As a never-married adult Christian, I am disturbed by the undue emphasis American Christian culture places on “the family,” by which they mean the 1950s standard of man married to woman with one or more children.
Maybe conservative Christian groups are correct and secular culture is hostile towards the nuclear family, but the obsession they have with defending it means these Christians frequently ignore or exclude anyone who does not fall into the nuclear family demographic (married couples with children).
(I discussed this issue in previous posts on this blog, such as: Conservative Christianity Stuck in 1950s Leave it To Beaver-ville)
I came across this book review which also discusses the topic (copy of a post at goddiscussion.com; source: (www)goddiscussion.com/85000/jesus-family-values-by-deirdre-good/:):
Jesus’ Family Values by Deirdre Good offers challenge to conservative Christian views
[The book review opens by describing how some American Christian groups claim that the nuclear family is under attack, as do some European groups, such as the British “Christian Action Research and Education, or CARE for short”].
…. [I]t is quickly apparent that the family is viewed in exclusive terms as being two parents (of different sexes) and children. But the grandaddy of all advocates of the ‘Christian family’ is without doubt the the behemoth that is Focus on the Family a multimillion dollar ministry formerly headed by James Dobson whose aim is to “help families thrive.”
Anyone would think that the testimony of the Bible was unequivocal given the unanimity with which Christian marriages laud their particular vision of family as the very bedrock of civilization.
But, even excluding the First Testament with its references to polygamy and like exercised by God’s righteous the Second Testament is far from clear. To cite one primary example Jesus in Matthew 10: 35-37 makes the startling comment that his mission is not so much to establish Christian families that will form the basis of a Christian civilization but is rather to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (English Standard Version).
Deirdre Good in her book Jesus’ Family Values offers a succinct but powerful challenge to this conservative hijacking of ‘the family’ as being a mainstay of Christian civilization.
However, apart from some minor allusions in her introduction and conclusion Good does is this by nary a reference to Dobson and his ilk. Instead Good takes each of the gospels and Paul’s writings separately to show that the family or the household in the bible is first of all not a uniform entity but secondly it is not in no instance the ‘Christian Family’ of the family values crowd.
Most crucially in the Pauline witness in particular the family is represented as the transcendence of the people of God over matrimonial and filial relations.
In part this is due to the imminence of the anticipated apocalypse but it is also a sign of the new life believers have in Christ whereby we are adopted in a new family that is exponentially more multi-voiced than the Conservative Family.
In addressing this diversity Good asks in her conclusion “what does this look like in practice for twenty-first century Christians?”. She continues that “if it looks like irreconcilably different worshipers gathered around the table of the Last Supper and celebrating salvation by Jesus Christ in vastly different patterns of life, is that not entirely congruent with the multiple witnesses presented in scripture? Can we consciously and as a matter of policy exclude any member of the body of Christ without damaging the whole?” (p. 148).
What makes this book so compelling is that these conclusions are based on solid biblical exegesis and the varied testimony of scripture. In a simply written but academically rigorous argument Deirdre Good has shown the modern construction of the ‘Christian Family’ to be little more than conjecture. Jesus and the Christian faith is very much pro-family, it is just that the meaning ascribed to the term is much more inclusive than James Dobson may wish to admit.
12 thoughts on “Jesus’ Family Values by Deirdre Good challenges conservative Christan emphasis on “family” (copy)”
I thought you might like this one: http://ceruleansanctum.com/2013/01/feminism-singleness-and-the-idol-of-the-nuclear-family.html
ChristianPundit – Going back through your archives, I noticed you mentioned one of my books and three other authors I know personally. Thank you so much.
I hope I had nice stuff to say about it. I can be pretty brutal in book reviews… but I try to be fair.
Very nice things to say about it. Blog idea for you: How much does the word “single” cover those of us who are still waiting? I’ve got a single book on my desk. Does the word actually meaning anything today?
I’m not good at coining new terms. The word “unmarried” may be a good choice.
I’m afraid the church already has words for older unmarrieds, though.
The words of choice by most Christians for female singles over 30 who never marry, tend to be-
“bitter” (even if you are not bitter), and (in secular culture and on occasion on Christian blogs), derogatory terms such as “old maid” or “spinster.”
For Males = “eccentric,” “pathetic,” or “homosexual”
(even if the male in question is none of those things)
– those terms are either used out right or implied in works on singlehood by married Christian authors, particularly the “marriage mandaters”
ChristianPundit – Everything I’ve read in your blog sounds exactly like something I would have written. Its really uncanny. I too even wrote anonmyously on the internet for a while under a pen name. Didn’t want anybody to find me. Embarrassed. Just wanted to stay hidden. But truthfully, getting my real name out there on the blogs and Facebook was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve been contacted by and met more people in the last year that I can relate to than I have my entire life. Some of my special friends I correspond with through email and so forth are indeed 1 in a million people. I would have never met them in a thousand lifetimes, especially considering that I live in a very small rural town where there are no other churches but Southern Baptist. So I praise the Lord they got their real names out there and let the world know where they stood on chastity and other Christian values and allowed me to locate and contact them – and not feel so out of place. A few are even older than myself (51). Some are public personalities who trust me – authors, actresses, sports figures, etc. More and more people are making public their witness for chastity. They are all very encouraging to me. We are getting our names out there slow, trying to make a difference – and especially trying to change the way things are done in churches. For me, all of this can’t be done anonymously. I’d feel like a lighthouse with a veil draped over the lights, so to speak. But I understand that you must do what’s best for you. You can contact me anytime ChristianPundit. I write and do photography for other Christian magazines and could use your input. I’ll continue to read your blog here regularly though. They are really good.
I can relate to emotional pain. I’ve had bipolar disorder over 20 years and have spent a lot of time in hospitals. It’s done a number on my short term memory though. So if I repeat myself, please forgive me.
I’m glad you have been able to find like-minded people online.
I do have some sites and social accounts where I post under my real name, but I compartmentalize some topics, like the whole marriage/ singleness thing, and write only under a screen name here, when discussing those topics.
I understand about the mental health issues. I had major depression for years, since I was a kid, until about a year or two ago.
Not only are most Christians terrible at supporting older unmarried Christians, but they are either completely ignorant about mental health problems, or are unsympathetic. (Some love to give cliched, pat answers too, like, “pray more and read your Bible every day!”)
Then you have your Christian authors who think all psychology / psychiatry (even of the Christian variety) and treatments (such as anti depressant medications) are worldly or unbiblical, and they will tell Christians to stay away from any treatment. Some Christians have committed suicide as a result of such ignorant teaching.
So I do understand about having psychological health problems. I wish the rest of the church was more understanding.
I took photography in a college class a long time ago but was not especially talented at it. 🙂
Right on target Christian Pundit. “Most crucially in the Pauline witness in particular the family is represented as the transcendence of the people of God over matrimonial and filial relations.” Excellent.
I’m glad you enjoyed it – I wrote the introduction, but the rest came from a another blog called goddiscussion.com, where they largely quoted the author.
It is disturbing and strange to me that the American church is so fixated on family, when Jesus often spoke in the Gospels about how one has to forsake (flesh and blood) family to be worthy to follow Him.
I guess you don’t notice this fixation so much when you are a kid, or in your 20s and early 30s and expecting to be married yourself some day, but now that I’m in my early 40s and marriage never happened for me, the obsession does stand out quite a bit. Most Christians remain totally blind to it.
ChristianPundit – You have a very excellent blog. While there may not be many of us writing about this subject, I think our message needs to be carried to the rooftops in this country. Please stay strong, don’t compromise your Christian principles, and continue to let your voice right out loud and clear. I have several more links that you may be interested in. email@example.com
Thank you – I never felt I would get many followers or readers of this blog, outside of maybe a handful of Christians in the same age group and situation as myself.
I still am surprised when I get readers or followers. My writing is sometimes pretty sloppy as a result. I could sound a lot more professional, but I view this blog as an online journal where I can rant, opine, or just think about things, which is why it’s sometimes pretty informal.
As for sticking to my Christian principles, I’m undecided on this point. I addressed this in a reply to you on another post, so I don’t want to go into it all again here.
It’s not just the singleness/marriage issue that has caused me to doubt the Christian faith and my desire to follow it, but other factors.
It bothers me that you can be a devout Christian serving God your whole life, sincerely following biblical teachings, but your prayers still go unanswered, and people who don’t give a whit about living a godly lifestyle (including other Christians!) are getting their needs/ desires met.
I don’t want to get into it a lot here but also – I had a death in my family 4 – 5 years ago. I was very close to the person who died.
Support form other Christians was dismal in my grieving.
I went to Christians friends and family for support but either got brushed off (they would hand me platitudes, for example), or lecture / condemn me, I got judged and given unsolicited advice, which also hurt.
There was little or no compassion or help from anyone over the death.
I did not feel God’s presence during the grieving, no matter how hard I prayed.
I was basically shamed or condemned by other Christians for having emotional pain and admitting to it.
I was told by Christians I should only feel sorry for starving orphans in India (and similar suffering people), that my pain doesn’t matter or is not as big as their pain, since I have running water and enough food to eat, etc.
My experience has been that most Christians are not living out Christianity as instructed to by the Bible – and they’re not being penalized in any form by God for it, or even not suffering natural consequences of sinning all the time – not that I can deduce.
Despite the fact I was a devout Christian, God has not helped me, he is ignoring my prayers, etc., so I’m having a very hard time seeing the benefit of adhering to the Bible anymore.
I had a few other painful issues in my life that other Christians had no sympathy for.
Thank you also for your Facebook link, but I am more comfortable being anonymous on the blog and elsewhere I post about these topics. If I used Facebook, I would have to use my real name, something I’m trying to avoid here. 🙂
You said, “While there may not be many of us writing about this subject, I think our message needs to be carried to the rooftops in this country”
I agree, it’s an issue that needs to be regularly talked about, but most Christians ignore it, especially preachers or professional Christian writers or blogs and magazines.
I do think this is a big reason why the church is losing members – they neglect people who don’t fit the “married by 25, with three kids by age 30” group. They make people who don’t fall into that group feel alienated, unwanted, and ostracized.
If you are divorced, widowed, never married, elderly, an unmarried, female career professional – if you don’t fit that 1950s nuclear family niche, you are persona non grata (or you are the invisible man) in most churches.
I see a lot of pastors online and TV shows wringing their hands over church attendance being down, and they wonder why this is so (though one pastor, Charles Stanley, denied in one sermon a few months ago that churches are losing members! Stanley is in denial for some reason).
Their usual “solution” is to work harder at wooing teens, to people age 25 to church, which means more pastors wearing casual outfits with flip flops, more rock bands, etc.
They have it all wrong. Their strategy should be to hold on to people who are already Christians who are at age 25 and over (regardless of life station or marital status), and help them with their needs.
If a church includes everyone and made a real effort to help, comfort, encourage, and console everyone over age 25, that would might look very enticing to anyone under age 25, if they noticed.
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