Harvard University Sociologist Says It’s Up to Christians to Intervene in America’s 400-Year Experiment on the Black Family

Jacqueline Rivers, Harvard lecturer on sociology, speaks at Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia, on September 21, 2019. | Karen Rummel

The United States has conducted a 400-year experiment on the black family and it’s incumbent upon Christians to respond to the ongoing crisis, according to a Christian sociologist from Harvard University.

In a lecture titled “America: A four-hundred year experiment on the black family” held in the sanctuary at Truro Anglican Church on Sept. 21, Jacqueline Rivers, a sociologist at Harvard University, exhorted the hundreds in attendance from dozens of local churches to engage the social crises that have afflicted black Americans with all of the available tools, scientific data and the eternal truths of God’s Word.

Rivers’ lecture was given in commemoration of both the launch of the Truro Institute and the 400th anniversary of the slave trade in North America, which began in the Anglican colony of Jamestown.

“We are people of the Spirit. We are Christians. We serve Jesus. And for that reason, the question of the family is all the more important. It’s important because marriage really is an illustration of the relationship not only between Yahweh and Israel but also between Jesus and the Church,” Rivers said.

“In these days when marriage is under so much fire from so many different directions, it’s important for us in the church to engage,” she said, “because if the Holy Spirit is going to use us to address the problem, we need to be well-equipped and understand what the problem is.”

Offering a distinctly sociological analysis, the Harvard lecturer noted that the problems experienced in the black family are not unique to the black family. But as a class of people, African Americans have experienced specific cultural and structural abuses and injustices that no other group in the United States has, she stressed.

Between 1970 and 2010 there was a significant decline in married black women between the ages of 40 and 44, she said. In 1970 the figure was 61 percent; by 2010 it had dropped to 37 percent. While not married, many of those women are still having babies, leading to a rise in out-of-wedlock birthrates.

When the late Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan issued his report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, for which he was widely pilloried, she noted, only 25 percent of black children were born outside of wedlock. By 2005, the figure had risen to approximately 70 percent, a statistic that has remained steady ever since. The latest figures Rivers could find showed that the number had decreased slightly, to 69 percent. This phenomenon has contributed to the ongoing breakdown of families, fueling the scourge of children being raised without both parents, and widening the gap between the races.

“The problem is that this is not just about conforming to some sort of old-fashioned values or to some white cultural stereotypes, or even what the Gospel says. They are actually, in addition to the spiritual ramifications, real tangible effects in the lives of black people, black families because of this retreat from marriage,” Rivers said.

Such a retreat from marriage has, in part, yielded increased poverty rates across the board but especially among blacks. And the earnings gap between married blacks and single black women is not closed when things like the earned income tax credit is taken into consideration. The breakdown in marriage in the black community pre-dates recent decades, Rivers elaborated. Enslaved black people were not allowed to be legally married; their purportedly Christian slaveholders forbade them from doing what the Bible commanded as it pertains to marriage.

By forbidding marriage, the man’s role as husband and father was severely undermined as he was not in a position where he could provide and support his family and neither parent could protect and safeguard their children. Nor could men protect their wives from the slaveholders who would rape them, she explained.

“And this was in an age when men had the unchallenged role of protector and provider. What made this worse was that in slave marriages, the couple would not even live on the same plantation,” Rivers said.

The picture of what life was like from that era which exists in the imaginations of many Americans comes from movies such as “Gone with the Wind” where thousands of slaves dwelled on a large plantation. But the truth is that most enslaved persons lived on small holdings.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter