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.