Why “Family Values” Defined Conservative Christianity (and Why “Religious Liberty” has Replaced It) – by E C Miller
I am right wing, somewhat Christian, and believe that many Christians and secular conservatives have made the nuclear family and marriage into idols, which is wrong.
I am not opposed out-right to the traditional family, marriage, or to motherhood, and so forth, in and of themselves, but I am in disagreement at how so many right wingers and Christians elevate all those things to the point that they end up marginalizing anyone who does not fit the mould of “married with children.”
Anyone who is infertile, child free, divorced, never married, widowed, and what have you, is excluded or treated shabbily by the majority of “family values” obsessed right wingers and Christians, which again, in my view, is terribly wrong and unfair.
Here is an article explaining how and why the religious right elevated “the family” in their rhetoric:
- From about 1970 until about 2000, American politics was largely driven by concern about the nuclear family. As established social hierarchies came under fire from the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, second-wave feminism, and others, conservative advocacy groups and their political allies demanded a return to the idealized family of the past. “Family values” became the rallying cry of a countermovement bent on holding the traditional line.
- Seth Dowland is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University. His book, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right, charts the influence of Christian “family values” advocacy across three decades and a variety of issues.
- RD’s Eric C. Miller spoke with Dowland about the project, the politics, and the significance of family in the United States.
- You introduce “family values” as the key term of the Christian Right in the late twentieth-century United States. Why was this term so influential for this group in this place and time?
- Many of the political reforms enacted from the 1930s through the 1960s—particularly the expansion of the welfare state and the passage of civil rights legislation—attempted to expand equal rights to all people.
- Political liberals celebrated these developments, while conservatives looked around the nation at the beginning of the 1970s and saw economic stagnation, riots, sexual revolution, a decline in patriotism, and an increase in crime and drug use. Ministers and political conservatives argued that America was in decline. They believed that decline happened because of the demise of the “traditional family.”
- Scholar Stephanie Coontz (Link): has shown that the concept of a traditional family—breadwinning father, stay-at-home mother, and children who enjoy a lengthy and protected childhood—is a fiction. In fact, even idealizing this version of the traditional family is a fairly recent phenomenon.
- Democrats in the 1970s agreed with Republicans that they ought to promote families, but they wanted to broaden the concept of family to include single-parent families, multi-generational households, and, in some cases, gay couples. Political conservatives rejected the attempt to broaden the concept of family and placed defense of the traditional family at the center of their political agenda.
This agenda—defending and promoting family values—resonated with evangelical Christians because it spoke to two of their central convictions.
First, evangelicals believed that gender was part of the created order, that men and women were created by God to fulfill different roles. In traditional families, men provided and protected, while women bore, reared and nurtured children. Movements that viewed gender roles as the product of patriarchal social constructions—such as second-wave feminism—represented a denial of God’s good creation, which spelled out biologically appropriate roles for men and women.
Second, evangelicals believed that God designed institutions like the family and the church to run under certain authority structures. While evangelicals voiced support for equal rights, they wanted to retain the authority structures that kept human sinfulness in check.
- …The book’s structure does a nice job of laying out family values activism as a species of identity politics, with issues apportioned to children, mothers, and fathers as fundamental political actors. Is “family values” the conservative rejoinder to the feminist claim that the personal is political?
- …Leaders of the anti-feminist coalition capitalized on conservative women’s frustration with feminists. Phyllis Schlafly insisted that the Equal Rights Amendment was “anti-family, anti-children, and pro-abortion.” She won broad support from conservative women because she highlighted her commitment to the family and to particular roles within the family: those of wife and mother.Ironically, identifying first as a wife and mother authorized conservative women to range far outside the home in order to defend their rights within it.
- Schlafly ran for Congress, authored a bestseller in support of Barry Goldwater, and campaigned across the country to defeat the ERA. Beverly LaHaye gave speeches to thousands. Texas public school watchdog Norma Gabler became a fixture at the annual textbook adoption hearings in Austin, claiming moral authority as a mother to revise curricula according to conservative beliefs.
Stories of these and other women fill the book, suggesting that family values made the personal political for conservative women.
- … Being a woman, according to pro-family groups, entailed a noble calling to support one’s husband and nurture one’s children. Feminists who privileged other roles for women were undermining the created order.
- …Family values rhetoric seemed to taper off around the turn of the century, to be replaced by “religious freedom” as the key term of the Christian Right. Presumably, though, the movement still thinks family is important. So why make this change now? And will “family values” be back?
- Conservative evangelicals have grown more circumspect about their position as political leaders in the last decade. In his book (Link): Age of Evangelicalism, Steven Miller shows how evangelical norms, language, and votes exerted a disproportionate influence on national politics until very recently. Miller makes a compelling case that Obama’s election, after running as an “unabashed social liberal,” marked the end of the age of evangelicalism.
- More than anything, the legalization of gay marriage signaled conservative evangelicals’ political exile. In the last few years, they have published a spate of books about the need for Christians to live as counter-cultural witnesses, and the battleground has shifted to religious freedom so that [in their view] churches and other Christian organizations can practice what they preach in peace.
- This is a far cry from the bombast of Jerry Falwell and James Dobson talking about taking back the nation for Christ.
- …The dominance of these demographics [white heterosexual couple with children] is waning. We’ll see the return of family values in our political debates, but they won’t be framed in the same way as they were during the late twentieth century.
- (( click here to read the rest ))
(Link): How Christians Have Failed on Teaching Maturity and Morality Vis A Vis Marriage / Parenthood – Used as Markers of Maturity Or Assumed to be Sanctifiers – Also: More Hypocrisy – Christians Teach You Need A Spouse to Be Purified, But Also Teach God Won’t Send You a Spouse Until You Become Purified