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2 Feb 2010

What does your family value most?

'Family values' is a term much bandied about by anti-gay 'pro-family' groups who accuse gays of being anti-family, Aniruddh Vasudevan, director of the Shakti Resource Center, Chennai shares a conversation he recently had with his parents in a local newspaper.

What does it even mean?” my mother scowled. When she asked again, I thought it was for effect, but I soon saw she really meant it. I had just told her that many people felt that accepting that their children were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender would be detrimental to family values.

I repeated it for her benefit. She cut me in: “I heard you. I mean what does this family values thing mean?” Not that I knew what it meant, but since she had asked a question, I thought I should respond, but she cut me in again with her train of thought. Going on past experience, this was going to be fun. “Do they mean the value of a family? I mean, how can that be measured? And who does that?” This time, I kept quiet, stopped fiddling with my mobile phone, like I do whenever my parents start saying anything serious, and started making mental notes.

“If we have to measure the value of a family at all, I think it must be on the basis of how much love there is in a family, right?” she asked. I hmmmed. “See, that is all that matters, and having your children tell you about their sexuality, accepting them as they are, letting them live their lives — are all proof that there is love, honesty and communication in the family. That’s a lot of value there,” she ended, marking her emphasis with a quick flourish of her hand.

I was glad that my mother’s guide to family values was short, clear and profound. But since I also loved my father’s expositions on these topics, I turned to him. He was sitting across the room, his face beaming in admiration for my mother. “I wonder what it means, too. At least, what do these self-professed upholders of family values mean by that? Basically, it is a set of social and political beliefs, rooted in fundamentalist religious thinking, that hold the family to be an essential, ethical and moral unit. Each term in the preceding sentence actually means different things to different people!” he said.

He spoke a little fast, so I had to do some mental shorthand and get ready for what was to come. “What is family value, if it is not love? If you find that your offspring is ‘different,’ that is, differing from some traditionally accepted role, isn’t it the duty of a loving parent to provide the affection and love the child particularly needs, instead of hiding behind some set of rules that you don’t even know the real source of?”

I was moved by this, and I wished my parents had some audience other than just me. I have heard these opinions expressed several times in different ways, and am fortunate to experience the value of a family that truly practises love and understanding. But, I guess, as people who do not conduct their lives centred on what other people say, think and gossip, my parents do not feel the need to perform or declare their beliefs. My father continued: “See, these undefined moral and ethical rules can have no eternal meaning. I think it is heartless on the part of parents if they choose to be loveless just so they can please some random people.” So that was that.

Family values. My parents turned this concept on its head and asked the question,”Your family values what?” My family values love, honesty, open communication and mutual respect. Hopefully, yours does as well.

The writer is director of the Shakti Resource Center, Chennai. The article was first published on expressbuzz.com.

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-02-02 20:44  
I always confused with this concept of "Family Values". I try to seek for a replacement word in Indonesian of "Family Values". I didn't get any.

People here believed that all family have values, no matter how different a family looked like from another person's point-of-view. So there's no need to make a phrase about it. The closest definition of "Family Values", which is "Kekeluargaan", isn't talking about what is happening between a father, a mother, and a son, and a daughter. It actually means to treat other people with respect, like they are a part of your family.

The word Family itself, is already a great word that has so much meaning into it.
2. 2010-02-03 02:01  
nilai kekeluargaan?

it's bahasa...
3. 2010-02-03 07:24  
Ya, kekeluargaan, it's in bahasa.

Honestly, i'm not sure what my family values. I personally keep myself to myself, since i find trusting anyone at all is extremely difficult. I can't really say i have much fondness towards mine; father hates grandfather, my little bro, grandmother and father quarreling most of the time, my father doesn't seem to care too much about us(honestly, we'd never really talked at all). My mom(primary) and siblings(though i can't really say i care too much towards my brothers) are the only one keeping attached to my family. Even so, i can't say miss them(i don't even call back home unless it's a dead urgent emergency). I'm a loner to begin with, always has been. It's know it's wrong, but this is me.
Comment #4 was deleted by its author on 2010-02-03 07:28
5. 2010-02-03 12:14  
With you, and your family, Aniruddh.

Often, gay people feel alienated by their families, but a lot of the time that sense of alienation is projected. I assumed my family didn't understand homosexuality without ever actually broaching the subject, essentially projecting a wider societal prejudice onto my family's social conscience, despite knowing that they opposed the mainstream on most issues. And this was in a loving, involved and affectionate family. Had I been raised in a different sort of house, I may never have tried to engage my relatives. My family made love and openness our only core 'value' from my birth onwards, so after I came out there were no repercussions.

'Family values' is just a buzzword for the bigots, meaning marriage, procreation and the continuation of the family line (usually in an Abrahamic framework endorsing personal restriction and corporal punishment).

Love is love. My parents taught me that, in the home, that's all that's needed for happiness. Look a little closer at the family units of major right wing politicians, and you'll see anything but harmony.
6. 2010-02-03 16:57  
I think 'family value' has different meanings in different cultural contexts. In the English-speaking world, 'family value' is often used to refer to Christian morality. For example, in the United States, the American Family Association [http://www.afa.net] states that:


Hence, when the fundamentalists promote 'family value', they are really promoting CHRISTIAN moral values, plain and simple.

Now, it would take up too much space if I were to analyse the difference between Christian and non-Christian standards of morality. But let me just cite one fundamental principle of Confucianism that contrasts with these fundamentalists' obsession with demonising gays. Confucius taught that we should not do unto others as we would not have them do unto us 己所不欲莫施于人.

There have also been many cases of these fundamentalists subjecting gays to humiliation and performing unscientific 'reparative therapy' on them. Professional bodies for psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, counsellors and educators have warned that 'reparative therapy' may cause emotional harm. Yet, these fundamentalists continue to victimise gays and their family. They have also continued to hurt the relationship between gays and their family by misleading them that homosexuality may be 'prayed away', thus putting the blame on gays who fail to 'change'. All these show their lack of Benevolence 仁, or love for people 仁者爱人, which is fundamental in Confucian teachings.

7. 2010-02-03 17:45  
Clearly hate is part of their family values, and if that's their family values... well I don't want to be part of their "family"
8. 2010-02-03 20:37  
sunthenmoon, I guess we need to go all out to reclaim 'family values' and not let it be a word (or words) fundamentalists can use against us as if we have no families or are anti-family. They also mustn't be allowed to subvert what 'Christian moral values' truly mean.
9. 2010-02-03 21:22  
I am a Christian because i believe in Jesus, and in the inexplicable joy of having a long-term relationship with him.

As i have said before, He is my hero, and if you read about him in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, you will find someone who stood up to the religious "fundamentalists" - whatever that word means - during His time on earth. And he was nailed for it, and, i believe, for us.

He is the one who said, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone", thus saving the life of a woman caught in adultery.

I don't think this is the place to explain too much more about His mission on earth and his miracles and compassion, so i won't, except to say that i am convinced that God does NOT discriminate among us, whatever anyone says, and whatever our personal struggles. He looks only upon the heart. And only He can see into our heart of hearts.

Belief in anything or anyone is a personal choice, and no-one should be coerced into believing. Or not believing. I won't let anyone determine my choices, be they the religious right, or gay right. Every man should be free to decide his beliefs. Of course, the reality of politics does figure in this life, but whatever one's beliefs, sexual orientation or race, we can all strive for true and impartial justice regardless, on peace rather than war, and on responsible behaviour towards all, including the young or inexperienced.

Actually, i have to add, i don't think i am particularly "religious" in more conventional terms, and it has taken me decades to understand some things, but i KNOW now that God's love excludes no one, even me, and is greater and truer than anything we can imagine.

None of us is perfect or we wouldn't have to strive for any kind of morality, Christian or Confucian or otherwise. We're always trying to decide between right and wrong, aren't we? Of course, some are amoral, and that's their choice too. Some believe in their own philosophy, and that's their choice too, as long as they're not the next Pol Pot, or Pol Pot's mentor. But even they will use words like "right" and "wrong". Again, no one can determine what you believe, can they?

I quite like this article and its emphasis on love itself. I too find "family values" to be a nebulous phrase. Like the writer's mother said, what exactly does it mean? Love is everything.

And a father's love, i feel, is a big, big deal. If more Asian fathers knew how to truly love their sons growing up, i think this world would be a much, much better place. That's why i am so glad there is a heavenly Father above, who is Love.

That is my belief. :)

10. 2010-02-03 21:29  
Reclaiming family values as a universally inclusive and positive concept is a great and empowering idea! Take the bigot's weapon and turn it into a positive force. That'll fix the cnuts.
11. 2010-02-03 21:31  
Hate IS a Family Value - if you are a fundie christian. Ha ha ha ha.
Someone should make up some new buttons.
Comment #12 was deleted by its author on 2010-02-04 00:02
Comment #13 was deleted by its author on 2010-02-04 00:09
14. 2010-02-04 00:13  
To put things into perspective, let's look at the 'Purpose' of this AFA (NOT the Actions for Aids, a great organisation in Singapore that deserves our support) is, so that we may understand what 'FAMILY' actually stands for in their view:

(A) "Our Purpose
The American Family Association represents and stands for traditional family values and exists to motivate and equip citizens to reform our culture to reflect BIBLICAL truth on which it was founded. We believe that GOD has communicated absolute truth to man through nature and the BIBLE, and that all men everywhere and at all times are subject to HIS authority. Therefore, a culture based on BIBLICAL truth best serves the well-being of our country as evidenced by the vision of our forefathers as set forth in the Declaration of Independence."

(B) "It is AFA’s goal to be a champion of Christian activism. If you are alarmed by the increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation, tired of cursing the darkness, and ready to light a bonfire, please join us. Do it for your children and grandchildren."

(C) "AFA Statement of Faith

1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.

2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Hence, it's quite clear that even though GOD, BIBLE and CHRISTIANITY are omitted, what 'family' values mean to these people are GOD's, CHRISTIAN and/or BIBLICAL values. As such, it is very important to look beyond its name, American FAMILY Association, to understand what this organisation does and what 'FAMILY' actually means.

Perhaps I should also quote a few statements of a Host of an American FAMILY Association radio program: [http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147491522]

1) "It might be worth noting that what I actually suggested is that we impose the same sanctions on those who engage in homosexual behavior as we do on those who engage in intravenous drug abuse, since both pose the same kind of risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. I'd be curious to know what you think should be done with IV drug abusers, because whatever it is, I think the same response should be made to those who engage in homosexual behavior."

2) "If you believe that what drug abusers need is to go into an effective detox program, then we should likewise put active homosexuals through an effective reparative therapy program."

3) "If you believe all Scripture is inspired, then you are compelled to accept that legal sanctions may appropriately be applied to those who engage in homosexual behavior."

I hope that, having read the above, we could gain a better understanding of what 'family value' often means.
15. 2010-02-04 01:42  
Well, (comment 14), if i were an American believer, perhaps i might politely suggest to these "family-value" folk that they also impose legal sanctions on those participating in adultery, divorce, heterosexual fornication and financial greed, especially those who have benefitted from the shameful Wall Street shenanigans and housing and insurance shams, all at the expense of poor families, and oh yah, sanctions also on extra extra upsize mealers too (gluttony). Then, i would just ignore them, and anyone else who tried to tell me that i was either not straight enough or gay enough. Hostility and animosity towards the tunnel-visioned clashers is such a waste of time and energy when one has found love, and so much to rejoice in and be humbly thankful for...

Good luck and good night, from Singapore :)
16. 2010-02-04 15:55  
sunthenmoon, it's not really the point what those AFA nuts claim 'family values' to be in their view. Surely non-Christians have family values too. We can and should still claim 'family values' to be a 'gay value' although obviously not exclusively so.
17. 2010-02-04 18:58  
Oh no #16, non-Christians definitely don't have family values because they have no God. They are all savages that don't feel love and are incapable of kindness and compassion. They eat their children too you know, and beat their old folks. They are heathens and deserved to be summarily slaughtered. So sayeth the BIBLE:

They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

Oh dear...

18. 2010-02-04 23:18  
Well, (comment 10 & 17), the passage you quoted is from the second book of Chronicles in the Old Testament, which is actually taken from the Jewish scriptures before Christ. The OT's books, among other things, chronicle God's many and continuous dealings with the Jews, His "chosen" people, from the ancient time of their patriarchal father Abraham onwards. Yep, it may not be an easy thing to be chosen and moulded and blessed, so please don't add to the problems of these remarkable people of destiny, because a man named Adolf had already decided to "take the bigot's weapon and turn it into a positive force" against them. But they survived.

Yes, hurt begets hate, and hate begets hurt, and the vicious cycle goes on, whoever is being hurt, or doing the hurting or the hating in turn. I can understand and empathise with the hating that comes from hurting, but hatemongering is something more insidious. You see, NOT everyone hates everyone, and hatemongering doesn't empower anyone, but only serves to hurt, or put off, a lot of ordinary, decent folk, both religious and non-religious, who basically want a loving, healthy environment for their children, not a hateful battleground. These ordinary citizens are not easily persuaded by tantrum throwing, and if you want to win the wide support of these family folk, then you should use the weapons of decency, humour, fairplay, truth and justice, and put all the witless "bigots", of all persuasions, to shame.

And that is what some of us in ASIA, Christian or not, LGBT or straight, are choosing and trying to do in our personal lives. We prefer not to empower any "bigots" by validating their weapons or views, and becoming "bigots" ourselves. We prefer to build our happiness on our own capacity to love and be loved, create beautiful and lasting things, thereby widely reinforcing positive perceptions of us, by ALL families, religious or not, who make up the majority of the population. Love. Oh dear, it may not be easy, but that IS the weapon of choice... :)

But you have to choose your own paths, of course. Good luck and good night.
19. 2010-02-05 18:06  
Often my friends and i describe other gays as being in the "family" - as in "are they family?" I hope the AFA finds that just as offensive as I find their web site.
20. 2010-02-08 11:40  
This is great. We need to discuss all the issues more often instead of letting the rightwing fundies get away with all these motherhood statements. "we are pro-family", "gay marriage hurts heterosexual families", "allowing gay marriage will lead to social decay", "gay people will influence our kids"...etc and stupid condeming motherhood statements like that. We need to engage and ask them in their face, "what does your family value?" "how does it hurt hetrerosexual marriage when it means gay people want to stay together in a stable family unit?", "social decay in what sense, how?"... Ask them and see them stutter. Push them and let them see, they do not make any sense and it is all self-righteous religious prejudice and fear.
21. 2010-02-08 20:20  
Honesty is definitely one of my own family's values, particularly when it comes to being honest to yourself. And trust me, being gay in a conservative Muslim family and being out about it?

Truly meaningful and liberating.

I see family values as what exactly you share with one another you consider a part of your family. Not just your nuclear family, but your extended family as well i.e friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.

What do you share with them. Love? Hate? Joy? Fear? Truths? Lies?

The value of a family, personally, is the value you choose to trust those you consider family members.
22. 2010-02-14 13:08  
If you want to understand AFA and other persons/organizations who preach moral values but do not respect them follow the money.

If you want to understand "religion" & "moral values" you need to understand their origin. "God" and all his other pseudonyms is a convenient term to express the unknown and maybe unknowable.

Religion predates every modern church. Religion has its origins in the awe & fear felt by pre-historic man in the face of the power displayed by nature in the winds & the storms. These people devised rituals designed to appease the creator of these forces.

Religion is a personal thing. Experience shows that those who do develop trust can go on to experience an inner peace. Effective priests (other religions - other names) can guide people to this state without seeking personal gain.

Moral values have developed over the centuries from experience. They are designed to enable people to live in peace with each other. All religions propose the same moral values even if in different words.

The use of "moral values" to influence others is nothing but an attempted power play to gain influence and often money.

23. 2010-02-16 10:57  
Don't give a rat's ass about family values. They mean nothing. You have the freedom to choose your destiny. But choose wisely......
Comment #24 was deleted by its author on 2010-02-16 10:58

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