Does it include unmarried and homosexual couples? Will a governmental big brother help or hinder?

The White House Conference on Families (WHCF) sounded good as a campaign promise: Why not hold a national discussion on ways to strengthen the troubled American family?

But President Jimmy Carter may wish now that he had never followed through on this particular pledge. The upcoming conference has struggled through leadership shuffles and several postponements. Lately it has become a platform for debate between traditional and liberal moralists. Special interest groups have used the WHCF to argue their positions for and against the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and homosexuality.

Some have divorced themselves entirely from the White House family of conferees. Alabama Governor Forrest (Fob) James, on advice from his wife Bobbie—a professing born-again Episcopalian—announced his state would not participate in “such conferences which do not establish traditional Judeo-Christian values concerning the family, the foundation of our nation under God.” (Indiana also pulled out of the WHCF.)

Several Christian and New Right lobbies have organized family conferences of their own. Well-known family life speaker Tim LaHaye of El Cajon, California, and his wife Beverly each head conservative caucuses that, along with television preacher Jerry Falwell’s political arm, Moral Majority, are sponsoring a July 12 “profamily conference” in Long Beach. The Washington, D.C.-based Free Congress Research and Education Foundation has invited 30 speakers—ranging from constitutional lawyer William Ball to evangelical theologian and antiabortion spokesman Harold O.J. Brown—to its “American Family Forum 1980” in June.

At the same time, some religious groups have supported the White House conference. These include the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), several Jewish agencies (although the Orthodox Jewish movement, Agudath Israel of America, pulled out, citing the WHCF’s domination by those opposing traditional religious and family values), and the National Council of Churches. G. William Sheek, director of the NCC office of family ministries and human sexuality, has cast his support behind the so-called Coalition for a Fair White House Conference on Families, an umbrella group formed to counteract the feared takeover of the WHCF by conservatives.

Concerned by the uproar, WHCF chairman Jim Guy Tucker, a former Arkansas congressman and Southern Presbyterian layman, blames some of the problems on “unfounded fears” within the Christian community and has asked for churchmen’s support.

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The White House conference actually consists of three meetings, not one: in Baltimore (June 5–7), Minneapolis (June 19–21), and Los Angeles (July 10–12). (The WHCF originally was to peak with a meeting at the White House.) The battle lines between conservatives and liberals formed during the recently completed local and state hearings. The hearings were held in order to bring to the surface issues that were submitted to a 40-member WHCF national advisory committee for compilation into a single issues agenda for use at each of the three regional meetings, and in order to locate delegates from each state. Seven national WHCF hearings attracted 2,000 people.

Participants discussed everything from tax exemptions to child abuse. But, ironically, a central issue has been disagreement over the definition of “family.” Conservatives, who say their position is representative of at least 90 percent of the American population, have defined the family as consisting of persons who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. They criticize liberal factions, which have endorsed a broad definition of families that would include unmarried and homosexual couples: the New York delegation, for instance, approved a statement calling for full freedom of choice in lifestyle (which would include a woman’s right to have an abortion) and for equal rights to persons in any kind of family arrangement—“including but not limited to nuclear families, extended families, blended families, same sex couples.…”

According to WHCF spokesman Rhoda Glickman, organizers deliberately chose not to define the family in order to prevent “advocating” one particular form of the family over another.

“Families are changing and adapting, and there’s nothing that’s going to change that process,” she said. “That’s why we changed the name from the White House Conference on the Family to the White House Conference on Families—to show the diversity.”

However, the definition of family at least would have a significant bearing on eligibility for federal tax assistance programs, observers note. (A Carter-appointed national task force will pull together recommendations from the regional conferences. In a final report to be submitted to the President and Congress, the task force will make suggestions regarding federal policies affecting the family.)

The problem for conservatives is that they don’t want government involvement in family life. “Our experience has been that government involvement is more destructive than helpful … we believe that families can solve their own problems in many cases if the government stays out of it,” said Connaught (Connie) Marshner, editor of the Free Congress Foundation’s Family Protection Report.

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Marshner is spokesman for—and LaHaye supports—the National Pro-Family Coalition on the White House Conference on Families. It has been the strongest of the so-called profamily lobbies in terms of successful lobbying for the election of profamily state delegates to the WHCF. The coalition has an “informal network” of contacts in every state, who were asked to discover, publicize, and campaign for profamily candidates to state delegations, said Marshner.

The coalition mobilized early, and was credited with engineering a near sweep by profamily delegates (22 of 24 elected positions) in Virginia—the first state to elect delegates. The profamily group, which takes a firm stance against the ERA, abortion, and homosexual rights, had similar, but not such spectacular successes in several following state elections.

Various WHCF state committees responded by taking steps to prevent their own delegations from becoming top-heavy with conservatives. (Each state is allowed three times as many delegates as it has U.S. congressmen. At least 30 percent of each state delegation is elected by peers, 30 percent are appointed by the governor, and the remaining 40 percent are chosen in any way the state prefers. In Virginia, 70 percent of the delegates were elected.)

In Washington State, for instance, the committee decided to have 18 delegates appointed by the governor and 9 elected by the people—just the opposite of its original plans. When a profamily, antiabortion organization, The Umbrella Group, filed suit in protest, a judge ruled that since there were no state or federal laws guiding the conference, the state could not be held in violation of any laws.

Marshner, involved in various Capitol Hill capacities for the past 10 years, was particularly upset that such states as Idaho, Texas, and California subsequently revised election guidelines so that the 30 percent who were to be elected could be chosen instead by a random selection process.

LaHaye said he was tipped off in advance by President Carter’s liaison to religious groups, Robert Maddox, that California’s “elected” delegates would be chosen at random from among all those who had volunteered to be delegates. LaHaye responded by organizing a campaign for profamily “volunteers.”

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He sent letters to the 700 local church pastors, who are members of his year-old Californians for Biblical Morality. His wife Beverly contacted 20,000 California women who are members of her Concerned Women for America. The result, claimed LaHaye, was 30,000 letters from profamily, volunteer delegates, from which 40 delegates would be randomly chosen. “They had to delay the drawing three times in order to process all the mail,” LaHaye said. (The LaHayes founded a Christian family lobby, Family America, recently made a division in the New Right lobby, Moral Majority.)

LaHaye complains of an alleged lack of Christian influence among WHCF organizers. In an interview, he said, “Whoever is doing the inside planning has done everything they could to keep traditional, Judeo-Christian morality and values from being considered.” Of the 40-person national committee, appointed by Carter and the WHCF staff, only one has come forward as a “born-again Christian”—Southern Baptist official Harry Hollis, asserted LaHaye. (The committee has an equal number of men and women, who come from a variety of ages and occupational backgrounds. Its religious representation includes Mary Detrick of the Church of the Brethren national staff, several Lutheran leaders, and Operation PUSH leader Jesse Jackson.)

LaHaye, who pastors Scott Memorial Baptist Church and heads the board of its Christian Heritage College, said he has been assured by religious liaison Maddox that the various “profamily, pro-traditional family” resolutions coming out of his July conference will be presented to Carter.

The Free Congress Foundation’s conference in Washington, D.C., is aimed at action, rather than resolutions. Conference coordinator Larry Taylor hoped participants would “translate their moral concerns for the family into some kind of activity that will have impact on public policymaking.” (The Free Congress Foundation is headed by Eastern Rite Catholic Paul Weyrich, who also directs a campaign training school for conservative candidates for political office.)

While conservatives are opposing government intrusion into family life, many are supporting comprehensive legislation introduced last fall by Senator Paul Laxalt (R.-Nev.), a divorced and remarried Catholic. Laxalt’s so-called Family Protection Act (S-1808) has 35 major provisions, covering education, First Amendment, taxation, and domestic relations issues. Many provisions would remove churches from oversight of government regulatory bodies, would benefit private schools, and would have the effect of strengthening the family by reducing federal controls, said a Laxalt aide.

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Observers agree the “superbill” might require years for completion, because of its scope and subjectivity. One provision, for instance, would withhold federal funds from states and school systems that forbid voluntary prayer in public buildings.

Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jake Garn (R-Utah), and Roger Jepsen (R-Iowa). Helms and Laxalt were among four U.S. senators given a perfect 100 percent rating for their votes on profamily issues by the Christian Voters’ Victory Fund. The fund, a political action committee of the National Christian Action Coalition, compiled its “Family Issues Voting Index” of all U.S. congressmen as an election-year boost for profamily political candidates. The Victory Fund also provides them with financial aid.

WHCF chairman Tucker has told church leaders that the family needs government attention, but not government intrusion. At a Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission seminar, he said government leaders ought to give more thought to the impact their proposals will have on the family. He cited as an example discriminatory tax legislation—such as when a married couple pays more taxes than two single persons living together.

Despite their disagreements, conservatives and liberals would agree the nuclear family is an endangered species. During the last decade, the ratio of divorced persons per 1,000 husbands and wives in intact marriages rose from 47 per 1,000 to 92 per 1,000 (a 96 percent gain), according to a just-released Census Bureau report. The bureau also said the number of unmarried couple households doubled to a total of 1.3 million since 1970. One-spouse families jumped 50 percent.

Can the WHCF change the situation? A WHCF delegate from New York, Norman Wetterau, told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that federal programs can help the family. But Wetterau, a medical doctor, who describes himself as evangelical, said the WHCF format has allowed only for seeking government solutions. There is no opportunity for “discussion or recommendations for what I feel are the real causes of our family breakdown,” he said. “During the New York conference, there was no mention of marriage, love, discipline, or personal responsibility of one family member to another.”

More than 100 national organizations had submitted priority issue papers to the WHCF as of last month, said WHCF spokesman Glickman. She acknowledged many differences in opinion and complaints by special interest groups. Her explanation of the debate: “You’re dealing with families—you can’t get any more personal than that.”

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Pastoring the Pastor
Help for Christian Workers: Advance Through Retreat

Many ministers and Christian workers have personal, emotional, and family problems, but don’t like to admit it. And many of their parishioners feel ministers are supposed to have all the answers. Yet, without psychiatric help, some workers’ effectiveness may be hindered or destroyed.

These were the thoughts of a Southern Baptist psychiatrist, who began doing something about the problem. At his modern retreat center in Marble, Colorado—a rugged and remote resort area of the Rocky Mountains 60 miles from Aspen—Louis McBurney offers the only in-residence psychotherapy in the U.S. that is exclusively for religious professionals, their spouses, and children.

McBurney, 41, opened Marble Retreat three years ago out of a growing conviction that clergy, more than any other professional group, feel the pressures of job demands and the resulting anxiety and frustration.

“To make matters worse,” he observed during an interview at the pine-studded, five-acre retreat, “most congregations seem unwilling to accept the humanity of their minister and allow him to seek professional help in his own community.”

A few denominations have programs to help ministers in psychological or emotional trouble. The United Presbyterian Church holds “debriefings” every five years for ministers in transit through their careers. But McBurney offers concentrated help for professionals “on the verge of disaster.” Many of the couples’ marriages are on the rocks.

McBurney observed that pride and fear that admission of need might place their jobs in jeopardy make most religious professionals reluctant to seek outside help. Many drop out of the ministry for other occupations. In the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, about 1,000 ministers drop out each year.

McBumey, a graduate of Baylor and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, learned the short-term form of psychotherapy he uses at Marble Retreat during his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. His wife Melissa, who majored in religion at Baylor University, sits in on group therapy sessions and sometimes counsels ministers’ wives separately. Lodging, food, and 40 hours of intense group counseling and four or five hours of individual assessment and therapy during the two-week sessions cost clients a modest $35 a day.

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Asked about the greatest pressures clergy face today, McBurney said “number one” is “the feeling of inadequacy or failure.… The parishioners have such high expectations [of the pastor] that he is almost sure to fail.” Loneliness and isolation are other frequent causes of ministerial despair. “Ministers and their families have a loss of privacy. They live in a kind of fishbowl existence,” McBurney said.

Most ministers also complain of financial poverty. “Those in small churches are struggling along, not getting much help.… And retirement brings a crisis for many ministers; financially they have problems then.” He said other crisis periods occur after a minister has been out of seminary one year, and after he or she has been out five years.

Buried bitterness and resentment usually percolate to the surface by the end of the first week of counseling. Early in the second week, McBurney begins to explore “where people are spiritually.” Even ministers can easily develop spiritual problems and get “out of touch with God,” observed McBurney, the author of Every Pastor Needs a Pastor (Word).

“It’s a hard, scary week,” McBurney said of the final six days of therapy. “Counselees realize they’ve either got to get it together now or go back to face the same crisis situations.”

Marble Retreat itself has weathered some crises. The McBurneys built the 5,000-square-foot lodge, which is equipped with large counseling and recreation rooms as well as a small meditation chapel, only after securing a building loan using stock in a family business as collateral. There were problems with environmentalists and legal tangles over zoning, well drilling, and power connections. But McBurney feels the rewards have outweighed the difficulties.

“We feel that the availability of a retreat offering psychiatric counseling remote from the work situation and essentially unadvertised to the general public offers the clergyman and his wife an alternative to suffering in silence or perhaps resigning the ministry in despair.”


North American Scene

Dallas Baptist College students again are receiving state and federal tuition grants that were frozen after school president W. Marvin Watson began requiring school employees to sign a proinerrancy “Articles of Faith” as a condition of further employment (Feb. 22 issue, p. 46). The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and school officials reached an agreement: employees will no longer be required, as such, to sign the faith statement; they will, however, sign an employment contract that, among other things, indicates agreement with all policies in the personnel manual. Watson denied the school was “backing down,” particularly since the articles of faith will be written into the personnel manual.

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Pioneer Girls is developing a parallel program for boys, which will provide churches with the options of having either a separate or a combined boy-girl program. This marked shift in ministry focus for the most part ends its informal paired relationship with the male-oriented Christian Service Brigade. The agencies, each based near Wheaton, Illinois, explored merger for a number of years. Brigade officials remain committed to a ministry of discipling men, who in turn, disciple boys, while Pioneer Girls leaders believe their new approach will meet the needs of the greatest number of churches. Some denominations, for instance, take the position that boys and girls programs should not be separated.

Some liberal and moderate Roman Catholics recently organized against what they call “repressive” actions of Rome, such as the censure of theologian Hans Küng. Temple University professor Leonard Swidler said the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church will draft a charter of Catholic rights in an attempt to curb excessive power of the bishops and papacy.

Evangelist James Robison will appeal a March 6 decision by a Federal Communications Commission official, who said Dallas television station WFAA-TV had the right to drop the evangelist’s program (since reinstated) after a controversial sermon attacking homosexuality. WFAA-TV had called Robison’s programs a “continuing problem,” saying his controversial remarks often required the station to give equal time, under the Fairness Doctrine, for groups to respond. In his ruling, FCC official Arthur Ginsburg did not speak to the doctrine. Robison wants a full FCC hearing on the matter, believing the Fairness Doctrine inhibits his preaching style and violates his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Fallout continued last month over Baylor University’s (Southern Baptist) decision to take disciplinary action against any female student who posed nude for an upcoming Playboy “Girls of the Southwest Conference” issue. Three student newspaper editors, who editorialized against president Abner McCall’s stand, were fired and their scholarships for next year were revoked. One sympathetic journalism professor was fired, and another resigned in protest. McCall said he approved balanced student news coverage of the situation, but not editorials contrary to the Baptist doctrine against pornography as stated in university policy. A Playboy photographer announced that 80 students had taken part clothed, in a preliminary screening.

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