Credible witnesses needed

The gifts of family life are meant to be shared.

Changing the culture of family fragmentation is a tall order, particularly when it means rebuilding or repairing what is broken, as both family life and our culture are today. Politics can work only at the margins of these challenges, “nudging” people one way or another. And appeals to reason, whether through the educational system or in the public square, can work only inasmuch as people are willing to listen or even sense there is a problem. Like with the solution to many challenges in American life today, both policies and arguments are necessary, but neither is sufficient.

Furthermore, the dominant cultural narrative is often hostile to commitments, duties, and bonds other than to one’s own pursuits, ideals, and dreams. A lifelong marriage and the expectation of children may be your truth, but don’t try suggesting it should be the general norm for most people. Such skepticism is especially salient because the ideal of permanence and stability in marriage and family life is seen more and more as “unrealistic.”

Changing the culture will require offering a different narrative. We need to win the “story wars,” as author Jonah Sachs calls our public conversation. But building a better narrative won’t be done with exhortations and moralizing, or even sophisticated communications efforts. Many people do not even know what a healthy and happy family looks like because they have not experienced it themselves. They need to have hope that the abundant life offered by the bonds of family and community is even possible.

Therefore, actual models of people forming families and creating stable, loving environments that focus on the well-being of children rather than the desires of adults need to be present in every place and community. We need witnesses to the happiness and fulfil- ment offered by the bonds of family and community, which do not inhibit our freedom, but instead are the very places in which we learn that we are made for each other.

Christians have a special responsibility to rebuild a culture marred by family fragmentation because they are called to make their families a “domestic church.” Like the church, the family is a communion of persons, literally, a sharing of gifts between people who are interdependent on one another and seek to support each other in the midst of life’s joys and challenges. The family, then, is a school of virtues, and a place of peace, solidarity, and blessing.

But the blessings of family life are not meant to be kept hidden under a bushel. The gifts of family life are meant to be shared. And like the church, which is called to go forth and bring the life and love of Christ to others, so too the domestic church, the family, must be missionary disciples of this abundant life.

The missionary discipleship of the family can take many forms. Simply staying married and having children (and doing so with joy, not looking like sourpusses) is countercultural. (When my wife and I are told that we have our hands full with four kids, we always say, “Better than empty!”)

Rooting one’s family in a place, and forgoing building a better career in order to build a better family, can be a beautiful gift that allows your children to know their relatives and grandparents and be tied more closely to the broader community. It highlights the importance of the permanent things over the transient nature of most jobs and a life viewed increasingly in transactional, individualistic, and utilitarian terms. Married couples can mentor the

newly engaged, seek to help struggling couples in myriad ways, or simply make their homes a place of hospitality and friendship. We should support other families when they struggle, particularly with juggling work and children, and should also find opportunities to serve the broader community, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Undoubtedly, just keeping it all together these days is hard enough for most people, let alone making your home and family life a “domestic church.” But if we wish to renew the culture of the family we must provide compelling examples, which will take great sacrifice. Perhaps that is why the Greek word for witness is martyr.

The essay, by Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, is one of
more than 30 to be released soon in the Center’s newest symposium,
SPECIFICALLY, What Can We Do to Change America’s Culture of Massive Family Fragmentation?, edited and with an introduction by American Experiment Founder Mitch Pearlstein. As with now, previous symposia have tackled a wide range of tough questions, including the likes of What Does It Mean to Be an Urban Conservative? (2008); What Governmental Services and Benefits Are You Personally Willing to Give Up? (2011); and a 2009 anthology that sounds keenly current, How Can Conservatism Better Allay the Economic Fears of Working-Class and Middle-Class Americans? Also with previous collections, writers this time around take a variety of valuable tacks as well as come from Minnesota and across the nation.