As a writer, I get behind in watching TV shows. It’s the nature of deadlines and people wanting things yesterday. For example, I’ve yet to watch one episode of Breaking Bad. That’s right, not one. I don’t even know what happens at the end, so don’t tell me, I’ll get there.
This is why I find myself plowing through the first five seasons of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. I’m amazed at SOA’s ability to make me think about its’ content at random times during the day. The show centers on Jax, played by Charlie Hunnam (who just recently backed out of Fifty Shades of Grey in what will go down as the smartest career move, EVER). Jax is the Vice President of the Sons of Anarchy, an outlaw motorcycle club founded by his father, John Teller. Teller is dead by the time the series begins and his death is shadowed in mystery. The man who took John’s place as President, Clay Marrow, also married Jax’s mom, Gemma. (Echoes of Hamlet, anyone?)
There are subplots a plenty in the series, but the main plot revolves around the family dynamic. Indeed, the tension and dysfunction fuels all the other stories in SOA. I would also take it one step further. SOA is about how the worship of family can lead to dark deeds full of violence, chaos, and sin. SOA demonstrates this warped notion of family through Jax, Gemma, and the motorcycle club itself. In the second to last episode of season five, Jax confronts the mother of his first son, Able. She is a recovering junkie who is trying to get her life right and wants back in her son’s life. Jax refuses to acknowledge she’s made any progress and doesn’t let her see her son. Given that her addiction almost killed Able, it’s easy to understand Jax’s reluctance. However, when she threatens to take him to court, Jax storms her apartment, injects her with speed, and promises to tell her employer she is still using drugs. He hisses into her ear, “Don’t ever threaten my family again.”
When the series’ first started, Jax wanted to be like his real father and make the SOA a legitimate club. Yet, as his obsession with making things right for his family grows, he makes choices that send him down a path of horror. He tries to deal drugs, makes alliances he wouldn’t normally make, and ends up getting a lot of people he cares about killed. Why? All to make a better life for his family.
Gemma is an even better demonstration of this as her family obsession corrupts everything she touches. In the series, we find out not only did she and her first husband (Jax’s real father) become estranged, but that she also lost her oldest son. In her constant search to find human connection, she grasps at the family closest to her: Jax, Tara, and her grandchildren. Gemma’s desperation leads her into making terrible choices that result in no one in her family wanting to even speak to her, much less have a relationship with her.
Finally, there is the club itself, the Sons of Anarchy. The men around the Reaper (a wooden table that hosts the meetings of the club), treat the motorcycle club as their real family. In doing so, they fight and do horrible deeds to serve the family and their brothers around them. Everything else is secondary to the club, including goodness, trying to do right, and looking out for the real needs of their community.
I’m often struck at how often I hear the words of Gemma, Jax, and the motorcycle club on the lips of people in the church when it comes to the nuclear family. To hear church people talk, you would think that Jesus came to save the nuclear family and make it the primary institution of the Kingdom of God. As a former minister, it has always amazed me how much attention is placed on traditional families at the exclusion of all else. Church outreach efforts, children’s ministries, and youth ministries focus on young families are prime examples of this sort of thinking. College students, single people, the divorced, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the traditional family mode are often left on the outside looking in.
Jesus spells it out very clearly in Luke 14:25. The cost of following Him is that everything and everyone else must come second. He says in very brutal fashion that you must hate your family to follow him. Because of this, the Romans often accused early Christians of being Anti-Family. Yes, you read that correctly. The Roman culture was very centered on the family and the paterfamilias, the father of the family. Everything was meant to serve this institution that they held in such high regard. The early Christians often had to leave their families, the center of their lives, to follow Christ and be brought into the family of God.
No one is saying that nuclear families are a bad thing. Not at all. Yet, like all good things in God’s creation, they can be corrupted and turned into hideous monsters that draw our attention away from Christ. Even more, like the warped notion of family on Sons of Anarchy, they can draw us further into darkness and make us wonder how we even got here in the first place when we tried to affirm something good.
Jesus disrupts families. Thank God. I pray for the day when Christians are known as “anti-family” again, because we take in the unwanted, the dregs, the sinners, and the people who have no earthly families. I pray for the day when nuclear families are seen as only a part of the wider Kingdom that God is building: HIS family.