Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stepfamilies - Theories and church practice

There are tons of theories out there about how families are supposed to be. Some theories focus on how a family is suppoed to develop over time while others try to make clear cut gender role distinctions. Still other theories are on the other end of the spectrum such that any collection of people near each other might be considered a family if it so chooses.

What many of these theories try to do is explain how things are or how they should be. But, what many of these theories actually do is tell a story about the person creating the theory and the time period in which that person lived. For example, 50 years ago, there were far fewer stepfamilies and most of these stepfamilies are the result of the death of a spouse. Most families back then (in America anyway) were nuclear families. The nuclear family was the standard to strive for and the measure normalcy.

Now there are many more stepfamilies and these stepfamilies are mostly formed post-divorce. The nuclear family remains an important and significant chunk of our society, but nearly half of all people do no have the luxury of striving for it. So, what needs to happen is for new theories to develop that take into consideration new family forms and structures. When good theories about how stepfamilies operate are developed, then perhaps better support systems, wider acceptance, and better trajectories can develop.

The place this knind of new theorizing needs to happen is not so much in universities where many theories develop (although it needs to happen there), but more so in the churches and denominations. Most churches do a poor job with stepfamilies. They are either judged as failed, broken, or incompetent or they are ignored altogether. Many people in stepfamilies are previously divroced, which in many churches means that they are penalized in one way or another. No leadership roles, no public roles, fewer service opportunities. Second class status is often the resulting trajectory for divorced people, which means if they are in a stepfamily, the whole family gets penalized.

OK, so I've been a bit down on churches as their underdeveloped theories on stepfamilies causes poor treatment of stepfamilies. However, I know that there are churches who do it well and do it right. There are churches who make room for stepfamilies, offer useful ministries to stepfamilies and by stepfamilies, who do not penalize people for their divorce and so forth.

I'd like to know what churches out there are doing a great job with stepfamilies. What's your experience with a good church?

I would also like to hear negative experiences, but please don't mention the church by name if you share one of those horror stories. Maybe frame it like this: "I attended a church in the Midwest..."

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