Toward a Radical Response to Modernity and Postmodernity
Release from Bondage to Commodities
The first step toward a healthy environment is to free ourselves from the dominance of commodities (see table 7). One need not be a Marxist to acknowledge that capitalism dominates all of modern life. We are a people for whom the term productivity automatically connotes commodities. Clearly, the restoration of family life cannot be accomplished without liberation from the pervasive influence of our economic system.
Without a revolution to free us from our bondage to commodities, we will inevitably be pulled toward conformity to the system that promotes it. Technology, money, careers, and material growth have become spiritual forces in society. We cannot count on society to adopt our Christian values; rather, we must be willing to sacrifice and risk appearing foolish in resisting the power of worldly values.
TABLE 7 Creating a Positive Family Environment
Challenges of Modernity Christian Responses
Dominance of Commodities
Release from Bondage to Commodities
Employment programs that give priority to relationships
Family sacrifice of socioeconomic goals
Mutual empowerment (rather than social exchange) as the basis of family relations
Disintegration of Community
Reconstruction of Community
Effective boundaries around the family
Emphasis on the inclusiveness of the family
Complexity of Communication
Revitalization of Communication
Family communication during shared activities
Development of family rituals
Challenges of Modernity Christian Responses
Fragmentation of Consciousness
Reintegration of Consciousness
Dependence on the beliefs and values provided by the church
Openness to people who are different
Service and witness to Christ
Christian employers can take the lead. They can, for example, establish policies that provide ways for their employees to give priority to family relationships. One option is to offer flexible schedules for both mothers and fathers who desire to be with young children. A strategy that reverses the two-hundred-year-old trend of giving economic institutions priority over parenting would make a significant contribution. Such a program could involve concessions for difficult pregnancies, maternity/paternity leave, and childcare on the premises. Excellent health care and disability coverage as well as good retirement programs go a long way to help families at all stages. Such measures would inevitably cost the company in monetary profits, but gains would be realized in the strengthening of family relationships, in the employees’ personal well-being, and in their loyalty to the company. Employees would benefit from the commitment, care, and empowerment provided by their employers.
Commitments from employers to the welfare of their employees need corresponding commitments from employees to produce high-quality work. The present economic system, which makes the profit motive the major consideration, works directly against the development of any sense of loyalty or pride in the quality of work performed. A philosophy of productivity that pressures employees to put in long hours away from home also hurts family life. Christian employers must provide, in addition to salary, a context in which employees receive incentives and rewards for creative service and quality rather than quantity in this work.
Within the family itself, a focus on relationships and a sharing of resources with others must replace consumerism and careerism. This would require (in addition to an attitude of mutual submissiveness, empowerment, and servanthood) a willingness to forgo the socioeconomic status and security that we have been conditioned to achieve for ourselves and our families. A basic assumption of middle-class American society is that we are obligated
to hand down to our children a certain social status and economic security. Family life is oriented toward this goal. A decision to sacrifice socioeconomic status in order to live more simply will be perceived as a threat to the existing order. The children involved, other family members, and friends may criticize someone who takes a lower-paying job in order to spend more time with the family or to serve the community.
It is not easy to buck the system and make personal relationships and serving others higher priorities than making money. Our society respects people with high-paying jobs but seldom prizes those who choose relationships as their supreme goal. A typical case in point is parents who choose to stay home with their children out of dedication to the parenting role. These parents are often judged negatively for not being employed outside the home. A single parent who makes such a decision may have the additional stigma of living at the poverty level.
The church must offer its blessing to any individual willing to make sacrifices. Such support and backing will minimize the impact of these sacrifices and protect the individual from the brute economic forces of modern society. Churches can offer sustenance to families that commit themselves to relational goals. They can also provide quality day care for the children of parents who need to be employed outside the home. Further, the church should be sensitive to the special needs of families that have added emotional or financial burdens. The resources provided by a caring community can be of enormous benefit to families who are mentally or physically challenged, to those suffering from chronic mental or physical health problems, and to the elderly coping with frailty and death.
Reconstruction of Community The typical nuclear family in the United States is a partial community at
best. It is plundered on one side by the demands and intrusions of mass society and on the other by an individualism that has become increasingly self-centered. What is needed most is a recapturing of the biblical perspective of what it means to be a family. In this regard, two points that may at first appear to be paradoxical need to be made.
First, the reconstruction of family life needs to take place in a secure environment with effective boundaries. The family needs protection from the intrusion of a multitude of forces that currently encroach on it and sap its vitality. We have already mentioned the necessity of protecting the family
from economic institutions. A similar appeal could be made regarding governmental, educational, and even religious institutions. In trying to meet all the demands with which these institutions bombard it, the family is fractured. Family members need a central place where they can gather and be nurtured in an environment of acceptance, intimacy, and mutual concern.
Second, the reconstruction of community can take place only when the concept of family is regarded as inclusive rather than exclusive. Whereas servanthood and commitment are meant to begin in the family, the Bible presents a moral imperative that expands our circle of caring to an expanded awareness and concern for others. In fact, on occasion Jesus speaks of leaving, dividing, and even hating one’s family. Luke 12:52–53 says, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” The point here is that loyalty must transcend one’s immediate family and extend to the Christian community as a whole. The family and church community extend to the wider community as well.
Revitalization of Communication Communication is vital in reconstructing our community life and
reintegrating our consciousness. It should reflect both our individual uniqueness and our shared values and activities. In the intimacy of the family or church community, we have a place where we can be naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25), a place where we can be who we are, free from all the demanding requirements of the outside world. Here is a place where family members can relax and be comfortable in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. Here they do not have to hide but can be honest and real before the other members of the family. Families grounded in the principle of mutual servanthood exemplify the spirit of Christian community.
Family communication must be liberated from overreliance on techniques and obsession with words. Communication must be contextualized—that is, become an organic part of daily family life—rather than being a separate activity unto itself. Communication is more than active listening techniques; it develops within a family and provides a context for family identity in fostering meaning-making. Living in community involves individuals and
families in person-centered engagement. These activities provide a natural context in which to share stories, experience life, and learn from each other.
Creating or rediscovering family and church rituals for special occasions is an excellent way to break down barriers between people and symbolize family values. At Christmastime, for example, celebrating the spiritual aspects of the season through symbolic acts, art, plays, song, and dance creates solidarity in which all members participate. This intimate time of togetherness is also an opportunity for each family member to express personal uniqueness. Worshiping together as a family in a multigenerational service enhances mutuality and togetherness.
Reintegration of Consciousness Individuals are able to integrate their experiences only if a plausible
system of beliefs and values is available to them. The isolated nuclear family is incapable of developing and maintaining such a system. The church can help by providing a coherent structure of beliefs and values so that the family can achieve a reintegration of consciousness. Spiritual formation takes place in the context of the worshiping community.
Another means of achieving reintegration is for the church and the family to be open rather than closed systems. The nuclear family can develop fictive kin—people who, though they are not blood relatives, are taken in as extended-family members. Church members should seize the opportunity to become world Christians rather than focusing only on the plight of their own groups. The church is challenged to learn about Christians around the world and respond to them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Embracing different cultures and races and employing their gifts and leadership enriches the worshiping community of faith. Wherever there are poor and oppressed people, the Christian community has an opportunity to reach out with acts of compassion as well as with monetary and political support. During the COVID-19 crisis, for example, churches joined together in efforts to provide food for those in need, enhancing the life of the church body even though they were not meeting in the church building.
Through service and witness to Christ, we have a great hope of reintegrating our lives. We must keep in mind, however, that the disintegrating effects of modernity will be overcome only in part in the present world. Perfection will come in the future. “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will
come to an end. . . .