Jennifer Johnson, Associate Director of the Ruth Institute, speaks about her new book “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality… for Children.”
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Our guest today is Jennifer Johnson, Associate Director of the Ruth Institute, a global non-profit organization focused on preventing divorce and also helping the millions of people who have been negatively affected by the breakdown of the family.
As a matter of further introduction, I’d like to read a brief passage from the Ruth Institute website, which so poignantly describes what this organization is all about. And it says, “Cultural conservatives have allowed themselves to be out-maneuvered by the Sexual Revolutionaries. The Sexual Revolutionaries have defined the terms of the debate. They have largely dictated the cultural narrative about sex, marriage and family. Yet the full story of the harms of the Sexual Revolution has never been honestly and completely told.
The Ruth Institute is working to create a new story, a new narrative. The victims of the Sexual Revolution are largely invisible in society and voiceless in the cultural conversation. The Ruth Institute is dedicated to inspiring the victims of the Sexual Revolution, to become survivors and ultimately advocates for positive change. We believe giving voice to the victims of the Sexual Revolution is due them as a matter of justice. We also believe that their voices have unique potential to change the cultural narrative around family, marriage and human sexuality.”
And wow, I think that is such a powerful and true statement.
So with that, I want to welcome Jennifer Johnson to the program today. She is with us to discuss her new book, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.”
Jennifer, welcome back to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show again.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Hi John. Thank you so much for having me again. I’m really glad that you found that statement on our website because I was actually involved with crafting that statement, and one of the reasons that I really appreciate working for Dr. Morse is that my life story fits very well with the mission of the Ruth Institute. Because, as perhaps some of your listeners already know, I was a child of divorce, and a child of multiple re-marriages and so-called blended family and so forth. So my life story does fit quite well and I wrote this new booklet that you’ve invited me on to talk about, called “Marriage and Equality.” It’s part memoir and part argument, helping people to understand that we can take the concept of equality, which people on the Left just love, and we can apply it to our issue to help reach out to those people and help them see that we do share a value with them that maybe they didn’t quite realize before.
JOHN RUSTIN: Interesting. We will certainly unpack that during our conversation today. Jennifer, one of the first lines in your book is, “Christian Social Conservatives believe in equality but may not realize it.” Explain how natural marriage, which is supported by most socially conservative Christians, creates equality for children.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: The advocates of natural marriage will often talk about Christian sexual morality, and saving sex for marriage, and marriage between one man and one woman, childbearing inside marriage, and so forth. All that is really great to talk about, but I discovered that this type of advocacy has an implicit backside. So if we think of it like a coin, you know a coin has a head and it has a tail. So, the advocacy for Christian sexual ethics is sort of like the head of the coin. If you turn it around, you look at the tail, and the tail of that coin is a, what I call, “family structure equality for children.” So, the ancient Christian teachings on sex and marriage—when they are followed on a wide scale more closely to how they used to be in our country 40-50 years ago—that creates a type of equality for children in how their families are structured. And I even created an image of this coin in the special report where one side, it says, “Christian sexual ethics” and then the coin turns around and it says, “family structure equality for children.” So when all the children have families that are structured similarly, that’s a type of equality among them.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer I know that you observe that the family —married parents and their biological children—is really a reflection of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). You also say that you were deeply impacted when you compared that vision to your own family structure, which included divorce, as you’ve said, and multiple step-parents. Go through for us, if you would, the inequalities that are created for children in a family that is NOT shaped like that triangle that reflects the biblical Trinity, whether that is intentionally or unintentionally.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: That’s important. I want your listeners to understand that they may be in a situation that they didn’t cause, their child may be experiencing this type of inequality and the parent themselves did not cause it. So, I don’t want anybody to start feeling really bad about this. But, the fact is that any child who is being raised outside of that intact triangle is experiencing not just one form of inequality but several forms of inequality. I talk about four of them in the book: The first one is something that I call equality among full-blooded siblings and among peers. Here’s how I first came to this type of inequality: I was talking to Dr. Morse about her childhood and I asked her how many kids at school did she know who had divorced parents and she said she could think of one. So, I imagined all the kids on the playground with like a little cartoon bubble above their head, and they all had the triangle in the little cartoon bubble above their heads, except for one who had the triangle with a slash. Because the way I do it is I draw the triangle and then the slash between the mom and the dad meaning divorce. That that was actually a type of equality that they all have. They all have the same type of family structures. This manifests in different ways. If they have different family structures then they’re being treated differently; There are unequal dynamics. Some of them have to pretend that, for example kids of divorce, have to pretend that their mom doesn’t exist when they’re in their dad’s home, and when they’re in their mom’s home they have to pretend that their dad doesn’t exist. And similarly, kids who are raised in a gay male household, they have to pretend that their mom doesn’t exist, and kids who are raised in a lesbian household have to pretend that their dad doesn’t exist. And some of them have to go back and forth between two homes. So you can see that these are all structural problems that are related to this idea of sexual and reproductive freedom. Many people in our culture really truly do believe that they have the right to do whatever they want with a child’s family structure. They really do believe that sexual reproductive freedom gives them these rights. But really what it means, from the child’s perspective, is that it’s an inequality.
JOHN RUSTIN: How do you respond to those who point to various studies that purport to find no difference between children that are raised by their own, married, biological parents, where that triad is intact, and children raised in households where there may have been divorce or the children are being raised by same-sex couples?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Those same-sex parenting studies are not reliable. So very often, they rely on small convenient samples and the problem with those sorts of samples is that you cannot then take those results and generalize for the entire population. Another problem with some of those studies is that they reach out to the parents themselves and then ask, “Oh, how are your kids doing?” Well, you know it should be obvious that there’s going to be an incentive to say, “Oh, my kids are doing great.” So I don’t think that those studies are reliable and I think that they’re methodologically flawed. I categorically reject that claim and I encourage your listeners to do the same.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer, I appreciate what you said earlier about the circumstances surrounding divorce and broken families happening for a variety of situations. And the intent here is not to make people who find themselves in those circumstances feel poorly or anything of that nature. And in fact, the circumstance that I want to ask you about is your views as you look through the lens of the research and the studies that you have done. How do you recommend that folks view the beauty of adoption and those types of relationships, which obviously you have a situation where a child may or may not have a biological parent in that sort of family structure. But that is a beautiful display of grace and love and mercy in those relationships. How do you view adoption through the lens of this analysis that you’ve done.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: I always get that question, “What about adoption?” Some people go so far as to say, “Well, you must be against adoption.” And that is absolutely not the case. I am absolutely in favor of ethical adoption. But we have to remember, why do we have adoption? Adoption in principle, exists to provide parents to children who need them. OK. Adoption in principle, is not about providing children to parents who want them. Those are two very different ideas and as long as the child is going into a situation where they’re not being raised by their own mother and father, for the sake of the child, as long as that’s truly happening for the sake of the child, primarily for the sake of the child, then I’m in favor of it. So you know for example, was the child languishing in foster care or an orphanage, or did one or both parents die, well then of course adoption makes sense in those cases. But the problem is that sometimes people, they want to think that I’m against adoption, but what they don’t understand is like third party reproduction or sperm donation or egg donation, that’s not adoption, that’s not a situation where you already have a child who needs parents. That’s a situation where you’re creating a child, you’re deliberately separating a child from his culture, sometimes from his language, from his origins, in order to satisfy a market demand for children. So, you can see that in principle, those are two very, very different things. And as long as it’s the former, I’m in favor of it. But if it’s the latter, I am categorically against it.
JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer, how can we as compassionate individuals, and often members of the church, for that matter, support the children of divorce and try to, in the midst of the culture that we are dealing in now and the reality of that, how can we support children of divorce and help to bring more of this equality back, or is that even possible?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: I’m really glad you asked this question, and I wanted to mention something too. I’m divorced as an adult so I don’t want any of your readers to think I’m throwing stones at people who might be in that same situation. As far as helping children of divorce, I think that one way we can bring some equality back into their lives is to first be willing to really listen to them. I think that we’ve placed so many burdens upon them that we really don’t realize how hard it is for them, how little real language or context exists for them to describe their experience. I know speaking for myself, I really wanted to be resilient, I really wanted to be strong, I really wanted to be for everything to be OK, I want my parents to be happy, of course I did. So, those expectations actually placed a burden on me to be quiet, to not say anything, to not talk about how much it hurt, to not talk about how difficult it was, to not talk about how unfair it seemed at times. So, I’d like us to start removing some of these cultural lies about “kids are resilient” and “babies are blank slates” and “kids will be fine if their parents are happy.” I’d like us to peel away those lies and then start letting the kids of divorce really tell their own stories about what it was actually like. I think that would be a huge step forward for our culture.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great point to end on, and unfortunately Jennifer we’re just about of time for this week. But I want to give you an opportunity, before we go, to let our listeners know where they can get a copy of your new booklet, and also learn more about the work of the Ruth Institute.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Wonderful! Thank you! The special report is called, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” And it’s available at the Ruth Institute web store, and also on Amazon. I would really love it if your readers got a copy of the book and I’d love to know what they think about it. They can write to me at the Ruth Institute or find me on Facebook, and also they can follow the Ruth Institute on Facebook and they can sign up for the Ruth Institute Newsletter at ruthinstitute.org
JOHN RUSTIN: And with that Jennifer Johnson, I want to thank you so much for joining us again on Family Policy Matters, for your honesty and transparency in sharing your own story, and just for the great work that you’re doing at the Ruth Institute. Thank you so much Jennifer. We appreciate you.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Thank you John.
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