Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Idolizing the Family

My kids were born in the 90s, right when the Evangelicals were getting into the whole "family" craze. Everything was about the family. The two parent and their kids kind of family. Entire ministries were created for families. Churches were developing chidren's wings and outreaches specifically for children and teens. Everything was family. And it's still happening. My parents' church in South Florida is no longer a First Baptist, but is now Family Church.

I want to think out loud a little about why this came about and what it means for Evangelicalism now. Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or something else.

Why did Evangelicals start to place so much emphasis on the family (and, I would argue, start to idolize the family)? I think it was largely a response to the 1960s and 1970s loosening of moral values. Evangelicals looked around and saw feminism, women working outside of the home, increasing acceptance of sex outside of marriage, and they got worried. Their response was to emphasize the opposite (as they saw it) of all of these things.

We saw the start of ministries like Focus on the Family with it's radio show with Dr. Dobson. It has now blossomed into a business with audio productions, books, and a quasi-theme park at it's headquarters in Colorado Springs. The Family Research Council also came about at this time with it's activities being more political.

In addition to parachurch ministries, many churches themselves developed specific ministries to families. In mainstream Evangelicalism, families were encouraged to participate in AWANA and marriage seminars. Children's wings were built onto churches.

More conservative and reconstructionist churches were teaching a much more strict patriarchal vision (and many had been even before the 80s and 90s). Vision Forum (now defunct) taught that women had no role outside the home and that children should only be homeschooled. ATI, run by Bill Gothard (now let go from his organization due to allegations of sexual misconduct) has the same kinds of teachings.

These organizations and many others came about because of fear. The Evangelical church was afraid of what was happening in the larger culture and saw a need to fight back and to keep it's own members safely ensconced in the Evangelical world. The idea for most of these churches and organizations was that if they could get the families back to the 1950 ideal or Victorian ideal then they would be safe from the temptations of the world.

Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or something else? As you can see from my title, "Idolizing the Family", I don't see it as a completely good thing. Let's call it a mixed blessing.

First of all, the word "family" tends to have a pretty rigid definition when used in Evangelical circles. For the most part, it means Mom, Dad, and their children. This is 2016, though, and "family" is starting to mean lots of other things. Grandparents are living with their kids more often than used to be (in the recent past). Singles are living with roommates. Divorced people live with kids (and it's not always the mom with the kids). When we talk about the family these days, it's much more of a mixed bag than when we talked about it 20 years ago.

The emphasis on the family through the years has made the family almost an idol in many places. Christian organizations become "family" organizations and we hear little about Jesus. This might be OK for a group that is intended to support families through a Christian worldview, but churches are to "preach Christ and him crucified." Anything that takes our eyes off of Jesus is an idol. And many of us have come dangerously close when it comes to family.

Encouraging strong families, though, does have some good aspects. Churches that have activities in place for children and teens give us a good option for our kids to have another place to learn about Jesus. Marriage seminars are often a good thing. The Bible actually doesn't say a lot about marriage, but learning to be better Christians makes us better at marriage.

The whole "family" thing can be isolating for some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. God has not called all of us to marriage. Jesus wasn't married. Paul wasn't married. In fact, many missionaries in the 19th century were single women and they did amazing things for God. When our churches become completely family centered, what does that mean for our single members?

And how do we integrate our LGBT brothers and sisters into a family-centered church. Whether you believe they are required to be celibate or not, we have to deal with the fact that they aren't going to be in a conventional heterosexual marriage. And the family ministries that most churches have are not appropriate for them.

Let's quit idolizing the family in our churches and in Evangelical culture. God created us all different. Some will get married and have typical nuclear families, but others will be in different living situations. Let's love them like Jesus and help them to be followers of Jesus. Let's enjoy all the different family structures in our society. 

What are your thought?

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