Just How Family-Centered Is the Bible? by J. Starke
I offer this link with a caveat or four.
Before I get to the link itself, here are a few of my problems with it (with additional critique below the link and excerpts from it).
This essay comes from a site sponsored by a bunch of people, “The Gospel Coalition,” a phrase which sounds so darn “biblical,” but I sharply disagree with them (not all their views are ‘biblical’).
The Gospel Coalition is comprised, for example, of Neo Calvinists (or they support Neo Cal preachers and doctrine; I am not sure if every last writer at their site is a Neo Cal).
Further, they are gender complementarian (also known as “biblical womanhood and biblical manhood.” As taught by these people, their views of gender roles are not biblical.
If you’d like to see a contrary conservative, biblical Christian view about gender and gender roles, please read the material at (Link): Christians For Biblical Equality.)
There are some aspects of this writing that seem to be an even-handed essay telling Christians to be careful about not making too much out of “family” and “marriage” to the point either or both become idols, but there are still one or two aspects of this that I still disagree with and will comment on that below the long excerpt.
Starke begins his editorial discussing how marriage today is in trouble, divorce is on the rise, and so on.
- by J Starke
…. But with every response [by Christians to issues in secular culture such as rising divorce rates], there’s always the danger of over-correction.
It’s not that I think some evangelicals have become too conservative or too traditional. I worry that they’ve simply adopted traditional cultural and societal norms, instead of biblical norms.
… The two birth announcements in the Gospel of Luke to Zechariah and Mary reveal how a society’s “traditional” family values may not line up with God’s.
Zechariah, the priest married to a barren woman, and Mary both heard miraculous announcements about impending childbirth.
Yet while Zechariah responded with skepticism and doubt, Mary responded with faith and wonder.
So why would Zechariah, a priest, doubt an angel of the Lord? He knew the story of Abraham and Sarah, so the idea of an older, barren woman giving birth wouldn’t be ridiculous to him.
But consider Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation. Some of you may know the pain of not being able to have children.
It’s the feeling of 10, 20, even 30 years deeply desiring children with hopes unfulfilled.
Zechariah and Elizabeth also suffered shame. Luke 1:24-25 reveals Elizabeth’s heart. She said, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
By reproach she meant the shame that comes from known barrenness. Maybe some of you have experienced this reproach from more conservative societies, where family is held in such a high regard.
If you’re nearing your 40s with no children and maybe not even married, you start to receive questions like, “When are you going to get yourself a husband?” “When are we going to start seeing some little ones around here?” You hear the whispers. Every baby shower brings guilt and shame.
Zechariah and Elizabeth also dealt with questions about whether they did something wrong to deserve barrenness.
Was there some hidden sin? Worse, Zechariah was a religious leader, a priest!
Can you imagine how this public shame undermined his position, his authority?
So for Zechariah, pain and sorrow turned to shame and disgrace. He held on tightly to the cultural idol of family. This idol filled his heart so that there was no room for the truth of God’s promise, even if he heard it from an angel. The good news of a coming son did not inspire joy but unbelief. It’s too late. We’re too old.
… But there’s another wrong view. A society can make the family the most important thing. It can become an idol, something that fundamentally defines us. We regard anyone who never marries or cannot have children as somehow subhuman. They must have done something wrong to upset God.
…By contrast, the Bible actually teaches a radically subversive message about the family. God, we often discover, is the cause of barrenness in women.
Stories of family dynamics rarely flatter. You’ll never find a Leave it to Beaver household in the Bible. Rather, we see constant distress, rivalry, and jealousy.
Usually this dynamic doesn’t result from undervaluing children. No, we see it when children become the most important thing! Not only that, Jesus also has some deeply alarming things to say about the family, sounding almost cold and uncaring—see Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 14:26.
And finally, it’s difficult to make family the most central thing for Christians when the two most prominent figures in the New Testament, Jesus and the apostle Paul, were both single. Actually, Christianity made singleness a legitimate way of life for the first time in any culture or religion.
Christ and the Church
Before you thumb your noses at traditional values on marriage and family, remember this: When God wanted to paint a picture of his great love for he church and cost of his death, he cited marriage between a husband and wife. God in Jesus Christ is the faithful and sacrificial husband for his bride, the church.
….While the family cannot be so important that it invades the space in our heart that only God should occupy, we see that even from Creation, God designed marriage and family to result in a maturing society. Zechariah, however, warns us not to make family the ultimate thing. He turned it into a false god, leaving no room for the truth of the real God.
… But their [Christians’] convictions should come from the Bible, not simply the norms of traditional societies.
I commend this author for pointing out that some Christians have turned marriage and family into idols, but I feel he gets a few things wrong and makes a few comments that are insensitive to certain types of people.
Here are some additional problems I have with this paper, as outlined below.
Starke starts out sounding sympathetic to barren or single adults who desire marriage and/or children. Starke writes,
- ..Zechariah and Elizabeth also dealt with questions about whether they did something wrong to deserve barrenness.
Was there some hidden sin? Worse, Zechariah was a religious leader, a priest! Can you imagine how this public shame undermined his position, his authority?
I don’t recall the Bible explicitly saying that this couple was shamed and blamed for being without children, but Starke assumes this was so.
If we grant Starke that point:
When I first read this essay, I assumed Starke “felt” for Zack and Liz (Zechariah and Elizabeth) and how terrible it must have been for this couple to have supposedly been shamed or insulted over their childlessness.
Instead of rebuking the judgmental pro-family types for shaming “Zack and Liz” for being without children, which is what Starke should be doing, Starke instead shames and blames Zack and Liz themselves for supposedly having had made “the family” into an idol (though the biblical text does not say this).
I have more to say about this below this next excerpt.
- So for Zechariah, pain and sorrow turned to shame and disgrace. He held on tightly to the cultural idol of family. This idol filled his heart so that there was no room for the truth of God’s promise, even if he heard it from an angel.
There is nothing wrong with Zechariah, or with anyone, wanting to have a spouse or a child.
Simply wanting or desiring something that the Bible does not condemn does not mean one is idolizing it, yet Christians constantly make this leap.
I find this attitude by Stark fairly insensitive.
I have observed for many years now that among Christians who idolize marriage and family, it is made an idol by those who are already married, who are already parents, who tell the never-married and the infertile they are not as good, godly, mature, and worthy as marrieds and parents (hence my one stop threads on (Link): marriage and (Link): parenthood).
It’s the already married and those who are already parents who have turned marriage and parenthood into idols, not the childless and not the singles.
How cruel it is when the majority of Christian culture sets both things up -marriage and parenthood- as idols to be prized and then shames, rebukes, or blames an unmarried person for wanting a spouse, for seeking a spouse, or for an infertile couple to seek medical care to become pregnant.
Christian singles are told by Christians that they are not as mature, godly, or responsible as married couples are, but if they still desire marriage or attempt to get married – by using dating sites, for example – they are told they are “idolizing” marriage.
It’s a highly hypocritical move that Christians foist on other Christians, but they do it constantly.
I’ve written of it before in pages such as:
- (Link): Hypocrisy in Christian Culture – Those who idolize parenting chide infertiles for trying to have kids
When Starke advises Christians not to turn marriage and family into idols, who exactly is he warning?
Because it sounds to me as though Starke is, in this essay, further shaming and blaming singles or infertiles who hanker after spouse and children, when he should be solely directing his criticisms at the overall Christian culture, which is maintained and controlled by people who are, 99% of the time, married with children.
Most churches will not even consider permitting un-married adults into positions of leadership, teaching, or preaching. Churches are heavily biased against singles and childless individuals or couples.
Singles should not be shamed for wanting or seeking marriage, and childless people should not be shamed for seeking to have children, especially not in a culture, Christian culture, that keeps cramming the idea down everyone’s throats that marriage and parenthood are more “godly” than singlehood or the state of childlessness, and how marriage and family is so important and fundamental for American society.
Wanting to be married is not “idolatry.” I have discussed that in a few posts before, such as in one by Mark Driscoll (I believe it was this post, (Link): More Singles Commentary by Mark Driscoll (“Two Mistakes Singles Make”), or, it may have been in this post: (Link): Mark Driscoll on Single Christian Women Who Desire Marriage – the positives and negatives of his piece ), and this one:
It also seems to me that the author dances around the stereotype that singles who hate being single and long for marriage are “bitter” which in turn is a component of “singles shaming.”
I’d say most of us older singles are not “bitter” about it, but have either come to terms with it, or feel sad about it at times, or both.
You can largely come to accept your single status but occasionally feel sad about it.
You can also point out how wrong Christians are to idolize marriage and treat adult singles like trash, but that does not make one “bitter” – it’s offering a much needed critique of Christian culture.
- While the family cannot be so important that it invades the space in our heart that only God should occupy, we see that even from Creation, God designed marriage and family to result in a maturing society”
“God designed marriage and family to result in a maturing society?” He did? Really? Please provide book, chapter, and verse for that, because I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that declares this.
That belief that God intends “family” to be for the “maturing” of society, or to act as its backbone, is not even mentioned in the book of Genesis, which describes God creating the first married couple, Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve having their first son.
That God allegedly uses marriage for anything (beyond anything other than for continuation of the human species and as one illustration of Jesus’ relationship to the church) -as a building block of culture, to sanctify people, to mature people and such- are merely assumptions Christians make repeatedly, with no biblical basis.
I’ve written about this issue before, like in this post:
- (Link): Family as “The” Backbone of Society? – It’s Not In The Bible
- Before you thumb your noses at traditional values on marriage and family, remember this: When God wanted to paint a picture of his great love for he church and cost of his death, he cited marriage between a husband and wife. God in Jesus Christ is the faithful and sacrificial husband for his bride, the church.
I also wonder who these comments are aimed at. Who does he think may be “thumbing her nose at” marriage?
I am over 40 years of age and still would like to be married. I am not “anti marriage.”
I am very disturbed and angered at how highly other Christians elevate marriage, to the point marriage, and the 1950s nuclear family unit, is turned into a “golden calf” they worship.
An un-married, childless person pointing out that married, American Christians have the habit of turning marriage and parenting into idols does not make that un-married, childless person “anti marriage,” or “anti family,” or one who is “thumbing her nose at” either one.
ADULT SINGLEHOOD DEMONSTRATES MARRIAGE TO CHRIST MORE THAN EARTHLY MARRIAGE BECAUSE IT POINTS TO ULTIMATE REALITY
But the larger point I wanted to make about Starke’s comments is this:
Unmarried Christian adults, the singles, the never married, divorced, and widowed, are also in the body of, or “bride of,” Christ.
It seems that Christians seem to feel that only married Christians – those who have a flesh and blood spouse in the here and now – are “married to Jesus” or can serve as an illustration of the church being the bride of Christ.
And this is incorrect. Anyone and everyone who accepts Jesus as Savior is part of the “bride of Christ,” and it matters not if that person is single, divorced, or widowed in the “here and now”.
One does not have to literally be married to a human being on earth to be “married to Christ” or be part of the “bride of Christ.”
Earthly marriage is not the only parallel to spiritual marriage.
Unmarried adults, those who lack an earthly spouse, represent and point to the future marriage, when believers are married to Jesus Christ in Heaven, and there is no more earthly marriage.
Jesus said there will not be marriage or giving in marriage in the after life.
If you have a spouse now, you will not be married to that person in Heaven. Your only “spouse” will be Jesus Christ.
Meaning, Christian, adult singlehood on earth actually demonstrates spiritual marriage more so than, hey, earthly marriage. This point never seems to occur to many Christians, especially the married ones.
- By contrast, the Bible actually teaches a radically subversive message about the family. God, we often discover, is the cause of barrenness in women.
Really now? I want that one proven.
I realize there are two or three passages in the Old Testament that talk about God opening wombs, and maybe one about Him closing a womb of a specific woman in a specific situation (e.g., (Link): 1 Samuel 1:5, (Link): 1 Samuel 1:6).
However, I don’t know if it follows from these handful of passages that every last case of infertility today can be laid at the feet of God, any more than every single hurricane or earth quake in the United States in 2014 is specifically a case of God punishing inhabitants of said city that is torn asunder.
I don’t think Christian women under the New Covenant are necessarily subjected to the same open/closed womb dynamics as was the case in patriarchal, Old Covenant Israel.
In ancient Israel, God was working out bring the Messiah into the world via Mary one day. God had some tinkering to do in family trees – and hence wombs and fertility – in the Old Testament that He no longer has to do today.
So, I’d be careful about over-applying Old Testament culture and teachings onto Christians who are now under the grace of God.
And I can’t imagine what reading those lines would do to a Christian woman today who is infertile but who would like to have a baby.
I can just picture an infertile Christian woman who dreams of having a baby reading Starke’s comment:
- “God, we often discover, is the cause of barrenness in women.”
Starke might want to re-word that entire section of his page, delete it, or heavily qualify it.
By the way, where Starke writes,
- If you’re nearing your 40s with no children and maybe not even married, you start to receive questions like, “When are you going to get yourself a husband?” “When are we going to start seeing some little ones around here?”
No, he is off. If you are a WOMAN, you start getting those sorts of comments and questions in your mid- 20s to your mid- to- late-ish 30s.
By the time you hit age 40, if you are a woman, most people stop asking you, “are you dating,” “when are you getting married,” “why don’t you have kids.”
People sort of assume, (secretly, they don’t say this to your face), that 40 is too old for a woman to get married and have kids, so they stop inquiring.
I don’t know about males, but females stop get hammered as much with the marriage and kid questions by the time they get to their late 30s, and sure as hell by age 40.
It’s actually kind of age-ist. The assumption is that ladies at 40 and older are “Past their Prime” and no man will ever want to marry one.
Women in their 40s can still become pregnant, but a lot of people behave as though a woman becomes instantly infertile at age 40. Hence, you don’t get as many “so, are you having kids” comments by the time you hit 40.
About the only points Starke gets absolutely correct in his paper are these:
- A society can make the family the most important thing. It can become an idol, something that fundamentally defines us.
….And finally, it’s difficult to make family the most central thing for Christians when the two most prominent figures in the New Testament, Jesus and the apostle Paul, were both single. Actually, Christianity made singleness a legitimate way of life for the first time in any culture or religion.
Related posts this blog:
(Link): Do You Rate Your Family Too High? (Christians Who Idolize the Family) (article by Ben Patterson)