Fuller Theological Seminary

Is The American Family In Trouble

A Paper Presented in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Course FS506 FAMILIES IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY

Dr. Cameron Lee

By Jack Hakimian Summer 2007

Table Contents Introduction Present Truth The Current Debate Which View is More Plausible Conclusion Bibliography 2 3 4 7 10 12

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Introduction

Forty years ago most Americans thought the future of families in America would be stable. They watched Ozzie and Harriet on television and saw that as the American ideal. Even if they didn’t live or experience that ideal themselves, they imagined a kind of American utopia that wasn’t normative for them. The American family has not moved closer to Utopia, or even stability. Rather it seems as though that ideal presented so many years ago is further out of reach as we see the disintegration of the family unit. If you trace the history of America from its three major economic “eras” (Agricultural, Industrial, Service) you come to realize we have always been a country in flux.1 While it may appear there has been a time when Americans have maintained certain “values”, that reality has been challenged and is still being challenged today. The real issue is that the values camp argues for a romanticized period that was beneficial for mainly white Anglo Protestant Americans. The African American perspective of “traditional values” is enslavement, abuse, and limited civil rights.2 That is what they hear when words like, “We need to return to the good old days” are spoken. In 1962, a magazine called a group of scholars, scientist and politicians together to discuss the future state of America in twenty five years. A majority of them said that by 1987 America would be a gem. She would lead the world in technology, morality, and financial equity. Not only would the country be prosperous financially, but socially. The contemporary homemaker (wife, mom) would have technology at her disposal in such a way that she would calmly cook, clean and manage

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Cameron Lee. FS506 Families in Contemporary Society; Summer 2007, Lecture 2 1. Peter B. Levy, The Civil Rights Movement (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998), 80,

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her children all at once. A typical day would consist of buying baked ham pills, cleaning the clothes, and paying the radar bill.3

Present Truth

Now we see they were wrong. Since 1962 sexual relations before marriage has increased.4 According to Bridget Maher, “The marriage rate (8.6 marriages per 1,000 citizens in 1999) is near an all-time low, while the current divorce rate (4.1 per 1,000 population in 1999) is nearly twice that of 1960”.5 In fact, in these days the experts say married couples have about a 50 percent chance of surviving in marriage.6 Statistics say over one million kids experience divorce per year. U.S. Census Bureau stated that 20 percent of first marriages dissolve within the first 5 years and 33 percent by 10 years.7. In 2000, 4.7 million are cohabiting, compared with 500,000 in 1970.8 Remarriages are estimated to be slightly above 40%.9

Baby-boomers may favor divorce over self misery, but statistically children don’t. Children tend to be idealistic about marriage and have a hard time with the reality of

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Arlene Skolnick.1991. Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Basic Books, i 4 Ronald R. Rindfuss, and Audrey Vandenheuvel. 1992. Cohabitation: a Precursor to Marriage or an Alternative to Being Single?," in The Changing American Family: Sociological and Demographic Perspectives ed. Scott J. South and Stewart E. Tolnay. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 121 5 Bridget Maher. January 2003. Patching Up the American Family. World and I, 56 6 Maher, 56 7 Maher, 56 8 Maher, 56 9 Lee, Lecture 1

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conditional love by the parents.10 Yet the “Sanguine Group” argues that adolescents cope with divorce and actually have healthy lives like two parent families.11 According to Arland Thornton, “Wallerstein and Kelly ( 1980) report that children who experience divorce report substantially more regret about the divorce than do their parents”.12

As if things can’t get any worse, 20% of the children in America live in poverty. It has increased more than one-third since 1970.13 Records show that illegal drugs are down since 1970, but twice as many children are committing suicide.14 Kids feel separated from support networks, and the murder rate amongst them has increased.15 Children have more personal rights, but with that the boundaries that once clearly defined their role has vanished.16 We no live in low group, low grid culture. Very little is expected from each other, with very unclear definitions of masculinity and femininity.

The Current Debate

The current family values debate comes from two polarized perceptions of the problem.17 When one person looks at the broken car they see an engine in need of repair. When the other person looks they see the need for a new tire, paint job, and antenna. You can say the values camp approaches this issue from a subjective, internal perspective (engine).
Arland Thornton. 1992 .The Influence of the Parental Family on the Attitudes and Behavior of Children. The Changing American Family: Sociological and Demographic Perspectives ed. Scott J. South and Stewart E. Tolnay. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 253 11 Arlene Skolnick. May/June 1997. Family Values: The Sequel. The American Prospect. 12 Thornton, 253 13 Stephanie Coontz. 1995. The American Family and the Nostalgia Trap. Phi Delta Kappan. 76 (7) 14 Coontz,76, no.7 15 Coontz,76, no.7 16 Coontz,76, no.7 17 Lee, Lecture 1
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While the more liberal, “Sanguine” camp approaches it from a societal perspective. If government, churches, and mainly social institutions acted more just in giving equal opportunities for minorities, women and homosexuals America would be a better place. In fact the advancement of civil liberties since the civil rights movement give them a reason to be “optimistic”. Far as they are concerned the “values camp” is trying to move the country back into suppression. One writer said it like this,

“Two opposed camps have squared off in debate. One perspective—call it ‘concerned’ or pro-marriage—holds that the decline in marriage has been a troubling trend, especially for children. Its adherents argue that father absence and divorce tend to have important negative consequences for child well-being. The opposing perspective—call it ‘sanguine’ or pro-family diversity—holds that families haven’t been weakened by divorce and unwed childbearing but have just changed in form. Advocates of the sanguine view argue that the supposed effects of family structure for children are exaggerated, if they exist at all”18

To sum up the debate there are essentially three ideological camps.19 Firstly, there is the sanguine (“optimistic”) view. They would argue that the family is not made up of a heterosexual two parent unit, but can be more diverse then that. Historically, they claim that global cultures used the term “family” to describe people of their household, blood relatives, extended family, slaves, anyone who shares in the common living space.20 Ponte and Gillan argue, “ In the 1940s, anthropologist George Peter Murdock determined in his review of two hundred-fifty ethnographic reports that the extended family network outnumbered polygamous family and nuclear family units two to one in the cultures
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http://www.familyscholarslibrary.org/content/readingrooms/shift/ Lee, Lecture 1 20 Lucille M. Ponte, and Jennifer L. Gillan. 2005. From Our Family to Yours: Rethinking the "Beneficial Family" and Marriage-Centric Corporate Benefit Programs. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 14 (2)

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analyzed (27)”.21 Secondly there is the concerned (“pessimistic”) view. The definition of family for this “conservative values” side is defined by Don S. Browning as “intact”.22 He defines “intact” as “…..a family in which mother and father are parenting their own children in a lifetime marriage”, then he goes on to write, “We use ‘equal regard’ to describe a relationship between husband and wife characterized by mutual respect, affection, practical assistance, and justice -- a relationship that values and aids the self and other with equal seriousness”.23 Browning did a survey of 1,019 people and found 55 percent chose mutuality as a model that best describes love in marriage, 38 percent chose self-sacrifice as a model, and only 5 percent chose self-actualized model.24 Of course we don’t know who they asked and where they where. I am sure if they asked suburban adults vs. urban they would get two different responses.

Third group of people in this debate are impatient (“postmodern”). All these people want is for society to evolve and learn that we cannot to be sure about anything. The real answer is acceptance and community. A post modernist Stephanie Coontz writes,

“One side thinks we can reverse undesirable social trends through discipline and moral exhortation; the other side thinks that therapy and sensitivity will do the trick. Both sides ignore the long-term structural changes that underlie many of the problems”25

Ponte, and Gillan, 14 (2) Don S. Browning. 1997. From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2 23 Browning, 2 24 Browning, 19 25 Stephanie Coontz.1995. The American Family and the Nostalgia Trap. Phi Delta Kappan 76 (7)
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Which View Is Most Plausible

All the views are plausible and play a critical role in bringing transformation to the family structures of America. It is amazing to see republicans and democrats argue about the best means of eliminating crime, poverty and drugs from our streets. Democrats think bigger government and more social programs will elevate some of the pressure that leads to crime and disparity. Republicans think old fashioned values and convictions are the only means for a poor person to work themselves out of the hole. Since this is America the land of opportunity there is no reason why anyone should be without. Both are over simplifications to a more complex problem. Someone who holds to a biblical worldview should never be trapped by simplified anecdotes to complex ailments. A good doctor knows their can be a variety of reasons for what seems to be a common symptom.

Firstly, intrinsic values do play a role in shaping a family and the type of children they have. Parents in those early years help shape the character of the next generation. John A. Coleleman in his critique of the book, “From Culture Wars To Common Ground: Religion And The American Family Debate” articulates the fact that the author Don S. Browning creatively uses Auqinas classical arguments of the “one flesh” . Aquinas states that, because the child comes from the parents, they are most suitable to nurture them. “Given this premise, Aquinas's insistence that "[n]urture by the family--specifically the mother--is appropriate for children at [the] pre-rational stage".26 In this kind of parentchild love triad everyone is respected and valued. Unlike the historical understanding of the two parent relationship, “the wife or woman is treated equal, thus negating the idea of
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Rubio, Julie Hanlon. 2002. The Dual Vocation of Christian Parents. Theological Studies 63 (4)

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subservient forms as interpreted by feminist from the values camp”.27 Browning sees the Biblical household codes as contextual and progressive in the idea of “equality” and justice. By the New Testament era the scripture declares all are one in Christ.28

Secondly, there are cultural deceptions that affect society negatively. We do know there has been strong campaigning to create consumers out of Americans so they can spend money since the advent of the television. According to Jennings Bryant ,

“…………..by the time children reach the third grade, television commercials have such a strong influence that they not only request products and brands more often than younger children do after seeing them advertised "but they also seem less prone to accept parental refusal and [are] more likely to react aggressively when faced with frustration” Combine that type of aggressive marketing with our capitalistic American ideals you have fire mixed with gasoline. Since the 1960’s the rise of “rights” and “therapeutic” language, have reinforced and propelled this self centered consumerism identity, pulling against the very core of what it means to be human in harmonious relationships with my neighbors. Now your intrinsic value is defined by “what you own” and not by whom you are ontologically.29 Advertisers have played on the human ego and “rights” psyche, by appealing to our false sense of existence. Arlene Skolnick writes,

John A. Coleman.1999. From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate. Theological Studies 60 (1), 181 28 Galatians 3:27-29 29 Lee, class lecture

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“Searching for the ‘normal American family’ in the late 1950s, one researcher found ‘the most astonishing variance in its structure and function.’ 10 Families differed by income, by social class, by ethnicity and religion, by neighborhood and region, by number of members, by relations with kin, by patterns of authority and affection, by life-style, by the balance of happiness and unhappiness. Yet, those smiling television families incarnated a symbolism deeply rooted in American culture; anthropologists have shown that this ‘sentimental model’ defines family life even for those whose daily lives and cultural traditions differ radically from it”30

This same author Arlene from the sanguine camp argues that there is nothing wrong with the total notion of therapy. It is rather a “therapeutic” language that is to excessive that becomes problematic. There is a place she argues for therapy because with all this new found freedom people don’t know how to handle it.31 In contrast Kay S. Hymowitz, from the values side, argues that all therapeutic and rights language should be removed from the picture. Commenting on the book “The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family," he states that the author’s ultimate purpose is to remind people that marriage is not just a personal covenant based on love but an irreplaceable social institution--and to argue, as well, that this institution does better at preserving and enhancing the realm of the personal than any of the many substitutes that have recently been on offer.32 With the direction and speed society is moving it is good for families to constantly and with

Arlene Skolnick. 1991. Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Basic Books, 3 31 Skolnick, 152 32 Kay S. Hymowitz, "The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family," Commentary, December 2001

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flexibility re-examine the relationship they will have with a society that utilizes technology and the market at such freedom.33

Thirdly, we need a contextualized method of doing analysis when it comes to minority families. Our field research should inform our methodology of developing policy and giving answers to various American ethnic groups. Most policies have been shaped by lawmakers to see the world from an Anglo American perspective. For example, amongst African Americans, historically the church has been the fabric and strength of their community. Jewell, writes, that efforts by government to help majority group families may not be effective with resourcing and empowering African-American families. African-American families when needing help have tended to utilize more informal systems of support than their European-American counterparts. In the African American community the black church has always played the key role of establishing order and rhythm. Based on the cultural differences, social programs that work through religious organizations tend to be more effective in developing and stabilizing African American communities.34

Conclusion

The American family is in trouble. There is no one cause for the breakdown we see today. We should take a multi-disciplinary approach if we are to even begin to have a

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Matt Cherry, and Molleen Matsumura, "A Vision of Families for the Twenty-First Century: A Declaration of Secular Family Values," Free Inquiry, Winter 1998,

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positive effect on the family unit. Balanced approaches are needed to best asses and address the issues. The “values” camp and the “sanguine” camp, approach the family problem from different angles. Therefore they see causes and solutions the other misses. The intrinsic problems as well as cultural deceptions can be address. By using information and guidance of both camps broader more complete solutions may be enacted.

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Bibliography
Let Them Eat Values. January 1995. The Progressive. Browning, Don S. 1997. From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. Bryant, Jennings. 1990. Television and the American Family Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Cherry, Matt and Molleen Matsumura. Winter 1998. A Vision of Families for the Twenty-First Century: A Declaration of Secular Family Values. Free Inquiry. Coleman, John A. 1999. From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate. Theological Studies 60 (1). Coontz, Stephanie. 1995. The American Family and the Nostalgia Trap. Phi Delta Kappan 76 (7). Decter, Midge. 1998. The Madness of the American Family. Policy Review 91. Furstenberg, Frank F. and Kathleen Mullan Harris, ed. 1992. The Disappearing American Father? Divorce and the Waning Significance of Biological Parenthood. Edited by S. J. S. a. S. E. Tolnay, The Changing American Family: Sociological and Demographic Perspectives ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. HALPIN, TONY. Marriage Makers; A Moral Victory as Family Values Are Put into School Lessons. The Daily Mail Hymowitz, Kay S. December 2001. The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family. Commentary. Levy, Peter B. 1998. The Civil Rights Movement. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Maher, Bridget. January 2003. Patching Up the American Family. World and I. Ponte, Lucille M. and Jennifer L. Gillan. 2005. From Our Family to Yours: Rethinking the "Beneficial Family and Marria ge-Centric Corporate Benefit Programs. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 14 (2). Rindfuss, Ronald R. & Audrey Vandenheuvel, ed. 1992. Cohabitation: a Precursor to Marriage or an Alternative to Being Single?,. Edited by S. J. S. a. S. E. Tolnay, The Changing American Family: Sociological and Demographic Perspectives ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Rubio, Julie Hanlon. 2002. The Dual Vocation of Christian Parents. Theological Studies 63 (4). Skolnick, Arlene. 1991. Embattled Paradise: The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty New York: Basic Books.

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———. May/June 1997. Family Values: The Sequel. The American Prospect. Stacey, Judith. July 25, 1994. The New Family Values Crusaders: Dan Quayle's Revenge. The Nation. Thornton, Arland, ed. 1992. The Influence of the Parental Family on the Attitudes and Behavior of Children. Edited by S. J. S. a. S. E. Tolnay, The Changing American Family: Sociological and Demographic Perspectives ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Yancy, George. 2006. Survival of the African American Family: The Institutional Impact of U.S. Social Policy. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 37, (3).

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