For his latest research, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox stepped out of the ivory tower and relocated to New York City. He and his family spent a year living in Harlem, interviewing pastors and members Of black and Latino churches in their neighborhood, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
Wilcox and co-author Nicholas H. Wolfinger’s analysis appears in the new book Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos (Oxford University Press). The academics reached across ideological aisles to explore the ways Christian faith has bolstered two of the country’s most vulnerable ethnic groups.
A Roman Catholic, Wilcox is perhaps best known to CT readers for his research on marriage. He recently spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about the crucial role of Latino and African American pastors, why they hesitate to preach about sex, and what everyone might learn from his findings.
You’re married, religious, conservative, and have children. Your co-author, Wolfinger, is single, an atheist, progressive, and childless. What compelled you to write a book together?
The academy is pretty divided, ideologically speaking. Most scholars, particularly in sociology, have a more progressive and often more secular perspective on the world than do ordinary Americans. There are few opportunities for scholars who don’t share the same ideological commitment to engage in a meaningful way. Despite our differences, Wolfinger and I share a commitment to the truth and to trying to understand what’s happening in the data. For people who are skeptical of our empirical claims about marriage and church, it’s important to underline the fact that a progressive was also doing the statistics.
What’s the main takeaway of your research?
For the nation’s two largest minority groups, Latinos and African Americans, Christianity plays an unheralded role in fostering stronger marriages and families. Faith does this in part by fostering what sociologist Elijah Anderson terms a “code of decency.” It’s a code associated with hard work, the Golden Rule, and steering clear of substance abuse and illegal behavior. This code is particularly helpful to churchgoing black and Latino men, redounding to not only their benefit but also spouses, partners, and families.
We find, for instance, that churchgoing minority men are much more likely to get married than peers who don’t attend church. More generally, faith fosters solidarity among families and couples in particular . . . This may be why, for instance, church attendance is associated with higher-quality relationships among both blacks and Latinos.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview conducted by Morgan Lee