The “Family” Unit


Ever since this article by Tony Robinson came out in June, I have been reflecting on the church as family. Growing up, that is how I felt about my church—they were an extended family. In my ministry, I have often referred to the church as “The Family of God.”  There are still good uses of the metaphor of family.  However, I agree with Robinson that it’s time to rethink that metaphor, especially of how it has been mis/used in church circles.

First, we have to understand that the concept of family and household has changed throughout the Bible and throughout our own human history, so to think that today’s definition is the same as it was even a few generations ago is a false assumption to start on.  Yet I hear many Christians objectify the “family”—the idea that there is a husband who is the provider, a wife who is the caregiver, and children who are cared for by the mother.  Every Sunday I hear of people who share about the morning’s worship service that praised the family and where the pastor taught that we need to protect the family.

Frankly, this is contradictory to the Gospel and to the New Testament.  Jesus certainly didn’t provide for or care for his earthly family (save in John’s Gospel where he asked the “beloved disciple” to care for his mother, who, probably widowed and without support would have needed someone in that culture to provide for her given the cultural barriers).

Jesus taught that “whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister and my brother” (Matthew 3:35)

Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47)

And Jesus even proclaimed, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

The family unit was something never upheld by Jesus.  This doesn’t mean the family unit is contrary to Scripture or to faith—it means that it is not nearly as important as we might think it is.  This is Good News.

This is Good News to the stepfamilies, the same-sex families, the grandparents who raise children, the single moms and dads.  This is Good News to those who do not have children.  This is Good News to those who live together, friends that share homes, multiple families in one roof.  This is Good News to married heterosexual couples with children, interracial and multicultural families.  Because it’s not about how we live together, but that we are part of God’s Community together.

In the Old Testament, we do hear of God being called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but later God is called the God of Israel.  This is not the God of one person or of one family, but this is the God of the Community.  God is not just present with one individual or one family, but when multiple families and individuals and all people come together as a community.  In the New Testament, Paul often speaks of “households” which included not only the biological family unit, but the servants and caregivers and others associated with the family.  When one person became a follower of the Way, as in Acts 16 with Lydia, the rest of the household was assumed to also be followers of the Way, as often the whole household was baptized into the faith.  The act of faith was not one of the individual or the individual’s family, but of the community the individual belonged to, greater than themselves and family.

Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

Jesus said this in the context of discipline and forgiveness within the community.  When we are in community, we need to be conscious of how our lives affect the well-being of the community, how our actions and decisions affect others.

In the question of equal marriage, posed in several states this election year, including my new home state of Washington, we would do well to remember this: it is not about the family unity, but how we live in community with each other.  When we limit rights to one kind of family unit, we disallow not only homosexual families but we are making a statement that there is no other kind of family unit that is acceptable.  It is clear that Jesus would stand against this hypocrisy.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The “Family” Unit

  1. The bottom line is this – we are all cousins and we are all mutts. We are one family and we are the only family. In an objective and indisputable way, we make the point of the universal family by moving backwards from today through our own genealogy, by traversing a history that is personal and direct. In doing so, we are forced to confront our universal connection to all people and all events that, previously, we thought either defined us separately and exclusively or divided us along lines of opposition. We have just proven that there are no races, no tribes, no ethnic groups, no castes, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no families and there has not been for at least 30 generations. Here is the real kicker – this same exercise, this same proof will have the same result for each generation. It was true for our parents. It was true for our grandparents. It was true 1000 years ago and it was true 4000 years ago – it has always been true.

    RECLAIMING FAMILY
    http://dmergent.org/2011/10/14/reclaiming-family/

    We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

    We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

    We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

    We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

    Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

    Being family is not easy.

    RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD
    http://dmergent.org/2012/05/11/reclaiming-the-family-of-god/

  2. It looks like this piece was created to support the author’s viewpoint, not God’s! God has always worked through families: Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives and children. Never, ever, ever is there any positive reference in scripture to homosexual relationships. Such things are not in the category of “family”! Sure, Jesus made the point that the Kingdom of God comes first, and that all are sinners and welcomed to accept His invitation. But scripture is very clear about what family is, and how important our responsibility is to family first. Why else would Jesus continually be seeking to obey the One whom he continually called Father?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s