The Family in Connecticut: Religious Past, Religious Future?
by Brian S. Brown
On a frigid, mid-winter day in Windsor, Connecticut, a solitary figure strode across his snow white corn fields into the hall of the home that was his fathers, and his fathers before him. Gently setting his cloak on the mantle, he began a long conversation with his wife on Paul’s admonition for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Amidst the discussion, three children hurriedly made their way into the room so as not to be late for supper. A prayer opened and ended the meal, followed by a family bible study. The man’s hand, gnarled from years of work in his fields, nonetheless gently turned the pages for his youngest, a four-year old girl. Even she could read the words of the Great Book, and like the other children, memorization of verses was her constant joy. The father and mother closed the evening with a song praising their creator.
If this scene sounds as if it is from another world, perhaps it is. But it is a world removed from us by time, not space. In 1795, families across the great state of Connecticut would see nothing odd about the evening’s proceedings. A night devoted to family conversation, fellowship, and worship was completely normal to these first Americans.
Much has changed in Connecticut since the heady days of the early republic. Some of these changes are obviously for the better. What New Haven merchant would not be amazed at our rapid industrial and commercial success? What Hartford inventor would not be enthralled by our bridges and roadways? What Litchfield doctor would not be delighted at the advances we have made in medicine?
There is one change, however, that our ancestors would never fathom—how little we truly seem to value our families. The atmospheric rates of divorce and fatherlessness would only be the most obvious indicators. Equally perplexing to the early American would be the minimal family time devoted toward teaching and learning the basics of religion and morality.
For them the family was the first arena of government, the venue in which the responsible use of freedom toward virtue was taught and exercised. Religion and morality where considered the primary requisites of any citizen and these were to be taught in the home. That a child in our world can wake up, go to school, come home, and go to sleep without discussing the fundamental questions of existence with his parents and siblings shows just how different our world is from theirs.
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What Connecticut needs more now than ever is to recapture the notion of family as divinely ordained, with a divine mission. Our forefathers knew that the family was intended by God to teach the next generation eternal, immutable truths. Timothy Dwight, grandson of the great Jonathan Edwards and president of Yale, made this clear in 1795 when he stated that, “Religious education, in the first instance, is domestic. To the early mind, parents are the ministers of religion appointed by God himself, and invested by him with authority, and advantages, wholly peculiar.” If this is the only part of the great patrimony bestowed upon us by New England’s early generations they will have taught us much.
Only by first ministering to our own families may we rightfully go out and minister to others. Only by giving our children the moral and religious instruction that they deserve, will we truly be performing our duty as Americans. Only by realizing that the family is the cornerstone of society and civil government in which we learn to properly live as men, women, and citizens, will the family again serve the function ordained by its Creator.
Can this vision of family life that once was the norm in Connecticut be restored? The Family Institute of Connecticut believes that we can and must reinvigorate the religious and moral life of our families, and is dedicated to achieving that goal through its research, education, and support. If you are interested in helping or have any questions, please contact us.
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