Alongside arguments for maternity leave centered on health, wellbeing, and economics, a pro-life case for paid leave has slowly developed within the church.
Now, research shows that Christians are actually more likely than the average American to support paid parental leave—as long as they aren’t white.
The vast majority of black and Hispanic believers, at higher levels than any other demographic, say new moms and dads should be offered paid leave from work, according to the Pew Research Center.
Pew data provided to CT revealed that 90 percent of black Protestants—a number that includes evangelicals—and 85 percent of Hispanic Catholics think mothers should get paid leave. White evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants, meanwhile, showed lower levels of support than average, with just over three-quarters endorsing paid leave for moms.
“As a result of a history living with injustice, I imagine black Protestants—and likely black people in general—have a greater awareness that many working women cannot afford to take unpaid leave after giving birth or adopting a child,” said Patrice Gopo, a writer on race and parenting.
Gopo previously wrote for CT Women about the need to expand the “mommy wars” conversation:
When we talk about “motherhood,” we usually are talking about that small minority: primarily white women with a spouse and a certain level of financial means. Our limited scope ignores the reality that many women in the United States (and the world) are not in positions to make these choices. And for women of color able to make these choices, they may come to that position much differently than their white counterparts.
Overall, people still see moms as the biggest priority; more Americans back paid maternity leave, whether covered by employers or the government, than paid paternity leave. For dads, 76 percent of black Protestants and 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics supported paid leave, compared to 62 percent of white evangelicals and 64 percent of white mainliners, Pew found.
African Americans’ high levels of support for paid leave reflects to their tendency to feel “less supported” or “left behind” in a society still reeling from racial injustice, according to Lisa Robinson, a Christian blogger and anti-poverty advocate in the Dallas area. “It makes sense to me,” she said.
Robinson advised that churches should pay attention to these concerns and the lack of support many black families, sometimes providing “tangible support to families whether it be monetary or assisting with childcare needs.” “After all,” she said, “this is what the church is called to do anyway.”
For years, paid leave advocates have made the case that it’s better for moms, babies, and even businesses themselves when new parents can dedicate time to staying home in the early weeks.
“Black Protestants are perhaps more likely to recognize that in the absence of paid leave, this ability to be with a new child isn’t feasible for all,” Gopo said. “Making this option universally available may very well be another way of loving our neighbors as ourselves and caring for some of the youngest members of our society, issues always important to the church.”
Recently, as more companies and municipalities have upped their benefits, religious employers like the Archdiocese of Chicago have followed with their own paid leave plans. However, they’re still the exception.
“From my own experience, while black Protestants are more supportive of maternity leave, black churches (especially autonomous denominations including Baptist, Pentecostal, and nondenominational) are least likely to provide paid maternity leave,” said Nicole Massie Martin, executive minister at The Park Church in North Carolina and a mom of two.
In churches and other Christian workplaces, female staff—who take more time off with a new baby—are almost always in the minority. Early generations might have assumed evangelical women would stop working to stay home after having their first kid. Evolving social and theological expectations are keeping women at work, making this issue harder to ignore.
“The greater percentage of Baptist churches don’t give parental leave policy much thought until a woman staff member either brings the subject up or is pregnant,” Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, told Baptist News Global. “The conversation can move from being a healthy policy discussion to feeling very personal and reactionary for that minister.”
Even when women are lucky enough to get leave, the pressure female clergy face to prove themselves to their colleagues can keep them from taking it, the story said.
Martin shared that her friends who also work for churches often felt a bit marginalized when they returned after giving birth: “accused of not working as diligently, criticized for not being more present to the congregation, having to fight for a space to pump.”
CT Women has previously written about maternity leave policies at evangelical seminaries, generous maternity leave as a form of Christian witness, and the benefits of paternity leave.