A ViewPoint by Jamie Marich, Ph.D.
Every time I hear someone say they support “traditional family values,” I feel as though I am in unsafe territory. What’s funny is that, even though I’m a liberal feminist, there is so much about tradition that I adore—traditional yoga practice, honoring the traditions of my ancestors, and recognizing that, even in my evolving field, tradition holds an important place. I love family! Even though members of the family into which I was born do not understand me, I love them. My extended family, especially my cousins, continue to nourish me. And my family of choice, a beautiful crew of friends and mentors who fill the void left by the validation I didn’t receive in my formative years sustains me. And values? There is a great deal that I value. Love. Respect. Autonomy. Diversity. Inclusion. Faith. Dignity. Recovery. Compassion. The delicate dance of life and death. Shall I go on?
My heart hurts that religious conservatives seem to have highjacked the phrase “traditional family values” to create an ironclad box. When I hear someone profess their commitment to traditional family values, what I hear is that they see only the two-parent, male-female straight, married dynamic that welcomes children as the most valid. Stepfamilies, blended families, children born out of wedlock can be viewed skeptically, and if queer folks even think of welcoming children, it’s an abomination. Typically, people who use this phrase also intone their right to practice their faith as a key part of their embracing this phrase. And when I hear this phrase, I feel the force of them wanting to change me, or somehow wishing I was different. That I should just get with the program of what they interpret God’s plan to be.
Oddly enough, I do not begrudge you your right to form whatever kind of family that is appropriate for you, and for you to practice your faith as you see fit . . . as long as it doesn’t harm others. And that is the problem. Most people I’ve encountered who use the “traditional family values” phrase want to deny me and others in my queer family our rights to marry, to adopt, to form families, to celebrate, and to live as productive members of society. If your faith justifies discrimination against these rights, that is harmful. Live your life as you see fit, yet know that trying to put me into your prison of a box will kill me. It almost did.
My journey is the ultimate case study of reactionary flux—I have embraced the polar opposite twice to seek some instant relief before I did the deeper, inner work to bring me into authentic balance. I grew up in two conservative boxes, with one Catholic parent and one Evangelical parent. Despite these churches’ disdain for each other, there was an overlap, and the message I received was clear: Although I could pursue a career, my real worth would be in marrying (a man) and having babies. I tried to pray away my difference so many times during my teenage years, fearing I was out of God’s grace or salvation. When I went to college, I learned there was another world of beliefs out there that more aligned with my authentic self as a queer woman who honored diversity and did not see Christianity as the best or only way. While I started to breathe as I experienced this liberation, a powerful battle also ensued within me. I would possibly lose everyone in my family, everything I ever knew, if I lived authentically. That internal battle was a major factor in the development of my alcoholism and drug addiction.
When I chose to get sober after I graduated from college, I erroneously deduced that “flirting” with liberalism took me out of God’s favor; that was the reason I returned to church. I chose the Catholic church over the Evangelical church, yet so many of the same shaming tactics were in play. When I tried to tell people that “Jesus redeemed me,” or that my faith restored me to sanity, it was only partially true. Yes, I believed a spiritual experience by reconnecting with the God of my understanding was vital. Yet I later learned that much of what I conceptualized as grace and salvation was really repression. Spiritual bypass. Suppressing the truth of who I am. My sexuality aside, I believed I had to squash out the rebellious and feisty parts of me to be a good girl in God’s eyes . . . and to not drink anymore . . . and that being a good girl who followed the rules would earn me a family and happiness.
Thankfully, this messaging had started to crack by the time the homophobia rampant in my Catholic graduate school’s counseling program began to not sit right with me. A healthy dose of trauma counseling got me on the course of healing and truly connecting all the dots. I’ve come to a place where I know I can still be proudly queer/bisexual, supportive of women’s autonomy to choose, anti-racist, AND a Christian. Although my path is now much more ecumenically embracing of all faith traditions that promote connection to the Divine and the common good, I have never turned my back on Christ. I can say, however, that my relationship with Christ is now in a much healthier and inclusive place.
For those of you, dear friends and family, who say you espouse traditional family values, I accept your testimony fully if you believe Jesus alone saved you and redeemed you. If you want to live a life committed to Jesus as you understand him, please do. However, I ask you, when you feel persecuted in various aspects of society for being a Christian, to consider that the people you see as mocking you have likely been tortured by Christian beliefs, or by Christians, in the past.
Many of us have been tragically hurt by Christians (or ultra-devout members of any religion) trying to put us in boxes where we never belonged. We’ve watched friends die by suicide or overdose, engulfed by the shame bludgeoned onto them by churches or members of their “traditional family.” And now, we are speaking up, and will continue to speak up. While I don’t condone the cruelty of people mocking your right to worship, I do ask you to take a deeper look at why many of us look at conventionally devout people with caution. Our desire for equal protection and freedom to practice traditions, family, and values may seem like discrimination to you. Yes, you may even feel persecuted. In the spirit of empathy, perhaps try stepping into our shoes for just one minute and see if this gives you any new glimmers of insight.
If that’s difficult for you to do, perhaps use my words and experience as a place to start as you visualize the heart-filled place from which I come. I want the right to practice faith as something that is healing and not something that is shaming. I want to form my family, biological or otherwise, in spaces that are safe for me to exist freely, and to preserve the elements of a tradition that feeds me while also forming new traditions that do not force me to comply with doctrine or customs that ask me to cut off or to lock up my natural state. I had to be liberated from the “traditional family values” construct as it is used in U.S. society to get sober, to get reasonably well (it’s still a work in progress), and to be the best servant of humanity and my God that I can be.
I hope we can work to see a world where there is mutual respect for each others’ journeys.
© 2020 by Christian Feminism Today
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