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Awesome Families

Awesome Families: The Promise of Healing Relationships in the International Churches of Christ

Kathleen E. Jenkins
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Awesome Families
    Book Description:

    Denounced by some as a dangerous cult and lauded by others as a miraculous faith community, the International Churches of Christ was a conservative evangelical Christian movement that grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s.Among its followers, promises to heal family relationships were central to the group's appeal. Members credit the church for helping them develop so-called "awesome families"-successful marriages and satisfying relationships with children, family of origin, and new church "brothers and sisters." The church engaged an elaborate array of services, including round-the-clock counseling, childcare, and Christian dating networks-all of which were said to lead to fulfilling relationships and exciting sex lives. Before the unified movement's demise in 2003-2004, the lure of blissful family-life led more than 100,000 individuals worldwide to be baptized into the church.In Awesome Families, Kathleen Jenkins draws on four years of ethnographic research to explain how and why so many individuals-primarily from middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds-were attracted to this religious group that was founded on principles of enforced community, explicit authoritative relationships, and therapeutic ideals. Weaving classical and contemporary social theory, she argues that members were commonly attracted to the structure and practice of family relationships advocated by the church, especially in the context of contemporary society where gender roles and family responsibilities are often ambiguous.Tracing the rise and fall of this fast-growing religious movement, this timely study adds to our understanding of modern society and offers insight to the difficulties that revivalist movements have in sustaining growth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4097-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “It’s Like Free Counseling All the Time”
    (pp. 1-18)

    Imagine a church, a community of Christians who claim they are able to help people establish “awesome” families, who make up a fellowship where married couples share their most intimate fears and desires and develop fantastic sexual relationships, where children respect and enthusiastically follow the Christian life path set by their parents, and where sons and daughters are reunited with estranged parents and siblings. Within this church, interracial/ethnic marriages and biracial/ethnic children are fully embraced and members from disparate backgrounds become “real family,” learning to love and care for each other in extraordinary ways. This is the picture of exceptional...

  5. Chapter 1 Sacred Counsel: “Ambassadors for God”
    (pp. 19-62)

    Most organizations have a creation story, a founder’s vision that drives goals and ideals. Organizations benefit from telling these stories, members like to hear them; for both they serve as a sacred ritual of legitimation (Berger 1967; Berger and Luckmann 1966). They tell these stories frequently. In religious community, the story takes on a sacred life, made real, powerful, and often credited to divine design. These creation stories are told over and over again, in different settings, through various mediums and with creative variation. The story gives life to group symbols and worldview, their practices and beliefs articulated in the...

  6. Chapter 2 An Unsinkable Raft in a Foreboding Divorce Culture
    (pp. 63-106)

    Longtime ICOC leaders Sam and Geri Laing’s formal pronouncement is familiar. From Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority born in the 1970s, to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act and recent attempts to constitutionalize heterosexual marriage, hundreds of private, religious, and government-backed movements have and are actively promoting and working to revitalize heterosexual marriage as an enduring and necessary institution. Conservative mainstream and religious efforts to reinforce heterosexual marriage in what is presented as a “traditional” family model clearly clashes with contemporary values of gender egalitarianism and the day-to-day realities of an economy where both mothers and fathers must work to...

  7. Chapter 3 Collective Performances of Healing
    (pp. 107-132)

    This ethnographic story I tell of “awesome family” is biased in particular ways. Had I been under thirty and single, I would probably have been matched with a church informant who was young and single. I would also have been invited to regional singles retreats where I would have worshiped and met other available ICOC Christian singles. Had a I been a single mother, I would have been introduced to another single mother and invited to single parent group meetings where I would likely have felt accepted and understood. Because I was a woman studying a group that separated frequently...

  8. Chapter 4 In with the Old and the New
    (pp. 133-167)

    The fictional account of family healing and reconciliation in KNN’sProdigal Daughterwas representative of a very real dream. ICOC folklore was full of sons baptizing fathers, daughters baptizing mothers, family of origin sisters and brothers baptizing one another. Late one night, as I sat on the basement floor of a leadership couple’s home for an “all night women’s Bible study” that began at 7:00 p.m. and lasted till only 10:30 (Pat said they used to go late into the evening until most of them starting having children), Ann asked that the twelve women present join hands to connect our...

  9. Chapter 5 Awesome Kids
    (pp. 168-194)

    I have a photo of my youngest child sitting next to Pat’s youngest on her living room couch. Pat sends me a Christmas card every holiday season with a picture of her children. I had conversations with Pat and other City COC parents about the demands and joys of child rearing. It was clear in the moral world of the City COC, even though no one ever told me directly, that I was not doing all that I could to protect my children from the evil influences of secular society. Nor was I was making a serious effort to ensure...

  10. Chapter 6 Brothers and Sisters for the Kingdom of God
    (pp. 195-223)

    To say, “I am a Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Catholic, etc.,” can mean that you are a member of a particular church or congregation you attend once a week, once a month, only during religious holidays, or perhaps not at all. In this respect, individual identification as a Protestant is probably one among other significant social groups in which a person claims membership. But when religious affiliation involves adoption of new kin, the religious community takes on a different character, possibly becoming an individual’s primary group. Religious/spiritual organizations like the ICOC, groups that resemble what some researchers have named “identity transformation...

  11. Chapter 7 A Kingdom That Promised Too Much
    (pp. 224-252)

    At the start of this ethnography, I asked how we might make sense of the contradictory portraits of the ICOC: an ideal family community alongside a dangerous and destructive one. How do we come to understand why individuals join religious groups that seem a direct affront to deeply held social values? My ethnography of this movement is not exhaustive; no doubt there are relationships and institutional dynamics that I was not allowed to see. However, my work does suggest that the answer to this puzzling ICOC family paradox lies somewhere in the recognition that members and leaders were incredibly of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 253-260)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-283)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)