Does the Family Have a Future?
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is a well-known author and speaker. He currently serves as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Does the family have a future? The question is offensive, but it is a controversial debate fast pressed upon us by the incredible social transformations now shaping American culture. The continued flourishing of anything that resembles the traditional family is an open question.
The culture war that America has experienced since the 1960s now strikes at the very heart of civilization itself—the family unit. The issues surrounding the family are now the hottest fronts in the war for the soul of the culture. As sociologist James Davison Hunter comments: “One might be tempted . . . to say that this field of conflict is the beginning and the end of the contemporary culture war, for the issues contested in the area of family policy touch upon and may even spill over into other fields of conflict—education, the arts, law, and politics.”
Why is this so? How could it be that something as basic and precious as the family unit could now be a matter of such controversy and division? One reason is that since the 1960s, moral revolutionaries have been waging an ideological campaign against the traditional family, attempting to dislodge it from its central place within society. The reason is clear—those who would transform the society must transform the family unit as well. For, as goes the family, so goes the culture.
Ideological critics have included Marxists, who identified the family as a bourgeois institution impeding the development of communism and true socialism; feminists, for whom the traditional family is hopelessly patriarchal; the sexual liberationists, for whom the family is frustratingly restrictive; and now the homosexual activists, for whom the privileged status of the heterosexual family is a final obstacle toward full equality.
Some openly celebrate the change. NYU Professor Judith Stacey, for example, is thrilled that the family is not “here to stay.” “Nor should we wish it were,” she concludes. “On the contrary, I believe that all democratic people, whatever their kinship preferences, should work to hasten its demise. An ideological concept that imposes mythical homogeneity on the diverse means by which people organize their intimate relationships, 'the family' distorts and devalues this rich variety of kinship stories.”
Stacey’s logic is clear. The traditional family, ideally comprised of a husband and wife, plus their children, is now just another “kinship preference,” and a potentially dangerous one at that. Thus, all right-minded persons should seek to destroy the family unit as basic to our society.
Former National Organization for Women (NOW) president Patricia Ireland argues that the traditional heterosexual family, based upon heterosexual marriage and marital fidelity, should be replaced with any kinship system individuals may choose, so long as these arrangements are based in “love, loyalty, and long-term commitment.”
Similar arguments are now used by homosexual activists pushing for state-recognized homosexual “marriages.” The redefinition of marriage to include virtually any form of relationship is a major goal of the social revolutionaries, who see the heterosexual family as a formidable obstacle to their social engineering. Western societies have always privileged marital unions, granting rights to married couples that are denied to others. This has been understood as essential to social stability and the raising of children. The state has thus had an interest in maintaining the dignity and integrity of the marital bond, and centuries of legal precedent stand behind this tradition. Some homosexual activists and feminists admit that their primary motivation is not to achieve a homosexual version of heterosexual marriage (with the obligation of marital fidelity), but to strip the traditional family of its privilege and cultural prestige.
What does the Christian worldview, based in Scripture and rooted in the Church as the people of God, offer as a corrective?
First, we must recognize that the family is not merely a sociological development, nor a product of human evolutionary progress, but God's design for human living—the most basic unit of human society. This runs counter to the modern claim that the family is a purely negotiable, secular invention.
Second, the family unit is predicated upon the integrity of marriage. God created human beings as male and female and established marriage as a permanent bond of sexual relatedness.
Third, children are to be greeted as gifts from God and raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Parents are accountable for how their children are raised, for their education, for their spiritual training, their discipline, and for their well-being. The family must resist radical incursions of the secular state into their private domains.
Fourth, Christian parents must resist the consumerist culture that claims the attention of children from earliest years. They must recognize that we face stiff competition for the hearts and minds of our children from the pervasive entertainment culture.
Fifth, we must understand that our churches bear an important responsibility to support parents and hold them accountable for their marital fidelity and the raising of their children as matters of church discipline. The Church must not accommodate herself to the divorce culture and encourage her members simply to “try harder next time.” The divorce rates among Christians are a scandal that has brought reproach upon the Church.
Last, we must nurture a new vision of the Christian family as a context where God glorifies Himself in the right ordering of His people. The ultimate goal of our family life should not be merely to enjoy all the blessings and fulfill all the responsibilities of family relationships, but to glorify God through the integrity of our marriages, through the raising of our children, and through our love for God demonstrated in our love for each other.
That is a vision for the family the world cannot fully understand—but must respect. We must demonstrate that there is something distinctively Christian about the Christian family—and we must show that difference in our own families. Recovery starts at home.