The first part of the series gave an overview for our subject. My conclusion for the posts has two parts:
#1 The Church has wrongly viewed itself as a voluntary association whose ultimate allegiance is at times to the nuclear family, headed by a married couple.
Not all Evangelicals view the Church or marriage in this way, but as we saw last week in the stories offered, many do.
#2 Our ultimate allegiance is to God, in Christ, through the fellowship of the Church, by the Spirit of God.
Understanding this, how we understandsingleness, marriage, and the Church, completely changes. We will get to this second conclusion in in later posts. For now we will take a look at the first of my conclusions, that many Evangelicals have a faulty view of marriage and thereby the family.
The Nuclear Family?
Over the last several decades the total number of nuclear families in America has diminished sharply. A household headed by a married couple with at least one child under eighteen now represents only 20.2% of American households. In 1970 that number was 40.3%. Currently 48.5% of households are headed by a married couple. We, as part of the Church, can no longer assume that the nuclear family or married couple comprises the majority of what it means to be a family in America.
Nor could we in the past. What American Evangelicals consider the nuclear family, a married male and female parenting at least one child, is a recent invention that did not exist before the 20th century. It is is a product of the processes of industrialization, privatization, and commodification: Before the technological shifts of the last century, work and home were largely the same place. The house was a place where husband and wife worked together, children helped, and extended kin and ‘strangers’ were more likely to be around. The house was not the private abode of a few, but the place for many. (For more on this check out the work of Rosemary Radford Ruether.)
Marriage, Affection, and Consumerism
What Evangelicals call the family, at minimum a married couple, is only a slim representation of the historical expressions of the family unit, and one which mirrors the broader current of society: consumerism.
Before the 20th century a central concern of marriage was production. Marriages were formed in order to enable productive work and to increase family resources which would sustain its own members and serve society. Without work to keep the family together, affection/desire (the central element of the consumeristic worldview) became the ‘glue’ of family, as well as the sustaining factor of much of society.
Americans and much of the world have shifted into the mindset of being consumers: autonomous, isolated, self-interested, individuals that seek happiness through choice. Marriages, like many Churches today, are established not on mutual dependence to one another, or for a common purpose outside of one another, but out of desire: “I will be your friend or your spouse–or attend your church–because you amuse me or enhance my mental health. But if you fail to meet my needs… I am probably wisest to seek another friend or spouse [or church].” The Church must resist this privatization and commoditization of marriage and the family, by embracing the idea of the church as the ‘first family’. (For more on marriage, the family, and consumerism, check out Rodney Clapp’s book “Families at the Crossroads“.)
Be on the lookout for my next post in this series, where I consider marriage and the family as an institution, and ask how the Scripture’s present their role in life.