There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of “the family” in Mormon circles lately — likely because of deliberations happening right now with the Supreme Court.
Please note that this post isn’t a place for a debate about gay marriage. Instead, the ongoing discussion about family served as an impetus for me to reflect on the role of family in the gospel of Christ. Tonight, I thought I’d take it straight to the source. I turned to the gospels with this question on my mind: what does Christ actually have to say about it?
As always, Jesus shocked me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but he never ceases to shake my very foundations. Here are the bulk of his sayings on “the family” (I’m warning you now to brace yourself) …
“If anyone 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 14:25-27)
“He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-60)
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50)
“For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:36-37)
On face value it almost looks as if Christ is taking an anti-family position. But a closer examination of these sayings, in harmony with his teachings elsewhere, reveals something bigger and better and more spectacular than the in-groups and out-groups we form around genetics, heredity, race, nationality, and worldview.
The Sermon on the Mount gives us a clue, when Christ speaks about what truly distinguishes his followers from the rest, especially in terms of how we regard those around us — our families and loved ones included:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)
The difficult truth is that “Christian family values” are nothing more or less than this: my enemy is my family. The person I hate, the person I judge, the person I cannot understand is my family. My oppressor is my family. The beggar in the street is my family. The prostitute on the corner is my family. The thief in prison is my family. The social outcast is my family. The sinner, the wretch, the leech, the hypocrite, the “Other”…these are my family.
And to the extent that I value “my own” at the expense of the wellbeing of the least of these, I have no place in the family of God.
It is such a challenging message. I know that I struggle mightily to let it guide my interactions. May God grant us a measure of his grace and abounding love so that we can treat all with whom we come into contact as the brother or sister they are.