Family Values in the Bible Belt
The Christian Right gets very steamed up about family values, and with Father’s Day coming up there was a natural peg on which to hang their concerns. I read newspapers, listened to some Christian radio and drew some conclusions which may not exactly correspond with those I was meant to.
First, to conservatives "family" = nuclear family. That’s interesting for a start, because it’s hardly a Biblical equation, any more than marriage now means what marriage meant back then. The unconscious use of a single word to denote very different institutions separated by continents and centuries of custom is typical of the fundamentalist denial of history.
Second there’s no question in my mind that fatherhood matters a lot; if I thought I’d failed as a father it would break my heart whatever else I might have achieved in my life. If I hear that it’s the father’s rather than the mother’s influence that conditions whether children continue to attend church in adult life, because American surveys have proved this, I simply wonder if there’s a British survey that confirms what I feel I already know. If I read a newspaper story about American prisoners eagerly pouncing on cards to send out on Mothers’ Day but leaving whole piles untouched on Fathers’ Day because they felt their dads had let them down, which is why they were where they were, that rings true.
But of course I would then go on to ask what sort of social policies might make it easier for men to be good dads; and as I see it the free market capitalism so beloved of the Christian as well as the political Right, insofar as these can be distinguished, sets economic above family values and always will. People are expendable, only profits matter. There can be no challenge to that from within the far-right mind-set; it’s going to come from a more liberal perspective, call it social democratic, Liberalism with a capital L, call it socialism. Here’s the truth; capitalism is the most efficient engine for generating wealth. Unbridled capitalism is the most efficient engine for generating economic, social and racial injustice. Ooh, and screwing up the environment. In its heyday the proof of that was the British Empire; today the proof is G W Bush. Government needs to be about providing the best bridles. Republicans think government should be hands off. The effect of that on family life can be brutal: give me the nanny state any day.
Third, the most widely talked about "challenge" to family life in the US right now is homosexual marriage. I think liberals have made this one unnecessarily difficult for themselves by using the m word; one gay minister I know sees his relationship as an alternative paradigm which can critique heterosexual marriage. To a straight guy like me it does seem ridiculous for two men to speak of getting married but not about their husband or wife. The language is wrong. In Britain we have civil parternships and only a few people fret about this, but it is a question of RIGHTS, and that seems to be getting overlooked in the American debate. But there is of course an elephant in the room. The geatest challenge to American family life is divorce, the rate over here being much higher than anywhere else in the world and precisely because it’s so widespread there is very little if any talk of bringing in restrictive legislation. And that again is surprising because here is what Jesus had to say about homosexuality
whereas he mentioned divorce more than once and wasn’t too happy about it. In fairness, one of the conservatives I have spoken with acknowledges the inconsistency of emphasis but he struck me as unusual.