Family Friendly Christianity

by VorJack

This morning I had the TV on mute when a commercial for a worship program from one megachurch or another came on. At first I wasn’t able to guess what it was a commercial for, since the first half of it was nothing but blissful scenes of family life: a father playing in a pile of leaves with his son, a mother kissing her daughter’s forehead and so forth.

On the way to work I tuned past a Christian radio station. In between a political harangue and a spot from Answers in Genesis, there was a lengthy section about the family counseling services available.

This whole “family friendly” emphasis is ubiquitous in American Christianity. I’m not sure why. Historically, Christianity has emphasized personal salvation over worldly attachments like family.

Remember Paul’s advice against getting married in 1st Corinthians, and Luke’s line, “If any one 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 14:16)

Think of the martyrs and saints who turned their back on the connections of family and friends in order to stay true to the message of Jesus.

Throughout the middle ages, the authentically Christian life was led in the abbey or monastery, cut off from the ties of marriage and family.

The Reformation must have something to do with it. But the message that we are all sinful beings in need of grace casts a dour light on the family. John Calvin supposedly described children as “writhing serpents,” due to the effects of original sin even upon the infant. While he was a family man, most of what I’ve seen emphasizes the duty of the parent rather than any joy in family life.

My guess would be that this is one of those areas where the culture has shaped the religion, but I’m not sure when it happened.

  • JohnMWhite

    The Family Friendly thing definitely seems, as you say, ubiquitous in American Christianity, but here in Britain it’s also seen as significant. Having been raised a Catholic, I have heard from the pulpit and parents many a time how fundamentally important the family unit is, and how the forces of darkness (and commies) are out to destroy it because it is the family unit that helps people survive in this sea of troubles. These days, for Catholics, family is a crucial component, a shelter in the storm, and to turn against your family is to turn against god and the natural state of things he has decreed. Apparently Satan hates families because that’s what keeps people on an even keel and attached to god. Come to think of it, he’s probably got a point…

  • mikespeir

    Oh, well. When you advertise you show the ideal. Maybe exaggerate a bit. Problem is, they’d have us think this is the norm, that accepting Jesus just kinda automatically turns out this kind of result. I’ve seen some happy Christian families. I’ve also seen a lot where Jesus wasn’t doing them any obvious good at all.

  • Andy

    hur duh durrr, I’m an evangelical, hur duh durrr, context, hur duh durr Genesis says go out and multiply hurrrrrr.

    • Rev PJ

      Going out and multiplying has nothing to do with families. Jesus’s statement in Matthew 19:29 about abandoning your family doesn’t seem exactly family friendly.

  • Lana

    I kind of wonder if it’s in any way a response to Mormonism. I mean, Joseph Smith put a huge emphasis on the importance of family, and that was one of the things that earned them so many converts — if you and your family were righteous, you would spend eternity in heaven together, as a family unit (blessed by God). And yes, joining the faith often meant that families would be divided — but equally as often, new members would marry and procreate within the faith, creating new family units that they were sealed to for time and all eternity.

    As you’ve noted, the emphasis on family within Christianity is fairly recent — Mormonism is also a fairly new (historically speaking) faith. In fact, it’s only been around since (I think) the second religious reformation in the U.S. It does make sense that in an effort to retain members, other religions would begin preaching the importance of families. Using, in effect, Mormonism’s own arguments against it: If you leave the Baptists to become a Mormon, that is against God’s will.

  • wazza

    I suspect that it has to do with the essential conservatism of the churches in general… peasants were easier to control, and the average peasant had children like a pez dispenser has nondescript candy, both as an inexpensive labour force and as a way to pass the time. With the Industrial Revolution, people had less children because they were more trouble than they were worth, and at about the same time, people started relying on the church less… so they want to get back to the old ways, including big families that need a large community to not go crazy. I’m pretty sure most big churches have children’s programs that give the parents a much needed break.

  • nazani14

    Perhaps the whole settler/colonial experience has deeply affected the American view of family. While many 18th and 19th century Europeans were shipping their kids off to the country to be raised with dubious care, Americans were stuck with their kids underfoot. Of course, making sure the house is full of kids is also a great way to keep women from getting involved in politics or taking men’s jobs.

  • Trey

    Plus, there are some verses in the Bible that are arguably “family friendly” – one that springs to mind is Psalm 127:3-5…the “Quiver of Arrows” concept.

    Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
    The fruit of the womb is a reward.
    Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
    So are the children of one’s youth.
    How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
    They will not be ashamed
    When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (NASB)

    Of course, I’ve always interpreted this literally – if you have lots of kids, you have lots of soldiers to defend the city walls when the enemy attacks, just like it says. Modern-day folks not manning the walls use it to say “See, children are a blessing from the LAWD!”

    • DDM

      Is that passage really comparing children to weapons, tools? Wow. I was told there’s some beautiful poetry in the bible, but it seems they were either mistaken or being too generous.

  • busterggi

    Well since this movement contradicts Paul that makes them a bunch of heretics!

  • If I Believed

    Gee, I always thought it was to increase church membership.

    • JohnMWhite

      There used to be missionaries for that. Christian churches have always wished to grow, but the concentration on family has been, as the article says, relatively recent.

  • DarkMatter

    “This whole “family friendly” emphasis is ubiquitous in American Christianity. I’m not sure why. Historically, Christianity has emphasized personal salvation over worldly attachments like family.”

    Maybe it’s not, therefore the need to redefine christianity today.

  • MC

    I can’t believe nobody checked yet!

    Luke 14:26, NOT 14:16, is the proper verse in question.

  • E.J.

    Good catch MC, I noticed the typo on the Luke scripture as well. Fortunately I was holding a bible when I came across this discussion. First of all, you cannot read one passage from the bible and understand the entire lesson. Second, they are the words of Jesus not Luke. Jesus meant that a man’s heart first must belong to God so that he may be saved. Not that he must hate his family.
    What I see in this discussion is a lot of selfishness. People who are too worried about themselves to worry about children or a wife. The family unit is set forth almost immediately in the bible. Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

  • Guy

    Jesus meant that …… (insert whatever meaning you wish, to comply with your world view, whilst ignoring what is actually said).

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