Sometimes I wonder if Christianity worships the nuclear family unit. You know, one husband, one wife, and one daughter, and one son. Ideally, they’d all be born-again, bible-believing, perfectly behaved, not in debt, in a big white house with a picket fence, they’d have a cat, and dog, a barbecue grill, and most importantly of all, be happy all the time. The problem is that the ideal and perfect nuclear family doesn’t … and probably never did … exist.
It makes me think of the only episode of Barney and Friends I can remember. It’s family night. All the kids are excitedly talking about their moms, dads, brothers, and sisters. Everybody except the little girl sitting by herself on the swing. She explains to the giant purple and green dinosaur that her family is just her, her mother, and nana, her grandmother. She felt like she had been left out and couldn’t relate to the others because her family was too small.
Christianity is supposed to be a family of believers, made up of all sorts of smaller families. It’s supposed to be equally welcoming to each individual. It’s not supposed to pick and chose favorites. I know that the big excuse for Christianity’s disconnect from reality is the ‘breakdown of traditional family’. I don’t think that’s the case.
Family is a changing concept. Each new century defines it’s own version of a typical family. An ancient Roman family would have consisted of a father who made all legal decisions and many life-or-death decisions for his wife, unmarried daughters, younger children, sons, sons’ wives, sons’ children, and even slaves – a small Roman family could easily be a few dozen people all-together. As there were few ways to prevent having children, most families were quite large. There were also few ways of preventing children from dying, which occurred frequently. Also, aged parents would eventually move in with one of their children’s family to live out their last days. During my study of genealogy, it amazed how generations ago, some of my ancestor’s families consisted of ten to twelve children. I said all that to say that our notion of a traditional nuclear family entirely misses the mark of actual families in historical settings.
When it comes to marriage and divorce – our ancestors had little choice, being married gave you respected status in the community and the security of knowing that you won’t be on your own as you get older. It also gave you more resources when comes to the basics, food, water, clothing, and shelter. Single men and women were under so much pressure to marry and have children that it seemed that being single for any length of time was down-right unacceptable.
However, some of America’s churches are trying to drill into believers the idea that they should strive for the nuclear family without giving a second thought to all the different sorts of families that God put together. They tell these families what’s expected of each and every member. These churches can ignore and exclude individuals and families that don’t match their idea, and as a result do a lot of harm unintentionally. Sometimes I think they just don’t know how to acknowledge and accept such families, be they re-married, single, in the process of divorce, or questionable / undecided. God didn’t make families that were perfect in the Bible. King David’s family fought for centuries for the rule of the Kingdom. Hannah’s family was difficult to get along with (her husband’s other wife, especially.) Hagar was mistreated and fled from her family (ancient households included slaves as family members in some instances,) even in the New Testament, there’s a lot of questions about how a Christian family ought to be. If the families in the Bible weren’t perfect, why would He make the perfect family here and now? Did it take him all this time to get it right?
What we really need to do is to change our perspective. We need to quit trying to make people fit into a perfect family. We should tell the singles that they should enjoy having God all to themselves as long as it lasts. We should rally behind the single moms and dads without making them feel like they must marry or else be shamed or shunned by the Church. We should do what we can to help young married couples work together through the rough early years without being judgmental as to whether or not they’re doing family the right way. We should be supportive when families face difficulties. We shouldn’t treat people like they’re bad Christians if their first marriage didn’t work out. We shouldn’t pretend that abuse doesn’t happen – we must make people aware that abuse is not okay. We shouldn’t tell people that it’s their obligation to have children to turn into Christians, rather they’re free to decide how big or little their family will be.
God does put all sorts of families together – this is most true is the biggest, strangest, least ‘traditional’ family of them all – the family of believers, where there are no favorites, no one is excluded or ignored, and there is enough of everything for everybody. One thing is certain, our family reunion will be anything but dull.