Wise words concerning shifts in Christian teaching on the family from Oliver O’Donovan (Desire of Nations, 266-7).
He points out that Jesus’ teaching on the family is mainly critical, assaulting the family’s “claims to religious and social loyalty.” The apostles “re-envisage” the family “in a manner appropriate to the Gospel.” In our day, Christians come to the defense of the family. O’Donovan thinks the current support for family life is a good thing: “In late-modern Western civilisation families, like all communities of affinity, are threatened by erosion, a process which can only result in rootlessness and cultural impoverishment.”
But Christianity is not forever and always a religion of “family values”:
we must not forget that the structures which now need defending have in the past required (and may still require elsewhere) to be challenged. Something similar may be said about other structures of affinity. It seems to me a true Christian instinct to defend small and imperilled cultural and linguistic communities liable to be overwhelmed by the homogenising pressures of Western technological culture. They are, invariably, an offence to a radicalised concept of equality, since they existing by privilege members and excluding strangers.
Still, “it is undoubtedly true that self-protective, xenophobic communities can be, and often have been, tyrannous to their members and threatening to their neighbors.” The church’s vocation is to witness “to their humane claims, allowing them neither to be overridden nor to be exaggerated.”