Hip Hop Conf/Robert Franklin on African American Marriage - 9/04
Smart Marriages ®
Thu Sep 9 15:55:08 EDT 2004
subject: Hip Hop Conf/Robert Franklin on African American Marriage - 9/04
- HIP HOP MARRIAGE CONFERENCE: SEPT 24 & 25, LOS ANGELES
Reminder: The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative Forum, "African
American Healthy Marriage: What's Hip Hop Got To Do With It?" is FREE, but
you must register in advance by Sept 15. Call Gloria Lawlah-Walker at (301)
588-9781, Please alert appropriate agencies/organizations to send youth. I
am attending this one. - diane
- ON STRENGTHENING MARRIAGE IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY
The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy
Sept 6, 2004
> Many of these pastors felt if this (Healthy Marriage) initiative had
> emerged from, say, a nonpartisan agency -- let's say a foundation or
> university or an interfaith group of organizations -- it would have had
> a more promising start with pastors. But for many of them, to hear the
> lead sponsor is HHS [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]
> and this has become a Bush Administration initiative -- many felt that
> they were going to have to figure out other ways to promote marriage and
> family, but didn't want to be used by a politically motivated agent.
. . . .
> Yes, the funding has been slow in coming. As small, informal
> organizations, they still haven't had the wherewithal or capacity to
> compete for these grants.
> The big dollars are going to intermediary organizations who will, as I
> understand it, provide training and technical assistance and some sort
> of grant monies. That sort of trickle-down process just feels like too
> much bureaucracy for what they hoped would be rapid-response funding for
> community crises.
An interview with Robert M. Franklin Jr.
Robert Franklin spoke with the Roundtable about research he has been
involved in over the last 18 months with the Annie E. Casey Foundation,
talking to focus groups of African-American clergy about the role they might
play in promoting healthy marriages in low-income African-American
How do you approach African-American clergy about efforts to promote
One of the things that we tried to do to highlight this issue for busy,
often bivocational, pastors, is to simply note that today the
non-marital birth rate in African-American communities is about 70
percent. We look at some other data that indicates that since the 1970s,
there's been a dramatic decline in marriage rates for African-Americans.
And we look back 100 years, back to the 1890s and 1900s.
What's remarkable is that two-parent African-American households were
about 80 percent (of all African-American households) back in the 1890s,
and yet today, approximately 39-40 percent. So all that makes the case
for having lost significant ground in the arena of stable, healthy
marriages and families.
Now these are leaders who primarily focus on what I refer to as
political goods -- ensuring that minorities have the right to vote, run
for office. Secondly, economic goods --- they have jobs, income, wealth
accumulation, access to capital. Third, what might be called goods of
personal development-access to education, culture and so on.
But healthy families and marriages often doesn't get on the radar screen
of these busy leaders. So we try to call attention to this lost ground
in the post-Civil Rights Movement period, and identify influential
African-American pastors to inquire about what their congregations were
doing to foster healthy relationships -- marriages and families.
It was a two-part conversation -- on the one hand, to elicit from them
sort of "field reports" on what they were doing to promote marriage and
family, and second, for us to share recent research on the state of
marriage and family and child wellbeing, particularly in low-income
We convened several conversations in Baltimore, and in Chicago I
attended and also interviewed pastors in other cities who were attending
the African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative sponsored by the
(federal) Administration for Children and Families (ACF). So all that
data fit into this initial report that we're working on now.
Can you summarize some of the findings that have emerged?
First, that congregations currently do sponsor quite a variety of
marriage and family-friendly ministries and programs -- men's day,
women's day, couples retreats, singles ministries, obviously programs
for youth, for children, increasingly programs that focus on marriage
enrichment, on preventing sexually transmitted diseases, especially
HIV/AIDS, and so on. So we heard a lot of good things are going on, but
the quality of these programs, the resources and the materials employed
in them, is exceedingly uneven. That's one big lesson, and of course a
note of hope.
What do you mean when you say the program quality is uneven?
There's nothing particularly strategic about the work they do -- they're
not generally linked to other, secular nonprofit organizations in their
communities that could assist them with a more formal approach to
relationship education or child service delivery, etc. Also the staffing
and training tends to be quite -- informal is the best way to put it.
They use volunteers who are available and not necessarily people who
have backgrounds, training or education for this delicate work.
Second, a number of pastors, when we told them about the vast number of
marriage enrichment organizations throughout the country -- many of
them, by the way, developed by and largely aimed toward educated,
suburban, affluent, white Americans, college educated -- were intrigued
about these programs, felt they could benefit from the curricula, the
training materials, the input. But many feared that they were risking
their pastoral capital by collaborating with some of these marriage
Can you elaborate on that?
Pastoral capital is the influence, the reputation, the good standing,
that a clergy person enjoys in his or her community, earned over many
years of diligent work, of unselfish service to the community. And many
felt that these materials simply weren't culturally competent and
culturally sensitive. And so the pastors weren't anxious to embrace
uncritically these materials or the organizations and their leaders, but
they did want to explore further possibilities for developing new
approaches to serve their communities.
What were some other findings?
The third was the need to focus on reviving a culture of healthy dating.
One pastor, Rev. Jules Bagneris from Los Angeles, noted that the kids
from African-American churches and communities really don't receive
sufficient guidance about what it means to have a date, and that too
many teenagers felt dating had to involve sex. And so a number of
pastors affirmed this fact and in some ways admitted that they hadn't
taken the lead in providing the intellectual capital needed for
educating young people and others about what it means to have a healthy
The fourth issue was the challenge to reclaiming men. Many felt that the
male investment in marriage and family was at an all-time low, and
steadily declining. Some of them spoke of this in terms of the challenge
in persuading men to trade in their "player's card" for a marriage
license -- a player's card being a street-culture reference to the free
life of the playboy.
And so the notion of monogamous relationships that entail fidelity and
commitment over a long period, and bearing and rearing children, was
really countercultural. And here again, no one in the community was
making the case for marriage, such that it could persuade or get the
attention of these young men. So that was in many respects regarded as
the biggest challenge, especially among women in the group: Would the
church, and especially male pastors, be able to make that case to young
At the ACF Welfare Research & Evaluation Conference in May, you said
many African-American pastors were reluctant to embrace the federal
Healthy Marriage Initiative, which includes a proposal to fund marriage
education through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare
program. Can you discuss that?
Many feel that the government has rarely been a friend to supporting and
building healthy black families, that welfare policy has represented a
threat to building healthy families. So there's a key suspicion about
government investment in marriage and family formation.
Many of these leaders think of themselves as the community's voice of
protection and truth-telling -- the prophets who speak truth to power.
So their natural inclination is to regard a government-sponsored
initiative with some suspicion and extreme caution. It's unfortunate
that the issue of marriage and family and childrearing -- which is in
itself intrinsically important and a politically neutral issue, it's a
human concern -- has become politicized.
Many of these pastors felt if this (Healthy Marriage) initiative had
emerged from, say, a nonpartisan agency -- let's say a foundation or
university or an interfaith group of organizations -- it would have had
a more promising start with pastors. But for many of them, to hear the
lead sponsor is HHS [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]
and this has become a Bush Administration initiative -- many felt that
they were going to have to figure out other ways to promote marriage and
family, but didn't want to be used by a politically motivated agent.
Are you talking to the same groups of clergy over time or different
groups? And if it's the same groups, are you seeing any change in
opinion about the Healthy Marriage Initiative?
We are working with a core group of pastors who are part of the first
focus groups and who continue to be part of the conversation. We also
continue to meet with new groups and different demographic cohorts to
get a pulse read from, say, informally educated pastors in very poor
communities at one end of the spectrum to the very highly educated -- I
mean Ph.D.s and MBAs -- who lead megachurches in excess of 100,000
members. So we're trying to listen carefully in a broad way.
And yes, there has been with our sort of "control group,"some change
there. They continue to have strong cautions, but many have now seen
real potential from a mutually enriching, informing partnership with
government and with secular agencies. I'd say there's a general
openness, but it depends on the value of the product, and willingness to
get together to address some of the unique issues that these pastors
In addition to hesitancy regarding the Healthy Marriage Initiative,
you've said that African-American clergy are increasingly resistant to
the Bush Administration's Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Is that
a finding from this research, or something you are looking at
I think the Faith-Based Initiative did raise expectations and hopes that
have been largely frustrated, as I talk to clergy who had very high
hopes that this would help to reinvigorate their community service,
their community development ministries.
Why are they frustrated? Is it that funding hasn't been there?
Yes, the funding has been slow in coming. As small, informal
organizations, they still haven't had the wherewithal or capacity to
compete for these grants.
The big dollars are going to intermediary organizations who will, as I
understand it, provide training and technical assistance and some sort
of grant monies. That sort of trickle-down process just feels like too
much bureaucracy for what they hoped would be rapid-response funding for
Thank you for speaking with us.
Robert M. Franklin Jr. is the Presidential Distinguished Professor of
Social Ethics at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in
Atlanta, where he is also a senior fellow at the Center for the
Interdisciplinary Study of Religion. He is the former president of the
Atlanta-based Interdenominational Theological Center, a graduate
professional school of theology that has historically trained
African-American clergy, and has been program officer at the Ford
Foundation, with primary responsibility for grants to African-American
churches that provide secular social services.
An ordained minister as well as scholar, Franklin's academic and
community work over the last decade has included efforts, in his words,
to "jumpstart a community-wide conversation about the future of our
families, with an eye toward how we provide the best possible support
and nurture for children."
The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy
Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government
rndtbl at rockinst.org
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