Tag Archives: religious conservatives

How can we save the church from divorce?

Unable to stop gay marriage, successfully promote straight marriage, or prevent divorce, the religious right is adopting a defensive posture. Maggie Gallagher has canceled her syndicated column. And the Institute for American Values has decided that, if it can’t save the family, it may as well try to save the church. (Or, as they call it now, in some weird nod toward diversity, “the churches.”)

A new pamphlet, by Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Zeittlow, and Charles Stokes, spells out the problem of divorce — for the churches. It’s called, “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?”

David Smilde and Matthew May determined in 2010 that social science is increasingly studying religion’s effects rather than its causes — asking whether religion helps or hurts rather than what makes people religious. But churches are institutions, with bills to pay, zeal to project and ideological missions to fulfill. They have to worry about the bottom line. And divorce is hurting it.

Amanda Marcotte commented at Slate:

To read this paper, you’d think non-believing children of divorce are the walking wounded, barely able to make it through the day. Words like “schism,” “rupture,” and “alienated” abound, and the study’s authors warn that even having an amicable divorce leaves your child in danger of blowing off church, which we are meant to believe is a very dire fate indeed.

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But more than concern for children, the document is animated by concern for the churches:

We have learned that when children of divorce reach adulthood, compared to those who grew up in intact families, they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in the regular practice of a faith.

The main question is, how can we keep this structural change in family life from harming the churches:

The health and future of congregations depends upon understanding, reaching out to, and nurturing as potential leaders those who have come of age in an era of dramatic social changes in family structure. The suffering felt by children of divorce may actually offer a pathway toward healing and growth, not only for themselves but for the churches.

On helpful suggestion is to take advantage of people, especially children, when they are vulnerable:

Those who have experienced brokenness in their families of origin may have had early experiences of the imperfection and frailty of human beings. They may be open to the idea of a God who loves unconditionally, a community in which to seek meaning, or a practice that engages them with more universal truths.

This can be difficult, however, because divorced parents may be turned off by the churches (especially churches that threaten them with hell-fire for getting divorced, and now are coming after their children), and thus not even bring their children to the churches anymore.

When parents do not involve their children in an active life of faith, churches seem bewildered about how to reach them.

Besides reminding parents that giving children access to the internet is risky, this might lead some parents to say, “Good! How about this: leave my kids alone unless you have my permission to ‘reach them.””

I think the churches should consider that, if the children of divorced parents are feeling some pain, the churches themselves might not be completely blameless for that. After all, many children of Christian parents are raised to believe that:

…when a child is conceived the child is a one-flesh union of his or her parents that cannot break in two. Theologically [in Christianity], then, children whose parents divorce experience brokenness because the parental unity that they embody has been ruptured.

Not surprisingly, such children may feel torn by divorce.

And of course that can happen regardless of the parents’ religions. But here’s a suggestion: don’t teach children that they are the “one-flesh union” of their parents’ marriage. Rather, find a way to explain to children that they are the biological creation of two separately living organism which, upon achieving physical independence, has its own existence that survives its parents’ breakup. Maybe we could address the emotional challenges better if we weren’t standing in the pool of blood created by the rupture of the child’s tender body.

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Yes, mothers and fathers still exist

On FamilyScholars.org, which (having retreated on opposing homogamous marriage) is busy promoting its “new conversation on marriage,” Elizabeth Marquardt writes: “Where do babies come from? The state of New York seems unsure.”

Her link to a “report” is to one of those “you wouldn’t believe what my friend saw” posts on the Christian conservative site First Things:

A friend’s wife recently gave birth. He reports that the New York birth certificate asks for the sex of the mother, and the sex of the father.

It goes on to mock people who think seriously about sex and gender. And so the thing starts spreading around the religious-conservative sky-is-falling blogosphere.

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I’m not too embarrassed to say I spent 15 minutes trying to look this up. Live and learn.

It’s hard to find information about birth certificates, because everything online keeps steering you to ways to order birth certificates, not create them. But, in New York state it appears there is a state system, and a state system excluding New York City. On the New York City site, there is an Electronic Birth Registration System, described here. It asks for a lot of information about the mother and father, but not their sex or gender.

I didn’t find the equivalent for the rest of the state, but the state’s Department of Health reports that they follow National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) guidelines, which seem to refer to this revised birth certificate recording form, which was revised in 2003. In addition to health information, it records the mother’s and father’s marital status (mother only), country of birth, education, Hispanic origin, and race. The mother is “the woman who gave birth to, or delivered the infant.”

The only mention of sex (or gender) pertains to the child: “Print or type whether the infant is male, female or if the sex of the infant is not yet determined.” And “not yet determined” is a temporary state, as the recording instructions clarify:

An N code for “not yet determined” should not be allowed for any record in the file at the time the file is closed. NCHS will query states to obtain the sex of the infant for all records still retaining the N code at the time the file is closed.

 

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