Jesus hates your version of “Family Values”

(If you think this title is offensive, please see bullet point #3 under “What Jesus said about family values“)

If we survey human history we will find that the family has always been vastly important. Today in the Western World, especially within Christianity, we still hold to the assumption that family is not merely the essential unit of society and but also the perfect manifestation of God’s will on the earth. We teach that family bonds are the most important type of earthly relationships that exist, and that our family members are to be more important than anyone else. We selfishly think that our blood is so important, that we are to prefer and love first those that share it, rather than foreigners or outsiders that don’t. Our whole culture has presupposed that Christianity is all about “Faith and Family” and there are almost nothing else that is equally important. Because of this, hundreds of legal and political battles rage around America, with many Christians making holy war on any institution that dare assault this Holy Marriage of “Christianity” and “Family Values.“

For most Evangelicals, the motto is “God and Family.” This “family tribalism” is assumed everywhere by Christians who verbally affirm the Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible, though never read it, that Jesus loves family values. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. According to Jesus, he came to destroy the thing most of us call “family values” for the immediate family, and even more specifically, the extended family.

WHAT ARE “FAMILY VALUES”

The phrase “family values” is an umbrella term that refers to a few things, notably it includes an affinity for the nuclear family in the current sociopolitical sphere, as well as historic preference for blood relations. We can break it down into these five points (though certainly they are not exhaustive).

1. Politically charged ideology

First and foremost, one thing that most of us can call  “family values” is a set of views that are currently involved in a vigorous political and ideological debate. More often than not, the reason someone talks about “family values” on the radio is not in order to remind mothers to love their children (which is very noble), but to argue that any deviation from “our” sociopolitical idea about the structure of families in society is morally bankrupt. Some “Family values” is less about loving one’s own family, but rather of forcing a social/political/religious view upon the rest of society. Because of this the political arena is filled with lawsuits and rallies, while in social interactions we see shunning and shaming for those that dissent.

2. Religious form of elitism

Second, what we often consider call “family values” is often a religious standard that we use as a litmus test of Christian authenticity. If another church or group of people does not accept our definition of family values, they are automatically assumed to be spiritually or morally inferior. At the same times those who are seen as very strong supporters of “family values” are portrayed as noble and pious.

3. Inclusivism for blood relatives

Third, and easily the most favorable thing about “family values” is the ideological support of positive affinity between members of the same family. This includes the tendency of families to stick together and support one another. It also includes sacrificial servitude towards members of the same family, and financial assistance that is given towards relatives. This part is great.

4. Exclusivism for all other people

Fourth, because family values embraces the idea of inclusivism towards a specific set of people, logically it follows that there is a correlated form of exclusivism for everyone else. “In” cannot exist without “out,” and so accepting family members into a special relationship, means you exclude everyone else out from that relationship. Take this scenario for example, assume a relative and a distant acquaintance are in need of help, and you can only help one, which one will you help? “Family first,” right? It seems only natural.

5. Family name as a source of honor

Finally, ancient family values were focused less on politics but rather created a framework of loyalty and honor towards one’s own family name. This meant that rather than devoting time and resources to help the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed, it was far more important to devote these resources to promote the esteem of the family lineage and everyone included in it. The low status members of society, especially those without prestigious family names, were ignored because they had nothing to offer in the further proliferation of family honor.

WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT FAMILY VALUES

With all that in mind, what kinds of things did Jesus say about family? Did he support a political argument that the nuclear family is the best? Did he argue that families should stick together to the utmost? What did he say? First, he did talk about honoring ones parents. Second, he did condemn out against divorce. Interestingly enough, in both of these cases the object was to rebuke the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in obeying the law, rather than simply uphold family values. In just the same context of catching the Pharisees in hypocrisy Jesus also says things like: “And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “For God said, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’” (Matt. 15:3-4) and then instantly rebukes them for not obeying that law. Other than condemning divorce and rebuking the Pharisees for failing in the 5th commandment,Jesus says very little positive things about the common idea of family values, though he does contrast this by saying it is good for some to never marry and have children (Matthew 19:11-12).

Interestingly enough, there are many other saying by Jesus that give a very different picture than we assume, where Jesus breaks down the normative family tribalism that has been predominant in human culture. Jesus destroys the walls holding out everyone besides blood family, and replaces it with a new type of universally inclusive family. Here are the sayings of Jesus.

1. I came to set a man against his father

  • Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came 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 MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34-37, emphasis in original NASB)

Some theologians say Jesus is citing the prophet Micah (Chap 7) because of the similar language, though the context of Micah implies this dishonor for family is a wicked thing. Most people don’t read this literally, but mythologize it and argue that this is meant to convey some idea like that “the intense strength of love we ought to have towards Jesus is incomparable to that for our family.” Perhaps, but in any case, Jesus is clear that he came to divide families for his own sake, because families are not as important as what he is building.

2. I came to grant peace? No, rather division

  •  “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five [members] in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

As second, though different, repetition of the same idea: Jesus came to divide families between those that follow him, and those that don’t.

3. If anyone does not hate his own [family] he cannot be my disciple

  • “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Commentators quickly jump in to say we should not read this literally, but instead the word “hate” here is not really “hate,” but actually it means “love, but not as much,” while I agree with the sentiment (I don’t want to hate my parents), yet we must gently concede that Jesus specifically used the Greek word misei in relation to family, and that this word, misei, is used everywhere else in the Bible to specifically refer to hate, of the hateful variety.

 4. Don’t even bother burying your dead parents

  • “Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22)

In today’s version of “family values” it would be seen as nothing short of religious blasphemy to neglect burying ones father, or at least gross dishonoring of your parents, yet Jesus commands this. I imagine that most of your Christian friends would think that you are the worst of all heathens if you don’t show up at your father funeral.

5. Don’t even bother saying goodbye to your family as you leave forever

  • Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:61-62)

Luke recounts a similar narrative found in Mat 8:21, but adds a second person, who is not trying to bury his dead father. This second person merely wishes to go home and bid farewell to his family (does this include wife and children?), and his “family values” desire earns him a strong rebuke from Jesus.

6. Abandoning your family will lead to many rewards in heaven.

  •  “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)
  • Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

Jesus is advocating heavenly rewards for those who leave traditional family values (and quite literally their families, including wives and children) and follow him instead. In his immediate context, talking to Peter, he was dealing with real literal and physical abandonment of ones family. Rather than encouraging people to follow him within the traditional Hebrew family lineages, Jesus specifically articulates the issue of physically leaving ones family (not merely spiritual separation, for how can one be spiritually divided from a farm?)

 7. My own family is no longer my own family

  • “Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!” (Matthew 12:47-50)

Jesus completely rejects the family unit that he was born in, (and recall that the Holy Bible itself doesn’t merely consider Mary a caretaker, but really does refer to Mary as the mother of Jesus, see for example in Luke 2:33). Yet, Jesus appears to completely ignore and reject his blood family and instead includes everyone into his new family.

8. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a polygamous marriage/family

  • “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” (Matthew 25:1-10)

The parable Jesus uses to discuss the kingdom of heaven is a tale of polygamy (most people have so strongly spiritualized this, they don’t even realize it). Think about it, there are ten brides, and in the end five of these virgins get married to one man, and this is a God inspired picture of Heaven. While Jesus does elsewhere quote the Old Testament saying “the two will become one flesh” (Mat 19:5), that passage was accepted by all the polygamous Old Testament patriarchs (ie Abraham, Jacob, David, etc), none of whom ever saw it as an argument against polygamy. Here Jesus had a perfect opportunity to deny polygamy, but instead tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven as a polygamous marriage. This is not typologically relevant to the theme of this blog post, except to further make you ask yourself, do you really study and know what Jesus said? Or merely assume you do and base your ideology on what you think? If Dr. Dobson married five women, would he be an example of your “family  values?” Probably not.

9. In the future there will be no more family

  • “Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage (Luke 20:35)

Jesus argues that the institution of the family is very short-lived, and so inadequate that it will be disbanded in heaven. Other “earthly” things like feasting (Mat 8:11), mansions/rooms  (John 14:2), and even gold and jewels (Rev 21:10-27) will make it to heaven, but family values will not. This is arguably a reason why traditional family values are merely a temporary condition, not a universal and eternal truth.

10. The traditional family often rejects prophets from God

  •  “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”” (Mark 6:4)

Jesus argues that families do not honor or believe persons who are set by God to do divine work. In this passage the context deals with a bigger picture than simply family issues, but it does deal with it indirectly and mimics all the other sayings of Jesus about separating families and leaving ones household.  It’s curious that this apparently divinely ordained and sacred institution, the traditional family, rejected Jesus and Jesus rejected them.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

First, neither I nor Jesus are arguing for the complete dissolution of the family unit (see Chris’s words against divorce). However, Jesus does not care much about jumping on the political bandwagon of family values and he does not seem to be interested in continuing earthly traditions where family honor is the ultimate ideal. Rather Jesus redefines the family into something new. The family relationship is no longer limited to those born into the same household, instead that profound and unique family relationship becomes open to all.

Thus Jesus offers a new inclusive form of relationship, one that transcends everything that has previously existed. He states

1. There is a new inclusive love

  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34).

If Christ’s love is literally infinite and the strongest form of love, one that leads to self-sacrifice, then Jesus is teaching his followers to love each other with that same exact love. In the past such love could only be found in the immediate family, but now these walls are broken.

2. There is a new inclusive family

  • Also “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

If being a brother or sister previously needed direct blood relations, Jesus breaks this traditional view, and teaches that all who follow him are indeed brothers and sisters. Not in a strange cult-like way, where everyone merely addresses each other by the title, but in a redefinition of natural family relationship, giving complete rights and privileges of brotherhood and sisterhood to his followers.

Jesus is against traditional family values because they create borders that exclude others from the joys shared only in the traditional family. Christ’s mission was to remake a new family, and to include those that have always been excluded. 

The scariest Bible passage for conservative Christians

scary bible

Before we discover the scariest passage in the Bible, especially (but not only) for conservative Christians, you may wonder what does it even mean to be a conservative Christian and why is he picking on them again? The word is loaded with many meanings, and half of the truly conservative Christians are still fighting about the purest meaning. There are a couple of essential things required to consider yourself a part of the conservatism side of Christianity, one is a very strict defense of theological dogmas (often stated as “contending for the faith” or “defending doctrinal purity”). In addition conservative Christians are easily the most zealous and committed people that I know, not just in theological pursuits but in living a life of holiness and purity. I used to consider myself a conservative Christian, until I realized I can hardly compare myself to those that are far more zealous and committed than myself. And so, the reason why this post is kind of aimed at conservative Christians is because they have shown they are better at everything else than the rest of us, and while there are plenty of scary verses for me, they get a free pass on most of those, but not this one. This one hits all of us.

 

But before I scare you to death, here is a wonderful little story that that can illustrate the concept of being a truly conservative Christian. It goes like this.

_____________________________

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! – Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! – What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! – Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! – Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! – Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! – Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

_____________________________

What is the scariest passage in the Bible (for conservative Christians?)

Now that the lighthearted humor is out of the way, here is something that is far from lighthearted and far from humorous. The Bible has a ton of scary saying and really hard passages, especially if you take them quite literally. Surely I will pick something about curses and punishments? Or even worse about the devil, demons, or death? If all else fails, any verse about hell ought to be the most frightening, no? .

Yet, this is not the scariest passage in the Bible for conservative Christians; in my opinion that honor goes to 1 John 4:7-8. It is the greatest test of genuine Christianity ever devised.

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 

Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.”

Real Life Ramifications

You probably breathed a colossal sigh of relief and thought “that wasn’t so bad, I guess I know we should love people and stuff like that.” That was probably not the wisest thing, if this verse doesn’t scare you, then you are not literally believing what it says. The real life ramifications for even the most committed of conservative Christians is very profound!

If you don’t truly love people,  you are not of God.

Think of the worst person in your life, the one that has hurt you the most. Do you love them? Think of the fellow Christian that you most despise, because they cheated, lied, or did something else to you. Also look outside the church. That homosexual you were disgusted by, that heretic who keeps defiling proper doctrine and talking about love, that wicked sinner you are angered by, that politician who is ruining the country, that atheist who hates Christians, do you love them with the totality of your being? Do you really love all those people that you hate? Would you be willing to lay down your time, money, and pride to help them? Would you sacrifice yourself to benefit them? For you see, that is love.

If you don’t truly love “those” people, you are not of God.

Real Life Excuses

Oh, I am sure you have responses, about how hard it is, or how disgusting they are, and how committed you are, so let us go through them. I’ll bet this will be as pleasant as going to the dentist while listening to the sound of nails on a chalkboard as kittens uncontrollably tickle your feet. I’m serious, let’s have it.

1. “But I truly believe that Jesus is a real God/man who lived a sinless life, died for sins, and was resurrected on the third day, and my faith in him saves me” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

2. “But I earnestly believe in every single word, letter, and even comma in the Apostles creed, the Nicene creed, and the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals!” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

3. “But I was baptized with the Holy Spirit with the visible evidence of speaking in tongues” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

4. “But I believe that the Bible is the inspired, incorruptible, inerrant Word of God!” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

5. “But I traveled to seven countries on missionary trips, in order to preach the Gospel to people and this resulted in a huge growth for my denomination.” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

6. “But I read the Bible every single day in my devotionals, and have countless hours of studying it with the very best commentaries and intentions.” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

7. “But I defend God’s honor in numerous debates with atheists and have written two books against the dangers of evolution.” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

8. “But I wake up every single day at six thirty and pray for at least half an hour before work!” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

9. ”But I engage in debate with believers of bad theology and waste my time to defend sacred doctrines without ever compromising” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

10.”But I have a Christian blog where I write tons of very helpful things, and my readers have reported they are genuinely encouraged and equipped” – So what? “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

And that’s why this is the scariest passage for conservative Christians, because while it’s easy to consider a Christian who is spiritually crippling along can be lost, its a lot harder to think that of the most committed amongst us is on the same path. Yet, if John is not lying, then even the most zealous or theological amongst us may not know God.