Families, churches & crime
Politicians often argue that the solution to reducing crime is more government programs and bigger jails. Yet government cannot adequately address the underlying problems that cause criminal behavior or fill the holes in people’s lives.
What families need more than government programs are married fathers and mothers in the home and churches on the corner. Within families, children learn how to govern their lives. Churches help reinforce basic principles and strengthen the family in its role. When these institutions are weak or absent from peoples’ lives, society becomes increasingly dependent on government to impose restraint.
The evidence is overwhelming: Having a mother and father as mutually supporting authority figures is vitally important for a child in many ways. Researchers find, for example, that:
• Children raised in nonintact homes are more likely to engage in violent crimes.
• Children who grow up without a father in the home are significantly more likely to be incarcerated as adults.
• Children in married-parent homes are less likely to be victims of violence and maltreatment.
Sadly, it is not always possible for a child to be raised by a married mother and father. But much more can be done to address the historically high divorce rate and the high rate of unwed childbearing in the U.S., which has soared over the past five decades.
American families also need churches to teach that our rights are gifts, not privileges granted by government. Churches inform the conscience about right and wrong, teach that each life has a purpose and that individuals are responsible for their lives and those of others, and cultivate virtues that form the bedrock of a prosperous society:
• Couples who attend church regularly together and are more religious have, on average, higher-quality marriages, which can serve as a buffer against societal breakdown and the social ills connected with it.
• Individuals who attend church regularly, compared to those who attend rarely or never, are significantly less likely to engage in violent behavior against their partners.
• Research also shows that, for youth, involvement in religious communities and groups may protect them against engaging in delinquent behaviors.
Limited government endures when people govern themselves. In the words of Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, “Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law.”
The family is the incubator of liberty. It is there that a person learns values, hard work, character and what is most important in life. Religious congregations reinforce the principles taught in the home and support the family in its role of raising the next generation.
Society thrives when families and religious communities are strong and when the principles they cultivate inform the daily choices and personal conduct of their members.
Government cannot replace the kinds of support offered by the family or a religious community. Embracing these twin pillars of social strength ensures that individuals will be stronger and society will be safer and more stable.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council and is a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.