- Time with children and in church helps build deep familial and spiritual connections, while also creating more resilient communities. Tweet This
- Now is the moment for policy makers to seriously think about how to promote faith and give communities the family- and faith-friendly tools they need to engage more if they desire. Tweet This
With the recent birth of my daughter, a phrase that was repeatedly declared to me during my time in Germany almost two decades ago has resurfaced in my mind, and I realize more every day just how right the Germans were for invoking it.
I heard the phrase, “Kinder and Kirche,” or “children” and “church,” regularly during my time at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and elsewhere in the city whenever I complained that so many places were habitually closed on Sundays. As a then-Jewish graduate student visiting Germany, I wanted to experience as much as I could in my limited time abroad and found myself extremely frustrated that so much was simply shut down. It was explained to me that time on Sundays was intended to be spent with families and on faith, which stems from the 1956 Ladenschlussgesetz or "Shop Closing Law." From my many experiences and discussions, Germans spend time with their friends and families and in their communities during this time, while activities like answering email, doing a bit of extra work, or shopping are not acceptable. People are expected to be present and focused on real human connection.
As an American who saw Sundays as a chance to shop, consume, and explore, this was incredibly vexing, but I was, of course, just out of college. Almost 20 years and two children later, I now see the wisdom of these German ideas, and I wish we could adopt a similar mindset in the United States. Time with children and in church helps build deep familial and spiritual connections, while also creating more resilient communities.
Imagine if Sundays were less busy, commerce and work were not as central to our lives, and Americans had more time just one day a week to be more involved in worship and service to our communities. The positive social benefits could be significant.
New research has revealed that these positive externalities are quite noteworthy. For example, almost half of Americans who attend services a few times a month or more often believe they are living the American Dream, compared to a little under a third of those attending a few times a year or less often. This is not only a real difference but a clear indication that communities of faith impact outlook.
Moreover, when Americans are asked about the importance of contributing to one’s wider residential community, about a third who attend services a few times a year or less believe that contributing to one’s community is essential. In contrast, over half of those who attend church a few times a month or more think communal contributions are essential—an appreciably higher proportion.
In addition to religious institutions helping prime wider community engagement, the data demonstrates that engagement improves marriage rates—another institution that strengthens communities. For those over 26, almost two-thirds who regularly attend religious services are married, compared to just over half who do not regularly attend services. Divorce is twice as high for those who are religiously disconnected, compared to those who regularly attend services. And regular church goers are a bit more likely to have children under 18 living at home compared to those who do not regularly attend.
As the nation re-emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and stories of multi-generational families reconnecting flood the media, perhaps now is the moment for policy makers to seriously think about how to promote faith and give communities the family- and faith-friendly tools they need to engage more if they desire.
Given Germany’s clear line on work and pausing for family—which is not without controversy though a majority of those living in Germany support the continued practice—it is no surprise that Germany is regularly rated far above the U.S. in terms of the happiness of its residents. That being said, Germany is not a case study of perfection, nor is religion thriving there. Like the United States, which has witnessed a huge rise in persons of no faith, as well as a decline in attendance and membership levels, little more than half of Germans are members of a church today. However, policies remain that put families front and center—from parental leave time to child care guarantees that the U.S. does not have—and Germany is an economic and innovative powerhouse.
As President Biden and many in Congress push for countless new programs that grow the reach of government, citizens should ask for more support around time for faith and family. This is not suggesting that the government regulate personal time but simply help make kinder and kirche easier for millions of Americans. The pandemic laid bare just how precious these pillars of human connection are in our digital world, and we have clear evidence demonstrating just how critical these institutions are toward promoting community stability and connectivity. Biden and Congress should prioritize family and faith—the social infrastructure that has been the backbone of our nation and communities for over two centuries.
Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.