Fragmented Families and Silence of the Faithful: How Religious Leaders and Institutions Must Speak Up and Reach Out

Introduction by Mitch Pearlstein

Back in the summer of 2012, American Experiment published a symposium titled Fragmented Families and Splintered Classes: Why So Much Churning? What Can be Done? What Will America Come to Look Like? Among its virtues was its fruitfulness in my unapologetic attempt to borrow and think through good ideas for a book I was in the early stages of writing on the symposium’s third question, the one about the future. That book turned out to be Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future, released last August. It has been well received, so my great thanks once again to the 36 writers who wrote 34 appropriating-rich essays.

It’s now March 2015 and I’m gearing up to write a Minnesota-based report on what religious leaders and institutions in particular can do to reduce nonmarital births, reduce divorce, and slow down the frequency with which people move in and out of romantic relationships, routinely hurting their children, themselves, and the commonweal along the way. In statistical sum, the United States has the highest family fragmentation rates (also known as family breakdown rates) in the industrial world. How high? About 40 percent of all American babies, for instance, come into this life outside of marriage. Other rounded-off proportions include 30 percent for white children, 50 percent for Hispanic children, and 70 percent for African-American children. And divorce rates, even though they have moderated for some groups, remain harmfully high. What to do, once again, to help me more fully grasp matters from multiple angles and viewpoints?

Easy, pull together another American Experiment symposium in which a wide variety of smart and interesting people from across Minnesota and the nation consider questions raised by the title of this new anthology: Fragmented Families and Silence of the Faithful: How Religious Leaders and Institutions Must Speak Up and Reach Out. In a literary coincidence bordering on a numerical miracle appropriate for the occasion, once again I’m grateful to draw on 34 essays written by 36 diverse writers. (Given that I asked upwards of 850 of my closest friends to write on each occasion, winding up with the exact same number of writers and essays each time must suggest something important.)

Without taking anything away from previous American Experiment symposia – we’ve published about eight over the years on a broad range of subjects – there’s something distinctively compelling about this new one. Which I suspect is not surprising given the emotional power and eternal nature of the subjects at hand.  Please follow the link below to read all of the essays.