It’s All in the Family


"In the beginning God created…."

Sound familiar? Yes, these are the introductory words of the Christian Bible.

When Sunday Morning Forum facilitator Matt Thompson integrated the Book of Genesis into his two-Sunday series, a traditional theological study was not the purpose of his presentation. Rather, he used this foundational biblical book and another illustrative published work to discuss kinship patterns and how they relate to the Unitarian Universalist Second Principle: "Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”

The most basic means of defining human relationship, instructed Matt, is through kinship. Charting the recurring ancestral themes in Genesis to help attendees visualize family structure, this articulate anthropologist described three categories of kinship:

  • Fictive Kin – people respected and treated as a member of one's family but who are not related by blood or marriage, e.g., adopted and foster children;
  • Consanguine Kin – people who are related genetically, one's blood relatives;
  • Affinal Kin – people connected by marriage who are not genetically related, e.g., spouse, partner, in-law

The core of what makes us human is our families. As Matt brought to life the family dynamics depicted in Genesis, attendees observed both commonalities and dissimilarities of kinship across cultures and time, from the Old Testament to Twenty-first Century America.

"When strange things become familiar and familiar things become strange, we have the opportunity to understand people who are different from us. As UU's we are called to do this; and in that process, we come to a greater understanding of ourselves," declared Matt. "What makes kin and family relations good are hospitality, welcome, gift-giving and real human emotions."

Those real human emotions can present some challenges. As shown through the Genesis review, sibling rivalry, parents playing favorites, cheating and deceiving each other, and petty jealousies are all part of our human drama. "How we react to and with people is something that should give us pause," said Matt, "and as UU's, this intentionality is important as we relate to each other with kindness and respect"—which brings us full circle, back to the importance of living out the UU Second Principle.


Our fellow UUFP member, Matt Thompson, serves as a project cataloger/special collections librarian at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Matt has been blogging with Anthrodendum (née, Savage Minds) since 2010.

In the beginning, God created…the family of humankind. So may it be.

chief seattle

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"Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
-Chief Seattle

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