How have structural changes in the family changed programs and attitudes in America's churches and synagogues?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Today there are fewer families that are composed of the traditional nuclear family known to previous times in the United States. Certainly, after the 1960's many ethnic families became single-parent, and others found divorce becoming a frequent circumstance. Nowadays, there are couples of all races who do not marry, but have children together. And, there is also the issue of same-sex marriages that must be addressed. According to Peggy Engell, author of Religion and Family in a Changing Society this pluralism which exists in modern society is "intensely contested and debated for both moral and social philosophical reasons" by many religious organizations. 

There are more than three hundred thousand local religious congregations in the United States, and what happens in these congregations shapes the moral debate about the meaning and legitimacy of changes in the family, and shapes who feels included or excluded from practicing their religious faith. 

For instance, if a congregation has its Women's Group meet during the morning twice a week, working women cannot participate; consequently, they may go to another church where the hours of interaction fit their schedules better. Also, congregations struggle with what is morally right, and what can be moral understandings. That is, they desire to do what is "right," but they also wish to be "caring" and include the people who come to the church with hearts that wish to worship God. Once people feel that they are important in the congregation, churches and synagogues work toward influencing people's attitudes on various aspects of life such as divorce, single parenting, and other lifestyles. These religious organizations also help with the transitions in life that people must often make by offering social connection in the membership of the church or synagogue, a connection that provides some stability in a time of change.

Certainly, some of the rhetoric has changed, as one independent Baptist minister says that he no longer uses "family ministry" as it alienates many of his congregation. Other religious organizations struggle for terms that will make people feel more welcome to their group. One woman spoke to Ms. Engell of how family and religion work together:

With worship services and religious education classes, potlucks and socials and monthly family nights with other couples from the church, her congregation not only provides a context in which her family spends time together, but also a network of church friends who provide emotional support and trade child care with her and her husband. 

This supportive attribute of congregations is of great assistance to single parents, also. Of course, churches are divided along liberal/conservative lines just as other facets of life are, so people will usually join those religious institutions that fall in line with their personal beliefs and persuasions.