By Joseph Peterson
I have a real and abiding question that I truly don’t know the answer to. What do religious leaders (not just Mormon) mean when they say “the family is under attack”?
Now for a bit of context.
I remember when I first I opened my mission call to the Netherlands, Amsterdam mission. Instantly everyone seemed to say, “oh, that place is Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s Sin City, it’s one of the most wicked (and Liberal! So….double wicked!) places on earth! You are going to have your work cut out for you, you brave missionary!”
So I arrive to the den of iniquity, aka The Netherlands, and what do I find? A tolerant society that believes everyone deserves a fair shot. Robust and often free medical care. Families who spend time together for five weeks of paid vacation every year! And if that wasn’t enough, families who also eat around the dinner table every night. Together. As a family. WHAT?? We don’t even do that in America, Ye Olde Land of Values, and here were the Dutch families in their modest row houses all across the country breaking bread together every evening like a damn Norman Rockwell painting.
Now there may be some things you remember about the reputation of the Dutch. In the Netherlands, weed is legal, so is prostitution. And gay marriage has been legal in the land of the tulips since 2001, being the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. And yet, those are the headlines, the attention getters, each with their own nuances and pros and cons, much like any policy in any government would.
But what goes on day in and day out in the Netherlands? I’ll tell you in one word: Family. Families who bike together, vacation together, eat together, and raise kids to be decent individuals who understand the value of living in a society where you care for people both in as well as beyond your own family. It’s a familial society where folks have the radical notion to live according to the dictates of their conscience, and afford other people the same luxury, even if it differs.
Since I was exposed to this kind of culture at such a young and impressionable age while a missionary, it’s stayed with me. And I ask: In such a society as supposedly devilishly foot loose and fancy free as the Netherlands, how, exactly, is “The Family” “Under Attack?” — Whose family? What kind of family? Under attack by whom? Really, I am wondering this sincerely, because I am not sure I’ve ever known what is meant by this popular euphemism, especially as espoused by my specific religious culture, and by the American Christian religious culture at large.
I mean, where’s the war? Sure, we’re tearing apart the families of soldiers and foreigners of far off places in the war on terror, and decimating thousands of specific families in our wake, but is that THE family? Where is the war against The Family?
Back to the Low Lands, I learned that the Dutch have two words for Family (Gezin and Familie). One to signify your own nuclear family, and the other to mean your broader extended family. I always liked that. The distinction is a celebration, seemingly because they place a lot of importance on family, that they have linguistically adapted to adding more nuance in their conversation on the family. In the Netherlands, they even design bikes for the family. Bikes which they use. Daily. To go to the market to cook dinner for…guess who? You got it.
In the constant fretting and wringing of hands about a very non-specific but imminent threat on the 1950s archetype of the American family, I guess I don’t really know what to divine from such admonitions. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family (Gezin AND Familie). It’s just that sometimes I wish we could learn to worry less about what is under attack, and more about who needs love. That, to me, is what family is all about.