Boyz In The (Fatherless) Hood

When a researcher recently investigated the link between high school dropout rates and crime in Arizona, she was in for a big surprise. Because what she discovered contradicted every theory she'd ever been taught about juvenile crime. Arizona's Maricopa County has a large, disadvantaged Hispanic population. Dropout rates are extremely high. When she began her research, Josefina Figueira-McDonough expected to find a strong link between dropout rates and juvenile crime. But to her surprise, she found that "dropout rates have no impact on delinquency." What did predict delinquency rates? Figueira-McDonough found that "the greater proportion of single-mother families in a neighborhood the higher the delinquincy rate." This goes against everything the social scientists have said about crime for the past several decades. Maggie Gallagher describes Figueira-McDonough's research in her book The Abolition of Marriage. Gallagher writes that the sexual revolution of the 1960s led to the view that marriages--and their collapse--are purely private events with purely private consequences. According to this philosophy, if people divorce they're hurting nobody but themselves. And if women decide to have children out of wedlock--well, as long as they stay off welfare, it's nobody's business but their own. But the evidence is now overwhelming: The cost of marital failure is paid by all of society, not just the couple whose marriage is shattered. That's particularly true when children are involved. Children without fathers are statistically at greater risk of getting involved with crime, drug abuse, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. It's not hard to understand why social scientists have missed the connection between fatherlessness and crime. In a culture in which intact families are still a majority, the ethos of a particular neighborhood is still being maintained by them. Intact families, with fathers who provide both positive male images and consistent discipline for their children, still set the neighborhood tone. But when entire neighborhoods are dominated by fatherless families, the link between broken homes and crime comes into sharp focus. This connection between marital failure and crime is a reminder to Christians that marriage is about much more than personal gratification. Traditionally, marriage was viewed as an institution designed to provide a reliable structure, one in which couples could confidently carry out the larger purposes of God: Marriage provided a structure in which husbands and wives could take care of each other, rear the next generation, and maintain a home that served as a basis for ministry to others. But today, our culture and our laws treat marriage as an institution designed solely for the gratification of its participants--one that lasts only as long as both parties continue to be gratified. As Gallagher puts it, we've demoted marriage into just another consumer item. And when a whole society adopts risky patterns of marriage and childbearing, we end up with soaring crime rates. That's why we have to lead our churches toward a more biblical understanding of marriage and divorce. Because marital breakdown isn't a purely private event whose painful consequences are all in the family. It's a public event that can lead to the devastation of an entire community.


Chuck Colson


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