“…we revered heterosexual nuclear families…”

The casualties of this lack of imagination have been those people who don’t fit well into a network comprised of heterosexual nuclear families.  This includes those sexual minorities who choose not to commit to mixed-orientation marriages, but it also includes people who don’t marry or can’t marry, people who don’t have children or can’t have children, and anyone else who does not follow a five-ten-fifteen year pattern of date-marry-procreate.  The problem is not that we’ve catered our programming to the majority—that’s unavoidable for institutions—but that we’ve ceased to perceive anything outside of that majority as desirable or even viable.  We didn’t err when we told our teenagers to wait for marriage before becoming physically intimate; we erred when we implied our teenagers were all necessarily waiting for marriage and that the only legitimate expression of their God-given sexuality was physical intimacy.  We withheld other options in part, I suspect, because we revered heterosexual nuclear families and desired that outcome for our children, but we didn’t anticipate how isolated they’d feel when that didn’t happen for them or how readily they’d discover alternate options outside of the church.

- odd man out on family.

5 comments

  1. Diana

    Thanks for a thought-provoking quote. Where does it come from? I’ve thought a lot recently about how we (don’t successfully) affirm models of life other than the heterosexual nuclear family. As an anglican, given the current debates in the anglican communion it’s perhaps unsurprising that some of my ponderings have been about attitudes to same sex relationships. As a straight, celibate woman I see little affirmation by “the church” of my choices; it’s too often assumed that I am seeking a life partner and kids and am (although this remains unspoken) to be pitied for reaching a life stage where the latter at least seems unlikely. As Christ’s body we have significant challenges to face if we’re to minister relevantly to the whole of a society in which the traditional heterosexual nuclear family is, as a matter of fact, the minority.

  2. Steve Woodworth

    It should be noted that when Adam is left in the garden after Creation God declares “it is not good for man to be alone.” God’s answer to Adam’s longings was to create a female counterpart with whom he could experience sexual intimacy and procreate, hence the command, “be fruitful and multiply.” I don’t think it is odd that that the church or the larger culture has supported this image. I would suggest that negative feelings of isolation and loneliness some experience shouldn’t be blamed on our societal expectations as much as remind people that God affirms their frustration,”it is not good for man to be alone.”

    • David Swanson

      I think you’re right Steve about the sort of relational community humanity – created in the image of the Triune God – is made for. Given that we live in the not-yet-ness of God’s kingdom however, it seems we need to recognize how that reality plays out in relationships now. My sense is that the American church has held up (at times to the point of idolatry) a version of relationships that, for many, is unlikely, for a variety of reasons, to be experienced any time soon. Rodney Clapp makes the point in Families At The Crossroad (1993) that the version of family held in such esteem by contemporary Christians would be quite foreign in Jesus’ day. This isn’t to say the American nuclear family isn’t “Biblical”, only that it isn’t the only way we can think about family and relationships as Christians. How might we, in other words, affirm God’s observation that aloneness isn’t good for humanity while not excluding those who aren’t experiencing “heterosexual nuclear families”? Over at the First Things blog Wesley Hill is helpful at envisioning what these sorts of Christ-centered relationships can look like.

  3. Tim

    Part of the reason the church must emphasize heterosexual families is because of the attacks of Satan and his success in harnessing our flesh to severely corrupt both families in their homes but also the family of God in their gatherings. With this attack there will be much talk and emphasis on pursuing God’s design. When the single person hears all this emphasis, this does not justify himself in claiming I do not count here. He needs to see others as more important than himself and cheer them on to success.

    I would like to add that another part of this problem is that the church chooses forms that are corporate and institutionalized, thus a complete reversal of God’s design for His church to function like a family with “one another” oriented relationships. The casualty of this severe functional heresy is that saints are all trained at church to love a kind of relationship that is counterfeit. The expert leaders are traffickers in this corruption and call it all “godly”. Everyone, both singles and married couples are all alone in church when lined up for platform driven one-way communication, rather than “one another” communication. They have come prepared for zero interaction. How can a church be Christ centered, when the 99% of the members of that body of Christ are rendered incompetent to speak the truth in love when they are together?

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