Monday, March 18, 2024

Bad Family Businesses

Having a family business can be a good thing.

Like, say, the humble hole-in-the-wall strip mall Chinese restaurant my own family has been ordering from for nearly two decades.  The food is classic American Takeout Chinese, cheap and abundant and generically tasty.  We've been their regular customers as management has passed among and between members of an extended Chinese family over those years.  We've watched extended family arrive from China, folded into community through the business.  We've watched the children of the family grow up, first diligently doing homework in the restaurant while their parents worked, and then helping with the business while juggling school and life.

Family farms and restaurants and businesses of almost all ilks can be a cross-generational blessing.  The bonds of blood and trust that unite extended families can add to the sense of purpose that rises from a shared labor.

But there are some lines of work that lend themselves poorly to that connection, where the expectations that rule family life and expectation clash with the reality of the vocation.

Pastoring, for pointed example.

Just because your Daddy was a preacher doesn't mean that you are, kid.  Call is a fiercely particular thing, and while it can run in your blood, it operates on a different plane from the logics of lineage.  When it becomes the family business, faith often goes awry, becoming less about being a servant of the divine encounter and more about social position and remuneration.

Because that works socially...human beings get attached to a name, to the story of a too easily loses authenticity, as the self-serving necessities of nepotism take precedence over all other considerations.  In churches, it creates a willingness to raise up too many of Eli's sons, too many of Samuel's sons, those who see the power that comes from that position, and who are eager to milk unearned social authority for their own benefit.

Church becomes a place of falseness, of self-serving plunder and profit.  But there's a place where social power plays even more freely.

Politics, if one believes in republican virtues, is another place where familial expectations are poorly applied.  I've always looked a wee bit askance at the various political dynasties that have arisen over the course of the short history of our republic, because dynastic thinking is antithetical to constitutional principles.

It's difficult to avoid, because political systems are systems of relationship and social influence.  Those connections inhere within family networks, in ways that must be warily watched. 

The more deeply a single family weaves its name and its brand into the political life of a constitutional democracy, the more danger there is that we will slide back into a functional monarchism.  I mean, sure, it was romantic and young back in the day, but Camelot wasn't the capital of a republic, eh?  

When we see leaders promoting family members to positions of power, approaching both party and nation as if they were the family business?  It's a red flag for a republic, a warning light on the dashboard of democracy, an alarm ringing in the ears, no matter what the party.