The Task of Religious Institutions
in Strenghtening Families
Director of the Religion, Culture, and Family Project(1)
University of Chicago
A communitarian family policy aspires to balance the good of society with the good of families
and their individual members. It holds that the well-being of families, individual family members,
and society is best guaranteed when the health of each is promoted equally. This principle is easy
to state but difficult to actualize in concrete circumstances. The following proposals are designed
to promote this goal.
In this paper, we ask what churches and synagogues as institutions of civil society should do to
promote family well-being. What should they do for the families they immediately influence, and
how should they work to shape public policy? We pursue these questions in this order because of
our conviction that the strength of a society flows outward from its voluntary institutions--religious
and civil--to public institutions and their policies. We hold, however, that government programs,
religious institutions, and other institutions of civil society should be complementary in what they
do for families. The state, market, churches and synagogues, and other voluntary organizations play
different roles in relation to families, but these roles should be appropriately coordinated.
Our proposals are guided by three normative ideas.* First, although the various spheres of
modern societies--government, business, religion, education, law, and the therapies--have unique
responsibilities and privileges, they do not and cannot function independently from deeper ethical
guidelines and constraints.
* For those interested in an explicitly theological
elaboration of the three following ideas, see endnotes 1 and 2 for
Second, family and local community should be allowed to exercise initiatives and natural
capabilities in their spheres of immediate influence without undue interference from either govern-
ment or market, even though both of these have their rightful role in supporting families and local
communities. This concept is close to what the Roman Catholic tradition calls the "principle of
subsidiarity"--an idea that can be given religious meaning even though it also has ancient
Third, an ethic of "equal regard" should guide both the inner lives of families and family public
policy. We realize that the idea of a family ethic of equal regard needs a definition.(3) We offer the
following: this ethic means that a husband or wife should 1) treat the other with unconditioned
respect (as an end and never as a means only) and 2) within this mutual respect work to enhance the
well-being of the other. Concretely, the ethic of equal regard means that husband and wife should
each in principle have equal access to the privileges and responsibilities of both public and private
worlds, although this may be realized differently in specific households depending on individual
interests and talents.
A familism guided by an ethic of equal regard is a "critical" familism--another term that requires
definition. Critical familism is different from naive "familism," which generally is interpreted as
placing family togetherness above other values such as equality between husband and wife, the well-being of children, and the flourishing of individual family members. Critical familism balances
family cohesion with the ethics of equal regard. It does this by uncovering and critiquing distortions
in power in families which block the realization of equal regard among members.
The equal regard family does not relinquish parental authority; instead, it uses this authority to
promote equal regard, dialogue, and the raising of children to gradually grow toward adult relations
of mutual respect with their parents and others. In the case of relations between families, the ethic
of equal regard holds that each family has the moral obligation to respect and work for the good of
all other families. In turn, each family has the right to be respected and have its good promoted by
I. Civil Society, Religion, and State: Toward a Critical Marriage Culture
We affirm the emerging view that religious institutions are central to the health of civil society.
Religious institutions are major wellsprings of philanthropic action and seedbeds of civic, religious,
and familial virtues. In light of their importance, we make the following recommendations.
Churches and Synagogues Should Critically Retrieve Their Marriage and Family Traditions
First, churches and synagogues should play a leadership role in stimulating the dialogue that
creates a new familism. It is our judgment that, with few exceptions, religious institutions have not
exercised this leadership in recent decades. To reclaim this role, they must retrieve their marriage
and family traditions, even though they must do so critically. Religious institutions should examine
their heritages, enter into dialogue with other denominations, work with secular institutions, survey
the human sciences, and articulate a fresh vision of marriage and family--something close to what
we have called critical familism.
In addition to the marriage theologies of various denominations, this recommendation also can
be illustrated by what Catholics and Protestants variously have called the "first" or "little" church.
The continuity between the official church and the church at home has been a constant theme
throughout Christian history. Because the early church met in homes, sacred actions around common
meals in the gathered ecclesia were imitated in private home life. The importance of domestic rituals
is even stronger in Judaism. When home rituals and the liturgies of church or synagogue reinforce
each other, family life is made more cohesive and integrated more completely into the wider
community. When these rituals or devotions are followed by free discussion between parents and
children, they give rise to the reflective or critical assimilation of family traditions.
There is evidence that home-based rituals are extremely important for the creation of family
cohesion. Family rituals at the dinner table, before bed, and on trips correlate with the effective
communication of family traditions.(4) Rituals are important as well for families with a primarily
secular identity. In these families, rituals may consist of carefully planned beginnings and endings
to meals, family meetings, and other shared and regularly scheduled family activities.
Religious Institutions Should Cooperate with Other Institutions in Helping Families
Second, religious congregations should join with other parts of civil society to foster a critical
marriage and family culture. In some instances this cooperation might entail partnerships with the
state. In establishing these cooperative ventures, religious institutions must simultaneously seek to
maintain their unique identity while striving to respect the separation of church and state. They can
do this by searching for the points of analogy between their specific goals and the state's concern
with the common good. The state, for instance, should be guided by an ethic of justice for individuals
and families analogous to the ethic of equal regard promoted by religious institutions. Government
also should abide by the principle of subsidiarity that respects the initiative and responsibility of
families yet supports them when they need help.
Some cooperation between religious and public institutions already exists: witness the coopera-
tion between churches and public health institutions. Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social
Services both receive some state support. Note also the cooperation between churches and other
institutions of civil society such as the Red Cross, a model that could be expanded and applied more
directly to family issues. For example, a complex cooperative project between church, state, and
other voluntary organizations can be found in recent efforts to expand the idea of a Community
Marriage Policy. This program was first used to organize common marriage policies among local
Protestant churches but has now been expanded in some communities to include judges, justices of
the peace, and secular marriage counselors.(5) We say more about this policy below.
Public institutions should not become isolated from the energies and positive cultures of specific
religio-cultural traditions. Sociologist James Coleman argued that Catholic high schools provide
better education than public schools because they receive more support from parents and church.(6)
As societies organized around extended family have disappeared, Coleman believed that market,
corporation, and government have expanded their influence on society, including schools. Catholic
schools are succeeding, he argued, because they are an exception to this trend; they represent the
values of families and their churches. Coleman urged us to abandon the idea that schools are solely
agents of the state. Rather they should more nearly reflect the values of the family and local
community, including religious institutions.(7)
Our view is sympathetic to Coleman's but is somewhat different. We do not believe that family
and church should dominate public schools. We hold that families, religious institutions, market, and
government each has its rightful expertise and authority for influencing the values and purposes of
schools. Hence each of these spheres should conduct an intense dialogue about the direction of
public schools and what they teach about marriage and family. This dialogue should result in
developing new educational approaches to marriage and family life--approaches that have continuity
with, but may not be identical to, the basic values of particular local families, traditions, and
Some proposals by William Bennett and Senator Dan Coats in their Project for American
Renewal illustrate how state and civil society, including religious institutions, can cooperate. Coats
and Bennett were mildly critical of programs that gave welfare for families to the states. They also
rejected the idea of centering social programs for families mainly in the federal government. They
call, instead, for funneling government support directly to the institutions of civil society, including
the churches. They argue that these institutions are the conveyors of civic virtue, do most of society's
moral education, and need to be revived in order to provide some of the cultural and institutional
supports needed by families. They propose allowing individuals to give $500 of their tax liability to
worthwhile non-governmental charities that help poor families.(8) They recommend demonstration
grants for programs that match welfare families with religious communities that offer moral
guidance and help. To encourage savings by poor families, demonstration grants would be provided
for family deposits to be matched by churches, foundations, and corporations. Funds would be made
available for pre-divorce counseling.
It is not our intention to advocate these particular programs but rather to show that such
proposals exist and deserve careful evaluation as possible ways for civil society, religious institu-
tions, and the state to cooperate. Furthermore, we use them to illustrate the meaning of subsidiarity--the way large units of society such as government can support family and local communities without
taking over the functions these smaller institutions perform best. Such cooperation also illustrates
a dialogical view of authority, i.e., how family, local community, state, and market can work together
in creating a critical family culture.
Ecumenicity and Critical Familism
Third, churches must join with other churches and synagogues to create a new critical marriage
culture. Seventy-five percent of all marriages, even today, are performed in synagogues and
churches. This suggests that churches still have a significant role in marriage and should therefore
work together in proclaiming and implementing a marriage and family culture.
But how can this happen? Michael McManus recommends that churches cooperate in adopting
something like the Roman Catholic Church's coordinated program of premarital and marital support
called the "Common Marriage Policy."(9) It has been adopted by the vast majority of Roman Catholic
dioceses in the United States. Because of this common policy, Catholic churches have a unified
front on marriage issues. Young Catholic couples confront a common set of expectations and a
common culture about what it takes to prepare for and thrive in family relations.
This common policy has five components: (1) a six-month minimum preparation period, (2) the
administration of the new premarital questionnaires that have been tested for their capacity to predict
marriages likely to end in divorce (PREPARE, the Pre-Marital Inventory, or FOCCUS), (3) the use
of lay leadership and "mentoring couples" with the engaged and newly married, (4) the use of
marriage instruction classes (weekend workshops, evenings for the engaged in the homes of mentor
couples), and (5) engagement ceremonies held before the entire congregation.
McManus proposes bringing together Catholic, evangelical, and mainline Protestant churches
(we would add synagogues), to create a "Community Marriage Policy"(10)--an ecumenical and
interfaith common marriage policy that would help congregations across denominations to develop
a united stance on marriage and family. Such a united front could help churches and synagogues
counter the individualism and impatience of couples and parents who expect ministers to perform
marriages on demand without careful preparation. The common elements McManus proposes look
much like the Catholic model, but he suggests shorter waiting periods to adapt to more liberal
customs among some denominations. Although the model needs further refinement, early reports
suggest it is an idea moving in the right direction.
Youth and a Critical Marriage Culture
Fourth, churches and synagogues should take the lead in preparing youth for a critical familism.
Large portions of society have retreated from guiding and inspiring youth in the areas of marriage
and family. Many churches do not do adequate marriage preparation with engaged couples; they do
even less with youth and teenagers. Churches have yielded leadership in these areas to public
education, at both the college level and below.
As churches have retreated from sex, marriage, and family education, secular courses, often at
the college level, have taken their place. A recent authoritative review of college textbooks by
Professor Norval Glenn of the University of Texas has revealed that most of these texts are devoid
of historical knowledge of the family, overly optimistic about the successes of alternative family
forms, neglectful of children, and uninformed about new research on the benefits of marriage.(11)
They tend to ignore evidence showing that married people are mentally and physically healthier,
have more wealth, have much more sex, and are generally far more content with life than those who
are not married.(12) Churches and synagogues should not only be concerned about this state of affairs
but develop better alternative educational resources.
Religious institutions should be aware that there are very few adequate educational resources
addressing issues of marriage and family in secondary schools.(13) Sex education courses aim
primarily to prevent disease and out-of-wedlock births.(14) Setting aside the question of their
effectiveness in realizing these goals, they say little about marriage or family except to promote an
attitude of tolerance for different family forms. One of the most competent sex education programs
(designed by Marian Howard of Emory University) is not about education for marriage but about the
delay of sexual activity until "maturity."
Existing educational programs emphasizing preparation for family life are either deficient in their
use of religious resources or fail to present an adequately critical view of marriage, as do most
fundamentalist religious programs. We believe that religious institutions should use the powerful
new video technologies to teach their religious traditions, the best insights of the new marriage
education programs (PREP, PREPARE/ENRICH, etc.), and realistic understandings of the
economic, legal, and medical aspects of marriage.(15)
Addressing Family Pluralism from a Center
Fifth, churches and synagogues should develop theologies and programs that give priority to
promoting the health of intact families while also helping other family forms. The cultural and social
forces that are disrupting families are relentless, and high rates of family disruption are likely to
continue in the foreseeable future. While we do recognize that family dissolution is often advisable
in cases of violence, abuse, and addiction, religious institutions should recognize that many families
could function well together if they had better supports.
There is much that can be done to mitigate strains on disrupted families, be they never-married
single parents, the divorced, or stepfamilies. Finally, we must recognize the advent of families with
gay and lesbian parents and families consisting of heterosexual parents with gay or lesbian children.
Although there is a range of positions in the churches about the nature and moral status of
homosexual practice, almost all churches, conservative or liberal, wish to minister to these families.
Religious institutions should imitate those churches and synagogues that simultaneously and
aggressively prepare people for stable and fulfilling marriages yet support and assist alternative
family forms. For example, there is a burgeoning white Pentecostal church in the western suburbs
of Chicago that has, in addition to its strong emphasis on marriage and opposition to divorce, a
highly popular twelve-week post-divorce support program.(16) Many African-American churches
have such complex ministries. The Shiloh Baptist Church located in the poorer section of
Washington, D.C. has a complex approach. It has delicately balanced programs designed to increase
the number of intact families while, through its Family Life Center, it also reaches out to disrupted
families in the community.
Churches, Synagogues, and the Balance of Work and Family
Sixth, religious institutions should address one of the major sources of strain on families--the
tensions between family needs and the demands of paid work. Mothers have joined fathers in the
work force, the average workweek has been extended, parents spend less time with children (the
"parenting deficit"), and married couples spend less time with each other. Clearly, it takes time and
energy to create an equal-regard family with parents guiding children into an ever-deepening
dialogue with them, their faith traditions, and the wider society. We propose a model not exceeding
a total 60-hour workweek for a mother and father with young children. The compensated working
hours could be divided between husband and wife as 30-30, 40-20, or 20-40. There is evidence that
the happiest families are those in which both husband and wife have some paid employment, share
household chores and child care,(17) and work less than two full-time positions.(18) Churches, in their
theologies of work and leisure, should support such arrangements.
If the equal-regard family, however, is to become a reality within the context of modern work
demands, it will need to gain the skills of intersubjective communication (the ability to see and feel
issues from the partner's point of view) required to define what is just and equitable. Church-sponsored day-care centers, support groups for working parents, church-sponsored baby-sitting
networks, church-sponsored nursing support for parents of sick children--dozens of programs are
possible. But more fundamental than any of these is a theory that sanctions the balance of work and
parenting and the development of the communicative skills required to iron out the practical
arrangements of everyday life.
Religious Institutions and Divorce
Seventh, religious institutions should do more to address the reality of divorce. While religious
groups differ on the question of divorce, they all have tended to be either cautious, or genuinely
restrictive, about this issue. Despite trends in secular society toward the easy acceptance of divorce,
churches and synagogues should continue to be conservative in their attitudes on the dissolution of
marriage. However, this does not necessarily mean an absolute prohibition of divorce.
We recommend four strategies that local churches can use to address the reality of divorce. First,
prevention is the best cure. The best divorce prevention is extensive marital preparation of the kind
envisioned by our proposal for a Community Marriage Policy and our suggestions for early church-based and school-based education for marriage and family.
Second, both church-based and secular marriage counseling should begin with a humane bias
toward preserving marriages. One of our team has written with reference to both the counseling
pastor and the secular psychotherapist: "As therapists, we are moral consultants, not just psycho-social consultants. We should not try to impose our beliefs on undecided clients, but we can
advocate in an open manner when appropriate."(19) Counseling that presents theological and moral
reasons for the importance of preserving marriage is entirely justifiable as long as it is not coercive,
does not override the decision-making integrity of the individuals involved, does not suppress
important dynamic and communicative issues that the couple should face, and does not ignore abuse,
violence, and addiction. The idea that divorce is generally not good for children and that couples
not involved in physical and mental violence may be able to learn to communicate and love one
another again must be taken seriously in the counseling of churches.(20) Recent social science research
by Paul Amato and Alan Booth in their acclaimed A Generation at Risk (1997) indicates that only
one third of all divorces are preceded by high conflict of the kind destructive to children. This raises
the question as to whether the less destructive remaining two thirds might have avoided divorce had
they found the proper help.(21)
Third, synagogues and churches should love, minister to, and sustain the divorced and their
children. In spite of what worshiping communities do to discourage them, divorces will occur,
although we hope with less regularity. Churches and synagogues must also make a special effort to
support children of divorced parents, whose experience of the divorce may be quite different from
that of their parents and whose journey through childhood may be different from many other
children. The religious communities that simultaneously promote a marriage culture, discourage a
divorce culture, and promote a culture of care for the divorced, remarried, and their children,(22) are
the ones that make full use of their theological traditions to hold authentic ideals together with a
charitable sense of human weakness. Furthermore, these congregations help disrupted families create
the networks--what sociologists call "social capital"--necessary for the support and enrichment of
all families, especially those disrupted by transitions. Finally, churches and synagogues, even at the
local level, should join the national discussion about whether our divorce laws should be revised.
Churches, Synagogues, and Fathers
Eight, churches and synagogues should do more to address the growing absence of fathers from
their children. If the movement toward father absence is to be abated, nearly every aspect of civil
society must address it and religious institutions should take the lead. There is much to learn from
black churches about restoring responsible fatherhood. The 10,000 member Apostolic Church of
God on Chicago's south side routinely and vigorously addresses father absence and discusses the
positive contributions to children that fathers make. Another nearby church does all these things but
with more consciousness of African themes. This church has rites-of-passage ceremonies for both
teenage boys and girls that combine African themes and Christian meanings in defining adult male-female relations. It has an "adopt-a-school" program in which adult males relate to a neighborhood
school, give courses on "responsible living," and help guide male students away from gangs and
sexual involvement and toward their studies.
II. Critical Familism, Religion, and Public Policy: Beyond Value Neutrality
Churches and synagogues should become involved in public policy beyond the natural confines
of their memberships and immediate communities. We hold that public policy should not and cannot
maintain "value neutrality" on family matters. Furthermore, family issues cannot be solved strictly
through technical and economic interventions by state and market. A critical familism is first a result
of cultural visions--indeed religio-cultural visions--that come from the institutions of civil society,
especially churches and synagogues. Nonetheless, economic measures from both state and market
are also important for families.
The Economic Support of Families
Religious institutions should explicitly support several economic strategies that can help
families. First, the tax structure should be far more family-friendly than it is. If the child exemption
on federal income tax returns had kept pace with its value when first enacted in 1948, it now would
be equivalent to $8,200 rather than its current $2,500.(23) Second, we applaud the recent adoption by
Congress of a $500 per child tax credit. But it may need to be more. The 1991 report to the President
of the National Commission on Children recommended a refundable tax credit of $1,000,(24) and
William Mattox of the Family Research Council has called for a $1,500 credit.(25) Third, we support
the earned income tax credit for poor families that is generally believed to have contributed to the
stability of low-income working parents. Fourth, the so-called marriage tax penalty--the fact that
married couples often pay considerably more in taxes than they would if single--is both a real and
symbolic assault on the social value of marriage and should be removed.(26)
Then there is the issue of welfare. We agree with those who argue that government's first
obligation, at this moment in history, is to strengthen the institutions of civil society--churches,
clubs, community organizations, voluntary service organizations--to carry more of our welfare
system for families. But, at the same time, government must be involved in welfare to assure
consistency, sufficient funding, and universality of some very fundamental programs.(27)
In this statement, we will not debate whether such goals should have been realized in a revised
national welfare plan or through one administered by each of the 50 states, as established by the 1996
welfare reform. Instead, we are concerned about an issue in workfare, whether administered by states
or by the national government. In keeping with our proposals that married couples with young
children should not work in wage employment more than a total of 60 hours a week between them,
we propose that single welfare parents with young children not be required to work over 25-30 hours
per week, roughly five to six hours a day.(28) Even this time should be undergirded with state-supported child and medical care. The idea of thirty-hour working weeks for single parents and 60-hour working weeks for married parents has been tried with success. For two decades, from 1930
to 1950, W. K. Kellogg ran his Corn Flakes plant in Battle Creek, Michigan on a six-hour day.
Recent research based on interviews with older employees reveals a high level of employee satisfac-
tion with the arrangement.(29)
New welfare reform efforts should raise this model to public consciousness. A critical familism
rewards family formation, gives social supports to those seeking gender equality, encourages paternal
responsibility, discourages family welfare dependency, equips people for work, supports them with
child care and medical care, and makes these policies as consistent as possible throughout the
A Family-Friendly Workplace
Second, churches and synagogues should urge policymakers to promote a family-friendly
workplace. Some people advocate minimizing work strains with tax reductions that lower the need
for families to have two incomes, thereby giving parents more time with their families. Many
commentators argue that these proposals simply support the nineteenth-century model of an
industrial family with its wage-earning father and domestic mother. President Clinton has tried to
solve family-work strains with proposals such as better job conditions for parents, more flex time,
an extension of the Family and Medical Leave Act, twenty-four hours a year for parents to keep
school appointments and take children to doctors, portable family insurance, health insurance for
poor families, compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay, and new federal child care programs.(30)
These proposals acknowledge women's desire to work and the realities of the postmodern family.
We support both strategies--tax breaks and supports for family-friendly work conditions.
But these strategies do not go far enough. To implement the 60-hour workweek, state and market
must cooperate in creating the new 20- and 30-hour a week positions necessary for families to
arrange the right combinations. These jobs should provide retirement and medical benefits. This
raises the need for a basic universal health plan. We do not presume to settle here the best way to
provide universal, cheap, and equitable health coverage for all workers, whether employed twenty,
thirty, or forty hours a week. But to create flexible work arrangements that give parents sufficient
time with their children, some such system of health care is required.
Third, although there is a need for more and better care for the children of employed parents,
some of the proposals we advocate should mitigate that need. If parents limit their employment
outside of the home to 60 hours each week, fathers and mothers will have more time for child care.
If the tax breaks listed above went into effect, couples will work fewer hours, have more time for
child care, yet be able to afford better quality care because their overall income will improve.
Nonetheless, government initiatives to stimulate the development of more affordable quality
child care are necessary. Government should invest in training and upgrading child-care workers,
stimulate the development of minimum standards of care, encourage child-care provisions in parent's
place of employment, and offer more flex time and home-based employment. Government operated
child-care facilities eventually may be necessary but should not be the country's first approach to
meeting the needs of families.
State-Supported Marriage Education
Fourth, public policy should provide for marriage and family education. As we saw above, the
state is already participating in marriage education, mainly through university-level courses on the
family and elementary and high school sex-education classes. Much of this instruction is deficient
on marriage and family and some is directly misleading. Although marriage and family life should
not be reduced completely to simple public health issues, at this level alone the state has every right
to promote marriage and family education. Other countries, such as Australia, sponsor marriage and
family education courses. Sometimes these programs function through existing institutions of civil
society. They emphasize communications skills, conflict resolution, and parenting skills.(31) At the
level of junior high and high school education, such programs would not be addressed to couples but
would emphasize education in intersubjective communication skills that, later in life, would prove
important for sustaining marriage and family.
Mothers, Fathers, and Public Policy
Fifth, religious institutions should support public policies that help both mothers and fathers with
the new challenges they face. We advocate measures that go beyond finding ways to force deadbeat
fathers to support their children. We agree that measures should be used to garnish wages, use
federal and state income taxes to collect delinquent payments, and compel responsibility by
canceling auto or professional licenses. But such policies, although necessary, are basically punitive.
The state should become a moral and financial partner of the initiatives in civil society to
promote better fatherhood. Take, for instance, Charles Ballard's widely recognized National Institute
for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, which receives some state support. Ballard's
program is designed to reunite fathers with their children, help fathers support their children
financially, and foster in these men an attitude of respect for former girlfriends or wives. Counselor-educators (called Sages) visit alienated fathers in their homes, help establish paternity, and model
responsible fatherhood themselves.(32) Other programs receive moral support from government even
though they get no direct financial help. The National Fatherhood Initiative was founded during the
autumn of 1994 with bipartisan support from Democrats Al Gore and William Galston as well as
Republican William Bennett. It addresses the growing absence of fathers from their children by
distributing information on the importance of fathers and the social costs of father absence.(33) Ken
Canfield's National Center for Fathering is an older hands-on program with considerable grassroots
impact.(34) Both organizations have more general audiences than Promise Keepers, and their messages
are less laden with the language of a particular religious tradition. Both programs work intensively
with religious organizations.
The situation of mothers in contemporary society has been very different from that of fathers.
Fewer mothers have fled families, but may instead feel trapped by them. Even today many women
feel that they must choose between paid employment or time with their infants, a choice that often
leads mothers to leave the work force and fall behind in job and career advancement. This
predicament has led economists Richard and Grandon Gill to propose what they call a Parental Bill
of Rights.(35) Just as American men were given the GI Bill to help them make up for lost career time
after serving in the armed forces during World War II, so should parents who take time to care for
their children receive child-care payments, modest annual child allowances, job training, education,
and other protections so that the years spent caring for their infants will not cause long-term
financial, job, and career losses. The authors estimate that this Parental Bill of Rights would cost
citizens no more than $200 per capita in 1990 dollars.
Divorce and Public Policy
Sixth, religious institutions should back the revision of divorce laws. Since the advent of no-fault
divorce in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the marriage contract has become weaker than most
business contracts. In many states, it can be broken unilaterally, and the dissenting partner has little
recourse. From a both a philosophical and theological perspective, we hold that marriage agreements
should be more like covenants, i.e., binding agreements between a husband and wife, between them
and the wider society, and, for the religious, between these two individuals and a transcendent power
as they conceive it. Such multi-dimensional agreements should not be broken with ease. In reality,
marriages should be conceived as both contracts and covenants. The system recently enacted in
Louisiana which gives couples the option of choosing no-fault marriage contracts or more binding
covenant marriages is a sound and non-coercive way to reestablish the legal seriousness of marriage.
The members of this Task Force do not agree as to whether the present system of no-fault
divorces should be rejected completely by the several states. We do agree, however, that in cases
where couples with children want divorce by mutual consent, they should undergo required
counseling on parenting after divorce and on the potential impact of the divorce on the children.
Furthermore, couples should be required to develop a long-term financial plan to cover the needs of
children until they are 18 and in some cases older. This plan would have to be accepted by the court
before the divorcing couple could begin dividing property between them.(36)
Some members of the Task Force believe that the assignment of fault may not be necessary if
waiting periods, required counseling, and long-term financial plans for child support are part of the
proposal. However this is decided, we believe that marriage, even before the law, increasingly should
be seen as a public covenant vital for both individuals, children, and the common good.
The Media, Public Policy, and Civil Society
Seventh, the institutions of civil society and churches should join with government and the
market to launch a critique of media images of marriage and family. The emphasis should be on
providing criticism and well-grounded evaluations, not censorship. Nor should criticism be voiced
in ways that obscure the good that educational television can do and the positive images that some
programs and movies convey. But critiques of the unhealthy aspects of the media should be relent-
less, should come from many different voices, and must be heard.
From one perspective, the media are an expression of the overflow of cost-benefit, individualistic, and consumption-oriented patterns of the market that increasingly pervade our society. We are
not against the market, but we do believe that the rational-choice and ethical-egoist motives of the
market can and should be restrained by an ethics of equal regard for persons within and outside of
families. This applies as well to a responsible critique of the family images found in movies, televi-
sion, popular music, and popular journalism.
Rather than portraying the media, however, as single-mindedly seditious,(37) we follow Kay
Hymowitz's analysis of the dialectical relation of the media and social attitudes.(38) She points out that
the values governing marriage and family have changed due to a variety of economic and cultural
trends. The media, she explains, do not by themselves create these changes, but they exploit and
exacerbate them. Furthermore, in order to sell movies, TV series, and consumer products, the media
use shock and excitement to create interest and viewing addiction to the more titillating aspects of
these changes. The media give a stamp of normality to behavior and conditions once thought to be
immoral and still deserving of analysis and moral criticism.
Censorship is not the answer. A new critical familism is the answer. But this familism and
marriage culture should be supported by multiple voices critiquing and sometimes boycotting the
media--voices no longer afraid of the charge of moralism. So far, the groups willing to do this are
few in number. Such criticism is generally limited to the important reality of violence; addressing
family and marriage issues seems to be more difficult.(39) More needs to be done on both questions.
The kind of criticism we have in mind is found in a long document by Roger Cardinal Mahony,
archbishop of Los Angeles, in which he publicly urged the entertainment industry to "adopt general
guidelines for the depiction of violence, sex, family, and the treatment of women."(40) Recent steps
taken to adopt an industry-administered rating system that will later be reinforced by the parent-controlled V-chip may help.(41) Watchdog organizations such as the National Institute on Media and
the Family should be encouraged.
But until a new artistic sensibility informed by a critical familism emerges, these suggestions will
inevitably constitute partial measures. Just as Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna
Shalala challenged Hollywood to live up to its creative potential by inventing stories not featuring
people smoking cigarettes, so too should multiple voices challenge the media to tell more truthful
and positive stories about human love, sexuality, marriage, and families.
There is no single cure for the family crisis in our society. There is no magic bullet. We have
listed over a dozen strategies that religious institutions, voluntary associations, government, and
market should take in cooperation with one another. The power of these strategies will become
apparent not when viewed in isolation from one another, but when they become orchestrated into
a new gestalt--a new critical familistic culture with accompanying social supports.
1. This position paper was adapted, with extensive suggestions from the members of the Communitarian Family Task Force, from chapter 11 of From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate, by Don Browning, Bonnie Miller McLemore, Pamela Couture, Bernie Lyon, and Robert Franklin (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997). This is the summary book of the 11-book Religion, Culture, and Family Series produced by a research project located at the University of Chicago and financed by a generous grant from the Division of Religion of the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
2. For a discussion of the Aristotelian roots of the concept of subsidiarity, see From Culture Wars to Common Ground, pp. 238-244, 363. For a more proximate source of subsidiarity in Roman Catholic thinking, see Pope Leo XIII, "Rerum Novarum," Proclaiming Justice and Peace:Papal Documents from Rerum Novarum through Centesimus Annus (Mystic, CT:
Twenty-Third Publications, 1991 (1894) ).
3. The philosophical and theological grounds for the ethic of equal regard is extensively developed in the introduction and chapters 4,5, and 10 of From Culture Wars to Common Ground. Chapter 8 also gives a discussion of the concept of subsidiarity and demonstrates how both American Roman Catholicism, the thought of evangelical Ralph Reed, and the social philosophy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan all have been influenced by this idea.
4. William Doherty, The Intentional Family (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1997).
5. As reported by Judge James Sheridan and Michael McManus at the "Smart Marriages: Happy Families" conference on July 10, 1997, Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, Washington, D.C.
6. James Coleman, "Schools, Families, and Children," (Ryerson Lecture: University of Chicago, 1985), pp. 9-18.
7. Ibid., p. 18.
8. Dan Coats, "Can Congress Revive Civil Society?" Policy Review (January-February 1996), p. 27.
9. Michael McManus, Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Stay Married (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 131.
10. Ibid., p. 267.
11. Norval Glenn, "The Textbook Story of American Marriages and Families," (Publication No.: W.P. 46: Institute for American Values, N.Y. City. May 1996).
12. Linda Waite, "Does Marriage Matter?" Demography 32:4 (November 1995): 483-504.
13. One of the best videos for high school education for marriage and family is prepared and distributed by the American Bar Association. It brings legal perspectives on marriage together with insights from the new psycho-education movement. See Partners: An Interactive Televised Course (Chicago,IL: ABA Family Law Section).
14. There are few careful studies of the values clarification approach to sex education that show it to be successful. This is an approach in which teachers take no stand on moral issues. Decisions are left to students about how to use information. See Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "The Failure of Sex Education," Atlantic Monthly (October 1994), pp. 55-80.
15. For information on PREPARE, write PREPARE/ENRICH, P.O. Box 190, Minneapolis, MN 55440-0190, and on PREP, write Professor Howard Markman, PREP, Inc., 1780 South Bellaire Street, Suite 621, Denver, Colorado 80222.
16. Paul Numrich, "A Pentecostal Megachurch on the Edge," in Congregations and Family Ministry, eds. Bernie Lyon and Archie Smith (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997).
17. Rosemary Barciauskas and Debra Hull, Loving and Working: Reweaving Women's Public Lives (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1989.
18. Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers, She Works/He Works: How Two-Income Families are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off (New York: Harper/Collins, 1996)
19. William Doherty, Soul Searching (New York: Basic Books, 1995), p. 33. See also, Don Browning, The Moral Context of Pastoral Counseling (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) and Bonnie Miller-McLemore, "Will the Real Pro-Family Contestant Please Stand Up? Another Look at Families and Pastoral Care," Journal of Pastoral Care 49:4 (Spring 1995), pp. 61-68.
20. Michelle Weiner-Davis, Divorce Busting (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).
21. Paul Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 220.
22. The Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch in the northern suburbs of Chicago, is an example of a church with a strong marriage culture that promotes intact families but also has a wide range of services for the divorced, single parents, stepfamilies, and singles.
23. Free to Be Family, (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 1992), p. 35.
24. Beyond Rhetoric: Report of the National Commission on Families (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991), p. xxi.
25. Mattox, "Government Tax Policy and the Family," The Family, Civil Society, and the State, a conference sponsored by The American Public Philosophy Institute, June 21-22, 1996, Washington, D.C.
26. Free to Be Family, pp. 34-43; Nick Rave, "Married Couples Feel Jilted by Uncle Sam," Chicago Tribune (March 17, 1995), p. C6.
27. John DiIulio, "Government Welfare to Support Families--the Right Way," The Family, Civil Society, and the State, a Conference Sponsored by The American Public Philosophy Institute, June 21-22, 1996, Washington, D.C.
28. Proposals for part-time work for welfare single parents have been advanced by David Ellwood, Poor Support: Poverty in the American Family (New York: Basic Books, 1988), pp. 135-137; Pamela Couture, Blessed Are the Poor (Nashville, TN.: Abingdon Press, 1991, pp. 178-184.
29. Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, Kellogg's Six-Hour Day (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).
30. Alison Mitchell, "Clinton Prods Executives to 'Do the Right Thing,' New York Times (May 17, 1996), p. C 4; Alison Mitchell, "Banking on Family Issues, Clinton Seeks Parents' Votes," New York Times (June 25, 1996), p. C19.
31. Margaret Andrews, "Developing a National Strategy of Marriage and Family Education," address given to the International Conference on the Family, University of Melbourne, July 1994; see also "Moving Counselling to Community Agencies," Threshold: A Magazine about Marriage Education 49 (December 1995), p. 3.
32. Brochure provided by The National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, p. 2. To contact, write the National Institute For Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, 8555 Hough Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-1545.
33. Taken from a brochure titled "Creating a Father-Friendly Neighborhood: 10 Things You Can Do," (Lancaster, PA.: National Fatherhood Initiative).
34. For information, write the National Center for Fathering, P.O. Box 413888, Kansas City, MO 64141.
35. Quoted from Richard Gill and Grandon Gill, "A Parental Bill of Rights," Family Affairs 6:1-2 (Winter 1994), p. 1.
36. These suggestions were, to our knowledge, first put forth by Mary Ann Glendon, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 93-95. Later they were affirmed by Elaine Ciulla Kamarck and William Galston, "Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990s," (Washington, DC.: Progressive Policy Institute, 1991), p. 30.
37. Michael Medved, Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).
38. Kay S. Hymowitz, "'I Don't Know Where This is Going': What Teenagers Learn about Marriage from Television and Magazines," (New York: A Council on Families in America Working Paper, Institute of American Values, 1995).
39. An excellent program sponsored by Family and Community Critical Viewing Project is unfortunately limited to violence. See Taking Charge of Your TV: A Guide to Critical Viewing for Parent and Children. For information on an extensive list of resources write Family and Community Critical Viewing Project, 1724 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1969.
40. New York Times (October 1, 1992), B1.
41. Mark Caro and Steve Johnson, "Foes of New TV Ratings Worry about 'Forbidden Fruit' Factor," Chicago Tribune (December 23, 1996), Al, p. 4; Richard Morin, "Confronting Sex and Violence on TV," Washington Post National Weekly Edition (December 23, 1996), p. 38.