Family Matters: The Role of Christianity in the Formation of the Western Family

Family Matters: The Role of Christianity in the Formation of the Western Family

Family Matters: The Role of Christianity in the Formation of the Western Family

Family Matters: The Role of Christianity in the Formation of the Western Family


Family Matters recounts the two thousand year struggle of Christianity to reform the Western family in accord with the words of its founder. Jesus' affirmation of the equality of husband and wife before God as well as of the extraordinary value of ordinary children sustained Christian leaders in their efforts to improve the relationships between husband and wives as well as between parents and children. Whether it was the abolition of Roman laws regarding the right of a father to kill his children or challenging the right of royalty to divorce their wives at whim, Christianity has repeatedly played a central role in transforming the values underlying the changing Western Family. The author describes the sometimes seemingly contradictory role of Christian movements in shaping the American family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demonstrating the singular significance that religion holds for the family. The author focuses on how in the last fifty years disparate Christian movements have effectively intensified their efforts to strengthen American families over against the wider culture that often appears hostile to the family.



The present work documents the influence of religion, specifically Christianity, on the development of family life in the West. While it is certainly true that other factors impact the life of the family, the thesis argued here is that none has been more significant than religion and no surrogate has yet been found for its beneficial influence on the family. To state my conclusion in advance, the healthy family as we know it today would not exist but for the profound influence of religion, especially Christianity, through the ages.

Political and economic factors do represent significant limiting factors in familial relationships, whether they be between husband and wife or parent and child. Dire economic conditions may necessitate the abandonment of one or more children in order to assure the survival of other family members—a tragic dilemma which parents faced throughout most of Western history and which still pertains to several stricken lands. Yet the manner of the abandonment and the consequent life of the abandoned, as well as the affective relationships among the remaining family members, will be determined more by their cultural and attitudinal perspectives, than by economic factors.

Likewise, political factors can restrict familial expression, including size of the family, but the quality of family life will be most significantly determined by cultural and particularly religious factors. Social psychologists have noted that associational patterns and the nature of commitment in religious and familial institutions have much in common, and differ importantly from . . .

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