The Myth of Bible-based “Family Values”
Way back in the beginnings of d-C (yea, March of this year), The de-Convert posted some troubling examples of what Jesus thinks about family values. Whether it was his youthfully pious mischievousness (Luke 2), his insensitive treatment of a man’s dead father (Luke 9), his over-the-top hyperboles on hate (Luke 14:26), or his inability to reconcile the institution of the family with service to God (Matthew 10:34-36, Luke 18:29-30, Matthew 23:9), Jesus didn’t seem as enthusiastic about family values as Focus on the Family and others lead us to believe.
I feel we should maybe, due to a slightly larger contributor and reader base, revisit that topic a little bit. It does seem awfully important in today’s politics, among other places, to distinguish oneself as a “family-values” proponent. Of course, this isn’t limited to the Christian Right: Muslims, Mormons, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and other such religious groups all somehow believe their flavour of faith champions family values. I haven’t read too much of the The Book of Mormon yet, but it doesn’t take very long into the Tanakh or Koran to get the head scratching. When it comes to “family values,” it is rather surprising that the topic isn’t swept under the rug in embarrassment.
Of course when Focus on the Family and the Religious Right speaks about “family values,” the focus is rather limited to an oddball arrangement of minor issues that are blown up to make it seem like they are “[affirming] the Bible’s far-reaching impact on religion, culture and history…” What I find interesting is that they talk more about what isn’t really of much concern or even found in the Bible (i.e. homosexuality, gambling, stem-cell research, etc.), but ignore the stuff that is really there. Since I’ve been researching a little bit on the hypothetical “J” author, I figured I would just pick out some examples of good ol’ fashion family values from the beginning, the book of Bereshit (aka Genesis): the acceptance of polygamy and “taking of” random sexual partners (everywhere), the blessing of incestuous marriage/sexual relations (Genesis 12:13, 17:15-16), the acceptance of sexual slavery (Genesis 16:1-4), the offering of daughters’ virginity (Genesis 19:8 – yea, like homosexuality is really the issue here!), the exiling innocent family members (Genesis 21), the acceptance of using deceit to gain divine blessing (Genesis 27:9), and child favouritism (Genesis 37:3-4, also see Gen. 4:8 where God sets the example).
I don’t even need to get into the genocide of Egyptian firstborns in Exodus to show how “family values” hardly holds up in the Tanakh/Old Testament (these examples in Genesis are only a start into a long and painful assault on the family throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures). But that was back then, right? That was just part of the deal God had with the Hebrews/Israelites, not the new covenant found in Jesus Christ. Right? Well, thanks to The de-Convert, we’ve already outlined just some of Jesus’ own words on family values, how about some other “family values” from the New Testament? Obviously certain “cultural” values had changed over the course of Babylonian exile and Greco-Roman influence (polygamy didn’t have the same sort of favourable outlook, etc.). Yet it doesn’t seem like many of the writers really disagreed with what was going on in the only scripture they knew:
Paul, in Romans 9:13, explicitly endorses the idea of divine favouritism (not to mention God’s ability to hate people), leaves no room for disobedient children under any circumstance in Colossians 3:20, and praises Abraham’s “faith” for willing to murder his son for God in Romans 4:2-3. James, of course, will counter this last idea by praising Abraham’s “works” for acting on the commandment to murder his son (James 2:21). The author of 2 Peter also agrees with some of the most revolting acts of the Old Testament by lauding Lot as a righteous man in 2 Peter 2:8, despite Lot’s treatment of his daughters (i.e. giving them over to the people of Sodom to be raped and then later himself got so drunk that he impregnated both of them – on two different nights). So why doesn’t the Religious Right extrapolate as much as they can from these passages as they do with homosexuality? Paul certainly says more against the institution of marriage (and sexual relations within it) then the combined references to homosexuality (1 Corinthians 7). It also doesn’t take a social historian to see how the many Pauline (or pseudo-Pauline) references to how a man should treat his wife (and vice versa) has constantly changed over the centuries due to cultural shifts: in how many ways have you heard an excuse for the devaluation of women as long as the man “loves” her (Ephesians 5:22ff).
The situation is complicated further by the typical “pop-Christian” arguments that God is “unchanging” or that morals are absolute since they are of divine origin. We already know how the church changes its morals all the time, a phenomenon usually explained by blaming humankind’s imperfection or the misinterpretation of the “absolute-ness” of Scripture. But what does the church have to say about the obvious disregard for what the contemporary church would call “Bible-based family values” in the Bible?