Why “Family Values” Defined Conservative Christianity (and Why “Religious Liberty” has Replaced It) – by E C Miller

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:

(Link): Why “Family Values” Defined Conservative Christianity (and Why Religious Liberty has Replaced It) by E C Miller


  • 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 ))


Related Posts:

(Link):  Time to End ‘Nuclear Family Privilege’ – Let’s Overcome Irrational Nostalgia for a Version of Family Long Since Transformed

(Link):  The Changing American Family (article)

(Link):  Are Marriage and Family A Woman’s Highest Calling? by Marcia Wolf – and other links that address the Christian fallacy that a woman’s most godly or only proper role is as wife and mother

(Link):  Singles Advocate DePaulo Responds to Right Wing, Conservative Critics of Singlehood, Who Blame Singles For Breakdown of The Family

(Link): Statistics Show Single Adults Now Outnumber Married Adults in the United States (2014)

(Link):  Ever Notice That Christians Don’t Care About or Value Singleness, Unless Jesus Christ’s Singleness and Celibacy is Doubted or Called Into Question by Scholars?

(Link): White Christians No Longer Majority in U.S.A. (2015 Pew Study)

(Link): Baby Making Fixation at Christianity Today Magazine Online – Shaming Women For Not Procreating, or For Delaying Motherhood, or For Limiting the Number of Children

(Link):  Christianity Should Be Able To Work Regardless of Culture, Childed or Marital Status / Article: Unlike in the 1950s, there is no ‘typical’ U.S. family today by B. Shulte

(Link): Conservative Christianity Stuck in 1950s Leave it To Beaver-ville

(Link):  Where have all the TV dogs gone? – indication of the decline of the nuclear family

(Link):  Do Married Couples Slight Their Family Members as Well as Their Friends? / “Greedy Marriages”

(Link): Placing One’s Marriage Ahead of The Church – Preacher Used Prioritizing and Rebuilding His Marriage as Rationale for Bullying His Church Members

(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

(Link): “You’re not a real man until you have children” – childless, childfree women should be able to relate to this too

Link):  The Irrelevancy To Single or Childless or Childfree Christian Women of Biblical Gender Complementarian Roles / Biblical Womanhood Teachings

(Link):   If the Family Is Central, Christ Isn’t, by John B. Carpenter, CP Guest Contributor

(Link):  Book About Intersex Individuals Also Critiques How Conservative Christianity Idolizes the Nuclear Family, Sex, and Marriage to the Detriment of Singles and Others

(Link): Never Married Christians Over Age 35 who are childless Are More Ignored Than Divorced or Infertile People or Single Parents

(Link):  The Bible Does Not Teach Christians to “Focus On The Family” – The Idolization of Family by American Christians (article)

(Link):  Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church? by Gina Dalfonzo

(Link):  Thirty Year Old Woman Kills Herself Due to Being Single and Childless – Churches contribute to this by either Ignoring adult singles or shaming them for being single and childless

(Link): Want To But Can’t – The One Christian Demographic Being Continually Ignored by Christians | Re: Marriage Not Happening for Hetero-sexual Christians Over the Age of 30

(Link): False Christian Teaching: “Only A Few Are Called to Singleness and Celibacy”

(Link): The Netherworld of Singleness for Some Singles – You Want Marriage But Don’t Want to Be Disrespected or Ignored for Being Single While You’re Single

(Link): To Get Any Attention or Support from a Church These Days you Have To Be A Stripper, Prostitute, or Orphan

(Link): The Irrelevancy To Single or Childless or Childfree Christian Women of Biblical Gender Complementarian Roles / Biblical Womanhood Teachings

(Link):  Preacher: ‘They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Hot SEX Lives’ – and once more, never-married celibate adults and their experiences, wisdom, and input are ignored

(Link):  Stop Overlooking Singles in Church By Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence

(Link):  Kerry Shook Marriage Mystery Sermon Series. Singles Ignored AGAIN.

(Link):  Preacher Whose 90% of Sermons are About How to Have a Great Marriage Warns Audience Not to Make Marriage an Idol – Kerry Shook Update and Irony Alert

(Link): The World Does Not Need More Marriage Sermons – They Don’t Stop Divorce or Get People Married

(Link): The Obligatory, “Oh, but if you’re single you can still benefit from my marriage sermon!” line

(Link): Childfree By Choice: How Women are Redefining Tomorrow’s Family

(Link):  Bearden: Staying childless right decision for many women

(Link):  Otherhood – An overlooked demographic – the Childless and Childfree Women and Singles Especially Women Who Had Hoped to Marry and Have Kids But Never Met Mr. Right (links)

(Link): Cultural Discrimination Against Childless and Childfree Women – and link to an editorial by a Childless Woman

(Link): Why all the articles about being Child Free? On Being Childfree or Childless – as a Conservative / Right Wing / Christian:

(Link): Misapplication of Biblical Verses About Fertility (also mentions early marriage) – a paper by J. McKeown

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