Studies Find Evangelical Protestants are “Better” Fathers than Others

( [email protected] ) Jun 18, 2004 04:41 AM EDT

A new study of various polls that were conducted over a period of 30 years found that evangelical Protestant men were “better” at fathering their children than men in any other religious or unreligious category.

"Evangelical Protestant dads come out on top compared with every religious group in the U.S.," said the University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who conducted the study.

Wilcox analyzed data from three large surveys, including the government’s National Survey of Families and Households, which were regularly conducted in the years between 1972 and 1999. Upon his research, Wilcox concluded that evangelical Protestant fathers had greater family involvement and less domestic violence than Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, mainline protestant and other fathers.

Religion "domesticates men in ways that make them more attentive to the ideals and aspirations of their wives and children,” said Wilcox, who is a Catholic. "Religious congregations give young families social support and enforce certain norms about what it means to be a good father.”

Meanwhile, the same category of men was found to be less likely to help share domestic responsibilities with their wives. Fifty eight percent of evangelical protestant husbands – including Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and non-denomination evangelicals – said they believe men should focus on breadwinning while women should focus on homemaking. Comparatively, only thirty seven percent of unchurched men said they believe the same.

Upon analyzing this data, sociologist Scott Coltrane at the University of California-Riverside concluded that the patriarchal teachings of evangelical Protestantism might in fact harm the family.

"Some churches teach that fathers are the head of the family, and that there is a pecking order with women and children at the bottom," said Coltrane. "Fathers who do everyday things like cooking and putting their kids to bed feel less entitled to the services of the wife and have more equal relationships with their wives."

However, Richard Land – the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, explained in his column entitled, “Paul, Women and the Church,” that while Christian teachings do distinguish the male and female role, they do not promote inequality between the two.

“The Apostle Paul, and the Bible in general, teach an equality between the sexes that is expressed through the way in which they complete (Gen. 2:18-25) each other, as opposed to a gender neutrality that would obliterate distinctive male and female roles,” explained Land.

“In a culture where wives were considered the property of their husbands, Paul commands Christian husbands to submit to their wives by loving them as Christ loved the church and to fulfill his God-given responsibility to protect, provide for, and lead the family in a godly manner. How did Christ love the church? With agape love--the Greek word for spiritual love--which He modeled by giving His life for the church. It is this agape love that transforms worldly ideas of submission from dominance and subservience to those of humility and service,” he continued in his May column.

“We should all remember that there are many kinds of submission. There is submission to the divine authority of the Bible, and then there is submission to the pervasive pressure of a secular culture which rejects Scripture's authority when it finds itself in disagreement with biblical teaching. God inspired Paul to warn Christians: "Do not conform yourselves to the standard of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God--what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect." (Rom. 12:2, Today's English Version),” he concluded.

Wilcox agreed, saying that evangelical protestant fathers are in fact very loving and affectionate to their family despite their oft-strict and patriarchal frontage.

"There was a sense that they were authoritarian parents," Wilcox said to USA Today. "But my personal observations led me to believe that they were strict but affectionate parents.”

More information on Wilcox’s study can be found in his new book, entitled, “Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands.”