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Betsy Kneepkens: Healing the family is essential to stopping the violence

It was about 92 degrees outside, gas prices were nearing $5 a gallon, I needed groceries, and the store was about one mile from my home. I was frustrated, and I can get stubborn sometimes. I grabbed a water bottle, put on my walking shoes, and headed out that door. No way would I fill up my gas tank at that price. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

t was undoubtedly warm on the walk downhill to the store, but I managed the trip with determined vigor. The trip back, uphill with groceries, was a different story. Perhaps I am a bit headstrong, and my protest was backfiring in the heat, but I had no plans to give up. When I was nearing the top of the hill, about three-quarters of the way home, three separate individuals stopped their cars and asked if I needed a ride home. One very kind gentleman passed me, turned around, and came back to ask me if I needed a lift. Maybe I wasn’t looking well, and I don’t know, it was hot outside. 

I thanked these good people and explained that I had intentionally chosen to walk and was grateful for the offer. My decision to walk wasn’t going to budge. In hindsight, even if I was unwell, getting in a car with a stranger is considered unsafe. Unfortunately, safety is a bigger issue than allowing unknown individuals to help each other? What a shame! 

My regular column readers know that I am a native Chicagoan. I was horrified when the mass shooting in Chicago’s Highland Park happened on July 4. I was not raised in that part of the city, but I certainly was familiar with the area. I can say that if a mass shooting can happen in that neighborhood, we all need to realize this sort of situation can happen everywhere. 

The last few times I traveled back home, I can sadly say the Chicago I remember is not the Chicago of today. Shootings happen regularly in this region, and reporters share the violent news like they list scores for professional sporting competitions. The Highland Park area was one of the parts of the city that I would consider the last to be infected by such unspeakable violence. I was deeply disheartened to learn about the senseless carnage on the day citizens are willing to come together to enjoy a Fourth of July parade. We need to be honest about making changes in this country. 

Again, after one of these mass shootings, we hear pundits and politicians proclaim the solution to this problem is to restrict gun access. I am not an expert on guns. I can see both sides of the argument, and I fall right into the middle. 

I am, however, convinced that the best solution to this horrible violence and all other societal messes is not the laser strike legislation we usually do. It seems passing legislation gets at the symptoms and not the cause. The honest answer to these problems is not the federal government and new laws. Moving toward a resolution is attainable, and it rests with the collective will to live and sacrifice for the sake of others. No country in the world has more potential for overall greatness than the United States. At some point in our history, we decided to put the burden of peace and prosperity on the government and not ourselves. 

The government now seems to be involved in nearly every aspect of our lives. When I point this out to my children, who think the government should solve these problems, I say, “how is this working for us.” We must stop expecting the government to solve our individual bad choices. There is no question that the government plays an essential role in our country. However, much of this brokenness must be repaired by individuals and our way of life. 

Catholics teach a concept called subsidiarity, which means nothing should be done at a higher level than can be done well or better at a lower level. These mass shootings are unacceptable. Not being able to accept a ride from someone you don’t know because it could be unsafe is dispiriting, and taking your life in your hands when you attend a parade is unspeakable. We can’t allow this evil to get much worse, or every one of us will be imprisoned by the dysfunction caused by our sins. 

I believe the real problem is we won’t admit we all have an individual part in correcting this mass waywardness. When Catholics talk about subsidiarity, they usually mean neighborhoods or local governments. However, the root of our wretchedness comes from a place much smaller than our neighborhoods. The place is our families. 

We can no longer tolerate our society being in so much pain and blaming others. The solution must be bold actions, willing to accept and understand that everyone carries some cross or difference in this world and even with this cross move forward. 

We must realize that the lack of emphasis on intact families is the heart of this upheaval. We must be able to speak compassionately yet openly that it matters if children have the benefit of their mom and dad in their home. We must proclaim the good news that the unconditional love a mother and father pour out to their children mimics, in an earthly way, the love that awaits us in our heavenly life in an endless and unlimited way. 

God’s plan for the family is purposeful, intentional, and valuable. A family gives a child the security of roots, knowing they’re loved, and teaching them how to love others. God wants his children to know they are never alone and that we can and should depend on and care for others. All relationship formation is attained most successfully in a family and is critical. Without the vast majority of our population formed this way, ending violence and maltreatment of others seems impossible. 

Men must hold other men accountable if they are not parenting their children, and couples must acknowledge that marriage is difficult. All measures must be taken to keep mothers and fathers together (unless there is abuse or death) to raise their children. Our churches in every neighborhood need to make supporting marriage and family life central to their ministries. As a society, we must admit that the vast majority of extreme violence can be linked back to family situations that are dysfunctional and fractured. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “as the family goes, so goes society.” The alarm bells are blaring. 

When you are walking home, even if you are bullheaded, you should feel safe accepting help from a kind person who offers you a ride. When you go to a parade, you should not feel like your life is in danger. An individual should not be so alone and unconnected that they find the only way to be seen and significant is by taking unsuspecting, innocent lives. 

God’s design to give individuals the formation to live peacefully together, on earth, is the family. Our decision to minimize and reduce the significance of intact families is the cause of the extreme violence we are experiencing. Looking to make the change by laws that adjust the symptoms prolongs a solution. The way our society is living is not working for us. 

God’s family design was not happenstance, its intention was a cooperative effort between him and humankind, to well form his children to love, care, and teach us to live in harmony with each other. As a church, we must start speaking loudly for intact families and providing the tools to help married couples raise their children in homes filled with love. 

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.