I think the family is important! I think that the family, particularly husbands and wives, are a great metaphor for the God’s relationship with humankind. The family is the backbone of so much in our world and time, resources and energy should be put into it. But, do you ever wonder if the family has become an idol, the object of Christian worship?
Here’s what I mean: It seems that in the Christian world, the family is being held out as the focus of spiritual life. We hear time and again that good Christians have good families complete with kids who never get into trouble.
A few years ago, I received a mailer from a non-profit religious group from Colorado Springs. I can’t remember what they were selling, but I do remember one line. It said something like this, “We want to help your church with its number one concern, the family.” I thought, “Good thing they sent this to me, because I didn’t know that the family was my number one concern. I thought it was the kingdom of God.”
What’s more, Christian bookstores, particularly evangelical ones, are littered and laced with books about “the family.” We’re awfully concerned with protecting our families, raising our families, keeping them from the evil “culture” out there, and making sure they don’t grow up to be, of all things, liberals! Christian radio touts that it’s “family friendly” and right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop that is peppered with copies of Houston Christian Magazine, which has as it’s subtitle, “Family Friendly News with an Eternal Purpose.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have two daughters and I’m VERY concerned about how they are raised and I’m hopeful that one day they will both own their own faith. But don’t we have to question whether or not Jesus died for something grander than us having good families? Don’t we all remember Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Family?
One of my old professors, Jack Reese, used to say, “Jesus didn’t die so we could have good advice.” And to me, so much focus on the family (no pun intended) has turned the cross into a how-to method of having a great vacation with your kids. Plus, I’m not sure what a “good family” even means.
My parents divorced when I was 15, yet still I’m in ministry working with people and families. My brother is getting married next month and he and his girlfriend are deeply committed to and involved with their church. By some people’s standards, our family is “broken.” Plus, what does all this emphasis on family mean for those people who take Paul seriously when he says it’s better to not marry. Or what do we do with the fact that Paul and Jesus were single? Not to mention those whose children have grown up and moved away. Is the church just a good tool to help us raise our kids? (And by the way, when Christians say “family” what they mean is “people with kids.”) And guess what, some of the best husbands and fathers I know aren’t Christians (or are nominal Christians without any real commitment to living in the way of Jesus). If we’ve cornered the market on how to do family well someone should tell these guys.
Here’s my hypothesis: At some point, probably the late 60’s, we realized that people were deeply concerned about their kids as the world turned post-Christian. In response, we learned that we could grow churches by focusing on the family and telling folks that if they hung out with us we would help raise their kids, keep them virginal and off drugs (all good things, by the way). So that’s where our energy went. And in many ways this has been good for many people.
The problem is that the family alone is not a big enough vision for the church. When we place the family at center of the church we hurt ourselves. It feeds on our fears and anxieties and into our consumerist tendency to have someone provide what we feel we cannot. Plus, it misses the missional nature of God. When we focus on the family, we focus on ourselves while the call of God is to embrace the other. At the same time, when we focus on our nuclear family over God’s family we undo the work of baptism which is partly designed to teach us that water is thicker than blood. When we are baptized, we claim the family of God, a family with folks who are different than us and across the globe and throughout time, as our primary identity. Baptism is a call out of the narrow world of thinking about those most like us and into a world most concerned with the missio dei – the mission of God – rather than the people under our roof.
My hunch is that if parents were to call their children into that kind of kingdom perspective and living then much of the rest would take care of itself.