Magazine article National Forum

The Family under Siege by Its "Friends"

Magazine article National Forum

The Family under Siege by Its "Friends"

Article excerpt

The person who reads the publications or listens to the pronouncements of the Christian Right cannot escape the emphasis on the family and "family values." An undiscerning individual easily might conclude that at last the family has found the friend it has needed in dealing with the crises it faces. That conclusion is not surprising because the Christian Right often leaves the impression that it owns the word "family" along with sole understanding of its problems. It thinks it speaks for God.

Others who have so much experience and insight to share--people in schools, the behavioral sciences, agencies public and private, and the broader religious community--are dismissed either as "liberal" or "secular humanists." Thus, freed of self-doubt, the Christian Right paints itself as the family's only friend but too often brings shallow analysis and simplistic answers to complex problems.

The concern that makes people vulnerable to superficial answers is fed by their sense of the importance of the family. The family is the "people making" institution in society. Within the family an individual's identity is formed. As children are held, talked to, and passed around to others, they begin to develop first a sense of belonging and later a separate identity. Within the context of the expanded family, a child develops attitudes about self, others, work, play, and possessions, as well as a sense of right and wrong. Students of their history suggest that the roots for moral values in society arose from the family. While other influences ultimately affect the person, the first and most powerful influence for developing self-esteem and character is the family. Consequently, everything that undermines the family erodes the whole fabric of society.

A part of people's panic comes from the mistaken notion that the family has changed only recently. This notion makes it easier for them to be led to believe some specific person or force is to be blamed--such as the media or Washington--and that a simple solution can be found. But the family is the oldest of all institutions, having preceded religious institutions, schools, and governments. It has never been static but is always changing, always living with new threats and opportunities.

What casual observers fail to realize is that during the past centuries the family has lost many of its original functions yet has remained family. At one time the family was the place where most work was done, education took place, people worshiped, and justice was meted out. Now work has been moved to an office or a factory, education has been taken over by schools, the church claims authority in religion, and government attempts to administer justice. So change is not new to the family.

If the Christian Right represented nothing but the ranting of some isolated and irrelevant pulpit it could be ignored, but that is not the case. Its ideas are being preached by pastors of mega-churches whose sermons are syndicated on cable television. They are promoted by gurus on the family whose successful radio and television shows have generated huge mailing lists and millions of dollars. Several publishing houses are feeding the public's appetite for printed material. Add to this the host of politicians who have been elected to office while running on the "family values" ticket and are now busy working on "fixing" the family from Washington. The Christian Right's success is not so much tied to its understanding of the problems as to its ability to use rhetoric to tap the anxiety that exists about the problems which are affecting the family. This is rhetoric coated with piety ---old words but with new meanings. Consequently, it seems necessary to raise a few caution flags.

Bible Families

The makeup of families in society is amazingly diverse, a fact that makes it impossible to sew a "one size fits all" garment in which to dress the family. Yet the Christian Right holds up as a norm the "June and Ward Cleaver" type of the family--an authoritative husband who works outside the home, a submissive wife who is a full-time homemaker, and obedient children. …

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