Here’s more from my Milwaukee presentation on Family Ministry. I mentioned another reason why I’m so passionate about family ministry: I’m angry at how the word family has been co-opted by political conservatives and the religious right. I asked folks to consider the following recent statement from one right-wing think tank. It’s called “The Natural Family: A Manifesto”:
The natural family— part of the created order, imprinted on our natures, the source of bountiful joy, the fountain of new life, the bulwark of ordered liberty—stands reviled and threatened in the early 21st century. Foes have mounted attacks on all aspects of the natural family, from the bond of marriage to the birth of children to the true democracy of free homes. Ever more families show weaknesses and disorders. We see growing numbers of young adults rejecting the fullness and joy of marriage, choosing instead cheap substitutes or standing alone, where they are easy prey for the total state. Too many children are born outside of wedlock, ending as wards of that same state. Too few children are born inside married-couple homes, portending depopulation . . .
And so, we advance here a new vision and a fresh statement of principles and goals appropriate for the 21st century and the third millennium.
We see a world restored in line with the intent of its Creator. We envision a culture—found both locally and universally—that upholds the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as the central aspiration for the young. This culture affirms marriage as the best path to health, security, fulfillment, and joy. It casts the home built on marriage as the source of true political sovereignty, the fountain of democracy. It also holds the household framed by marriage to be the primal economic unit, a place marked by rich activity, material abundance, and broad self-reliance. This culture treasures private property in family hands as the rampart of independence and liberty. It celebrates the marital sexual union as the unique source of new human life. We see these homes as open to a full quiver of children, the source of family continuity and social growth. We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers.
Ugh, I said. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s important for us to present an alternative to the rather restrictive view of the family offered by groups like this. But I acknowledged that these groups aren’t entirely misguided, and that one place to begin thinking about what do we hope to accomplish by focusing on family ministry is to consider what some of those conservative groups are trying do. Here’s the one more paragraph from the Natural Family Manifesto:
We see true happiness as the product of persons enmeshed in vital bonds with spouses, children, parents, and kin. We look to a landscape of family homes, lawns, and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children. We envision parents as the first educators of their children. We see homes that also embrace extended family members who need special care due to age or infirmity. We view neighborhoods, villages, and townships as the second locus of political sovereignty. We envision a freedom of commerce that respects and serves family integrity. And we look to nation-states that hold the protection of the natural family to be their first responsibility.
It’s hard to argue with much of this: I believe that true happiness is the product of persons enmeshed in vital bonds; that parents truly are the first educators; that extended family members should be cared for; and that the government does have some responsibility to make sure that families have everything they need to survive and even thrive. What’s more, congregations may have an even greater responsibility for the families they serve. It fact, ministering to families should be a priority. But how do we get there?