Is Faith a Force for Good in the Family?
In theory, advocating for strong families should be boringly uncontroversial. After all, most people agree that children deserve to grow up in stable homes in which parents have the time and resources to be good fathers and mothers. In reality, though, family policy is deeply polarizing. That’s tragic, because the stakes are high, especially for disadvantaged children. Much needs to be done here, but one essential first step is good research and hard facts about what helps children, and what harms them.
That’s the mission of the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) in Washington, DC. They’ve been praised by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat for “transforming the culture wars we have into the debates that we desperately need.”
In May 2019, IFS published a rich, multifaceted report titled The Ties that Bind: Is Faith a Global Force for Good or Ill in the Family?. Based on an original survey of 16,474 people in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania, the report looks at the relationship between religion and four important outcomes in families: relationship quality, fertility, domestic violence, and infidelity. Overall, findings indicate that “the family-friendly norms and networks associated with religious communities reinforce the ties that bind; the challenge facing those communities, however, is to build on these strengths to address families who are struggling.” In what has been called a post-familial age, this often eye-opening report deserves a wide readership.
Box Up Crime
Growing up in a deprived estate in East London, Stephen Addison felt he had no choice but to go into a life of crime. Like many adolescents, he found the pull of his peer group to be stronger than parental advice, and became involved with criminal activities at a young age. Stephen’s life changed at the age of twenty when he became a Christian. He went to university and got a business degree but remained concerned about the almost inevitable involvement with gangs and crime for many young people growing up in his neighborhood. Stephen started the youth organization Box Up Crime to offer a way out. Based in the Barking and Dagenham borough of London, the organization goes into schools and community centers to give boxing training and mentoring to young people. They now work with up to six hundred youths each week and are expanding. There has been a 25 percent drop in crime in the areas in which they work, and more importantly, they are providing hope and encouragement to young people who badly need it. Stephen’s message to young people is, “You need to find a positive alternative.” Box Up Crime is there to provide one.
Soymilk versus Civil War
Joseph Malish is a church elder, a trainer, and one of a million refugees from South Sudan living in Uganda. He has another name, too: “Malish Leben.” His new name means milk, and in a country with one of the world’s worst refugee crises, it represents hope for peace.
Malish’s mission is to teach refugees how to transform soybeans into milk. It’s his response to the violence among the country’s tribes, often triggered by disputes over access to pastureland and water for their dairy cattle. Ethnic militias sweep down on unprotected villages, killing people and stealing livestock. Joseph Malish believes soymilk could help end fighting that has caused thousands of deaths and driven millions from their homes.
Malish is one of twenty-five African trainers in the FARM STEW organization, founded with the hope of equipping vulnerable families with skills to prevent hunger, disease, and poverty. FARM STEW is an acronym, standing for eight ingredients required for abundant living: Farming, Attitude, Rest, Meals, Sanitation, Temperance, Enterprise, and Water. In early 2019, FARM STEW launched a new team in South Sudan at the invitation of local churches.
In FARM STEW trainings, as many as forty-two tribes come together, including Nuer and Dinka, two tribes that both prize cattle and milk highly and so have become bitter enemies. At a recent training, Malish (who is multilingual) asked a Nuer to translate for a Dinka. During the eight-hour training, the group worked together preparing local foods. At the end of class, they sat together eating from common pots and drinking soymilk. Many participants said they wanted to come back for more. Joseph Malish predicts that the capacity of refugees to make their own milk could be a key to healing for his nation.
Joy Kauffman, MPH, is a nutritionist who served with the USAID Farmer to Farmer program in Uganda and is the founder and president of FARM STEW.