Overall I agree with the direction of FaithWorld’s questions on MARRIs release of the Index of Belonging and Rejection, but first a few clarifications (followed by almost-disagreements):

1: I am Catholic, not Evangelical (though FRC is an Evangelical organization. It does believe in religious freedom and builds across honest divides rather than keeping them.)

2: I would have gladly put in the religious attendance data but Census NEVER collects such data though I wish they would (other federal surveys do and the American Community Survey would be so much better if it did). I hope you will push for that.

3: We have covered this anomaly (high worship and low marriage) and brought lots of attention to it. See our own study which does this —- based on the federal National Child Health Survey

4: Bill O’Hare, former editor of the Kids Count from the Annie E Casey Foundation was the first I know of to point out this anomaly. (Mississippi is the highest weekly church attending state but the lowest intact-family state). This clearly points to a family / marriage crisis within the church. Probably most within the Black church — but not solely there. One cannot call oneself a serious Christian (unless one also calls oneself an unreformed one and a sinner) while simultaneously breaking universal Christian doctrine on sex and marriage. This bears further digging into.

5: All the deep digging into the relationship between religious practice and marital stability points to a very clear and very strong relationship between both. (We have a review of that literature coming up on our website in the next few months. This will only heighten the anomaly, not diminish it.

(a) Our Mapping America Project , drawing on federal surveys only, repeatedly illustrates that the intact family that worships weekly is the strongest social unit and the most productive by far. So weekly religious practice and marriage are very important for the strength of the country. Let’s not pit one against the other.

(b) What one can likely take from the data is that if the Southern states did not have the high levels of worship they do have they would be in an even worse situation.

6: The Mormon states do very well and overall most exemplify (at the state level) this strength of relationship, a relationship which holds across all denominations. There is clearly grist for the Christian church-leadership mill here.

7: Our data point towards a need for reform within the church. History teaches two lessons about Christianity: practiced it yields enormous benefits, talked about but not practiced it yields untold suffering and it a great cause for scandal and shame.

10: The history of Christianity is a history of reform upon reform upon reform. Seems like we need it again.. at least that is what I take from the data.

8: As I hope this will make clear (and I hope FaithWorld will notice) MARRI is interested in the truth, not ideological point-scoring. There is much to unravel in the tension between the macro data (state level marriage vs. worship data) and micro data (the greater the religious attendance/ prayer the stronger and more stable the marriage). But it is precisely these “contrary” data that are the source of intellectual breakthrough.

9: To add to this dilemma: The social sciences (to date and probably always) cannot measure the heart (the inner workings, desires, cover-ups, prayers — or lack thereof). It is confined to measuring externalities —- measurable behaviors and words. Getting to the hidden interiorities is beyond its competence. Christ excoriated the religious leaders of his time for what was not in their heart even as the externals looked rather devout. We may be in the same situation. I know I often am.