Christians Unite to Stress Importance of Fathers

Interview with Focus on the Family Program Director

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By Genevieve Pollock

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, AUG. 19, 2010 ( Christians are uniting to affirm the importance of fatherhood and the truths of John Paul II’s teaching in the theology of the body, says Glenn Stanton.

Stanton, the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, spoke with ZENIT at the National Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia, where he was a presenter.

Though he has been working with Focus on the Family since 1993, he also worked for four years as a consultant to the U.S. President George W. Bush administration.

Stanton has authored and contributed to several books, including: «Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society» (1997), «Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting» (2004), and «Beyond Pink and Blue: Raising Gender Healthy Kids…And Parents Too,» due to be published this year by Waterbrook.

In this interview with ZENIT, he spoke about his experience working with the Head Start government program as well as his current work in an Evangelical Christian organization, and how John Paul II has impacted both.

ZENIT: Could you say something about your work with the Bush administration, and how your study of John Paul II’s teaching of the theology of the body contributed to this?

Stanton: The work with the Bush administration was very fun. Primarily I worked with the Head Start program.

President Bush wanted to use Head Start, for one thing, as a way of getting fathers more involved with their children. We realized that if we were going to help these kids, we had to get their fathers involved as well. There was actually great reception within the people working with Head Start.

We worked to create the rationales for why fathers matter, and we used lot of good material from the theology of the body.

We used these ideas on a secular sort of level to make the explanation of why kids need not just one loving parent or even just two loving parents, but specifically a mother and a father.

We explained how, as it takes a mother and a father to create a child, it also takes a mother and a father to create a human person out of that child, in the sense of full development.

We did a national conference in Dallas and we created materials to help educate Head Start people as to why fatherhood matters, why moms need dads and why the kids need dads.

The curious thing is that previously the Bill Clinton administration was also doing good things on fatherhood, though not with Head Start, but he really did seem to understand it.

Then we have President Barack Obama doing some controversial things in many ways, but at least he speaks very clearly about the importance of fathers. Unfortunately some of the policies aren’t following, but I actually quote what he says about his own father missing and what fatherlessness does.

So it is a bipartisan issue, though some of the solutions tend to be more partisan.

ZENIT: Do you think there is a greater value in society for the role of fathers?

Stanton: In some ways, absolutely — I tend to be more of an optimist. I think it’s largely, unfortunately, because of what we’ve been denied.

We’ve lived so long without fathers. You look at this generation coming of age and they are not the kind of people who say, «Yeah, I didn’t have a father but it didn’t matter.» It did matter and in a huge way.

On the other hand, the Atlantic Monthly recently had a story — it was the cover story: «Are Men Necessary?» They had a sidebar that said, «Are Fathers Necessary?» And they concluded, based on some horrible research that was done with lesbian parents, that fathers are not necessary. Of course we can tend to follow too much the negative.

But all the kids out there that are growing up without dads, Barack Obama included, are not saying, «Fathers don’t matter.»

Fathers do matter, and these ideas are not just merely intellectual. They’re deeply personal. When we raise kids without fathers it makes a huge imprint on them.

We have to believe our own rhetoric. It challenges us to say yes, this stuff really does matter.

In that sense, I’m very positive, in that the motions of the human are what they are, and people will seek what they have been denied. And people like us doing the work of the theology of the body, if we can help explain why these things matter, we’ll get a good hearing.

ZENIT: Do you think the teaching of theology of the body is the answer then?

Stanton: I think it’s that. And again, Pope John Paul II did this so wonderfully, and Benedict XVI does this so wonderfully as well.

You can pronounce true things and that’s one thing, but if you speak to the human heart it has a huge impact. That’s what we need to learn to do.

Anyone can proclaim truth. It’s connecting with people and touching people that is important.

We think about Pope John Paul II being such an important teacher, but people will say, and George Weigel says this in his biography, that he heard time and time again that nobody had ever met a more intense listener than him. Our ability to listen is a lot of times how we connect with people.

ZENIT: What has the reception been of the theology of the body in other Christian circles?

Stanton: Most of the reception is curiosity, a very positive curiosity.

We Evangelicals pride ourselves on being the Bible people, but we don’t have much of a biblical understanding of what the family is about. We have maybe a couple of verses here and there, but a few verses do not make a theology, do not make a story.

That is a great interest of a number of Evangelicals that I work with and talk to: using the theology of the body to show that there is a story from the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, that marriage is a huge thing.

There is interest in the idea that the Incarnation of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and the Ascension of Christ, that he did all of this bodily and it is connected with the fact that we have bodies, and the meaning of what our bodies are for.

When Ephesians 5 talks about husbands being to their wives as Christ was to the Church, it is not just a Hallmark sentiment. It’s a real theological truth, a reality, and how do you connect with that?

When you put all this together for Evangelicals, they’re like, «Wow.»

A lot of Evangelicals will think that Catholics maybe dip into their Bibles every once in a while, but then when you read John Paul II’s teaching, it is immensely rich with Scripture, far richer — and this is not an overstatement — than even the best Evangelical teacher ever comes close to touching on this topic.

It’s like the sun comes up in the East for them, and everything is just brightened and they know. They do have to get over a little bit of all of the other kind of trappings that they’re not used to, but it’s the bright light of the teaching itself and how it illuminates the truths that they hold very dear.

They are very interested: What’s the place of Christ? What’s the Biblical story? What’s the whole narrative from beginning to end and how does that connect with the family?

ZENIT: Would you say that your attitude toward the theology of the body and these ideas is radical compared with the rest of the people that you work with?

Stanton: It’s not. In fact up in my office I have two nice black-and-white photos of Pope John Paul II, one when he was a young priest and then another when he was Pope. People come into my office, and they’re intrigued by it. It’s a curiosity to them.

It’s something beyond what they know, but they know it’s in the stream that they’re in, serious faith. So it is positive. And I’m delighted to see that.

ZENIT: What are the main points that you see being picked up?

Stanton: When Pope John Paul II died, we did two da
ys of broadcast on him primarily because of his work on life issues, his stand for sexual purity.

He was a world leader that stood for the things that we stood for. There’s the idea that we all believe generally the same thing and are working together that way.

With Catholics and Evangelicals there hasn’t been as tight a connection with the theology of the body as there has been on the life issues, but it’s growing.

I e-mailed someone before I came on this trip, saying that I was coming to the theology of the body congress, and he said, «Oh good, because that will impact positively another project that we’re working on.» It was good for me to see that there is a connection and there’s this positive identification, with someone I’d never spoken about it with. It’s viral and it’s going out there within Focus on the Family and that’s very positive.

I wish that Focus on the Family could have been here in more of a substantive way. I think a lot of our people who don’t really know about it would have gone home saying, «These people are like us.»

In that sense, there’s nothing but future in front of us in terms of how to build a very positive, good connection and interaction, and that’s what I’m excited to be able to do.

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