense knows that black children do not act out because they are being disciplined too strictly at home. They act out because of a lack of structure and discipline. Others who want to skirt the central role of parents will quickly attempt to turn the discussion of the black family to poverty. While I agree, for the most part, that black families need better economic opportunities to increase their wealth and relieve the financial stress so many are facing; that issue, too, is secondary.

Missing in the handwringing and ideological declarations is the obvious question: what are black parents of successful children doing right? America is full of black parents doing a good job, including many single parents. Rather than looking outside of our community for answers, we need to examine where black parents are doing well and determine what we can do to reproduce that success in the parts of our community that are struggling.

Dr. Patrick Fagan, a sociologist with the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, has uncovered a key factor in successful black parenting even under challenging circumstances: regular church attendance. Fagan’s research shows that even when problems like divorce and low income are factors, black children who attend religious services regularly have more positive outcomes in nearly every measurable area, including academic achievement. Regular church goers in inner cities were much less likely to use drugs or alcohol, commit a crime, drop out of school, become depressed or become pregnant out of wedlock. What is even more interesting is that the more challenging the child’s circumstances—the lower the income, the less frequently the father was around—the stronger the positive influence of church attendance became.

This is not actually new information. Fagan notes that a Harvard University study in 1985 “revealed that attendance at religious services and activities positively affected inner-city youth school attendance, work activity, and allocation of time…youth who frequently attended religious services were five times less likely to skip school, compared with peers who seldom or never attended.”

Church attendance provides benefits to low-income children of single-parents that secular afterschool programs and other government sponsored interventions do not: a loving, structured environment that communicates a transcendent set of moral values. Church going children have access to mentors and positive peer pressure to encourage them to make good decisions and avoid peers who would bring a self-destructive influence.

While the Washington Post and the New York Times wring their hands about the number of black children being suspended from school, they continue to ignore the fact that the black children—even those living below the poverty line in single parent homes—who are attending church regularly are faring much better. Maybe it’s time to stop looking for “fresh” solution, and directing more folks to the old solution that is actually working.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.