In Rhetoric and Practice: Defining the “Good Family” in Local Congregations.

Becker, Penny Edgell. "In Rhetoric and Practice: Defining the “Good Family” in Local Congregations" in Michele Dillon(ed.), Handbook of the Sociology of Religion. Cambridge University Press: 2003.

Contrary to the culture war theories which focus on elite discourse or on attitudes of individuals towards issues of family, gender, and sexuality, Penny Edgell argues that rhetorical frameworks anchored in the traditional nuclear family schema that was widely institutionalized during the 1950s largely filter congregational responses to changes in work and family. Based on a comparative study of 125 congregations in four upstate New York communities, Edgell shows that the practice of family ministry in these congregations is still organized around the traditional nuclear family concept despite the vast differences in the official denominational ideologies. In this context, “liberal” and “conservative” are not helpful categories in understanding the daily practice of family ministry even in congregations whose official ideologies and doctrines can be neatly divided in such categories. Edgell suggests that at the level of local communities both conservatives and liberals buffer their ministries through the anchoring schema of the traditional nuclear family not only from the fundamental changes in family and work since the 1950s but also from the more radical implications of their own ideologies.