Family Crisis
Religion and Family Crises

According to the Structural-Functional model of social organization, Religious Institutions serve both society and its members by:

  • offering the necessary comfort to those who suffer (so the other institutions don't have to)
  • aiding the family in providing moral and ethical guidance for behavior
  • providing sacraments for the participation in "holiness" endeavors (weddings, funerals, etc.)
  • serving as a form of community where social differences are set aside
These are important, even essential, aspects of social life. As Neil Postman puts it:
    What happens to people when they have no gods to serve? Some commit suicide. There is more of this in the United States, particularly among our young, than in most other places in the world. Some envelop themselves in drugs, including alcohol. Some take whatever pleasure is to be found in random violence. Some encase themselves in an impenetrable egoism. Many, apparently, find a momentary and pitiful release from dread in commercial re-creations of once-powerful narratives of the past.
    (from The End of Education, p. 11-12).
Postman was referring to gods with a little 'g' - guiding principles, or narratives, he calls them.
Piaget, while remaining secular for the most part, describes these same guiding ideals as schema.
It amounts to the same idea - if we are not given meaning to our lives by family, church, or state - meaning that defines our existence and our reason for being alive - we'll try to make it up on our own. The results usually are frightening.

The Federal Government has something to say about religion and the schools:

August 10, 1995

Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door. While the government may not use schools to coerce the consciences of our students, or to convey official endorsement of religion, the public schools also may not discriminate against private religious expression during the school day.

Religion is too important in our history and our heritage for us to keep it out of our schools...[I]t shouldn't be demanded, but as long as it is not sponsored by school officials and doesn't interfere with other children's rights, it mustn't be denied.

President Clinton
July 12, 1995 

and this letter to all school superintendents in the nation:

Dear Superintendent:

On July 12th, President Clinton directed the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, to provide every school district in America with a statement of principles addressing the extent to which religious expression and activity are permitted in our public schools. In response to the President's request, I am sending to you this statement of principles.

In the last two years, I have visited with many educators, parents, students, and religious leaders. I have become increasingly aware of the real need to find a new common ground and inject fresh air into the growing and, at times, divisive debate about religion in our public schools. President Clinton and I hope that this information will provide useful guidance to educators, parents, and students in defining the proper place for religious expression and religious freedom in our public schools.

As the President explained, the First Amendment imposes two basic and equally important obligations on public school officials in their dealings with religion. First, schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs solely because they are of a religious nature. Schools may not discriminate against private religious expression by students, but must instead give students the same right to engage in religious activity and discussion as they have to engage in other comparable activity. Generally, this means that students may pray in a nondisruptive manner during the school day when they are not engaged in school activities and instruction, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student speech.

At the same time, schools may not endorse religious activity or doctrine, nor may they coerce participation in religious activity. Among other things, of course, school administrators and teachers may not organize or encourage prayer exercises in the classroom. And the right of religious expression in school does not include the right to have a "captive audience" listen, or to compel other students to participate. School officials should not permit student religious speech to turn into religious harassment aimed at a student or a small group of students. Students do not have the right to make repeated invitations to other students to participate in religious activity in the face of a request to stop.

The statement of principles set forth below derives from the First Amendment. Implementation of these principles, of course, will depend on specific factual contexts and will require careful consideration in particular cases.

Although most schools have been implementing these principles already, some problems have arisen where people are unaware of, or do not understand, these obligations. It is my sincere hope that these principles will help to end much of the confusion regarding religious expression in public schools and that they can provide a basis for school officials, teachers, parents, and students to work together to find common ground -- helping us to get on with the important work of education. I want to recognize again the efforts of religious and other civic groups who came together earlier this year to issue a statement of current law on religion in the public schools, from which we drew heavily in developing these principles.

I encourage you to share this information widely and in the most appropriate manner with your school community. Accept my sincere thanks for your continuing work on behalf of all of America's children.

Richard W. Riley
U.S. Secretary of Education 

Often, religious institutions perform their functions well, offering assistance to the needy, succor to the mournful, and joy to the believers:

From the International Union of Gospel Missions (from the internet)
SURVEY OF 14,000 HOMELESS: MOST ARE NEW TO THE STREETS; ONE IN FOUR IS UNDER 25 - Three-Quarters Are Aware of New Welfare Reform Law And Two-Thirds Prefer Spiritual Emphasis In Rehabilitation
For more information contact: Phil Rydman(816) 471-8020,

November 21, 1996 (Kansas City, MO) -- Next week, as America sits down to its thanksgiving dinner, the homeless will be eating at RESCUE missions and other community feeding programs. According to a nationwide survey of 14,000 homeless men and women conducted by the International Union of Gospel Missions (IUGM), this will be the first Thanksgiving on the streets or in homeless shelters for nearly 60 percent of America's homeless.

In terms of age, one in four of the homeless are under 25, half are under 35 and nearly 80 percent are under 45.

"Most people think of the homeless as 55-year-old alcoholic drifters," said Rev. Steve Burger, executive director of the IUGM, "The stark reality is that a majority of the men and women eating Thanksgiving dinner at our missions next week are new to the street and are in their 20s and 30s, often with children."

Addictions, broken relationships, job loss, military-related traumas and mental illness all contribute to homelessness, said Burger. Moreover, he added, "Most of these people will have come to the streets since last Thanksgiving -- and all this is happening before welfare reform begins to take hold."

The survey was conducted by more than 130 US RESCUE missions as part of IUGM's 1996 "Snap Shot Survey," its eighth annual demographic survey of the nation's homeless. The vast majority of America's RESCUE mission receive no federal or state funding. Instead, they rely on volunteers and the charitable contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.

Burger said that several other survey results merit attention. For example, 59 percent of mission clients said they had received government assistance during the past two years. "Obviously, a government check alone does not meet the needs of many on the verge of becoming homeless," said Burger, "Otherwise we wouldn't have such large numbers of recipients in need of the services our missions provide."

That idea is bolstered, said Burger, by another survey result, namely that 66 percent said they prefer spiritual emphasis in their rehabilitation. "That's good news. dearly, homeless men and women see in RESCUE missions the opportunities for education, job training and spiritual guidance necessary to transform their lives," said Burger, adding, "Our programs focus on responsibility, long-term rehabilitation and involvement in the community."

"People on the streets are concerned with keeping body and soul together. Unlike government homeless programs, RESCUE missions are able to deal with both sides of that equation. That's why our programs are successful."

The survey also found that 76 percent of respondents were aware that Congress and President Clinton had agreed on reforming the nation's welfare system. Burger noted that this law includes a provision, the Charitable Choice Clause, sponsored by US Sen. John Ashcroft (MO) that explicitly allows states to contract with faith-based o organizations.

The Snap Shot Survey results provide a detailed insight into the demographic make-up of America's homeless. For example:

  • 79 percent of the homeless at RESCUE missions are males
  • 21 percent are females.
This ratio has held fairly constant during the past five years. Also holding relatively steady are the racial and age breakdowns of the homeless:
  • 24 percent are under age 25
  • 26 percent are between 26 and 35
  • 28 percent are between 36 and 45.
  • Whites make up 45 percent of mission clients
  • African-Americans comprise 38 percent
  • Hispanics account for 11 percent.
The survey also dispels the myth that homeless are transients, as 69 percent of respondents plan on remaining in the city in which they currently reside.

The 1996 Snap Shot Survey provides a one-night look at people coming to RESCUE missions for assistance. IUGM collects basic demographic information, including sex, age, ethnicity, and period of time being homeless. The survey has been conducted every year since 1989.

The IUGM is an a association of nearly 250 RESCUE missions from across North America. Last year, IUGM member missions provided more than 28 million meals 10 million nights of lodging, and 27 million pieces of clothing to homeless" men, women, and children. Founded in 1913, IUGM members provide emergency food, shelter, youth and family services, community counseling, jail ministries, rehabilitation programs for the addicted services to the mentally ill persons on the streets, and assistance to the elderly poor, inner-city youth and street kids. For further information, please check the IUGM web site at http:/

Religious concepts are powerful moral teachers for children and adults and should not be overlooked by parents, educators, or social control agents. Our religious views are part of our identity and can positively guide our behavior, provided we temper our religiosity with common sense and logic.

Religious beliefs offer a ready made set of values, through teachings, religious books, and collective behavior (religious rituals and services), for us to rely upon without too much thought. Despite the wisdom of most religious perspectives, there is a danger that the individual will cease thinking for themselves and simply accept religious dogma whole-cloth.

Even among the most widely accepted forms of religion - Protestantism, Catholicism, Judiasm, Hinduism, and Islamic faiths - there are overzealous factions. Further, each one also has at least some tenets (distinctive rules) that may run contrary to the good of the individual.
For example, 80% of Catholic women either use or support the use of contraceptives.
75% of all American women are in favor of abortion under certain conditions.

In other words, there is the real world in which we all live, and there is the ideal world we all would like to live in. Religion can help us close this gap - and it can also serve to widen it.

The extremes of religious fervor can be found in religious cults and hate groups.

Cults have always been operating in our society. In fact, most Protestant faiths were, at one time or another, splinter groups or cults. The Lutheran Church, a fine organization that offers comfort and guidance to millions of people, started out as a splinter group of Catholicism when Martin Luther nailed his complaints to the door of the church and began the protestant reformation. If it's philosophy and theology is sound enough, a cult will endure to full religion status.

It appears that latter day cults almost always have at their center the idea of controlling the minds of the converted for purposes of gaining control of their personal finances. The standard operating procedure for most cults is to draw in converts at their most sensitive and vulnerable times - as adolescents. These teenagers, intensely interested in achieving some resolution for the contradictions and disappointments they experience, are easy targets. Once recruited, these kids are immediately put to work - selling flowers, peddling books at the airport, or even selling their bodies in some cases - for the glorification of some self-styled messenger of god.

    The kind of people drawn to cults have some common traits:
      • idealism
      • innocence
      • inquisitiveness
      • isolated or alienated from their families
      • seeking identity
      • insecure
      • sometimes these kids just don't "fit in" with the normal crowd - too fat, too skinny, not pretty enough, not handsome enough, and so on.
There are about 2500 cults with a religious base, operating in the U.S. today. In addition, there are many Cult-like organizations such as separatists, hate groups, and nationalists, which intermingle issues of race, anti-government sentiments, and old-time religion. Note that there are national organizations devoted to "deprogramming" or otherwise saving teenagers that have been "spellbound" by cults

Religion is not so distinct from the larger values (Big Picture Narratives) of the society in which it exists. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. He escaped from slavery after teaching himself to read, and became a major abolitionist voice. Below, he describes the many reasons that slave owners, most of whom would easily define themselves as God-fearing Christians, might find need to whip slaves.

A mere look, word, or motion,- - a mistake, accident, or want of power,- - are all matters for which a slave may be whipped at any time. Does a slave look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in him, and it must be whipped out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by his master? Then he is getting high- minded, and should be taken down a button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat at the approach of a white person? Then he is wanting in reverence, and should be whipped for it. Does he ever venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it? Then he is guilty of impudence,- - one of the greatest crimes of which a slave can be guilty. Does he ever venture to suggest a different mode of doing things from that pointed out by his master? He is indeed presumptuous, and getting above himself....
Source: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (3rd. English ed., Leeds, 1846).

Now try a little experiment - replace the word slave with child, white person with parent, an so on:

A mere look, word, or motion,- - a mistake, accident, or want of power,- - are all matters for which a child may be spanked at any time. Does a child look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in him, and it must be spanked out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by his mother? Then he is getting high-minded, and should be taken down a button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat at the approach of an adult? Then he is wanting in reverence, and should be punished for it. Does he ever venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it? Then he is guilty of impudence,- - one of the greatest insults of which a child can be guilty. Does he ever venture to suggest a different mode of doing things from that pointed out by his father? He is indeed presumptuous, and getting above himself.... hmmmm? Spare the rod, spoil the slave, I mean -child. 

This from the American Religion Project 
Their Document of the month "Acres of Diamonds"

Delivered over six thousand times, Russell Conwell's lecture "Acres of Diamonds" reflects the tight connection between religious and material yearnings in American culture. Conwell, a Civil War veteran and lawyer, became a Baptist preacher in the 1870s; he built a struggling Philadelphia congregation into the Philadelphia Temple, which spawned what became Temple University. Firmly rooted in the "gospel of wealth" common around the end of the nineteenth century, Conwell's lecture proudly tells listeners that it is their opportunity - their Christian duty - to become rich. (Note that he also justifies his own salary and success.) The back cover of a 1978 paperback edition proclaims: "This is the beloved, all-time bestseller that has helped more Americans find more happiness than any other book besides the Bible!"

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, "Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?" "Yes, of course I do. They say, "Isn't that awful! Why don't you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man's making money?" "Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel." That is the reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community.

"Oh," but says some young man here tonight "I have been told all my life that if a person has money he is very dishonest and dishonorable and mean and contemptible." My friend, that is the reason why you have none, because you have that idea of people. The foundation of your faith is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly, though subject to discussion which I have not time for here, ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men.

Says another young man, "I hear sometimes of men that get millions of dollars dishonestly." Yes, of course you do, and so do I. But they are so rare a thing in fact that the newspapers talk about them all the time as a matter of news until you get the idea that all the other rich men got rich dishonestly.

My friend, you take and drive me—if you furnish the auto—out into the suburbs of Philadelphia, and introduce me to the people who own their homes around this great city, those beautiful homes with gardens and flowers, those magnificent homes so lovely in their art, and I will introduce you to the very best people in character as well as in enterprise in our city, and you know I will. A man is not really a true man until he owns his own home, and they that own their homes are made more honorable and honest and pure and true and economical and careful, by owning the home.

For a man to have money, even in large sums, is not an inconsistent thing. We preach against covetousness, and you know we do, in the pulpit, and oftentimes preach against it so long and use the terms about "filthy lucre" so extremely that Christians get the idea that when we stand in the pulpit we believe it is wicked for any man to have money—until the collection basket goes around, and then we almost swear at the people because they don't give more money. Oh, the inconsistency of such doctrines as that.

Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it! You ought because you can do more good with it than you could without it. Money printed your Bible, money builds your churches, money sends your missionaries, and money pays your preachers, and you would not have many of them, either, if you did not pay them. I am always willing that my church should raise my salary, because the church that pays the largest salary always raises it the easiest. You never knew an exception to it in your life. The man who gets the largest salary can do the most good with the power that is furnished to him. Of course he can if his spirit be right to use it for what it is given to him.

I say, then, you ought to have money. If you can honestly attain unto riches in Philadelphia, it is your Christian and godly duty to do so. It is an awful mistake of these pious people to think you must be awfully poor in order to be pious.

Some men say, "Don't you sympathize with the poor people?" Of course I do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I won't give in but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than we help those who are deserving. While we should sympathize with God's poor—that is, those who cannot help themselves---let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of someone else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow. Let us give in to that argument and pass that to one side.

A gentleman gets back there, and says, "Don't you think there are some things in this world that are better than money?" Of course I do, but I am talking about money, now. Of course there are some things higher than money. Oh yes, I know by the grave that has left me standing alone that there are some things in this world that are higher and sweeter and purer than money. Well do, I know there are some things higher and grander than gold. Love is the grandest thing on God's earth, but fortunate the lover who has plenty of money. Money is power, money is force, money will do good as well as harm. In the hands of good men and women it could accomplish, and it has accomplished, good.

I hate to leave that behind me. I heard a man get up in a prayer-meeting in our city and thank the Lord he was "one of God's poor." Well, I wonder what his wife thinks about that? She earns all the money that comes into that house, and he smokes a part of that on the veranda. I don't want to see I any more of the Lord's poor of that kind, I and I don't believe the Lord does. And yet there are some people who think in order to be pious you must be awfully poor and awfully dirty. That does not follow at all. While we sympathize with the poor, let us not teach a doctrine like that.  Russell H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1960), 20-24.

As our society has become more technologically (and some say mindlessly) proficient, the lines between institutions has blurred. Do a simpleinternet search on the keywords "family and religion" and a very wide range of belief systems results.One can find, for example, without much effort, plenty of religious authorities calling for governmental action, even though such action is probably not constitutionally or legally possible.

From such a search, I found a paper entitled "Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability" by Patrick F. Fagan and William H.G. FitzGerald (the Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1064 - January 25, 1996), in which the authors call for some rather sweeping changes in the way our constitution views the separation between church and state.

First they cite evidence that religious practice is a good thing (and it probably is):

  • The strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion.
  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
  • Church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
  • The regular practice of religion helps poor persons move out of poverty. Regular church attendance, for example, is particularly instrumental in helping young people to escape the poverty of inner-city life.
  • Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment.
  • Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.
  • The regular practice of religion also encourages such beneficial effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
  • In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery.
  • Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health: It increases longevity, improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.
Each of the bullets above are properly cited and documented.
Given this evidence, they offer the following suggestions:
  • Congress should:
  • Begin a new national debate to help renew the role of religion in American life;

  • Ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the evidence on the beneficial effects of religious practice in the relevant social science literature and report its findings to a national commission formed to promote the consideration of religious practice among U.S. citizens;
  • Fund federal experiments with school choice that include religiously affiliated schools;
  • Pass a sense-of-the-Congress resolution that data on religious practice are useful for policy makers and researchers as part of the public policy debate; and
  • Mandate a census question on religious practice. It violates nobody's freedom of religion for Congress to know the level and intensity of religious practice in America.
  • The President should:
  • Appoint judges who are more sensitive to the role of religion in public life, with the Senate ensuring that such is the case by ascertaining the stand of judges on matters of religion and its relationship to the Constitution;
  • Direct the Bureau of the Census to record levels of religious practice in the census for the year 2000 (time is running out for preparation of the census questionnaire); and
  • Issue a directive to all federal agencies making clear that cooperation between government entities and the social, medical, and educational services of faith-based organizations does not violate separation of church and state.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court should:
  • Review the decisions in which it has changed the laws of the land by changing commonly held beliefs regarding the Constitution and religion and send to Congress those that should have been the object of legislative action rather than judicial reinterpretation.
    • America's religious leaders should:

    • Be much more assertive in emphasizing the contribution of religion to the health of the nation and in resisting efforts to minimize religion in public discourse;
    • Make clear to their congregations that they are contributing not only to their own welfare, but also to the well-being of the nation by their regular attendance at religious worship;
    • Take special care of the religious formation of children, especially during the transition period from childhood to adolescence, when they are most likely to lose their religious faith;
    • Recognize that the church in the inner city, especially the black church, has a vital role to play in helping its people escape from the degrading culture of inner-city poverty;
    • Encourage education leaders, social scientists, and social policy practitioners to rely more on religious belief and worship to achieve social policy and social work goals.
Of course, there are easily as many nonreligious, or anti-religious internet cites as religious ones. And the continued debate is probably healthy for the nation.