We need multi-class churches more than multi-ethnic ones
|Yoga: multi-ethnic but not multi-class|
Robert Putnam's Our Kids was a quick but sobering read. His main contention is the growing divide between social class of families - distinguishable not by race but by education. Children coming from high school educated homes (versus college educated homes) are far more likely to be raised by a single parent, fail to attend or graduate from college, be alienated from social institutions like the church, lack formal/informal mentoring, have lower participation rates in extracurricular activities, and spend significantly less time with their parents.
Putnam's narrative form makes the book easier to read than most sociological texts. He tells stories about kids. Each chapter begins with the portrait of two families of the same race but in completely different social classes. He talks about his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio and how black children received opportunities a generation ago that do not exist today. He writes about two Hispanic families in Orange County, California - separated by a couple miles, the educational experiences of the kids could not be more different. One family's kids attend school in fear of their safety. Academics are barely a consideration. The other family's kids feast on a buffet of AP classes and extracurricular activities - the peer pressure of the school pushing towards achievement. Putnam paints similarly contrasting portraits of two black families in Atlanta and two white families in Bend, Oregon.
Putnam describes the divide between high school educated homes and college educated homes as the opportunity gap. This opportunity gap expresses itself in increasing alienation from social support especially with the church. In this interview with Putnam, he says:
And [the opportunity gap] shows up in the amount of support that kids get from their communities. So that, for example, church attendance is down for all kids in America, that's a more general trend, but it's down much more rapidly for working class kids, so working class kids are quite unlikely to be regular church goers, so the kids are increasingly detached from the support of a religious community, and other communities, too, I'm using that as just one example.
Teaching and modeling healthy marriage is one way to effect change, but it's more than that:
Religious communities are really important. I've written a whole book about how important religious communities are, as a source of social support. I think the fact that working class people and working class kids have fallen away from religious communities is really unfortunate. So, I think there is a major role for churches to play, and not just with respect to family structure and marriage, but also with respect to helping these kids. They are desperately alone, these kids are.
This rings true for me. In my work with Asian Americans recovering from substance abuse, I've befriended a couple men who had no college education and little prospect of attaining one. Their perspective of life is radically different from their college educated peers. After graduating from the eighteen-month residential rehabilitation program our church partners, one of the men asked me to help co-sponsor his overseas wife's visa to come to the United States. Given the financial implications, I asked for time to consider his request. He did not respond well. Angrily, he told me friends don't ask questions and that my reaction confirmed the rumor he had heard about Christians - you can't rely on them when the chips are down.
At first I was incensed because he misunderstood my position. Later I felt saddened because over time he had built up an implicit distrust of institutions. He saw me as one more talking head in a long line of authority figures who have slammed the door in his face.
I wish I could tell you there was a happy ending. The reality is neither I nor my church are well-equipped to bridge the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots. The question I'm wrestling with is this:
Are we truly allowing God's kingdom come when we elevate the ideal of the multi-ethnic church where everyone is affluent and educated at the expense of reaching the socially outcast, the poor, and the broken?