Part III – Central Themes for an Evangelical Framework
Chapter 12 – Family Integrity.
By Tom Minnery, vice president for Focus on the Family; Glenn T. Stanton, social research analyst for marriage and sexuality at Focus on the Family.
Minnery and Stanton begin their essay by acknowledging that there has never been a golden age of the family. Still, we haven’t “done family” as well in recent generations as we have in the past. There are some advocates who want to define marriage as something it has never been defined as in any other civilization. Marriage as,
A moldable union between any coupling of consenting adults, regardless of gender, driven by adult desire rather than an obligation to the next generation. (And it is curious that for all the great social justice theorists from whom our world has benefited, none of them has ever hinted that marriage being confined to opposite-sex coupling was a hindrance to human equality. The question has only been raised in the last millisecond of human history by a very small handful of advocates.) (246)
Some advocate that marriage should be abolished.
Meanwhile, research on the effects of family structures on societal health having been coming to a conclusion.
Researchers are finding that when we move away from the family ideal where male and female commit themselves to each other exclusively in marriage and cooperatively raise their common children, men, women, and children suffer substantial declines in every important measure of well-being: mental and physical health, shorter life spans, lowered educational performance and attainment, increases in criminal and antisocial behavior, greater sexual dysfunction, alcoholism, suicide and domestic violence, and sexual abuse. (247)
Minnery and Stanton note that at the same time there are activists advocating radical change in (or abolition of) marriage, there are also more resources available than ever before to help effect healthy marriages and families. Indeed, there seems to be a trend by a sizable number of young adults to recover what most would identify as the traditional family.
Establishing Ideals and Motivation
- Why does family matter?
- What is the essential nature of family?
- What is the family’s relationship to the state and public life?
…we are interested in answering these questions in light of a larger metanarrative, that of Christian tradition, given to us in the sacred Scriptures. This story contains important points that help us understand how the family reflects the very nature of God. (249-250)
Why Does the Family Matter? A Theology of Family
Minnery and Stanton find the basis for the family rooted in the creation account of men and women being created in the image of God.
He gave Adam someone who was like him in his image-bearing humanity, but unlike him in her co-image-reflecting femininity. God established humanity and human culture upon marriage – the sexual, emotional, and domestic union of male and female – and family – the bringing forth of new life through sexual union and cooperative parenting. (250)
Therefore, marriage and family are inherently trinitarian. For it is the closest earthly model we have of this eternal heavenly reality. Man and woman, though separate beings both representing their unique parts of humanity, are joined together before God and become one flesh. Their relationship, in the ideal, is of love, intimacy, creativity and procreation, communication, exclusiveness and permanence. They are a mystery, uniquely proclaiming the nature of God and his character in creation. …To fail to care for the family is, in a very real way, to fail to care for the very image of God on earth. (251)
The authors also emphasize that the God chose to communicate the nature of his work in history by talking about the church as family. There are many metaphors in the New Testament but none stands out like the family metaphor.
The Incarnation and Family
The Christian manger is an earthly trinity: a man, a woman, and a child. This family is the stage through which God transcended eternity and entered our realm. This is deeply significant, for it is an incredible stamp of approval upon the whole family enterprise: the relationships, the work, the struggles, the hardships, the love, and the comfort of family. (253)
The authors also note that Jesus was born into a family and stayed connected with his family all of his life.
This is one of many ways Christ stands in stark contrast to the founders of other world religions who forsook their families as a sign of spiritual enlightenment in favor of an ascetic life. (253)
You cannot understand or explain Christianity or the kingdom of God without understanding family. (254)
The Essential Nature of Family
Minnery and Stanton believe that marriage (Matthew 19:4-6), sexuality (Genesis 2:24-25), and parenthood (Genesis 1:28) are the three essential elements of family. With regard to parenthood, it is not that each marriage must produce children but that the institution of marriage as the communal norm that provides for children that inevitably are created through male/female sexual union.
Anthropologists tell us marriage is common to and essential in all human societies in the form of permanent, socially approved male/female pair bonding. … No societies – advanced or primitive – until very recently, have tolerated casual sexual or domestic liaisons or same-sex domestic pair bonding. (255)
Areas of Harmony and Disagreement
All Christians should resist, in terms of public policy and cultural engagement: (256)
- Affirming easy divorce, same sex-marriage and parenting (which rejects the image of God in humanity by rejecting the necessity of male and female coupling), or transforming marriage into merely a self-satisfying adult relationship.
- Policies, like tax codes or employment benefits, that either penalize the married mother-father-child triad or those that elevate other lesser domestic relationships to equal status with marriage by virtue of benefits offered. This would include both hetero- and homosexual civil unions.
- Accepting other domestic situations – cohabitation and single parenting by choice – as normal or tolerable parts of community family life.
- Policies that tend to normalize the great social divorce between human sexuality and the emotionally and physically protective confines of marriage.
- Affirming situations in which children are abandoned or separated from their biological mothers and fathers due to divorce, same-sex parenting, or unwed childbearing.
- The move by some leading family law theorists, along with the American Law Institute, seeking to remove all legal marriage and family categories in favor of recognizing all close personal domestic relationships equally.
Additionally, all Christians should support efforts that: (256)
- Strengthen healthy, cooperative marital unions of mutual respect where husband and wife are seeking to serve the other in love and grace.
- Help young people and adults make healthy choices by confining sexuality to marriage where couples have committed exclusively to each other, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
- Help parents lovingly and creatively raise their children together to grow to become healthy, well-adjusted, confident, intelligent, creative human beings.
- Help families and the individuals in them learn to love and serve God and others in the fullness of domestic and public life.
The Relationship between the Family and the Polis
Minnery and Stanton give a brief overview of how Plato and Aristotle understood the role of the family. Both philosophers believed that the family existed to serve the state. The authors then turn to the writings of Abraham Kuyper.
Kuyper believed the family to have been established by God prior to the fall. It is an organic institution. Government is something that would have emerged even without the fall as part of humankind’s activity in exercising dominion over creation. After the fall it took on the role of protecting the family. It is a mechanical device God placed over or alongside the family for its protection and benefit.
Althusius and the Natural Origin of Community
The author’s briefly present the views of German scholar Johannes Althusius (1557-1638). Describing his views they write,
Like spokes from a wheel, the rest of the polis radiates from the primary association of husband, wife and children. The public associations grow out of this and therefore should seek to preserve the source. (261)
The final paragraph of the essay says,
As witnesses, we must help people make the connection between God’s rule for family life and the way it corresponds with human and societal well-being. Our Lord’s two great commandments – love God and love neighbor – demand we concern ourselves for the health of the family, at home and in the public square. God created family to uniquely reflect his nature and the glory of his church in the world; and our neighbor’s well-being is deeply rooted in the health of their family. (262)
I confess that whenever I see the name “Focus on the Family,” I cringe in anticipation. However, I thought these two authors did a good job of laying out their case. Their final paragraph does seem to me to be the heart of the matter. I thought the last few pages of the essay were the most critical and I wish they had weighted more of their discussion in that direction. (I also would like to have seen more emphasis on the ravages of divorce and what to do about it.) We need the Christian underpinnings but to affect public policy we need to be able to form a broad cultural consensus about the importance of family.
There is tendency for power to seek more power. Part of the genius of Western democratic societies is honoring multiple institutions that place checks and balances on each other. The primacy of the family as an enviable institution is essential to freedom. It is the only organic human institution that keeps individuals from being laid bare before the raw power of the state. If marriage is reinterpreted as a partnership between any two or more consenting adults, then it ceases to be an enviable institution. There will no longer be families; only individuals in partnerships deemed useful to the state. “Marriage” becomes just another business contract that the government regulates and chooses to allow as it best serves government purposes. Individuals are at the mercy of the state and there are no kinship ties that can protect them.
Furthermore, possibly the single biggest determining factor affecting whether or not a child grows up in poverty is whether or not they are raised in a two parent family. Marriage and family are public goods with substantial positive social consequences. The general welfare of society is tied to strong families. Those who advocate change in the marriage laws and want marriage to be a private good between consenting adults are disproportionately affluent and distant from the impact marriage has on less affluent people, particularly children. It is the empowerment of narcissism over the public good, especially for children.
Many advocates of revising marriage laws trivialize the traditionalists as bigoted enemies of freedom. When this passion springs from compassion over the plight of gay persons I can appreciate the sentiment that wants to come to the aid of people who have been trivialized and demonized by society. Nevertheless, whether intended or not, it is the marriage revisionists that are undercutting the family; the single greatest obstacle to totalitarianism and the chief promoter of the public good.
(Note: If the issues surrounding family, public policy and culture are of interest to you I highly recommend William" Beau" Weston's blog The Gruntled Center: Family and Faith for Centrists.)