Creating a culture of belonging

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

Creating a culture of belonging

Aug 1, 2006 5 min read

Visiting Fellow

Pat Fagan's demeanor was characteristically calm, thoughtful and reflective, adding even more power to his soul-penetrating words.

"We have become a Culture of Rejection," he said. "In 1950, for every 100 babies born, only 12 experienced the rejection of their parents -- either through out-of-wedlock birth and their parents left, or because their parents divorced. In 2000, for every 100 born, it's 60.

"On top of that, we've added another form of rejection that's not in the figures -- and that's abortion. For every 100 children conceived in the United States today, only 28 are going to reach 18 with mom and dad [still married]. The rest are going to experience rejection -- either the rejection of abortion or the rejection of their parents leaving. And we get weaker and weaker and weaker. America is no longer a 'Culture of Belonging'".

As The Heritage Foundation's William H. G. FitzGerald research fellow in family and cultural issues, Fagan has been at the forefront on family policy issues for more than 20 years. Recently The Heritage Foundation and BOND (Brotherhood for a New Destiny) sponsored the conference "Moral Recontruction: A Model for Urban Transformation," to explore ways to rebuild inner cities. To Fagan, the answers are brilliantly simple, and the consequences of maintaining the status quo humanly tragic.

America must create a "Culture of Belonging," he says. And the formula for that is "work, wedlock and worship." According to the social science data, if these three fundamentals are in place, government social policy is virtually unnecessary.

Robert Rector, a champion of welfare reform and a senior research fellow in domestic policy at Heritage, has conducted research that reveals the miraculous impact that parental marriage alone can have on eliminating poverty for a child. As outlined in one of his studies and in another paper by Pat Fagan, 80 percent of children currently living in poverty in single-parent households would be out of poverty immediately if their fathers were to marry their mothers.

The impact of faith in practice

Within families is equally stunning. The data shows that a child in the inner city whose family goes to church every week will do as well in his or her education as if the entire family had moved into a middle-class neighborhood.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, the founder of BOND, knows from real-life stories the tremendous impact that work, wedlock and worship have on breaking the cycle of brokenness. He laments and boldly condemns the "moral crisis in black America" where out-of-wedlock child-bearing now tops 70 percent. Peterson preaches a strong message of self-reliance and honesty -- one that urges his fellow blacks to stop hunting for someone to blame but, rather, to embrace another powerful force in their lives -- the power of forgiveness. Since 1990, BOND has operated a home for boys and held workshops for inner-city youths whose lives are marred by broken families, crime and hopelessness. In addition to teaching life skills, providing job training, and introducing the revolutionary power of faith, BOND teaches boys how to free themselves of the destructive anger that the heartbreak of rejection breeds.

Peterson's BOND does it one life at a time -- without a dime of government money. His work is a model for any organization or church that seeks to better the lives of those caught up in the nightmare and great American tragedy that is the modern "inner city". I urge you to visit to learn more about the BOND program.

These simple words -- work, wedlock, worship...and forgiveness, are not just slogans created for some clever marketing campaign. Nor is the proof merely anecdotal. They are basic principles that, when practiced, are proven to conquer myriad ills.

The data that reveals their effectiveness in reducing human suffering is available for all who care to know in a free website, is a clearinghouse of useful, reliable information distilled from numerous studies and academic journals worldwide. The findings from lengthy reports are boiled down into bite-sized blocks that even the most jaded citizen, lofty politician or pontificating pundit can understand.

The following finding about fathers, for example, shows why BOND's mission is so critical. It was published in the journal "Child Development" and compiled from samples of girls in the United States and New Zealand (followed from age 5 to about age 18):

"Even when controlling for differences in family background, father absence was associated with the likelihood that adolescent girls will be sexually active and become pregnant as teenagers. This association was strongest for daughters whose fathers were absent when they were younger. Compared with the pregnancy rates of girls whose fathers were present, rates of teenage pregnancy were 7 to 8 times higher among girls whose fathers were absent early in their childhoods and 2 to 3 times higher among those who suffered father-absence later in their childhood."

If that doesn't prove the need to rebuild the family by "rebuilding the man," nothing does. And unless each of us is willing to play an active role in changing America back into a Culture of Belonging, we can expect more brokenness, more poverty, more shattered hearts and lives -- more rejection.

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.