Friday, June 13, 2008

On Father's Day & Family Values

Me and My Dad ...

circa 1959


I’ll admit I’ve often thought of Father’s Day as a Hallmarkian pseudo-holiday designed to rally the nation to shop for something Dad didn’t need or want while encouraging the BBQing of something that was probably bad for his cholesterol. So I did a little research. Here is some of what I discovered:

Sonora Dodd, of Washington state is credited with the idea of a "father's day" – which she thought up while listening to a Mother's Day sermon in 1909. Sonora wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart: a Civil War veteran, who was widowed when his wife died while giving birth to their sixth child and was left to raise the newborn and his other five children by himself. After Sonora became an adult she realized the selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent and since her father was born in June, she chose to hold the first Father's Day celebration in Spokane, Washington on the 19th of June in 1910 and in 1972 it was President Richard Nixon who finally signed the law that made it a permanent holiday.

So there you have it: “fun facts to know and tell about Father’s Day” – a day that really has nothing to do with shopping and BBQing and everything to do with the extraordinarily selfless love of a devoted parent – with celebrating the values that truly make us “family.” And so it seemed to me that this Father’s Day is a particularly good day to focus our reflections on what has become a very popular topic: Family Values.

To start with, let’s look at what JESUS says about families [Matthew 10:34-42]

“Do not suppose that I came to bring peace on earth. I came not to bring peace but a sword. I have come to turn a son against his father, a daughter against her mother, in-law against in-law. One’s enemies will be the members of one’s own household.”

No surprise that this tenth chapter of Matthew turns out NOT to be the scripture text that gets chosen for the picket signs by those who sometimes drop by All Saints Church to “say hey” or by those opposing marriage equality in California. But it just may be among the texts we should bookmark the next time someone suggests that returning to “Biblical Family Values” is the way to go.

A case in point is a recently released declaration opposing marriage equality based on "the biblical teaching that God designed marriage as a lifetime union of one man and one woman." As my friend and colleague Jay Johnson put it, “For biblical literalists, they don't know much about the Bible.”

In fact, what Biblical families and American families share in common is the word "family" – and not much else.

By far the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy: not a union of one man and one woman, but a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep (see also: Solomon, with his 700 wives and 300 concubines). And in the Christian scriptures, the two primary figures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, are both unmarried and childless. There is no gospel according to Ozzie – no Letter from Harriet to the church in Rome – framing the early church’s understanding of what it is to be family!

Rather – following the model of Jesus and his disciples -- the first Christians developed a model of family that broke with ancient kinship patterns in favor of a non-biological family. “Who is my mother and my brothers?” Jesus said to those trying to lay a nuclear family guilt trip on him. “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” It was a radical concept then and it is a radical concept now.

It is a concept that continues the decidedly unsettling vision of God's world, God's agenda: our allegiance is not to even our most beloved human institutions but to a God who is making all things new while continuing to call us beyond our comfort zone – calling us to partner with God in (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) turning the human race into the human family.

THAT, my brothers and sisters, is the essence of “Biblical Family Values.” And no matter how the Religious Right tries to twist our ancient Biblical texts into the pretzels necessary to prop up their contention that Ozzie-and-Harrietism is God’s only plan for everyone’s life, the “clear truth of scripture” (and I do not use those words unadvisedly or lightly!) is that Biblical Family Values have nothing whatsoever to do with the gender of the partners who make up a family and everything to do with the VALUES lived out in that family.

Paul wrote about these values, calling them the "fruit of the spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).

Surely these are Biblical Values every family would embrace. According to Paul, "love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Even when knowledge and human institutions fail, these values, Paul says, remain constant: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these three, Paul concludes, is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

And now more words of wisdom from Jay Johnson: “Societal definitions of marriage and family will inevitably change over the course of history. It is clear that what is important in the Bible is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexuality, but the quality of love exhibited in the relationships. And if same-sex couples exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the legal protection and civil recognition of marriage.

If we have any intention of preserving marriage or protecting families, we must base our support on values that are unchangeable: values such as faith, hope, and love. But the greatest among these — whether the couple is same-sex or heterosexual — is love.”

The greatest of these is love. The love of a God who loved us enough to become one of us and called us to love each other in the same radically transformative way. The love of families that come in all shapes and sizes and configurations and empower us to reach out in love to a broken world. The love that transcends boundaries, builds bridges, moves mountains and ultimately proves even more powerful than the barriers of orientation or ethnicity; of race, creed or color.

There is much to celebrate in the week ahead: Father’s Day on June 15th and then, on June 17th the extension of marriage equality to ALL families in the State of California. And as we celebrate, let's pray that we might all be given the strength and courage … the faith and fortitude … to live our lives in accordance with the Biblical Family Values that point us toward the goal of making the human race the human family -- toward the dream of the God who is Father and Mother of us all!
Happy Father’s Day!


Fran said...


I loved reading this post. I have an idea for a post about LGBT Christians rolling around in my head and if I do it, will link back to this.

As a straight person who is very active in her faith life, I am confounded by the more conservative among us all.

Love one another. I don't mean to oversimplify, but what else is there?

Thanks for these thoughtful and most heartfelt words.

Pax to all.

the Reverend boy said...

WHOA! What Fran said.

This is really awesome, Susan. Thank you.

JimB said...

The essence of the scripture study of the wrong wing is that their misreading of the Bible the Bible is inerrant. When I tripped over Solomon's Biblical family, I was 13 or 14, I was stunned. Not because he had a harem, but because it dawned on me that the teachers I had trusted were very selective.

Dr. Dobson and the other screamers about 'family values' know they are making it all up. What they are really pushing is their image (distorted) of what the family was before all the bad modern stuff happened. Which is why they are as opposed to Bp. Cate in Indianapolis as they are to Bp. Gene in New Hampshire. It is also why this link-up with central Africa wont last.

I tend to try to ignore father's day. My sons don't do much about it: I prefer that. When they were young it was the Sunday we reserved for the end-of-school trip to the amusement park. That was a lot nicer than grilling something, which I do all the time anyway. Next year we will take Jamie to Kiddieland. That I can look forward to doing. I don't need anything else.