I had a comment the other day about my suggestion that family is the basis for society. The respondent comments, 'what the heck does family mean and what does it mean to strngthen the family? Generally when we talk about strengthening family as Christian we are really meaning lowering the divorce rate and re-solidifying the marriage covenant and getting rid of civil unions etc! What does it mean now for family to be the core unit of society in our multi-ethnic, blended families, postmodern (where most people would consider their friends as their family) society with so many different expressions of family I would say that the mandate for family to be the core of society is a hollow and frivilous ideal to pursue.'
Where does one begin! Thanks! Family in biblical terms ranges from the ideal through to the fragmented. The ideal is never defined clearly; in fact, the biblical story involves God working through profound disfunction e.g. Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau; Jacob and his 12 sons etc. However, the ideal is found through piecing together a range ethical strands.
Firstly, there is the ideal of a love-based relationship; that is a non-negotiable. Love involves the full range of attitudes of peace, patience, goodness etc found in 1 Cor 13; Gal 5:22-23.
Secondly, there is the ideal of heterosexual monogamous, faithful, loving marriage. Polygamy is never endorsed in the NT and monogamy is assumed in Jesus' teaching. Alongside this are warnings against all manner of sexual relationships outside of this relationship. Hence, the kind of family we are to believe in, endorse and encourage is just this kind.
Thirdly, there is a great concern to raise children in a loving, nurturing, encouraging and disciplined environment. This concern is found in the OT (e.g. Deut 6) and into the NT. Jesus' attitude to children exemplifies this with his deep concern to receive children and bless them, Paul even turns the traditional notion of the mother's primary role in child-nurture on its head and lays the responsibility on the father; for me, this is a rhetorical device to indicate that both mother and father are to work for the good of the child, to raise them to contribute to God's world.
Fourthly, the family in both OT and NT is not limited to the standard western notion of the nuclear family. It transcends the father-mother-children model which dominates much western and right wing Christian thought. The family is a broader concept. The leadership of the family if anything, lies with the grandparents and great grandparents. There is a real honouring of the elderly, a respect for gained wisdom. Uncles, Aunts, cousins etc are all a part of the 'village' that brings up the child. Sadly, the impact of globalisation has seen a continual inter-migration of people from all over the world and an almost total breakdown of this dimension as families live all over the place and the older generations are isolated from family and their wisdom and leadership lost. This has spin offs for the elderly who are often lonely and vulnerable and for the family which loses its connection with the past.
Fifthly, a Christian would say that the triune God is the head of the family and that he is family, the primary model for the unity and oneness that brings a family together.
Sixthly, the family is bigger than even the blood tie itself in Christian thinking. The Christian responsibility is for the neighbour defined as more than family (see the Good Samaritan). When we come together in Christ we are family! There is often a conflict between the family we are in Christ and the family in which we were born. If the genetic family do not accept the conversion of the believer, it can fragment the family and even see violence and persecution result.
So there is an ideal and I cannot accept that we should not stand for it, endorse it and encourage others that there is a better way than the fragmentation of today's view of family.
However, we also have to acknowledge the role of grace in all of this. While holding to the ideal and seeking it, we must not stand in arrogant judgement over the world around us. We must be open to accept that others who we encounter are found in all sorts of 'family' arrangements such as single parent families, gay families and so on. Our view of family is not a rod to beat them with. Rather, we are to extend grace to them knowing from our understanding of the broken families we meet in the Bible, that God can work in these situations.
I am dismayed at the moral high ground we seek to claim. This implodes as our Christian leaders fall, our own families crash and our kids grow up in many cases to be as dysfunctional as anyone! This is because what we believe is ideal is far from our reality. So we must communicate our belief with humility and non-judgementalism. However, neither should we sell out and say such a view is hollow my friend! It is a glorious ideal to be worked for.
I am a Dad with a lovely wife and 3 kids but we are far from perfect. It is by far the hardest thing that I have ever done, being a Dad and a husband. But, I will aspire to the ideal with all my being! I believe in it! I will proclaim it! But I will also be open armed to those who live in different situations. Two of my daughters have friends who have a gay parent... we respect them and love them. The balance is not easy and we have not got it perfectly; But I do believe in family!