Tuesday, March 06, 2007

All in there Family

-- with apologies to Norman Lear.

There is a fascinating discussion going on over at The Volokh Conspiracy, here, that wrestles with issues of familial essentialism, biology-is-destiny, adoption, artificial insemination, and -- while they don't address is there -- public policy regarding child protection. Chuck Colson is always good for a good and controversial quote. (Does he really mean to suggest that there is something theologically suspect about adopting a child?) Thanks to Eugene Volokh (one of the conspirators) for highlighting the issue.

This is an issue that cuts me at several levels. I have served as a family lawyer in divorce and custody cases. (Thank God I had the good sense to leave that behind.) And I have served as a guardian ad litem in juvenile court -- charged to represent not children or parents or others, but in the lingo of the law the "best interests of the child." (And that can be a painful and important distinction.) Beyond that, I wrote my M.S. thesis on ethnic connections (and variations) in family structures, and I wrote my law review article (I might add, "award-winning" law review article) on same-sex marriage. Before those experiences, I was originally trained and ordained as a pastor, so theological issues are never far from the surface. (In case anyone is interested, even though I am no longer "rostered," i.e., serving as pastor on the roles of any denomination's clergy, I still believe myself bound by the vows I made at my ordination -- primary among them to stand fast against false doctrine and inadequate scriptural representation.)

To assert that we are in the midst of a social upheaval regarding what constitutes "family" is to test other's patience with its obviousness. So when Brother James Dobson urges politicians to "Focus on the Family," I wonder what "family" he references with that definite article. When I remember back to my first child-protection case, I wonder what we all think a family is, that we so blithely consign children to their biological roots regardless of the chance for harm to them.

In my first child protection case, "my child" -- i.e., the child whose best interests I was charged with representing to the court -- was a 6-month-old baby whose mother was 13 years old, (She had become pregnant at age 12 by a high school senior of her acquaintance, and the "father" was no where to be found.) The case came to child protection from the baby's pediatrician, who was concerned that the mother kept leaving the baby with friends so that she could do the things young teenagers do and then forgetting for days on end where she had left her child. Mother and child were living with mother's 42-year-old grandma (who was herself pregnant) because mother's mother couldn't control mother.

Under state law, the court was charged with doing all in its power to keep that "family" together -- or "reunifying" the "family" if the child had been taken from the home, as she had been. In other words, the system was geared to returning the child to the care of the mother (with the county's providing appropriate supports to help her succeed as a parent, commonsense doubts of the effectiveness of that service notwithstanding). After several months of wrangling in and out of court, sure enough, baby was placed in custody with her great-grandmother so that mother could continue to "parent" her under guidance of the great-grandmother.

I read Chuck Colson to say that there is something biblically, sociologically, psychologically, and all else healthier and "normal" about that situation for a child than there is when a separating lesbian couple each desire custody of the child they had been raising together (even though only one of the mothers had a biological connection with the child). I also read him to say that society has played an unholy game with children by allowing artificial insemination (in all its various guises, I suppose, but primarily in its third-party donor variety) and even adoption.

That strikes me as faulty theology, if not just damned silliness. Biology is not destiny, according to Scripture. If the resurrection doesn't prove that, nothing does. Additionally, family ties are important; no dispute there. But Jesus also cautioned his followers of the contingency of familial ties. And marriage and childbearing within marriage have been blessed by God; that is undeniable. But the rest, it seems to me is argument from silence.

There may be good prudential reasons for cautions about artificial insemination. (I hear that there are lawsuits at least pending that seek to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding donors for purposes of finding one's "real" father or gaining child support or whatever. But they will only succeed in a structure which presumes that "fatherhood" is exclusively biological, as opposed to social, bond and experience.) And one may argue against same-sex marriage on prudential, moral, and theological grounds.

But I think it completely wrong to ignore that children borne into a relationship are children of the relationship, regardless of whether the partners are married straights or partnered gays/lesbians. Children who are adopted need to be socialized to see that their "real" parent (how I loathe that talk) is the one who wiped up the puke when they were sick, and drove them to soccer, and put up with their sass -- not the one who biologically "fathered" the child or bore her to birth. (I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I think that Jesus' experience with Joseph is probably not something that we can analogize from.)

Chuck Colson is on sinking sand with his argument.

Perhaps more later. But in the meantime, check out the controversy.


Bag Lady said...

"Biology is not destiny, according to Scripture. If the resurrection doesn't prove that, nothing does."

I've never heard or read it put that way before (or possibly I've been oblivious)--much less in this particular issue. Wow. That's a hefty nugget to ponder (along with the rest of your post).

As for gay/lesbian partners parenting, it has been my privilege to watch children in these unions growing up in a much healthier atmosphere than did I, with my hetero parents who never divorced but probably should have.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting, All in the Family ( can I be adopted?)

As a carpenter with a 9th grade education, with a great spell checker I have been bating this canard back and forth across the Theological bad mitten net for some times. I live in two worlds, there is my church ELCA which I attend that has a liberal child as Pastor, and there are my fellow evangelists whom I till the soil of Prisons with that are mostly Calvinist, and definitely Literalist.

So we address gays often. As a born again Lutheran I have no Idea what the scriptures hold up in its various books, but I know this. In the dark when you need to do the right thing, Jesus will lead the way.
So I stick to the Love thy Neighbor when It comes to Gays. BUT i believe that in rearing a child there needs to be a balance. So two gay guys need a woman ( sister, mother) to interact with the child as it grow, and vicea/ versa, The Family I was raised in Wolves would have been better parents and I have know some dandy gays who could raise a child very well.

You posted that you have worked with children taken away from there parents, I work with the other side of that coin. Killers, molesters, rapist,and so on. It's a pretty big vineyard

In Christ
Rick Weiss
Zion Lutheran Church
St.Ignace MI