Churches are beginning to wake up to the needs of families, but some are still not doing enough to help. So said interdenominational religious leaders gathered here to discuss recommendations made earlier to the often-controversial White House Conference on Families.
The Southern Baptists have set the years 1982 to 1985 for strengthening the family and for initiating religious devotions in the home. The Assembly of God has designated 1981 the "Year of the family," and other churches are holding seminars on marriage and family life, reports J. Allan Peterson, president of Family Concern, Inc., which serves evangelical churches.
But Dr. Peterson adds that of 53 Protestant American seminaries, "only one requires a marriage and family course" for students going into the pastoral ministry. He says that only three have studies in the Biblical foundation of the family.
Meeting last summer in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, conference participants compiled a list of ways to help families. They include more family-oriented personnel policies, efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse, and ending the so-called marriage tax under which married persons are taxed at a higher rate than single persons.
Jim Guy Tucker, conference chairman, told the follow-up meeting Jan. 9 that during his work on the family, he had found "churches and synagogues are the best friend that families have."
Mary Cline Detrick, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, said that churches can do much to help fight drug and alcohol abuse by "building self-esteem," as recommended by the White House conference. "Surely the religious community is crucial in that," she said.
For Jews, the home and family has been seen historically as a "matter of life and death" both from the members and the religious traditions, said Yehuda Rosenman, director of the Jewish National Family Center. "The weakening of the family really caught the Jewish community by surprise, and they have not yet caught up."
Rosenman noted a "strong movement of awareness" that the Jewish family needs bolstering, and he said that the emphasis in the Jewish community now is "more outreach to the intact family," and not just those in trouble. He noted, however, that despite the value of families, Jewish schools and seminaries offer little training on the family.
"If the family unit is destroyed, then there is no way to rebuild" the society, said Barbara Smith, general president of the Mormon Church's Relief Society. She cited the pressures that take women out of the homemaking role and into jobs as a major threat to teaching moral values to the next generation.
"Religious leaders need to make women realize that what they do in their home is important," she told the group.
One of the greatest dangers to families is the example set in television shows, according to Harry L. Hollis, director for Family and Special Moral Concerns for the 13-million-member Southern Baptist Convention.Citing a White House conference recommendation, Mr. Hollis calls for establishing a rating for TV programs to alert parents to shows that might be harmful. He said that so far the major networks have been cool to the idea but that they are willing to talk about it.
The White House Conference on Families found broad agreement on practical issues, such as repealing welfare laws that force the father to leave the home so that his family can receive benefits and making new tax policies that will encourage families to keep the elderly with them rather than in institutions. But it bogged down on its most controversial issue, defining the family.
"The more abstract issues were the more difficult," said John L. Carr, executive director of the conference.
Mr. carr said that he is "delighted" with the results of the conference, despite bitter criticism from some New Right groups who called it immoral, Godless, and in favor ofmore government intrusion into the family.
Among the results of the White House conference, which will go out the business in March, he points to the fact that both President Carter and President-elect Reagan have backed removal of the "marriage tax." Also, the staff recently called in executives of 100 top corporations to talk about changes in personnel policies such as flexible working hours and job-sharing to give parents more time fo r their families.