By Frances Stebbins
By the decade of the 1980s, when I was a regular part-time employee of “The Roanoke Times” daily newspaper, I wrote several stories related to the efforts of many Western Virginia religious groups to come to terms with rapid changes in American life.
These involved especially what was happening to families.
These were some of the headlines:
Singles Look Positively at their State in Life
Time for Compassion: Most Clergy OK A Second Wedding –With Counseling
50 Enriching Years: Marriage Enrichment Founders Maces Celebrate
Counselor LaHaye Combats “Family Erosion”
A Woman’s Place?
Sexual Values: More Congregations Address Issues of Sexuality
Maybe it was that the “Baby Boom” generation, those born between 1946 and around 1962, as sociologists reckon, had passed beyond childhood groups and rebellious teens (remember the 1960s if you were a parent?) and were having to face up to realities of mid-life.
Like the 1920s a century ago, the 1960s represented a stage of rebellion some of which would die away but other practices would remain and seem far removed from those of an earlier age.
I’m writing here about the family my (now) late newsman husband Charlie and I created. A WW II Navy veteran, he and I met in 1948 at a Richmond professional college offering training in newspaper writing. We married in 1951 and postponed a family for more than four years. Advances in birth control made this possible. With a fully accepting husband, I was able to enjoy my career as a newspaper religion writer working mostly part-time from home.
Our daughter, born in 1956, completed high school at 18, married (too) early as it turned out, and began earning her own money at 16. She’s always been employed in a series of bank-related jobs after moving south for a successful second marriage. Her one child grew up in day care.
Working mothers was a fact Julie never questioned. Her younger brothers remained bachelors and found satisfying work as blue collar technicians and volunteer firefighters.
Getting back to the sample headlines, here’s a bit more enlightenment:
In May 1983 there was an active group, mostly of six United Methodist congregations, known as Positive Christian Singles which gathered for suppers and other socials on a regular basis. It was mainly for young adults from 20 to 40, and some other congregations were involved. Not intended for match-making, it nevertheless had that result for several couples. In time it faded away.
The following year I surveyed a number of clergy on their practices on performing weddings for couples previously wed. I noted the strict practices of the Roman Catholic Church and its system of annulments. Some priests were known to be more lenient than others. (I followed up this topic later by spending two hours getting a canon lawyer to explain how the church deals with dispensing with an unsuccessful first union.) Among non-Catholics, only a Black minister of a Roanoke Baptist congregation said he regards Scripture as forbidding the practice. All questioned, however, insisted on careful examination as to why the first union failed before they would officiate at a second.
From 1979 almost until his death in 2008, my husband and I were much involved in a program known as Marriage Enrichment “to make good marriages better beginning with our own.” It was founded by a British couple, the late David and Vera Mace, and continues today from a North Carolina office and is known as Better Marriages. Unlike another Roman Catholic program, Marriage Encounter, the Maces’ organization was non-sectarian.
Some conservative Christian groups, such as one supported by Tim LaHaye, saw the whole state of 20th century marriage as deplorable. Speaking at a cost of $3,500 at Mineral Springs Baptist Church in western Bedford County, LaHaye was part of a movement closely allied with political conservatives like Jerry Falwell Sr.s’ Moral Majority . This was in November 1990 when rich “televangelists” got a lot of attention.
On October 13, 1984, a story I wrote about the Rev. Randy Pizzino and his wife Julie put a human face on conservative Christian families of this time. Pizzino, pastor of a small congregation in the Cave Spring area, wanted his wife to stay in the home and give her full attention to the rearing of their two teenage sons whom they were educating at home to try to keep them free of some of the corruption LaHaye and others like him deplored. Mrs. Pizzino apparently was comfortable with this traditional arrangement. (I wonder what has happened to this family unit after nearly 40 years.)
Finally, a 1979 survey of a dozen religion leaders of less conservative denominations revealed that it was difficult for most to deal with changing sexual mores as part of church programming. This included acceptance of unwed mothers, bi-racial unions , cohabitation outside of marriage , homosexuality and other practices now 50 years later accepted as normal by many people.