Family experts, members of Congress, and church leaders are cooperating in a project designed to study what makes families stay together. They say the debate over family-related issues so far has emphasized problems such as divorce, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse, while neglecting ways to prevent those problems.

Known as the National Family Strengths Project, the coalition is chaired by Jerry Regier, president of the Family Research Council. The project is being funded by private and corporate donations. Regier said it will promote public and private initiatives that encourage strong families. He said the group will recommend to Congress and the Reagan administration that “when government must be involved in family life, it will do so in a way that is responsive to family strengths and will develop an atmosphere in which families can flourish.”

Advisory board members include congressmen Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Earl Hutto (D-Fla.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.); James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Robert P. Dugan, Jr., of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Candace Mueller, Washington respresentative of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The project will include hearings in Washington, D.C., before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. Coalition members Coats and Wolf serve on the committee, where divided opinion about the family runs deep. The day before the National Family Strengths Project was announced, the committee heard witnesses who clashed over how families should be defined.

Andrew Cherlin, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said a higher divorce rate and greater numbers of women working outside the home are changes that are here to stay. “The result, then, of these seemingly irreversible changes is that there are now three major forms of families with children, each with its own set of strengths and vulnerabilities,” Cherlin said. These include single-parent homes and “blended families” that result from divorce and remarriage. Responding to questions from members of the House select committee, Cherlin said the biggest problem in female-headed, single-parent homes is not “the lack of a male image, but the lack of a male income.”

At the same hearing, the select committee heard from witnesses who actively support the project. They argued that having a father in the home is essential to a family’s strength. “Major child adjustment problems are associated with father absence or failures in fathering,” said George Rekers, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, who has done extensive work in child development and family structure. Organizers of the family strengths project acknowledge they have to balance their commitment to traditional definitions of “family” with a compassionate attitude toward families that do not fit the two-parent pattern.

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Coats said the project will attempt to start a “steady drumbeat” that will encourage families and provide practical means of help to keep them together. Transcripts of presentations at the select committee hearings will be published, and a series of public service announcements on radio and television is planned. Government policymaking that affects families, such as welfare reform and tax simplification, will be monitored by the family strengths project advisory board to assure that family interests receive top consideration.

Strong Families

Characteristics of strong families have been identified by Nick Stinnett, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. They are documented in his book Secrets of Strong Families (Little, Brown 1986), and form the core of the National Family Strengths Project. Stinnett, who is part of the coalition, explained at select committee hearings that strong families exhibit six qualities:

Commitment. “They have a sense of being a team; they have a family identity and unity.”

Appreciation. “These folks help each other feel good about themselves. Selfesteem is bolstered.”

Communication. “They spend lots of time talking and listening. As a result, … family members feel closer and less isolated.”

Time together. “These families eat, work, play, and talk together. When faced with outside demands on their time and energy, they eliminate obligations and involvements so that time with family is not lost.”

Spiritual health. “[It is] a unifying force that enables them to reach out in love and compassion to others.”

Coping skills. “Some of their coping skills are seeing something positive in the crises, pulling together, being flexible, drawing on spiritual and communication strengths, and getting help from friends and professionals.”




Thoughts on Anglican Priests

A Vatican official has indicated Rome is willing to consider recognizing the validity of the Anglican priesthood.

Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, president of the Vatican Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, raised that possibility in a letter to a commission working for Anglican-Catholic unity. The cardinal said certain conditions would make it possible for the Roman Catholic Church to reverse an 1896 decree that ruled the Church of England’s priesthood invalid.

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Willebrands’s letter implied that Rome’s recognition of the Anglican priesthood was dependent on the Church of England adopting statements agreed to by a joint Anglican-Catholic commission on the priesthood and the Eucharist. The Church of England is expected to consider the commission’s statements in 1988.

Anglican Bishop Mark Santer said Catholic recognition of the Church of England’s priesthood would not necessarily require agreement on the question of the Pope’s authority. If the Vatican accepts the validity of Anglican religious orders, Catholics and Anglicans could share in Holy Communion.


Baptist Membership Grows

Membership in the British Baptist Union rose by about 2,000 in 1984, the first increase in 60 years.

The denomination’s 1,900 congregations grew to 154,300 members, according to a report presented last month. An article in the church’s newspaper, the Baptist Times, said the three-year evangelistic effort known as Mission England was an imporant factor in the membership turnaround. The Mission England effort included citywide crusades by evangelists Billy Graham and Luis Palau.

Meanwhile, the British Methodist Conference reported 1,699 lay preachers are being trained, the largest number in ten years. The Methodist church also reported an increase of more than 27 percent in candidates for the ordained ministry.


AIDS and the Common Cup

The fear of contracting Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) from a common Communion cup is unfounded, according to the Evangelical Church in the West German state of Baden-Württemberg.

The church issued a statement affirming use of the common cup after concern was expressed that the AIDS virus might be passed through the saliva of AIDS patients. In its statement, the West German church said research indicates the disease can be passed only through intimate sexual contact or by receiving contaminated blood. However, the church did recommend keeping the rim of the Communion cup cleaned with a cloth dipped in pure alcohol.

In the United States, the Catholic bishops’ Committee on Liturgy has advised parishes to continue using a common cup during the Eucharist. The committee said those who fear AIDS contamination “have the option of receiving Christ under bread alone” or of practicing intinction—dipping the bread into the wine when receiving Communion.

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The Episcopal Church’s Standing Liturgical Commission also issued a statement supporting continued use of the common cup. “… Some have counseled withdrawing the common cup … or providing additional vessels alongside the common cup for purposes of intinction,” the statement reads. “This practice undermines a principal symbol of Christian and Anglican worship. It also acts out of a lack of scientific data [indicating the spread of AIDS through saliva].” However, the commission suggested that AIDS patients, because of their lower resistance to infection, could receive Communion by intinction or by partaking only of the bread.


Safety Amid Unrest

Numerous missionaries in the African nation of Uganda report they are safe following the recent takeover of the capital city of Kampala.

“It’s quieter than ever [in Kampala],” said Dick Jacobs, of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society. “It’s the safest it’s been in a long time.”

“Kampala is much more under control than it’s ever been,” said Dave Hornberger, of Africa Inland Mission. He said the mission’s 15 workers in Uganda are safe.

Campus Crusade for Christ has returned 23 staff members to Uganda. The organization left the country six months ago because of the unrest.

But while peace has returned to Kampala, troops loyal to Uganda’s ousted leader, General Tito Okello, are regrouping in some outlying areas. Yoweri Museveni, leader of the National Resistance Army, has been sworn in as the country’s new president.

Museveni’s forces had been battling the Ugandan government since the early 1980s, when Milton Obote was serving as president. Obote was overthrown last year by a group of army officers led by Okello. Museveni’s forces ousted Okello earlier this year.

During the recent coup, Vern and Janet Hostetler, working with the Mennonite Central Committee, were trapped in their Kampala home for two days because of heavy shelling in their neighborhood. Their house was not damaged by the fighting. In the city of Soroti, however, the home of a missionary family was destroyed in an explosion. The family had left the house a week earlier.


Interchurch Agreement

Five denominations in Scotland have announced they will recognize each other’s ministers and members.

Members of the participating bodies can take Communion in any church affiliated with the five denominations, and ministers can celebrate the sacraments in any of the participating churches. The denominations also committed themselves to seek new ways to work together, such as shared lay training, regular shared worship, and local ecumenical projects.

The participating denominations are the Church of Scotland, the Congregational Union, the Methodist Synod, the United Free Church, and the United Reformed Church.

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