Can "conservative" churches stop breaking up families?
February 18, 2020
By John Crouch
The “Child-Friendly Faith Project” has a full plate of deadly serious issues of child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc.
But for me, as a family law attorney, the idea of "Child-Friendly Faith” also raises other important issues that we need to do something about.
Churches have too often been involved in child abduction, alienation, and other efforts to destroy two-parent families after divorce or unwed childbearing. As a Christian I’m horrified by churches’ role in, to take two recent examples from Virginia, the long-term “underground” child abduction in the Miller-Jenkins case, and the grossly false abuse accusations and international child abduction in the McLaughlin case.
Partly, it’s that some faith leaders have not focused their attention on family-law issues, and they still have “legacy” views about them which may have been conservative in earlier generations, but which are now so out of step with the reality of family life, that their effect when put into practice is to combine with the worst of anti-family radicalism -- essentially, to take families that are already somewhat broken and break them even further.
For example, I encounter many people who essentially think that every divorce is really a “fault” divorce. And that the spouse who “abandoned” or disrupted the marriage has thus abandoned the whole family, or should be expelled from it. Or that visitation, and dealing with the reality of having a divorced or unwed family, is worse for children than losing a parent completely. Or that a parent who doesn’t share their religion should not get to be a parent.
Even though these views are superficially more “pro-mother” and “anti-father” than vice versa, I don’t think there’s anything feminist or liberated about them. In fact, they are usually part of a larger pattern of patriarchy -- grandparents who don’t respect their adult children's formation of a new nuclear family with their spouses, and who treat their grandchildren as the property of the patriarchal extended family, not as individuals with a right to know and live with both natural parents.
It’s not just that some clergy have these beliefs. Those lay people who tend to think that way also tend to seek, and expect, help from their churches.
We need an interdenominational movement to raise churches’ consciousness about healthy ways to deal with divorce and nontraditional families. No, that’s not all that churches should do -- their divorce ministries should not overshadow their fundamental responsibility to support and foster healthy marriages, which has been sorely neglected for generations -- but they also need to stop making divorces worse.
And while it could take some time for churches to decide exactly what to do to HELP divorced and unwed families, there should be no mystery or delay about what they should STOP doing -- stop helping child abductors and others who would force a parent out of a child’s life.