We all like to know, if we possess something considered valuable, whether it is authentic, or is it just a fake. When it comes to questions of faith, it is easy to see flaws for we all have them. Even the original disciples of Christ certainly had their problems early on until they decided that they were truly going to surrender their lives completely at whatever the cost. When we examine the effects of any religion on general society or a large segment of society, we should be able to find a general effect upon that society that is measurable and consistently attributable to the influence that the religion has upon its adherents. With regard to the Christian faith, when we look at different regions of our country, we should be able to find that areas of the country in which faith is claimed also have a resultant effect that is measurable and consistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.
Marriage between a man and a woman with children born after that relationship is solemnized, followed by raising of those children together as mother and father, certainly are well accepted as being consistent with effects of Christian faith upon people’s lives who state that they are Christians. While it is more difficult to look at individual lives, the general effect of claimed Christian faith upon society as a whole should be able to be seen when examined. If that effect is not seen when scrutinized, it naturally brings forth questions. The first question that many ask, certainly among those who do not accept Christian faith, is whether that faith is fake and not effectual in the lives of those who claim it. Another deeper way to examine this would be to consider whether that, without the faith, the measured effects would be much more negative without it at all, with the measured effect biased by differences in segments of society. Considering that we are looking at general statistics, if an area of the country has a higher claimed rate of faith, one would expect a difference to be seen with regard to rates of unwed pregnancies and homes without a father present in the home. To get more specific, should we not see positive effects, in areas of our country that have higher claimed rates of Christianity, with lower rates of unwed pregnancies and fathers present in homes more commonly? Sadly, this is not the case in these examined areas. Many in the secular media immediately leap upon that easiest of answers and claim that Christian faith does not, therefore, have any positive effect, but actually is detrimental in societies in which it is more widely embraced. Should Christians just brush these accusations off and not address them? Certainly not. “’But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15; NKJV).
According to Pew Research Center, a little over 70% of Americans identify as Christians with evangelical Protestants being most common at 25.4% followed by Catholics at 20.8% of the population. According to the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (https://www.namb.net/Population_Church_Ratios), Mississippi has the highest per capita rate of Southern Baptist churches in the nation at approximately 1,300 people per church. In comparison, the state of Delaware has about 23,000 people per Southern Baptist church. In regard to the relative number of places of worship in general, West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, Alabama, & Utah have the most in descending order; Delaware is at 16th on the list and Nevada is the lowest. If you look at statistics of how many people click that they “Like” prayer on Facebook, in descending order of incidence, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming occupy the top seven spots. Looking at the top seven states with the highest to lowest relative number of those attending worship services, the list changes somewhat: Utah, North Dakota, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and South Dakota. In Maine, only about 28% of the population regularly attend worship services while in Utah, about 79% of the population does. Looking at a county level, every state has at least one county where at least 45% attend worship services regularly. There is great variability among the counties, but on a state level, it is clear that many southern states top the list with claimed adherence to many qualities that one would expect with Christian faith.
Now the rubber meets the road. Does the car drive good or does it just look good from the outside? Jesus Christ stated, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28; NKJV). Jesus Christ also stated, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7: 17-20; NKJV). Therefore, it important for us to know what we should know, but also to know how we are known. “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV). We need to examine ourselves and look into the mirror to see our own reflection. Is how we think we look, how we really look? Is it cultural, or is it true character? James 1: 22-24 (NKJV), reads, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” Let us take a look into the mirror, analyze what we see, learn from it, remember it, and then work on changing, with God’s help, what we see that we do not like to even think about, much less behold.
Pew Research lists Mississippi and Alabama as the highest the nation in regard to prevalence of religious people (77%) versus 33% in Massachusetts and 39% in many other NE states where they also have the lowest unwed pregnancy rates, such as Delaware. Mississippi has the highest rate in the nation of unwed pregnancies (despite similar sexual activity rates in Mississippi and Delaware (powertodecide.org)) with a rate of 53% versus 39% for country as a whole; some counties in Mississippi have rates of 70%. Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of single mother households with no father present (https://www.statista.com/statistics/242302/percentage-of-single-mother-households-in-the-us-by-state/). With surveys showing that 80% of young, unmarried Christians have had sex, with 2/3 of them within the last year, it is apparent that there is disconnection between what is being practiced and stated in belief; according to a Gallop survey, 76% of evangelical Christians still believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/premarital-sex-and-our-love-affair-with-bad-stats/).
It is very easy to make associations, but properly interpreting those associations is harder. Many times, what people see is what they are wanting to see. Many secular media seize upon the material just presented as evidence that their non-biblical worldview is justified. Just because someone walked down the same street as a murderer during the same hour means that there is an association between them, but not any more than that they walked down the same street. So, how are we to look at these facts that paint a poor picture? That depends upon who is doing the painting and also who is looking at it.
Part of the answer with regard to higher unwed pregnancy rates, but similar sexual activity rates, between Mississippi and Delaware, for example, is the rate of abortion (https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/state-indicator/abortion-rate). Also, Mississippi has a lower rate of birth control usage relative to other states. Maybe some of it is a psychological effect of being told not to do something so much that it is thought about more and then acted on more than if it were not being fought against as much (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-beast/201208/do-religious-people-have-hotter-sex-life).
The “National Survey of Reproductive and Contraceptive Knowledge” shows that 42% of unmarried evangelicals ages 18-29 are currently in a sexual relationship compared to 52% of everyone else. Ten percent of young, unmarried evangelicals have had sex, but not in the past year, while 20% have never had sex. The percentages go down to 6% and 12% respectively when looking at the sexual patterns of all other unmarried 18-29-year-olds. However, to look at this survey in more depth, there is an oversampling of minorities which is occurred in their survey methods. Using 2010 census numbers, 63.7%, 16.3%, and 12.2% of the population, representing whites, Hispanics, and blacks, respectively, are present, but in their survey, the representations were 50%, 22%, and 20%. When it is considered that 24%, 40%, and 67%, of the same respective households are single-parent homes (http://datacenter.kidscount.org), this has the ultimate effect of making it appear that there is greater promiscuity than it really is, although this does not diminish the fact that it is large percentage anyway.
These same ethnic groups which have higher rates of unmarried pregnancies and single-parent homes appear to make conservative, southern states (which have higher proportions of these ethnic groups) look as though a Christian lifestyle is only preached, but not lived: “Red states such as Alabama and Texas, on the other hand, have lower levels of teens growing up with married parents both because they have lower education levels and because they have high proportions of black or Hispanic residents, whose families are less stable on average than white and Asian families. The educational and ethnic factors overwhelm the predominantly conservative orientations of the state populations in these Southern states. Thus, the red state model does not appear to be successful in the American South” (https://ifstudies.org/blog/red-state-families-better-than-we-knew). Brad Wilcox wrote in his article, “No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/28/no-republicans-arent-hypocrites-on-family-values-215873), “What’s also fascinating about looking at the individual data is that it suggests that the relatively fragile state of families in the Republican South does not apply as much to individual Republicans in the South. Indeed, in both the North and the South, Republican parents are at least 9 percentage points more likely to be in their first marriage, compared with Democrats and independents. The figure also reveals how the ecological fallacy works: Just because the Republican South has more family fragility does not mean that Republican families are fragile. In fact, Republican parents in the South are more likely to be in their first marriage than Democratic and independent parents in the North. In other words, even though Southerners in general are at greater risk of family instability than Northerners, Republicans in the South enjoy markedly higher levels of family stability than their fellow citizens—a family stability advantage that puts them above Democrats and independents in the North. Another way to put this: It’s blue and purple Americans in the South who are really pulling down family stability in the South, not red Americans.” Even though these articles are discussed from a political perspective, it is true that general statistics cannot be applied on an individual level. However, given the fact that many Southern states claim such high rates of adherence to Christian practices and ideals, the variance in the more general, state-based statistics is not completely explained by the individual differences of race and ethnicities, although the effect is very significant to explain the higher state-based rates of unwed pregnancies and fatherless homes. Political party identification is one way to look at this issue, but identification with Christ is very high in Southern states, as discussed in the beginning of this article, and more than the “red” versus “blue” state method of analyzing this takes into account. Could this also be explained from the standpoint that in many southern states, it is fashionable and culturally acceptable to proclaim faith in Christ, to state that one attends church somewhere, to talk about prayer, and acknowledge God? Those who get serious about really believing what they say they do are religious fanatics though to many. In 2 Timothy 3, we can read about the characteristics of those “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (verse 5; NKJV). “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” (Titus 1:16; NJKV).
What can be done about this? Many people offer up the usual reply that we just need more birth control. With that, we see sexually transmitted disease rates continuing to rise despite the higher rates of birth control methods used. Lower teen pregnancy rates are attributed mainly to higher rates of contraception. However, just preventing pregnancies with higher rates of birth control has not resulted in lower rates of unwed pregnancies and fatherless homes, which are continuing to rise.
Another approach is what is being done through Crisis Pregnancy Centers across our country. One such example is at Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic (http://parkgateclinic.com/) in Tupelo, MS. Jessica Roy is the Development Director at the non-profit that offers ultrasound & pregnancy confirmation to women and men facing an unplanned pregnancy. They teach WAIT Training Curriculum (Center for Relationship Education) through their MPower Program to over 4,000 students each year in schools in their area. Jessica recently shared that the clinic has seen a 15% increase in the number of students who state that they made a decision to wait until marriage for sex. They have seen 79% of those with “risky” behavior make decisions to “start with a clean slate”. Also, the clinic has recorded a 13% decrease in the number of students who believe it is okay to have sex before marriage if in a relationship.
Preventing unwanted pregnancies is certainly one way to reduce fatherlessness but preventing the behavior that causes it is only possible through changing the mindset of people. Educational programs such as that provided in the previous paragraph help, but only an approach that involves a change of heart affects the mindset to a greater degree. Christian based programs certainly focus on trying to influence those who are aided by their ministry to seek a change of heart through acceptance of Christ’s offer of forgiveness and the changes that come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when salvation is experienced. No one can really change their own heart; that is something only Christ can do. Understanding this, it brings us back to the beginning of this article: Is the faith that is claimed by so many, especially in the South, truly authentic? If it were, works consistent with the Christian faith would verify it.
How can people in the South who by and large claim to be Christian live the faith that they claim to have? By actually being a Christian in the beginning is the means of living out the faith that is attested to in those surveys which show the Deep South states with such high rates of Christian faith. Churches have largely forgotten discipline within the churches and it is easier to join many churches than it is to join a social club in the same city. When people do not feel that something costs them something, they are likely to value it as worth just what they paid for it. This is not preaching of salvation based upon works, but salvation evidenced by those works. In James 2:18 (NKJV), we read, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
If the rate of religiousness is going to translate in better behavior, it cannot be from a source of just religiousness, but of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the true, authentic Christian enabling that person to live out the Christian life as exemplified in the Bible. “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7; NKJV).