Sunday, February 1, 2009

Family Systems in the Church

Family systems theory is a term therapists use to describe dysfunctional families. These families have members, who play or function in different roles. I find this interesting in light of certain in-group/out-group belief systems within the Church.

In some Churches, their belief systems are based on lifestyles or cultural understandings of the "biblical". These are defined by membership commitments and also define how and what one is "approved" to do within the Church. I find that this type of Church functions on a dysfunctional model, according to family systems theory.

In understanding how this therapy's model applies to certain churches, one must undestand that there are roles that are to be "played". Roles are defined by their duties within the group-think, i.e., the hero, the scape-goat, the care-taker, the lost child, the adjuster...etc..

The scape-goat acts out the family tension and anger and distracts from the real issues at hand. The scape-goat is the one that get help first, as they are usually the one that are emotionally honest and usually end up addicted or pregnant. While the "acting out" is only the response to abuse, this role is the ones that can gain entrance into the family system.

The hero is the controller, the perfect one, the judgmental and arrogant one, but underneath, is just as much negativity toward himself. This type of dynamic is a set-up for abuse, as the scape-goat usually takes the blame himself, whereas the others within the system only center the scape-goat as the "sacrifice" to rid their own consciences.

The scape-goat is a bibilcal term that is useful for the Christ imagery of taking away sin, dying outside the camp. The scapegoat is in need of understanding themselves in a different more hopeful light, which will help them be free from their dependence to the system and help them become responsible for themselves.

When one is addicted to a certain role or function, then one can feel secure to play out that role throughout one's life. Counselling will help, but sometimes just a good friend to hold one accountable will be just as helpful.

Heroes love the applause and the accolades that come from "behaving properly", while acting arrogantly toward the scape-goat. The heroe's attempts at control sometimes lead to the banishment of the scape-goat, as his very existence reminds the hero, that he has limitations and is imperfect.

Value-based ethics pales in light of roles that hold sway over a person's character, like this. Therefore, the only solution is virtue based ethics where the scape-goat takes on his own responsibiltiy without taking on the other's. This is healing and brings accountability to the hero, as it reveals the emperor with no clothes. While this is a loving and kind way to resolve the dysfunction, it takes all of one's strength and resolve to stand, after having done all, and not be swayed into an unhealthy role again.

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