How Should Church & State Support the Family? Part 2: The Need for Hope

Christopher Benek

Continued from How Should Church & State Support the Family? Part 1: What Makes a Family?

Religious institutions have thousands of years of valuable insights, experience and formational practice in helping to understand what makes healthy families. As such they potentially offer tremendous assistance in helping to determine what is helpful and needed for healthy families in the transitioning familial landscape.

Unfortunately, there is a large challenge that current religious institutions face which may prohibit large-scale familial assistance. That is that many institutional religious models are not fiscally sustainable long term. In Christianity for instance, the church has, in many cases, forsaken gospel teachings in exchange for brick-and-mortar holdings that often have little to do with forming good people. If the state wants to leverage religious organization’s historic expertise in virtue formation then it will need to find ways to incentivize such religious bodies to transition to more sustainable ways of being.

Of additional concern is the potential coming automation crisis that, according to the McKinsey report, threatens mass global unemployment, up to 22% in the US alone, by 2030. If these numbers were to actualize - unemployment rates would be only 3% shy of the Great Depression. Add these numbers to an already unsustainable model of organized religion and I predict that we are likely to see the loss of more than half of mainline religions in the United States by 2030.

These issues are only complicated because we know that fiscal instability dramatically impacts divorce rates, which are already high in the US. - Divorce obviously impacts the health of family units. Coupled with a lack of community purpose or a sense of ultimate meaning for the 84+% of the world’s population that articulates faith in God – we could be looking at a loss of familial stability that then translates into social unrest.

Racial inequalities and injustices increase such potential civic unrest – like areas of Detroit, Michigan where fathers are radically missing in African American communities because males in those communities are largely either dead or in jail well before age 30. This occurs in many instances because there have been areas in Detroit where, in even the last decade – if you are born into certain school districts – you have zero chance of being enrolled at a college because the provided education is so poor at the public school level that universities cannot catch students up in the standard four years of collegiate study. As a result, young men in these communities often turn to illegal activities as a way to support their families – and the aforementioned consequences are grim. Oftentimes religious based outreach is the only refuge in such areas and still such help is limited.

Of course these concerns don’t even begin to address the outrageous cost of post-secondary education that prevents the development of intergenerational familial wealth. It doesn’t address the increasing lack of senior care facilities that cause emotional and fiscal stress on families. It doesn’t address the massive amounts of debt that the average family has. It doesn’t address the wildly lacking options for mental health care or the suffocating costs of health care. It does not address the thousands of children without homes, or locked in cages on the US border. Nor does it address the concerning growth of American religious fundamentalism that promotes unbiblical escapism theology – encouraging masses of people to disengage from addressing these problems – because “Earth isn’t our home – we’re just passing through.”

It is such a dismal systemic day-to-day existence for so many families – and I would contend that I still haven’t even scratched the surface of the systemic problems that we are presently facing. There are many issues that need to be systemically addressed in order to create positive outcomes. This will take time and money from both religious and state institutions.

In light of these immense needs, maybe the one thing that is currently the most important responsibility of the state and organized religion in shaping and supporting modern family units – is to jointly work to foster HOPE.

Humanity’s faith in what the future can or cannot be will result in actions that make such faith a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of fostering dystopian scenarios, it is far more helpful, and our virtuous responsibility, to cast a unified hope that is intimately tied to a sense of ultimate meaning and vocational purpose. This hope should be enacted through a participatory theology of continued improvement and redemption, and that calls forth a new reality, “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

For, it is in the process of bringing forth such a new reality that we will form the love and connectionalism of the family units that we so desperately seek.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What ways do you think that the state can help religious organizations to better help families in need?

Q2. How do you think that religious organizations can better help families in need?

Q3. What do you think is the most important need currently in stabilizing families and how might that need be met practically?