I’ve been thinking recently about the phrase “family values.”
This is a concept that inhabits both the religious and the political spheres. The extent to which those spheres influence the actual content of “family values” and how those values are lived out seems worthy of consideration. I am particularly interested in the religious side of the picture.
It may be an over-simplification to say that in popular usage “family values” means pro-life and anti-gay, but I don’t think that’s far from wrong. While my more theologically conservative sisters and brothers might argue that both those positions contribute to the support of the family, I would like to consider what values there might be that support all families – not just those that look like the “Leave It to Beaver” family – man, woman, 2.5 kids. Are there some ways we can organize ourselves as a society that would help provide an underpinning so that every family can thrive?
I’m sure we’d each have our own list of what those societal structures would be. Perhaps the way things are right now is working just fine for your family. I know with certainty that that is not the case for many families. I see too many that look like this: the parent (or parents) who manage to find full-time work toil with little respite, hoping against hope that they (or their children or aging parents) don’t get sick, because they can’t afford to take time off to help them.
They are families who now may be able to afford to see the doctor (with the Affordable Care Act), but for many that is still not within reach.
These families are grateful for every hour of work they have. At minimum wage, though, they still cannot pay for rent, transportation, utilities, childcare and food. It is a constant battle to stay even.
What if Christians of all stripes were to band together and as “We the people …” – “We the Christian people …” – were to decide that in this country we wanted families supported in ways that made all their lives better? I’m not talking about lives being better because they have more “stuff” in them. I’m talking about lives being better because they are free from want; because they are free from fear; because their work lives are such that they have the resources and the time to nurture critical relationships; and because they have regular respite from work that allows them time to renew their spirits. What a difference that would make.
If we Christians wanted to support “family values,” might not addressing those needs be good places to begin? What if we worked to create a social environment in which there was less tension over just being able to get by? That would allow families the ease we all need to work through the challenges all families face without flying apart. It would give those who consider themselves Christian the slack in their lives so that participating in worship wasn’t just one more thing they had to do.
For more than two decades I spent time among two Amish communities as their midwife. The Amish are one of only a couple of religious groups in this country that orchestrate their lives in a way that treats people as more than cogs in an economic machine. In the two Amish communities where I served, everyone had enough. Pride of ownership was seen as just that – pride – a sin. Everyone had work, and everyone worked hard. And everyone took regular time off and rested.
Probably few of us want to be Amish. But I will tell you that when I was among them, the stress of even my small town, rural life melted away. I’m not saying their lives were perfect. No one’s is, but as a community, they practiced values that supported their families.
What if the rest of us Christians decided that we wanted those values for all people – not just those within our church communities? Our scriptures say “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:5) If that is true, don’t we all deserve the same care? I wonder why we aren’t living like that.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.