Over the last 25+ years, I’ve been challenging husbands and wives, moms and dads to make their marriage and family relationships a priority. I have agreed with former Secretary of Education Dr. Bill Bennett who said “There are few matters of a more profound public consequence than the condition of marriage and families. Most of our social pathologies – crime, imprisonment rates, welfare, educational underachievement, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, depression, sexually transmitted diseases – are manifestations, direct and indirect, of the crackup of the modern American family… I have served two presidents and written on subjects ranging from crime, education and welfare to race, immigration, popular culture, and much else. But the enervation of both marriage and family life is, to me, the most perilous development of modern times.”
Years later, I still agree with Bill Bennett’s analysis. In fact, as I write this, I’m at a week-long event with 5500 people where our goal is to help strengthen marriages. The primary objective is to bring husbands and wives into alignment with what the Bible teaches about the covenant bonds of marriage and how those bonds are strengthened as we learn how to better love and serve one another. It is by God’s design that marriage is the bedrock on which strong families are built. And by His design, strong, intact, loving, supportive families become the cultural fabric that holds societies together.
But a very interesting article I read this week that called into question the importance of the nuclear family. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a long piece for the Atlantic Magazine with the provocative title “The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake.” In the article, Brooks argues that the idea that our understanding of family as parents and kids living under the same roof is a relatively new social construct. Bigger, extended families, he suggests, have been the norm throughout most of human history. Brooks believes that humans thrive when their lives include regular interaction with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
“If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century,” Brooks posits, “the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options.”
He goes on to propose that we rethink kinship and begin to develop what he calls “forged families.” We can choose to replace regular interaction and connection with our blood relatives with new “chosen families.”
It’s a long but worthwhile article to read. It’s also helpful to read how others are responding to the article. Brad Wilcox and others at the Institute for Family Studies have been interacting online with Brooks’ thesis in a series of articles. The dialogue is irenic and is helpful as we think about human thriving in our world today.
I’m guessing most of you won’t take the time to read the Brooks essay or the responses. And I get it. Most of us are so busy trying to care for our own family that we don’t have time to engage in an online back and forth about the pros and cons of various family structures. In fact, I’m guessing only a few of you make it all the way through my own weekly missives!
But I was struck by one central point in what Brooks wrote. He said that a bigger network of extended family relationships makes each of us more resilient.
When there is a larger network of family relationships in place, Brooks says, “Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents—a complex web of relationships among, say, seven, 10, or 20 people. If a mother dies, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are there to step in. If a relationship between a father and a child ruptures, others can fill the breach. Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens—when a kid gets sick in the middle of the day or when an adult unexpectedly loses a job.”
I read that and thought “that’s how Christians for centuries have interacted with one another. They have properly functioned as the extended family of God in a forged covenant community of brothers and sisters in Christ. They have sacrificed personal freedom for corporate caring. They have taken seriously the “one another’s” of scripture.
I’ve seen that happen in our church. I’ve seen small groups step in to offer both material and emotional support when someone in the group is hurting or in need. Although it’s more challenging to care regularly for one another when we live miles away from each other, I’ve been encouraged by how so many of you have rallied around those in need and have loved and served your spiritual siblings.
Brooks makes a strong case in his article for the strength that extended “forged families” provide for each of the individuals who establish these bonds and who sacrifice to serve one another. What he seems to have missed in his article is the reality that this is exactly what began to happen 2000 years ago when the first Christians believed the gospel and began living their lives accordingly.
My prayer as a pastor is that this kind of thinking about what it means to be “members of one another” would continue to be central to how we function as a church body.
Family Fun Night is two weeks away!
And guys, make sure you have March 20-21 circled on your calendar for our spring men’s retreat. Here again, is a “save the date” for you:
I shared last week about the special series that is coming later this month at The Well – our weekly Tuesday evening gets together of young single adults. Here’s more info about what’s happening beginning in a few weeks:
As I’ve suggested in the newsletter this week, what we believe about the gospel should prompt us to supplement our faith with brotherly affection. As we’ll see this week, that idea is about a lot more than having warm thoughts about one another in the church.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!