Tag Archives: social justice

Marriage and Social Justice: Ideas for Churches

Following up on my previous post “Marriage and Social Justice,” what can churches do? While I’m applying for an MS in Marital & Family Therapy, I’m not an expert quite yet. Nevertheless, here are a few preliminary ideas:

Evaluate what you have.
Get the help of those with appropriate training in your church (or bring in experts from outside) to evaluate how your church could improve various structures, programs, etc. to better include people from different kinds of families, as well as to best equip these people to move toward healthy, stable relationships. Be sure to consider lifespan development and what specific age groups, as well as other population groups, may need.

Make marriage a priority in your outreach budget and hiring decisions.
As you reach out into your church’s neighborhood or a low-income neighborhood in your community, consider hiring (alone or with the help of partnering churches) a therapist and/or family life educator to offer services to individuals that otherwise wouldn’t have these resources.

Help families care for their children.
Consider sponsoring a daycare center for low-income families. If subsidized by your church, parents who otherwise would struggle to find affordable childcare will have a quality option—and you have the power to make certain this is a place where children are loved and educated well by intelligent and compassionate caregivers. This helps families (especially single-parent households) economically, but also lets your church be a part of nurturing children whose family life (and world generally) might be pretty unstable.

Be pro-active in caring for teens and young adults.
Consider, especially, the needs of teens and young adults as they try to understand their families of origin and the possibilities for their own relationships. This might include forming a special small group for college students coming from divorced or dysfunctional families or developing new and better ways of talking about sex and relationships with teenagers.

Try to remain flexible and refrain from judgment, even as you advocate against certain behaviors.
Foster an environment of support that challenges people without judging them. This is especially needed for single parents, cohabitating couples, divorced individuals, etc. Do whatever needs to be done to make certain these people are integrated into your church as a whole. For example, consider whether “couples” small groups are really the best way to structure the majority of your adult Bible studies or whether it might be useful to purposely include any cohabitating couples at your church on a marriage retreat (after all, couldn’t their relationship also use some extra investment?). Dealing with the ethics of various situations is always tricky, but whatever you do, be sure you are creating spaces for people to grow in positive directions.

Acknowledge difficult topics.
You may need to offer teaching and resources relating to abuse, rape, infidelity, sexual addiction, and the like. It’s easier to pretend these issues aren’t in our churches, but since they are, to care for people well, we need to help them deal with them spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

That’s just a start… anyone else have ideas to offer?

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Filed under Marriage, Relationships, Social Justice, Sociology

Marriage and Social Justice

Do you ever read statistics about marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood and wonder where these changes are taking place? Sure, we know more and more families in our communities who part ways at some point, but it’s not like a whole third of our kids’ friends were born out of wedlock!

Let me suggest (especially if you’re white or fairly well-off) that you are looking in the wrong neighborhood. There is a ridiculous correlation between race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other such factors and lower rates of stable marriages. Take a break from this blog and catch up with these eighteen quick and easy graphs: http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/2008update.pdf. Take special note of the various ways in which race, gender, and the like affect results.

It’s clear that practices relating to marriage are changing. Can you believe the number of cohabitating couples has risen over 68% just from 2000 to 2007? That’s crazy! There are certainly larger cultural issues going on here. However, when we note, in particular, the ways in which white families and black families differ, how can we not see marriage as a social justice issue?

I’m not trying to say single parents can’t be good parents. I’m not saying all marriages are worthy of continuing. And I’m certainly not saying that families or individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds should be shamed. I do think, though, that we need to consider the sociological factors that are leading to these differences and the inequalities represented by those factors. (For example, stress about money can put a strain on any relationship.) We also need to consider the various inequalities—especially for children—that these family outcomes create.

I don’t think we often consider marriage and family issues related to social justice. For one, many would see marital status as better able to be controlled than income or neighborhood—so if you’re a single parent, we think that’s your choice (read: fault) and not our problem. Secondly, I think we who care about social justice often shy away from the topic of marriage, due to Focus on the Family connotations. An obsession with marriage seems likely just to alienate people or to connect us with the reactionary sort of conservatives we wish would stop trying to represent Christianity.

I think we’ve got to stop seeing things this way. There are some very destructive cycles going on in our culture at large, but especially within certain communities. We can’t force anyone to get married, stay married, or certainly to have a good marriage. However, we can start learning about the ways in which social inequalities and marriage and family outcomes are linked in a mutual reinforcing cycle, and we can start using our own skills and resources—individually and as churches—to remedy the situation.

I think we need to better educate and counsel on topics relating to sexuality, marriage, and parenting, especially focusing on the neighborhoods and communities hit hardest by family brokenness. There are many people with no or few models of healthy behaviors and relationships, which I think makes it difficult for them to envision possibilities. I think that with more people to walk alongside them, more information, and professional therapy, teens and young adults from all backgrounds can better heal from their own family pain and move towards happy, committed relationships in adulthood.

We absolutely must have a more pro-active stance.

Specific ideas for churches to come. :o)

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Filed under Marriage, Relationships, Social Justice, Sociology

Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

In addition to understanding engagement as a dynamic state of being increasingly “almost married” (notably, lodged between two other dynamic states), I think we would benefit from changing at least two other elements of our view of engagement.

First, I want to contest the common view that the purpose of engagement is to plan a wedding. I think a wedding at its best is a celebration of a good thing in community. However, it seems that both the time and money required to have a wedding–or at least one that that competes with the contents of bridal magazines or our childhood fantasies–delay most marriages.

I find it telling that in a different time and culture engagement and marriage were often done quite differently. My grandparents married in the early 50s, when they were in their 20s. Mimi and Granddad met in June and started a relationship nearly immediately. They soon started talking about marriage, declared their plans more officially in December, and were married in a pastor’s home in February, with only my granddad’s family attending. (Hers lived in Chicago at the time and couldn’t make a trip to Kentucky.

While many people at the time had weddings, they did not. And according to my grandmother, this was not at all uncommon. I suppose we don’t know when most people today would get married without so much hoopla, but I find it telling that a year-long engagement is “standard” primarily because of the time needed to plan a wedding (just Google “engagement length” and check out the forums where women are comparing timelines) and that some people even opt to wait multiple years to marry to gather sufficient funds for the ceremony of their dreams.

When I asked Mimi if she thinks the rising popularity of cohabitation has contributed significantly to the lengthening of engagement, she replies with a hearty yes. People had shorter engagements and simpler ceremonies in the past, she believes, because it was culturally unacceptable to move in together or have sex without a marriage license.

I think it’s legitimate to have opinions about what you want your wedding to be like, and I don’t think it’s bad to spend time and money on some of the elements that are more important to you. However, I find it unfortunate that we put such a focus on weddings that few people feel they can get married without one of sufficient granduer. This not only creates a culture of weddings which marginalizes the have-nots (something we as Christians should avoid), but also encourages people to wait longer to get married for questionable reasons. Is a fancier ceremony really worth delaying your marriage for several more months? For some, perhaps, it is–and it’s not my place to judge them–but I feel shorter engagements would be better for many couples.

Weddings are a cultural practice, so they will undoubtedly be influenced by our cultures. We feel societal pressure to do our weddings in certain ways, and it’s not an evil thing to take part in this part of culture by following many of these norms. But we don’t need to follow every cultural convention, especially as we, as Christians, seek to do life in a way that aligns with kingdom values. And since these values include things such as chastity, commitment, generosity, and giving up status, I see a lot of pros with creating a culture of simpler, sooner weddings.

In my opinion, if you’re committed to each other and want to be married, it makes sense to go ahead and be married–and I believe we as Christians should do a better job supporting that.

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Filed under Engagement, Relationships, Social Justice, Weddings

Loving our older LGBT neighbors

Continuing the conversation about LGBT issues, an article from the Chicago Tribute caught my eye this week, and I’ve found an additional one from Newsweek since.  Both highlight the challenges facing the rising population of elderly LGBT people.

Supposedly there are about 3 million LGBT people over 55 in the U.S., a number expected to grow to 4 million in the next 10 years.  Besides the normal fears that go with aging, LGBT individuals are especially concerned with having someone to care for them (they’re 10 times less likely to have a caretaker if they become ill) and finances (since even legally married, they are not eligible for spousal social security and survivor benefits).  They also fear discrimination and finding care facilities in which they feel comfortable.

I hope the church doesn’t pass up this need and opportunity.  Today I finished the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw for one of my classes, and toward the end, the issue of caring for the elderly was mentioned.  If caring for our oldest neighbors is a neglected task demanding a resurgence of compassion, how much more, I think, Jesus’s heart goes out to these people, disdained by so many and lacking financial advantages and (often) children to care for them.

Jesus is already there with them.  As this societal problem grows, will we, the church, join him?

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Filed under LGBT, Social Justice, Sociology

Unity… or righteousness?

One of the most difficult questions for me in the last five or so years has been what to do with the issue of women in ministry.  On the one hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in the broader evangelical community, and I’ve felt frustrated toward the polarizing exchange of monologues that sometimes seems to occur between the self-identified “egalitarian” and “complementarian” camps.  On the other hand, I have felt frustrated with the silence of my more local Christian communities regarding this issue.  For the sake of interdenominationality or keeping the peace they have kept quiet.  Much good has resulted, but perhaps also some harm.

Last weekend, my seminary sponsored a screening of the film For the Bible Tells Me So, tracking the stories of several families as teenage and adult children came out as LGBT.  The most famous story was that of Gene Robinson, the gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the first ever in the Anglican Communion.  After coming home, I was doing a little more research on Gene and came across a video with this quote:

“We will stand up and say, this is who we mean to be, because together we have discerned this is who God is calling us to be.  And then the communion will have to deal with us.  But we are not going to sacrifice LGBT people anymore on the altar of unity.”

While I have not figured out what precisely to think of the many issues surrounding homosexuality and the church (though I will say that I’ve finally come to a point that I feel I must support civil unions without significant reservations), I really respect what Gene is saying here, an echo of how I often feel about women’s issues.

Unity is important.  So important.  I don’t want to de-emphasize that at all.  I’m not looking to demonize other Christians or pretend we can get along without each other or without dialogue.

On the other hand, I agree with Gene that when/if we finally come to feel convicted that a certain way is for-certain where God is leading us, why should we hold back?  I think of the evangelical response to slavery in the South.  While I wouldn’t encourage any abolitionist church to cut all ties with apathetic or pro-slavery churches, I would encourage them to take a strong stand for what they believed was right, not to leave it forever nebulous.  Timing and attitude matter so much in such a response, but I do think we can’t always just say, “You believe X, I believe Y, but things are fine between us, let’s focus on unity.”  I think sometimes it’s legitimate to say, “You believe X, I believe Y, and while I still want to be friends, I do think this is a serious issue with only one right answer.  And we obviously disagree about that that is.  But I have to move forward in pursuing what I think God is calling me to pursue.”

When we should move from open discussion and attempts to avoid alientation (say, within a denomination or other community) into the bulk of the leaders/people taking a stand is pretty fuzzy.

But at some point, I do think that those that believe in women in ministry have to just say it.  (Something InterVarsity, for example, is somewhat hesitant to do.)

And at some point, I think those that believe in LGBT ordination also have to take a stand.  To do nothing less, I think, is exactly what Gene says: sacrificing (your perception of) righteousness before a marginalized people and before God to appease others.

And I don’t think compromise was ever what Christian unity was supposed to be about.

(But this tension–between unity and advocacy–is not an easy one to manage with love and humility!)

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Filed under Gender, LGBT, Social Justice, Theology & Ministry