Valuing Family in All its Varied Forms
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
—Matthew 19:13-14 (NRSV)
What does it really mean to value family? Specifically, what should it mean to Christians?
Jesus’ family in life does not fit a “traditional” narrative—with a dad who we’re told wasn’t his biological father, no wife or children mentioned in the Scriptures, and a chosen family of twelve other guys (and often-unnamed women) wandering around and relying on the generosity of strangers to get by.
Although we have no stories of Jesus marrying or raising children, there are many indications that Jesus valued familial relationships of various sorts—often in ways that could be seen as social transgressions in his contemporary society:
- Addressing God as “father” spoke to a very personal relationship with God, but also to valuing the concept of parenthood.
- “Let the children come to me” was a statement that atypically prioritized the voices, questions, and needs of children.
- At the end of his life, he named a disciple as his mother Mary’s son–a non-biological parent/child relationship for the purpose of taking care of those he loved.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from the diversity of family structures, nor from their challenges. (The revised edition of Active Parenting Now–In the Faith Community lists 40 different family circumstances that include mixed faith marriages, intergenerational dynamics, and even emotionally alienated spouses.)
Valuing family in the way Jesus did does not mean holding to some pristine image of a happy nuclear family, and focusing all of our energy and teachings toward enabling and continuing that image. Rather, it means engaging with people where they are, and with ourselves where we are–in complicated, unique families that may look very different from each other.
That said, there is a lot of unexplored terrain when it comes to Christianity fully lifting up and supporting the real families of the 21st Century. These families may wrestle with whether or not to birth and/or raise children. They may involve friends that are emotionally and spiritually closer than biological relatives. They include folks in infinite combinations of gender, racial, and religious identity. And their children have different physical and psychological needs and strengths.
In fact, it may be that the only thing we all have in common is a need to be tempered by love.
In May 2016, the church I served hosted Garrard Conley for a reading from his book Boy Erased. A week before theMore