Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ)


Religious leaders examine issue of absent fathers

May 22, 1996 

HERNDON, Va. (RNS) -- In 1960, about 7 million U.S. children lived in 
homes without a father. That figure now stands at nearly 23 million.
At an "Interfaith Summit on Fatherhood" convened by the National 
Fatherhood Initiative, a 3-year-old advocacy group, Christian, Jewish 
and Muslim leaders and others drew attention May 17 to the issue of 
father-absence and examined how religious institutions can ameliorate 
the problem.
"We believe that this (father absence) is the most socially consequential 
problem of our time," Wade Horn, director of the National Fatherhood 
Initiative, said at the gathering, which drew about 60 people. The 
non-profit organization, based in Lancaster, Pa., aims to strengthen the 
institution of fatherhood in America. 
The absence of a father often leads children to become more violent and 
more sexually promiscuous than children in two-parent families, Horn 
said in his opening address. Children living apart from their fathers also 
are more likely to drop out of school, suffer emotional problems or commit 
suicide as adolescents, he said.
"Father absence may not be the sole cause of each of these social ills, 
but it certainly makes each one worse," he said. "The available evidence 
suggests that improving the well-being of our children -- and ultimately 
our nation -- depends upon us finding ways to bring fathers back into the 
Religious leaders cited instances of faith communities addressing the 
importance of fatherhood. Among the examples: the mostly evangelical 
Promise Keepers movement, which seeks to strengthen the commitment 
of men to family life; books and curricula that encourage strong marriages; 
and rituals in African-American churches and Jewish synagogues that 
affirm a father's place in the family and the house of worship.
But speakers also acknowledged that there is much work to be done.
The Rev. Don Browning, a professor of ethics and social sciences at 
the University of Chicago Divinity School, said the absence of fathers 
is not discussed much in the academic or denominational circles in 
which he travels. Denominational grappling with issues of abortion and 
homosexuality have "pushed everything else off the map," said
the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister. 
But Browning warned that the language used in conversations about 
fathers should be carefully crafted. "There are great suspicions in our 
society that the fatherhood discussion is a subtle way to introduce 
patriarchy," he said. 
Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, president of the National Conference of 
Catholic Bishops, suggested that a good job, as well as a good marriage, 
is important in strengthening the bond between fathers and their families.
"We should not discount the critical difference that having a decent job
 ... makes for a man's self-esteem," Pilla said, voicing support for a higher 
minimum wage, flextime, and other "family friendly" employment practices. 
"The church has a vital role ... in ensuring that the world of work is supportive 
of fatherhood," he said.
Pilla said all fathers -- those married and those not -- should receive the 
support of the religious community.  "Does our concern as religions for 
fathers extend to those who may not even be married?" he asked. 
"They, too, deserve our ministry."
Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, 
a conservative Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, called for men 
to volunteer for positions in which they can be positive role models, such 
as mentors and Sunday school teachers.
"We don't need men on the budget committee nearly as much as we 
need them in the church school," she said. She cautioned that "radical 
feminism" is a hurdle that must be overcome to promote a "pro-marriage, 
pro-family, pro-father agenda."
"We understand that in a family ... a view of equality that is essentially
androgynous does not work," she said. "Fathers are more than sperm 
banks and automatic teller machines."
Speakers expressed the hope that the gathering would spur greater 
religious involvement in supporting fathers and that it would encourage 
men without children to be mentors to fatherless youths.
Pollster George Gallup Jr., chairman of the Gallup International Institute 
in Princeton, N.J., said in a brief interview before his luncheon speech to 
the gathering that there is growing concern about the issues raised at the 
"I think that increasingly the American people are alert to the problem and 
the need to develop systems that will take better care of kids," he said.
A Muslim from Delaware urged that individual members of houses of 
worship no longer keep the problem of absent fathers to themselves but 
rather share ideas with the entire religious community.
"We have to take this to our pastor, our imam (Muslim spiritual leader), 
our rabbi (and tell them) I got something here," said Brother Asim Howard, 
a public relations officer for the Muslim Center of Wilmington, Del. "This is hot. 
We need to talk about it now." 
                     Posted 5/24/96