Jesus didn’t die on a God-forsaken cross to preserve your horn-rimmed vision of 1950s Americana. He did not go through hell and back to secure the keys to an exclusive gated community. And he didn’t suffer lacerations so that your nuclear family could be photographed beside the tulips in matching shiny egg-white shoes.
Jesus had a family. They were his scraggly followers. Yes, he had flesh-and-blood siblings, but they thought big brother was a fake and that mom must have been crazy for buying into all of his religious ranting. They told him to shut up, so Jesus ignored and disregarded them. As he was gurgling his last bloody breath at Golgotha, he wheezed to John—“the disciple whom Jesus loved”—that Mary was to be his mother and he, her son.
Jesus never married. He liked weddings, though, and he even tended bar at a reception once. But getting hitched to a comely woman wasn’t his top priority. He preferred rather to camp with fetid fishermen and smarmy tax collectors after late nights in seedy locations with tattooed sluts and nicotine-stained sinners.
Jesus refused to suffer know-it-alls. The politicians and the preachers (Sadducees and Pharisees, respectively) were always trying to string him up or to capture an unflattering sound bite that would trend on Twitter or loop all night on the news ticker. He called them slithering serpents and gussied-up graves. He stared them square in their seminary-trained eyes and called them haughty imposters. Their rules, he said, were a cheap ruse to distract themselves and everyone around them from the gleaming, glaring truth: that for all of their knowledge about God, they didn’t know God.
God made marriage to be sure. But he made it as a sign, not a club. The story of marriage in the Bible is splotchy and confusing. After Abram had pawned off his wife Sarai a couple of times, Sarai returned the favor by shopping her husband’s harem to find him a fertile lover. Old blind Isaac was duped by his clear-eyed wife. Jacob had two wives and a mess of problems. David had plenty of wives, but he would kill for that bathing beauty, Bathsheba. Ezekiel was told not to shed a tear for his dead wife, and Hosea was commanded to marry a hooker. Peter dropped his nets—and his wife—and wandered down the road with Jesus. My point here is that, while marriage is depicted in scripture as a beautiful, sacramental gift of God, it’s more complicated than that. So before you sound off about the Bible endorsing a unilateral pro-marriage and pro-family agenda, I would recommend paying closer attention on your next fly-by.
“Family” is the euphemistic code du jour for “Evangelical Christian.” “Focus on the Evangelical Christian” and the “American Evangelical Christian Association” didn’t have the same zing to them as their familiar twins. The watchword for these organizations is the preservation of “traditional family values,” which are, in a nutshell, white American family values from a period of 1939 to 1964. The family values constituency longs for a return to the virginal time before the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Vietnam War, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, John Lennon, and Rock Hudson made the world a more complicated place.
When I read the Bible, I get the distinct sense that Jesus wasn’t interested in saving the nuclear family from a windy onslaught of liberal opinions. I rather get the impression that he was concerned with diving headfirst into the unvarnished messiness of the human condition and saving us—as individuals, as families, as communities, as people—from our own unhinged self-absorption and festering lovelessness.
The world is a mess because we are a mess. We are a mess because I am a mess. I am a mess because my heart is a mess. And the heart condition of each of us is the heart of the issue. Any other agenda, any other moralistic totem or golden calf half-truth, any political platform or religious soapbox should receive our careful scrutiny. Because an idol carved in the shape of a smiling family is still an idol.