The Isolating Power of Family-Centered Language
(Link): The Isolating Power of Family-Centered Language by E A Dause
- I am 27, single, and my father has passed away. It seems everywhere I turn in the Christian world — churches, organizations, politicians — I am excluded, because I am not part of a family.
A pastor comments excitedly on the number of new families joining his church. If I joined, would my membership be valuable? Respected Christian leaders urge us to support “family values.” Are values really tied to family units, or can I have values, too? A politician catering to evangelicals declares strong families to be the foundation of our nation.
If he even knows I exist, a person without a family, does he even care about my vote?
Christian magazines and organizations identify themselves by their emphasis on family. Where do I stand with them?
A church bulletin asks me to bring enough food for my family to the church gathering. Am I even invited in the first place?
Beyond my own feelings of isolation, I think of others who do not have the support of a nuclear family. I think of grieving widows, widowers, and people who have lost parents or other loved ones.
I think of people of any age who are not married or who do not have children.
I think of people who are estranged from their families. I think of people who are divorced or from divorced families.
I think of people who are single parents.
I think of people who have family, but attend church and other Christian functions on their own.
…Family units are absolutely important, as is supporting and having relationships with people in families (there are certainly times when families feel isolated and not considered, too!). However, everyone needs to be considered, and everyone needs supportive relationships.
Being in a family is far from a defining characteristic of Christianity, and we need to think about how we exclude people when we use language that assumes everyone has a family.
It was Jesus who turned our idea of family around when, told his biological family was waiting outside to speak to him, replied,
- “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? … whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12: 46-50).
Earthly categories were not so important as far as his definition of family was concerned.
Some of the reader comments on that page:
- by Christine First-Friedel
Sundays were very difficult for me after the death of my husband. We had no children. I would usually sit alone in church, it felt because the happy families did not want to be contaminated by my grief.
Or they didn’t have room or time or courage to speak to me.
As they talked about the family plans for the rest of the day, I went home alone.
I will always bless the one person who always made a point to greet me and sit for a moment before rejoining his family. The focus was on couples and marriage and raising children.
It felt as though there was no place for me to belong.
I left that church and was welcomed into a smaller church who made a place for me. Thank you, Pastor Karin Orr, for making room for me. The experience taught me a lot.
by Ruth Overman
Even the smallest gestures can make a big difference. I am single, no children, deceased parents, and my biological family lives many states away.
Many churches use “families” to light the advent candles.
I re-defined family to include single people, elderly couples, widows and widowers.
And any mention of family in church, including the sermon, would include the modifier “Church Family.” Good article.
by Cheryl Cameron
This is so true. I can’t tell you how many Sundays I spent sitting in a pew crying ten years ago because as a single parent of a small child, I felt so alone and invisible in church.
Thankfully, I’ve found a church that does not segregate people by marital/family status.
I visited a church in another city recently, one that was having a “couples” barbeque for couples and their children, and I sat there wondering if the leadership had any clue at all that they were excluding not only single parents, but also their children, from fellowship with people in the same stage of life.
I will never again join another church that has separate “married” and “single” groups. Never. Again.
by Sally Holmgren
It’s not just churches that have this “family” obsession, our society as a whole treats singles differently.
Most adults really don’t know how to deal with singles.
Singles are always the extra plate, odd-man out.
Is it jealousy? Do couples look longingly at singles and wish they had the same independence? Are they afraid of singles? That good looking single might appeal to my spouse? Do they assume singles are somehow deficient? Do they assume singles must be gay? OR all of the above?
by Kristi Aldinger
This is a great article and needed to be said. Prayers go out to all in this situation and to all who need to address the sin of family and child idolatry in their own lives. May God’s will be fulfilled and His name be glorified in spite of us all.
by Zachary Ridgway
Great article. I don’t understand the churches obsession with segregating people. There is a group for everyone as long as you’re not single and over 25.
Why not have groups for interests/spiritual gifts instead of demographics?
I believe Jesus is horrified when he sees churches where people are separated by age, gender, marital status and even have their own rooms. Can’t we learn from other generations, genders, etc.
I’m not saying there’s never times for womens/mens retreats, young couples getting together, youth groups
– But to make segregation of demographics a pillar of Christianity is hard to find in the bible or the heart of Jesus.
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