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Seeking Justice in the Family

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Something within the human spirit cries for justice. This cry is as essential within the family as within any social organism.

Injustice undermines peace within the family. Seeking justice for family members is a way to domestic peace.

Justice is a basic characteristic of shalom (peace) in Scripture. According to Psalm 85:10, justice and peace will embrace and kiss each other. The Bible views justice in cosmic dimensions, for God values it throughout creation. A good beginning point is practicing justice in the home. For if fair play cannot happen in the family, what hope is there for real justice in the world?

Helm Stierlen, a German family therapist, speculated in his book First Interviews about the parallels of hostility within families and hostility among nations. He noted how the tensions within Adolf Hitler’s family of origin may have misguided him in adulthood. Stierlen also relates the conduct and results of arms races and power struggles to marital and family relationships. The terrible truth of Stierlen’s observation is being lived out in our nation as children take up arms to kill their peers and family members.

Individuals are intensely concerned with justice in their families. This issue is present in all relationships, but it goes much deeper in the family because familial relationships are intense, intimate, and inescapable. They last as long as memory.

Disruption of relationships heightens the awareness of fairness. A death in the family may highlight rather than end the problem.  A squabble over an estate tests the family’s relationships. Divorce may prove to be only a partial flight from ongoing issues of family fairness.

How do we work for justice within the family?

First, strive for mutual understanding. Mutual understanding occurs when family members actively pursue quality communication through good listening and clear exchange of thoughts and feelings. Mutual understanding precedes justice. Misunderstandings create tension and conflict that often result in unfair acts. When family members work at being understood, seeking to understand and facilitating understanding, the soil is ready to bear just, fair behavior.

Second, work for mutual, equitable fulfillment. The success of any family life is based upon mutual fulfillment. When legitimate needs are overlooked, sacrificed or neglected, the seeds of injustice are sown. We should take seriously the needs and interests of each family member. At any given time the balance may favor one member over another. For example, the spouse who works while the other completes graduate school expects that what one has invested in the common welfare eventually will pay dividends for the family’s enrichment.

Third, share decision-making within the family. Sharing decision-making within the family is a way of sharing power. Working at decision-making together is fundamental to developing a family where fairness operates. It is unfair when one, or both, parents make all the decisions. Conversely, a child can have too much power within the family when parents allow that child’s every need to control the family. Decisions that affect the entire family require input from all members. Input should be age-appropriate. Considering the feelings and thoughts of all members will lead to a more just climate within the family.

Fairness in the home is an important family task. When we succeed, fairness within the family provides a strong base for seeking justice in society.

Myron and Jan Chartier are ministers of cultivation through education at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, Colo. E-mail them at jamchartier@prodigy.net.