Christian Family Values?
One of the favorite pasttimes of conservative Christians is to wag their fingers at the rest of society, reprimanding secular and liberal Americans for abandoning what they call “family values”. They’d like us to believe that conservative Christians have better, more devoted lives with their families and that being liberal or unreligious is incompatible with happy family life.
Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what these holier-than-thous are talking about. For all the propaganda from right-wing Christian preachers about making the country safe for children, hardly a week goes by without some preacher getting arraigned for molesting the children of congregation members. As a matter of fact, the highest divorce rates in the country are not in the relatively liberal and secular regions of the Northeast and the West Coast, but in the Bible Belt states in the highly conservative and religious South.
Man Leaves Wife For The Pope
The absurdity of conservative Christianity’s claim to ownership of family values was demonstrated yet again this week by the announcement by the Vatican that it had been successful in its efforts to force a former archbishop to abandon his wife and reaffirm his faithful obedience to the Pope. Archbishop Milingo originally left the Catholic Church in order to marry a South Korean acupuncturist whom he had never met, but was chosen for him by the Reverend Moon, head of the ultra-conservative Unification Church. Milingo and his wife were married in a church-organized mass wedding in a hotel in New York City.
Reverend Phillip Schanker of the Unification Church’s Family Federation for World Peace and Unification made an official church announcement when Milingo and his new wife had sex for the first time. Now, Milingo’s wife says that she may have become pregnant just as he has left their home to reunite with the Pope, to whom he has written, “I am your humble and obedient servant.” She has not been allowed to see her husband who is reportedly confined within the walls of the Vatican, and considers him to be a prisoner of the Catholic Church. She has pledged to engage in a hunger strike until she is allowed to see him.
“What the Vatican has said until now has been all lies,” she says. The Reverend Schanker agrees, saying, “Tonight I fear only for the archbishop’s life because any institution built on such falsehood will crumble no matter what. This isn’t the Middle Ages. If the Vatican wants to do the right thing, they should let Milingo speak for himself.” A Baptist minister who supports Milingo’s wife has stated that, “The archbishop’s silence leads us to believe that his human rights are being violated.”
Am I the only one who thinks that this all is kind of kinky? Here we have a battle of two churches: one church that orders its priests not to get married and another church that not only orders its members to get married but tells them who to marry, conducting communal weddings in hotels. The priest, even after getting married, is pursued by the leader of the first church, who us upset and jealous that the priest put marriage ahead of obedience to the church. The honeymoon is hardly over before the priest abandons his wife, who may now be be pregnant, to pledge his renewed faithfulness to the Pope, promising to be a good, obedient servant to him! When the priest’s wife starts a hunger strike just in order to see her husband and talk to him about their marriage, the Pope still won’t allow them to meet. Apparently, the Pope is willing to let a wife starve before she can be in the presence of her husband.
Christian ANTI-Family Values
It would be tempting to try to dismiss all these shenanigans as exceptions to the rule of Christianity’s wholesome family values. However, this kind of stuff goes on all the time in Christian communities. As often as families are united in churches, they are torn apart by religious bickering. Christianity has a long history of interfering with the home lives of its followers. Many Christian sects routinely tell their members who they can and cannot marry. Once Christian couples are married, they receive new orders about how to act as husband and wife, even how to raise their own children! The Catholic Church in particular is famous for its obsession with control over the sex lives of its members, even telling Catholic couples which sexual techniques they may and may not use.
That Christian preachers spend so much time preaching about family values is telling. The truth is that Christian organizations are by and large more interested in maintaining dogmatic control over the lives of families than in helping families to maintain healthy relationships. When the Pope insists that Archbishop Milingo abandon his new family in order to follow the orders of the Catholic hierarchy, he’s just following standard Christian ideology, reinforcing the idea that the integrity of family life must not be allowed to stand in the way of church interests.
The Bible’s Secret Family Values: Church Comes Before Family
The efforts of Christianity to undermine the integrity of the family go all the way back to the compilation of the Bible. The editors of the New Testament made their anti-family priorities clear in their selection of Matthew, chapter 12, verses 46- 50, in which Jesus is portrayed as righteously neglecting the needs of his own mother and brothers in order to further the interests of his little band of followers. The verses read:
While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
In this passage, Jesus suggests that when people become his followers, their family responsibilities no longer need be of concern. In this ancient piece of Christian doctrine, Christians are instructed to give all their allegiance to their church, which will be their new family. Sounds like the Manson Family, doesn’t it? The fact that the Catholic Church is now almost two thousand years old and one of the most powerful organizations on earth doesn’t make its efforts to weaken the family relationships of its members any less cultish. Neither is the Catholic Church alone among Christian churches in its efforts to undermine the integrity of the family.
Most people overlook the fact that the group that committed mass murder-suicide at the behest of preacher Jim Jones was Christian, but such Christian anti-family violence has a long history. The Christian ideal of the sacrifice of family values to the power of religious leaders is even older that Christianity itself. In the book of Genesis, Chapter 22, God himself is purported to demand the willingness of all his followers to slaughter their own children at his command:
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Mori’ah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
Christian churches usually do not demand this full literal sacrifice of family members, but the point is clear: the family is the property of the church, to be exploited in whatever ways the church desires. The family exists for the sake of the Christian church, not vice-versa.
The New Christianized Anti-Family Government
The overwhelmingly anti-family nature of Christian organizations wouldn’t matter much if Christian groups were content to keep their destructive values to themselves. Unfortunately, with the rise of George W. Bush to the Presidency, Christian anti-family values are now being made into governmental policy. Although the President will not open his administration to input from the American people at large, he holds special sessions with religious leaders, some of whom are not even American citizens, in his attempts to craft legislation and executive orders that undermine the reproductive rights of women and men. President Bush forms secret partnerships with religious organizations in efforts to provide those organizations with special exemptions from civil rights laws, allowing them to discriminate according to family structure. In spite of widespread opposition, the President continues to push for programs that would take funds away from religiously-neutral charities and redirect those funds to conservative Christian, anti-family organizations instead.
Never before in the history of the United States have extremist Christian anti-family organizations had such a strong ally in the White House. Advancing their perverted vision of the religiously subservient family, they have the temerity to characterize their agenda as “family values.” For too long, the secular community and tolerant, liberated Christians have allowed the conservative Christian anti-family charade to continue. Now, more than ever, those Americans who believe that families should be free to decide upon their own values without interference from church leaders or church-backed government programs must stand up to the fundamentalist bullies who would abuse the power of the government to force all American families to march in lockstep with their outdated, draconian vision. The age of theocracy and the Holy Father has passed, and the time for a more democratic view of family values has come.