Family is a great gift from God. It is a community, created by God, that is designed to foster love and create trust. Our families form for us the foundations of how we see the world, and help support us as we live into our individual dynamic voices. There is arguably no context that helps us learn to live and serve those around us better than a family.
What makes a family however is not always clear. Normally we look for some standard markers (Mom and Dad, maybe a sister or two, possibly a brother). These people would certainly be called members of our “family,” and each of them is certainly a blessing and helps define the disposition of any family that is blessed enough to have them. There is a danger, however in making these standard markers of family into the “ideal” family. Many times families have grown out of irregular circumstances, happenstance, and providence. As Christians we can never forget that our OWN induction into the family of God is not through standard markers but rather though the irregular circumstance of adoption (Romans 8:15,23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
There are some today that argue that because many of the family structures that exist in our contemporary society are not “traditional” they must therefore also be in some ways “inferior” or less “holy”. Although, it is true that having a healthy family with both a mother and a father is a great blessing, there can be equal blessing in other arrangements as well. In light of our irregular reception to God’s family, the appropriate response for a Christian to make in light of the multiplicities of non-traditional family structures that we are faced with today must look towards affirming that which forms Christ rather than that which simply fits an ideal.
There are some within the church today who would oppose the formation of a good family simply because the family doesn’t fit the image of the ideal family. For example, some single women who feel called to the vocation of motherhood, but have not found a husband (or have even desired a husband) have been discouraged from adoption because they would then be creating a “single parent family”. This kind of thinking is putting the carriage before the horse in all of the worst ways. In this case the opponents of adoption are seeking to deprive a child of the good of a mother simply because the good of a father is not present. This is a fallacy of the worst kind. Any time a child without a stable family is brought into relationship with someone who can give them a context of security and help them to grow into a healthy and whole person this is a good thing. This relationship is made even better if the person who helps create that stable environment is willing to commit to that person as a family member. The role of the church when these new kinds of families emerge is not to reject the new structure for not fitting into a neat paradigm, but to serve the place in which this new paradigm may need extra support.
The Church is a community of broken people who have been adopted into God’s own family, we have found support for our brokenness and a source of healing in the power of the cross. THIS community is the primary family that we are all called to be members of and serve within. In the Bible there is a call to live our whole lives, even our family lives, in radical ways. For example, in early Christianity families were instructed to live in mutual submission to one another (Ephesians 5:22-33), instead of submitting to the pater familias ethos of the world of the Roman Empire, which called for the man to rule over his home absolutely. Christians were called out of the structures of cultural stability into a form of christological humility. This principle is still at work today. If we let cultural norms, or even biological normailty to govern what is and is not good than we have ceased serving God and have become idolaters (putting cultural constructions in the place of christian charity).
Although I believe that God did create all of us to have both mothers and fathers, I don’t believe that the only thing that can determine who our fathers and mothers are should be if their genitals were involved in creating us or if we happen to share an address with them. To be the church reflected in Holy Scripture is to become fathers to the fatherless and mothers to the motherless. In fact this is one of the few things that we are told can make us truly religious in the best sense of the word (James 1:27).
What fosters a good family is not the kind of people that make it up, but the quality of the love that is shared. I don’t care who makes up a family as long as its members are growing in love, joy, peace, and all the rest of the attributes we read about in Galatians 5: 22-23. No matter how perfect the outside might look, it’s what is growing inside that matters, and anytime a new member is invited in to share in that growth, that is a moment to rejoice in. That is indeed exactly what Jesus own mother did when she found out that she was soon to be the mother in a very untraditional family:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.
– Luke 1:46
May we respond with the same attitude of humble praise and faith to all the people God calls into our own families. For in doing this we becomes a demonstration of the unconditional and untraditional love found in the family of God.