Fathers: Key to Their Children's Faith

Michael Craven, Center for Christ & Culture

Fathers: Key to Their Children's Faith

I am afraid that our culture in general has reduced the role of fatherhood (along with marriage itself) to something nonessential or unnecessary. Even many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother's role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or "real" manhood.

Instead, many have succumbed to modern cultural caricatures—encouraged by feminist psychology—and the primitive label of hunter-gatherer, and thus assume that this is the man's main contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as father exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is children are not looking for financial provision; they are looking for love, guidance, and a role model for what it means to be a man.

During the colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man's life. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure; and against these they seek to balance marriage and family.

The lack of actively involved fathers has produced societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. It is a sobering fact when the government is compelled to respond to the failure of such a fundamental institution as family! In 2001 the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services under President Bush launched its Fatherhood Initiative with this statement:
 

The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority … [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.
 

While the research confirms that paternal absence (whether it is physical or emotional) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill, my concern is the spiritual consequence.

A rather obscure but large and important study conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 revealed some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values. (The full title of the study is: "The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland" by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. The study appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.) Sounds like a page-turner right?

In short, the study reveals: "It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children" (Emphasis mine).

The study reports:
 

1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.

2. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!
 

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