At this pivotal time in America, my mind goes back years ago to what I learned as part of a quasi-official delegation on a family-policy tour of Central America. Led by Ellen Sauerbrey, US Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, we met with civil society, religious leaders, press, and even presidents, one of whom told us that the colossal problems confronting his country—soon thereafter to be labeled a failed state—all resulted from the breakdown of the family.
Equally memorable was what we were told by one of that nation’s families, who recounted the challenge it faced years earlier under a prior government that had taken power by a military coup and imposed a godless anti-family culture. As some families fled the country to protect their children, this father and mother decided to rebuild the country by strengthening their own family as a fortress. They did so, and the values they inculcated and the children they raised are a testament to their success—and to the powerful truth that the family can indeed be the final bastion against a hostile society.
What I learned in Central America is an illustration of what decorated historian Will Durant pointed out: “The family has been the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history. It was the economic and productive unit of society, tilling the land together; it was the political unit of society, with parental authority as the supporting microcosm of the State. It was the cultural unit, transmitting letters and arts, rearing and teaching the young; and it was the moral unit, inculcating through cooperative work and discipline those social dispositions which are the psychological basis and cement of civilized society. In many ways it was more essential than the State; governments might break up and order yet survive, if the family remained; whereas it seemed to sociologists that if the family should dissolve, civilization itself would disappear.”
In journalist Rod Dreher’s recently published Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, he reports having had numerous conversations with families throughout the former Soviet Bloc whose stories demonstrate “how the Christian family was naturally the bedrock of forming faithful resistance to communism.” Particularly noteworthy was the experience of a Czech father by the name of Václav Benda, who “believed that the family is the bedrock of civilization, and must be nurtured and protected at all costs. He was acutely conscious of the threat communism posed to the family, and he thought deeply about the role the traditional family should take in building anti-communist Christian resistance… and what must be done to help the family endure in the face of a government and a social order bent on its destruction.”
Concerned for their six children, Benda faced the harsh reality that in times past, “the family could depend on the outside world to support its mission—and in turn, strong families produced citizens capable of building strong civil societies. Under communism, however, the family came under direct and sustained assault by the government, which saw its sovereignty as a threat to state control of all individuals,” so that “marriage and the family became extremely problematic institutions.” To counter such hostility, Benda realized that the family home must become a place “sheltered from the outer world,” even “a haven in a heartless world,” for when a “nation and its people are held captive by a totalitarian order, then Christians and their families must push as hard against the totalitarian world as it pushes against them.”
The lesson remains as relevant today as it was during the Soviet era, Dreher insists, for “the left-wing assault on traditional marriage and family [that] commenced in the West with the sexual revolution in the 1960s… continues today in the form of direct attacks by the woke Left, including law professors advocating legal structures that dismantle the traditional family as an oppressive institution. More ominously, it comes from policies, laws, and court decisions that diminish or sever parental rights in cases involving transgender minors.” What all this points to, according to Dreher, is a “coming soft totalitarianism” in which “Christians will have to regard family life in a much more focused, serious way. The traditional Christian family is not merely a good idea—it is also a survival strategy… in a time of persecution.”
Dreher’s bottom line—his book was published shortly before last November’s presidential election—could not be timelier: “Christians should stop taking family life for granted, instead approaching it in a more thoughtful, disciplined way…. Christian parents must be intentionally countercultural in their approach to family dynamics. The days of living like everybody else and hoping our children turn out for the best are over.”