I feel the term “family values” is misused. Wouldn’t you think family values would mean that we treat people as we treat our family members – or should treat them at least? Don’t you think that no person should be discarded just because they act or believe differently than we do? “Family,” for that matter, should be more encompassing than just the nuclear or extended family. Family should be the human family – the community.
We see that during natural disasters. People of all races, creeds, and social-economic classes come out to offer assistance to the injured, grieving and displaced. Some send money or supplies, and others go to the affected area and offer what assistance they can. Doesn’t that seem like a better definition for family values? We should value all human beings. We make an effort to support them through hard times, and we celebrate with them during the good ones.
And that is true for those struggling with less visible problems. Certainly in rural parts of the country, drug abuse – including prescription opiate addiction – has taken a toll out of so many Americans’ potential to thrive in today’s society. People from those rural areas are also some of the most stalwart supporters of traditional family values. They use selective, conservative biblical interpretations of the Bible to guide their lives, and in the process, sometimes hurt themselves or others.
I am reminded of an NPR story from December 2015 (http://www.npr.org/2015/12/08/458887771/plans-to-roll-back-medicaid-expansion-doesn-t-seem-to-worry-rural-kentuckians). Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse from McKee, Kentucky, received health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision which was embraced by democratic Governor Steve Beshear. In fact, Kentucky saw one of the steepest drops in the rates of uninsured adults following the Medicare expansion.
Kentucky’s new governor, republican Matt Bevin, campaigned on traditional family values and on rolling back the Medicare expansion. Ms. Strong and an overwhelming majority of her fellow Jackson County citizens voted for Mr. Bevin based largely on the family values issues, primarily his positions against gay marriage and abortion. According to the Census Bureau, 34% of residents of Jackson County live below the poverty line, which is about four-fifths higher than the state average of 19%. Ms. Strong was quoted as saying, “My religious beliefs outweigh whether or not I have insurance.”
Let’s look at a couple biblical verses which have to do with when life begins as a guide to the pro-life family value issue. When does life begin? According to Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” So life begins with the first breath, i.e., at birth.
The writers of the Torah had no concept of sperm and egg, either in humans or in their domesticated animals. They were farmers and the sexual act was thought of as planting a seed in fertile ground. In a society in which malnutrition or other hardships could cause miscarriages, the child only became a person when he or she was born, just as the plant became viable only when it broke the ground. There were still many dangers to both child and plant, but it became man’s job to protect them once they were born. Part of that protection, of course, was to obey God’s rules and pray for God’s blessings, but that was still the farmers’ job.
Exodus 21:22-25 gives us more information about how God’s faithful thought about fetuses. If a woman has a miscarriage as a result of injury sustained from two men fighting, the woman’s husband could demand a fine for the lost property of the unborn child from the man who was responsible for the fight. If, however, the woman sustained permanent injuries to her person, the penalty would be an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21:22-25 considers an unborn fetus to be property, not a person.
Really, these biblical interpretations matter little. Church attendance in poor rural communities is at a much higher rate than in urban and suburban ones. In addition, the faithful from poor rural areas are much more likely to be Born Again Protestants, and for them, the messages on abortion, gay rights and creationism are integral parts of the worship service and teachings. That forms the rural voter’s persona. To quote Michelle Dillon and Megan Henly from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, “Rural Americans in particular care about abortion and same-sex marriage; undoubtedly, in any election, a candidate’s stance on these issues will also figure into rural Americans’ voting decisions.” (http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1046&context=carsey)
I have worked hard to keep judgment out of this post, but I think I am failing. When impoverished people vote based on traditional family values, they often hurt themselves, their families and others in their communities because the family values politicians are also likely to be the ones who want to cut social safety net programs such as Medicare and food assistance. If we go back to my idealized family values definition, we should consider our community to be our family, and we should make sure no one is falling through the cracks – that no one is abandoned. If we are not doing a good job at this by ourselves, don’t we need our government to help?