Study finds evangelical
marriages share load
___By Mark Wingfield
___Conservative evangelical couples such as Southern Baptists live out more egalitarian marriages than their public rhetoric about male leadership would indicate, according to a new study.
___Likewise, conservative evangelical parents, while more likely than others to enforce strict discipline including spanking, balance that with more warmth and love than other parents, a related study finds.
___The research by Bradford Wilcox and John Bartkowski is part of an ongoing study of family relations within evangelical Protestantism. Parts of this research recently have been published in the American Sociological Review and a specialty journal called The Responsive Community.
___Wilcox recently completed a fellowship at the Brookings Institution and is a doctoral student in sociology at Princeton. Bartkowski teaches sociology at Mississippi State University.
___"The reality is that the family practice of evangelicals on the ground confounds the denunciations of left-leaning cultural elites and the proscriptions of evangelical elites," the authors report in The Responsive Community's summer issue.
___"What we call the 'evangelical family paradox' is best summarized as follows: Evangelical family practice doesn't match evangelical family rhetoric. When it comes to the practice of family life, evangelical men and women act in ways that parallel or are in fact more communitarian than other Americans."
___Wilcox and Bartkowski find that evangelical Christian couples are no different than other American couples in how they deal with family finances, child-rearing, work decisions and the division of household labor. They cite only two exceptions: evangelical couples are more likely to say the husband takes the lead in "spiritual matters" and evangelical couples are more likely than other American couples to report high levels of marital satisfaction.
___They note that even the mainstream language used by conservative evangelicals has changed in recent years to talk about husbands as "servant-leaders" rather than emphasizing their "headship."
___"This discursive innovation allows evangelical men and women to retain their allegiance to the symbolic authority of men, even as they adopt behaviors more in keeping with the norms of their non-evangelical friends, neighbors and co-workers," the researchers explain. "Moreover, it allows evangelicals to express--symbolically if not practically--their moral superiority over these very same non-evangelical friends, neighbors and co-workers."
___To illustrate the paradox of evangelical family life, Wilcox and Bartkowski focus on what they find to be a more loving, warm and involved parenting style by both evangelical mothers and fathers.
___"When it comes to parenting, evangelicals--especially evangelical men--are in many ways more communitarian than other Americans," they report. "The single exception to this pattern is that evangelical parents spank their toddlers and preschoolers more often than other parents."
___Yet the flipside to the spanking is a greater display of warmth and affection, they add. "We find that evangelical mothers praise and hug their children more often than do other mothers. More surprisingly, we also find that evangelical fathers are more likely to practice this kind of expressive parenting.
___"In fact, we find that evangelical fathers are more involved with their children than other fathers. They have dinner with their children and volunteer for youth activities like soccer and Scouts more than other fathers."
___Wilcox analyzed these parenting factors in depth by isolating data from the National Survey of Families and Households, a huge database gathered in 1987 and 1988 that covers a broad range of topics.
___Among his findings:
___ "Theological conservatism is associated with a greater propensity to praise and hug one's preschool children very often." In fact, the more conservative a person is classified theologically, the greater the likelihood he or she hugs and praises children, he found.
___ The same increase in hugging and praising was found in evangelical parents of school-aged children.
___ This increase in hugging and praising children is not due solely to more evangelical mothers staying home with their children nor to more frequent church attendance reported by evangelical families, although those factors may have some influence on school-aged children.
___ It's not membership in a conservative evangelical church that makes a difference, but identifying with the core religious ideology of such churches.
___ Greater warmth in parenting by evangelicals has been fueled by evangelicals' embrace of church-based psychological and therapeutic ideals, such as those advanced by James Dobson and Focus on the Family.
___In conclusion, Wilcox notes that "a distinctive neo-traditional parenting style has emerged among the most culturally committed conservative Protestants."
___"This style is traditional in that it maintains the classical Protestant emphasis on the sinfulness of human nature and the attendant need for strict framing rules to address child misbehavior," he explains. "However, it may be viewed as innovative in that it harnesses theological and psychological values to framing rules that dictate a warm, expressive style of parenting for most parent-child interaction."
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