I have previously blogged about how difficult it’s been for those Christians arguing the case against same-sex marriage because of the difficulty of using evidence from the Bible or our religious tradition in a secular debate.

You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage.

I’ve heard some proponents of the Yes case saying Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Sure, but he spoke about family quite a bit. It’s just that what he said was kinda, well, awkward.

When discussing marriage, Jesus quoted the Old Testament book of Genesis (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” – Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5), but this was in the context of him laying down the law about divorce and remarriage. On that topic Jesus definitely votes NO (except in the case of sexual immorality).

Pretty much everything else he says about marriage or family isn’t terribly quotable in a debate about marriage, whether same-sex or traditional.

Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time. In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first place, Jesus seemed to agree, saying anyone who could live like a eunuch should seriously consider doing so (Mt 19:12).

At other points in his ministry he seems disdainful of Jewish notions of family altogether.

When a would-be disciple asks if he might bury his dead father before joining him, Jesus scoffs, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Lk 9:60)

If you think that’s harsh, he not only demanded that his disciples leave their families, but that they hate them (Lk 14:26).

And, on another occasion, when informed that his own mother and brothers were waiting outside to see him, Jesus’ waved his hand in the direction of his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34–35).

Clearly, Jesus wasn’t big on the biological family.

 

And this was in a nation obsessed with the biological family. They were devoted to studying genealogies, bloodlines and the like. For the religious leaders of Israel, blood was exactly the way God’s grace was conferred – through the blood of the fathers. In other words, grace was an entirely biological prospect.

But not for Jesus. He taught that God’s grace is transmitted via a person’s acknowledgement of his lordship and allegiance to his community of faith.

As Charles E Moore writes,

Contrary to the tradition that salvation is guaranteed by ancestry or that one’s highest social obligation is to family, he reminded his listeners that the covenant that first drew God’s people together was based not on bloodlines but on faith and the miraculous power of God (John 8:31–59).

In other words, you’re not saved because of your father’s blood, but because of Jesus’ blood. Or, as Rodney Clapp puts it, “It is through a new family, born again of the Spirit, that God’s kingdom breaks into our world.”

Jesus completely redefines family. His is a radically new social order, a welcoming, open community not forged by bloodlines or betrothals, but by repentance and discipleship.

 

He is inaugurating a new family of God, a family of disciples who follow him with their whole lives. It’s a family that welcomes widows and orphans, slaves and freemen, Jews and Gentiles. The church, therefore, isn’t a bunch of families that simply meets together every Sunday. The church is a family.

And when he says that, he means it. Not like all those churches you’ve visited that said they were a family but no one talked to you.

The early church got it. Sure, some still married and had children. But others chose not to out of devotion to Jesus. The unmarried, the widowed, the abandoned, all these were welcomed in as full family members.

And in a cold and brutish Roman empire where all men had three women at their disposal (a wife, a mistress and a concubine), where orphans and childless widows were as good as dead, where sojourners and strangers weren’t welcome, the new social order embodied by the Christian community was gold!

And it turned the world upside down. The utter beauty, grace and solace provided by the new Christian family blew anything else the empire had to offer completely away.

And here’s where so much of our embarrassment in the current discussion about same-sex marriage lies.

Our churches are rife with incidents of domestic violence, pedophilia, marital infidelity, pornography addiction, factionalism, denominational rivalry, dissent, and the exclusion of the broken. We’re crowing about “biblical teaching on marriage” while overlooking all the hard stuff Jesus taught about family.

Jesus demands we fashion a whole new kind of family, the likes of which no one has ever seen before, a task so extraordinary it ought to completely swamp something like campaigning against a secular state granting homosexual couples the right to marry.

 

If only we put as much effort into nurturing the church-as-family as we are into carrying on about this stupid non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey.

 

 

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