What good is religion? Ask mothers at the margins of society!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Famous TV Moms“Mother.”

Read that word and you’re likely to think of your own Mom. Beyond that, you are likely to remember the thousands of TV Moms we’ve known in network series and commercials. TV images of women are increasingly diverse—but the truth is: White, middle-class women remain the dominant image of motherhood in American culture.

If you’re looking for the true impact of religion in America—and you’re only thinking about these stereotypical Moms—then you’re missing a major part of the family portrait of faith.

In large studies and in-depth interviews, researchers are finding many mothers on the margins of society—whether they are suffering with AIDS in Uganda or living in poverty in the Northeast or in a maximum-security prison in the Midwest—rely on religion and spirituality for a pathway beyond despair to having a sense of hope for the future. Their stories reveal a powerful faith that provides a vision of a better life for them and their children.

Consider these findings from recent studies:

Homeless mothers who feel forgiven by God and are able to forgive themselves and others are significantly more likely to have better mental health, one study found. The “results clarify some of the pathways that may help mothers exit homelessness or avoid it entirely,” said researchers at Arizona State University.

About seven in eight mothers attending an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, reported spirituality helped them with their circumstances, according to a study of 162 sub-Saharan Africans. “Even if friends and family rejected them, women could still find acceptance in the present—and even hope for the future—through their relationship with God,” researchers at Brigham Young University found.

And, prayer was a special source of strength for incarcerated mothers, one study of women in a maximum-security prison found. Talking to God in prayer also gave mothers a sense of hope for the future, even if they had no practical hope to ever leave the prison system, according to a study at Wingate University.

Do these findings surprise you?

Have you seen examples of marginalized women, or men, who feel they are sustained by their faith?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Leaning Inward—Mothers at the margins find hope, support in faith,” at the ARDA website.

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