Monday, July 25, 2005

"Why Our Black Families Are Failing"

I was tremendously encouraged this morning to read William Rasberry's latest column, "Why Our Black Families Are Failing." He is commenting on a recent gathering of Pentecostal clery and the Seymour Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (a 21st century think tank for the global black church).

Most liberal analyses of race in America tend to attribute "the problem" to historical and contemporary white racism/insensitivity/injustice, and "the solution" to white repentance/sensititivity/affirmative action.

In fact, the Seymour Institute isn't above such rhetoric. For example, a paper on their site reads:

Republicans are the ones who have always been most intent on punishing unwed mothers, cutting programs for the poor, trashing our cities, limiting educational opportunity, weakening anti-discrimination law, and pursuing a "prisons first, justice last" program of civil peace. It’s to Republicans that we can first look for policies that have retarded black economic progress, and that now account for the record rates of black incarceration and persons of color on death row. Between the two major parties, surely, the Republicans have done the most to make black life nasty, brutish, and short. And so, for blacks, the question of which party to vote for has pretty much answered itself.

But this wasn't their message at a recent gathering. Rasberry comments:

The absence of fathers means, as well, that girls lack both a pattern against which to measure the boys who pursue them and an example of sacrificial love between a man and a woman. As the ministers were at pains to say last week, it isn't the incompetence of mothers that is at issue but the absence of half of the adult support needed for families to be most effective.

Interestingly, they blamed the black church for abetting the decline of the black family -- by moderating virtually out of existence its once stern sanctions against extramarital sex and childbirth and by accepting the present trends as more or less inevitable.

According to an open letter released by the Seymour Institute:
"Every black Christian man and woman must take seriously the charge to live in a sexually responsible manner, honoring the sacred nature of sexual intimacy," the letter states. "By their fidelity to each other, parents must provide an environment of trust and emotional security in which to raise their children and teach them by example and precept to respect and honor their bodies."
And they define marriage as a "permanent, exclusive, inviolable bond, between one man and one woman, that fosters the realization of each partner's potential in all areas of life, that provides the deepest levels of companionship, fidelity and unselfish love, that furnishes order and structure for daily life, that creates emotionally safe space for the rearing of children and for the transmission of core moral and spiritual values to the next generation."

Rasberry concludes:

They didn't say -- but might have -- that black America's almost reflexive search for outside explanations for our internal problems delayed the introspective examination that might have slowed the trend. What we have now is a changed culture -- a culture whose worst aspects are reinforced by oversexualized popular entertainment and that places a reduced value on the things that produced nearly a century of socioeconomic improvement. For the first time since slavery, it is no longer possible to say with assurance that things are getting better.

As the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a slightly different context, "What began as a problem has deteriorated into a condition. Problems require solving; conditions require healing."

How to start the healing? Rivers and his colleagues hope to use their personal influence, a series of marriage forums and their well-produced booklet, "God's Gift: A Christian Vision of Marriage and the Black Family," to launch a serious, national discussion and action program.

In truth, though, the situation is so critical -- and its elements so interconnected and self-perpetuating -- that there is no wrong place to begin. When you find yourself in this sort of a hole, someone once said, the first thing to do is stop digging.

You can order the booklet here.