Magazine article The Christian Century

Don Browning Replies

Magazine article The Christian Century

Don Browning Replies

Article excerpt

SMALL DIFFERENCES in analysis and in the use of theological sources can make for big differences in conclusions, even among friends like Homer Ashby and me, who share many of the same commitments. My criticism of "Living Faithfully" and of Ashby's defense of it is that each falls short on social analysis and on the development of relevant Christian themes.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the economic analysis in the report. I agree that the strains of modern capitalism are the main reasons for family change and disruption. The market has pulled married couples away from the supports of extended family, drawn both men and women into its competitive atmosphere, reduced the time working parents have for their children and each other, and forced many workers into lower salaries in the name of efficiency and global competition. And yes, there are growing economic differences in our society between rich and poor that hurt families. Furthermore, we all agree that the cultural values of materialism and individualism compound the negative effects of the market.

My complaint is that Ashby and "Living Faithfully" minimize the effects of these disruptions on families and children and that they are weak on specifying what churches and government can do in response. They mainly pass the buck to the government, leaving a diffuse acceptance of all families as the church's only response.

Though Ashby says the primary purpose of "Living Faithfully" was not to make recommendations but to analyze the reasons families are changing, it does make some proposals, including the general proposal that churches should value "many forms of the family" ("many" suggests that some would not be valued; which ones it doesn't say). It also issues these proposals: society should increase time for families; provide family-sustaining wages; reduce economic and consumer pressures; reduce materialism and individualism; reduce economic forces absorbing family time and pressuring families financially; and not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, class, age, disability or sexual orientation. Nothing is wrong with that series of proposals, but it is certainly not specific.

My colleagues and I at the Religion, Culture and Family Project have specifically addressed several issues. Take taxes (a subject never mentioned in "Living Faithfully"). If the child exemption on income taxes had the same value today that it had when first enacted in 1948, it would be worth $9,000. Shouldn't it be raised? The child credit was recently increased from $600 to $1,000, but it might be raised even higher and given to all families. Some experts want to raise it to $1,500. If "Living Faithfully" wants to help all children in all families, why omit discussing this issue?

What about health insurance for all families? I have proposed a move toward some form of universal health plan as the only way to cover all families. Presbyterians may have supported this move in the past, but why not explicitly argue for it anew within the context of this family-policy document?

What about the marriage-tax penalty that many in Congress think penalizes marriage? Should dual-income married couples pay higher taxes just because their union bounces them into a higher tax bracket? We get no guidance on this issue from "Living Faithfully. …

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