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Milt Hankins: Whatever happened to 'family values'?

Jul. 05, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

We are not hearing so much these days from our conservative Republican friends about "family values." As we shall see, a few years ago family values issues were a major part of the Republican, conservative, right-wing-platform.

Is it because conservatives have recognized that a large percentage of the general population is now embracing a new and different set of "family values"? Whether or not conservatives or religious fundamentalists want to admit it, the facts are that 1) significant numbers of Christians and non-Christians are choosing to cohabit "without benefit of clergy," are 2) choosing to become single parents by various methods, and are 3) recognizing that traditional ideas about what constitutes a "family" are clearer than they once were.

The times "they are a-changin'." Inexorably, time brings change.

When we search the Bible for "family" models, we quickly discover a wide range of practices that are no longer acceptable or practical today. We no longer espouse the idea that a man may have more than one wife or have "numerous wives and concubines." Having a female slave bear a child for a barren wife is no longer recognized as an acceptable option. The idea that a man must father a child by his brother's widow so that his dead brother will have an heir deeply offends our moral sensibilities.

On the other hand, remarkable relationships mentioned in the Bible (i.e. Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, and Paul and John Mark) are being more carefully studied.

Thirty-five years ago family values were a major focus in the religious, political and social arena. James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" was organized in 1977. Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" quickly followed. Both attracted the attention of the religious right -- particularly the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Both were highly influential in bringing about the election of President Ronald Reagan.

The materials they circulated among churches were Bible-based, rigidly old-school, and anti-progressive. They appealed to the Baby Boomers; and although they sustained considerable authority in the religious and political arenas, their influence with the social strata, particularly among the emerging, more open-minded and liberal generation, faded rapidly.

I believe we can safely say that a significant number of prominent (think Dole, McCain, Gingrich, Limbaugh, etc.) Republicans who are on their second or third and have shady stories in their backgrounds played a huge role in undermining their political credibility. Was the appeal of "family values" as a religious tenet irreparably harmed by the number of high-profile Christian leaders who became entangled in illicit affairs? Probably so.

It must be somewhat galling to these right-wing leaders that we have a dedicated, faithful family man sitting in the Oval Office. President and Mrs. Obama are neither coy nor secretive about their personal relationship and their devotion to their daughters Malia and Sasha.

It cannot be refreshing -- more likely infuriating -- to Republicans to see their "morality" plank pulled out from under them by a President named Barack Hussein Obama.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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