Thursday, February 27, 2014

Can Family Values Be an Idol?

C. S. Lewis claims that if you make any earthly thing into a god, it becomes a demon. For anything put in the place of God becomes an idol (Colossians 3:5; Isaiah 31:1; Romans 1:21-23). And often it is the truly good things that are the most dangerous. For if something is obviously low and self-seeking, it is hard to put it up on a pedestal and worship it. Whereas something that is really valuable can invite this.

Evangelicals in recent times have fought hard to protect family values. This is not surprising, because they are obviously under attack. Now I am not saying we should ignore these issues. But our age is in danger of  making an idol of family, marriage, romance, sex, or some combination of the above. Some claim the goal of life is to hop into bed with as many members of the opposite sex as you can, but others claim if you fall in love with the one right person, you are guaranteed a wonderful life. It is easy, from the Christian point of view, to reject the first option (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Hebrews 13:4). But is the second view any the less idolatry? And when this fails, as it inevitably will, you can end up endlessly searching for that one person.

A proposed alternative is to claim you have to work at it to have an ideal marriage and family.. Now this can put you on an endless treadmill of continually trying harder. It can also lead to complacency or discouragement, depending on whether you believe you are succeeding. And it can totally ruin a marriage. For the harder you try to fix all the problems in the marriage, the more likely you are to end up alienating your spouse, who may end up feeling they are one of the problems. While we do need to be concerned about the state of our marriage and family, we ultimately need to trust God with them (Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6). And this will put what efforts we do make in perspective.

Also, if we take the performance approach, we can end up sitting in judgment on others, particularly those in Christian leadership, who do not live up to our expectations. Now there is a place for correction of clear sin in a loving manner (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:14,15). But we must beware of self-righteous judgment (James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). And this external pressure can aggravate the tendency to complacency or discouragement and produce the very thing it was meant to avoid. Complacency can leave someone unprepared to deal with sexual temptation. And discouragement can result in someone giving up trying to maintain the standard.   Now I do think there are Biblical standards here we need to uphold. But if we make family values into an idol, we can end up destroying the very thing we are trying to save.        


  1. A pastor buddy of mine once referred to some of this evangelical thinking "The Cult of the Perfect Christian Family". Sadly, many of the teachings out there cast shame of families in trouble rather than lending them a helping hand. I saw this first hand when my son struggled with drug addiction and my daughter had a baby when she was 17. Seems like the church should be known for compassion in these situations and not shame.

    1. I agree. And the shame approach makes it hard for people who need help and support to get it, because they do not dare admit they have a problem.