Family is important. No doubt. It shapes us and sometimes misshapes us. It encourages us and sometimes crushes our hopes. It nurtures us and sometimes abuses us.
In thinking about family from a religious point of view, however, what Christians (and no doubt people of other faith traditions) can say is that family is not the instrument God uses to offer us whatever we imagine salvation means. Rather, that's the job of the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the gurdwara, the temple.
I'm pondering families and their changing nature (they've had many shapes across history) today because I've been reading this year's annual "American Family Survey" that the Deseret News in Salt Lake City publishes. The latest edition of it focuses on how the pandemic has affected family life and on how families are thinking about various issues in this presidential election year.
This link will take you to all the stories the Deseret News published about the study.
You can read all that -- and the report itself -- but I found this paragraph in the study's summary particularly interesting:
"The percentage of respondents who told us that their identities as parents and as spouses or partners were very or extremely important to them increased relative to 2018. In the midst of a presidential campaign and protests about racial equality, the percentage saying that their partisan and racial identities were important also increased. In this sense, 2020 was a more politicized environment for American families than 2018, but also one in which family relationships were more salient."
It should be no surprise that people who identify as Republicans differ in several ways in their responses from people who identify as Democrats.
As the study's summary notes, "Democrats were substantially more likely than Republicans to regard economic issues as the primary challenge facing families — more than 8 in 10 Democrats mentioned economic challenges, compared to just over one third of Republicans. In contrast, Republicans tended to focus on culture and family structure."
Republicans also seemed a lot more worried about the decline in regular attendance at worship in recent decades than did Democrats.
But, in the end, the question for all of us is what constitutes family and what makes families healthy. As I've indicated, the definition of family has shown a lot of flexibility over the centuries. In fact, when Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court spoke at the court's recent gathering to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he noted that in addition to her biological family, the court also constituted family for her.
Along those lines, I once preached a sermon I called "Water is Thicker Than Blood," in which I suggested for Christians that the water of baptism creates a family that is more permanent than the family into which we are born. In that sermon, I mentioned that Jesus once asked who his family is and answered his own question not by mentioning his biological mother and others but by saying that his family is made up of whoever does God's will.
Groups such as the Family Research Council like to promote the idea that the family is the most important collection of human beings in anyone's life and that the best model of a perfect family is one male husband, one female wife and several children who aren't having sexual identity issues.
The new study about families suggests that life is much more complicated than that. In the end, you may not be able to choose your parents, but in a sense you can choose your family. That's what Ruth the Moabite did in the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. And it's what Jesus did. So we have some pretty good models for doing that.
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AVOID A RELIGIOUS VOTE ON BARRETT
My friend Melinda Henneberger, a Kansas City Star editorial page columnist, has made an excellent argument in this column about why Democrats in the U.S. Senate who will consider voting for or against Judge Amy Coney Barrett for a seat on the Supreme Court should avoid any criticism of her membership in a religious group known as People of Praise. She writes: "First, you cannot fight bigotry with bigotry; religious intolerance is just as wrong as any other kind of othering. Indulging it won’t get us a more tolerant America. And Senators, treating her like the kook that she is not is just what the president is counting on you to do." There are good reasons to be against this appointment, but Barrett's faith commitments should not be among them.
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P.S.: At noon on Saturday, Oct. 24, Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City and the Lykins Neighborhood Association are hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for what they call the nation's first memorial to victims of human trafficking, to be located in Lykins Square Park at 7th and Myrtle. You can find details about the event in this pdf flyer: Download Into the Light Flyer A4