Whose Family Values?

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>I agree in principle with this UMC Church and Society article on Dr. James Dobson, the Nazarene psychologist (my former denomination) who “champions” family values, which usually means he champions republicanism uncritically with more of an American narrative informing his views than a Christian one. The problem with the article above is that it is so vague and general that it comes off as more of a rant and an argument from Dobson’s silence than a researched and nuanced critique of what Dobson DOES say. There is so much to critique, where does one begin? The author of the article could have started just about anywhere.

Still, I have to admit that I recalled the C&S article I had chanced upon earlier this week when a friend sent me this horrid story in the News and Observer. Whose family values was this particular deputy protecting? Not mine. I am aware that our immigration policy is broken and in need of an overhaul, but this kind of careless negligence attacks every “family value” and Christian sensibility I have. I guess I am supposed to thank God that we are getting the mothers off our of streets and throwing the kids into the middle of the same. Sorry if I am less then enthusiastic.

I am sure there are those out there that might argue this episode was an exception to the rule, but I have heard to many stories just like it to believe such blind platitudes. It is reminiscent of the current debate over terrorism in our country. For some reason, we are living amidst a generation that seeks to protect one ideal while dismantling four others at the same time. To protect American ideals of freedom and due process, we have to trample over both and violate a few other tenets of our constitution. To safeguard “American family values” we have to lock up parents and leave kids to fend for themselves. God help us, because no one else will. And we actually have the gall to wonder why anti-American sentiment is so high in the rest of the world?

I for one am getting sick of it. Does Obama represent change for all of this? That is hoping for too much, but I am willing to give him a chance to make good on a few promises – and if he “flip flops” a little more on immigration – I will praise God for it (as an aside on the “flip-flop” stuff going around – all I can say is “whatever” … nuance a position these days and everyone screams foul). What is more important, however, is where is the church on all of this? If I have any family values at all, they are hidden with Christ behind a cross and not hidden behind a flag or even a constitution. How is that for family values?


  1. >Kevin:Wittgenstein suggest that language functions within particular meaning in particular circumstances. Not that language is universal but that language hold meaning based on the relatedness of the speaker. Let me suggest that within the Christian family we are fundamentally struggling to find a language that is uniquely ours.Dobson and his republican cronies are attempting a market language of value– others are asserting a philosophical language of ethics and or morals– still others want a political language of choice. However, Christianity like any other political system is a language.Primarily this struggle is rooted in our contract with thinking that we must change the world. That is, we are attempting as Christians to be meaningful, relevant or some other idea. In the Methodist Church recently we even went so far to change our mission statement from “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ!” to add the little statement “for the transformation of the world.” While on surface this seems like a good idea I find it somewhat concerning that we are not satisfied with making disciples and now we must evaluate our discipleship based on the transformation of “the world.” Kevin the question is not “whose family values.” But more specifically “whose family?”Dobson and his ilk are busy attempting to define “family” in a way that is very disturbing. Kevin, how we define family will ultimately give us the language not just to respond to Dobson and the facist Americanism that also plagues American liberalism in the guise of paternalism. (by the way that is what I meant in the last post about that statement about Falwell).One of my deepest prides in you is your constant attempt to reconstruct our understanding of family.And just so you all don’t think I am becoming all sentimental– I do not think Obama will be all that helpful to us in developing a language that is friendly to family in the way either of us desires family to be seen.

  2. >I am not sure if its possible to save the language of family within American society because of its pluralist nature. Afterall following Wittgenstein, language is relative to the people it serves. Because the language of family values serves many a different people, it carries with it many a different meaning. While I would never say that I am in the fundamentalist camp, I wonder why we get so angry at their usage of the language of family values… When according to Wittgenstein , they are simply living into their understanding of those words. Can we really reclaim the language of family by redefining ownership or must we abandon the language (note I am not suggesting we abandon the people–simply the words) of family values all together. I think in abandoning the language of family and value we return to the language of body outside of the cultural baggage related to image of family(i.e. disfunction, divorce, abuse, and family systems theory).

  3. >Little Miss Pilgrim (joke)I will be the first to suggest that family language is rough and tumble. I like you would be willing to agree that the recovery of family language might be very difficult. But following Wittgenstein please understand much meaning lies in the modifiers. 1) Family Values2) Christ’s Worth3) American Values4) Church Family5) Human Worth6) Body ValuesThis list could go on and on but what I hope it might demonstrate is that how we modify a language expresses its meaning. I am willing to talk about Body, Church, Family, Human, America and Christ. However, when anyone of these is modified with an economic term it radically changes the meaning of the conversation.As D. Stephen Long is known for saying, “used cars have values families do not.”

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