Understanding how family relationships develop over time, particularly family relationships that are not based on the cultural norms of family formed by sexual coupling or biological relationships, can help congregations minister more effectively to the diversity of families in American society.
We will use various professional church and social work networks and listserves to find families active in Christian congregational life that are not related by biology, marriage, or sexual partnership, and that represent a diversity cultural and ethnic groups. We will identify how attachments form – if they do – when there are not the social (e.g., marriage, societal expectations of spouses and children), sexual (sexual partnering and intimacy), and biological (e.g., nursing mother and infant couple) or a planned childhood adoption – variables that reinforce attachment. We will audio record and then transcribe the interviews and will enter them into the qualitative analysis software Atlas-Ti. Using grounded theory analysis, we will develop a coding theme for analyzing the developmental process, and environmental supports and challenges these families describe in their development over time.
This research has the potential for giving visibility and voice to families now invisible and ignored by congregations. It has potential for providing common ground for both conservative and progressive Christian factions to see “family” not as the gauntlet for political debate but as a means of providing belonging and support for all God’s children. Furthermore, it can assist congregations in more sensitively supporting the individuals and families among them.