Talking About Family

I recently wrote an article for my denominational periodical, the Herald. One blog post about it elicited a number of responses and questions, so I am replying to them here. These are my thoughts — no one else’s. And since I am only one person, I am posting one reply rather than inviting a prolonged conversation.

I grouped theological/spiritual understandings of family on one side, and biological/cultural understandings on the other. I recognize that this may seem arbitrary, but I was trying to connect my categories to those that one sees in the gospels in Jesus’ exchanges with those wrestling with the implications of being followers of Jesus. Jesus placed a higher value on the spiritual kinship experienced among those who made a theological confession of Jesus as Lord (because this is very much a theological confession) than to other allegiances.

Jesus insisted that the bond made by such a theological confession is more important than either the bonds of biological family, ethnicity, or social standing. I associated theological and spiritual family not because the two terms are synonymous, but because of the references in both the gospels and Paul’s letters to the fact that confessing Jesus as Lord (not simply as a bald statement, but understood in the context of NT confessions) is evidence of a work of the Holy Spirit. So the theological confession is spiritual, and the theological family is a spiritual family.

This does not negate the other issues of entry and belonging that have arisen in the context of Christian community, including the MB community. MBs have made issues — often unfairly — of issues that need not be hindrances to being part of the community of faith. Women have been marginalized. People from different ethnic backgrounds have been overlooked. I agree that these injustices have occurred, but they do not bear on the point of my article.

I agree that simplistic appeals to biblical texts are not appropriate ways to resolve conflicts such as this, and I agree that Scripture is intended not as an end in itself. It is intended to draw us to Jesus. But we have no reliable knowledge of Jesus apart from Scripture illuminated by the Spirit, so let us read and understand Scripture faithfully in order to know Jesus.

The question of what Christian unity entails is important, for a couple of reasons. The theological diversity of Christian denominations confronts Christians with paradox that we are many and yet one, simultaneously. The disagreements among Christian groups may prevent institutional union, rightly, but they need not preclude an awareness of the unity of all Christ-followers in a single mystical body. I agree that this is an ontological unity, even if not an institutional one. That is easier to say than understand, and I freely confess that I do not understand it fully.

I am very familiar with ecumenical theological conversations, and comfortable participating in them with fellow believers. I think the disagreement over LGBTQ+ matters is not quite the same as disagreements about theological distinctions in the ecumenical community, however. Polemical language notwithstanding, disagreements over ecumenical considerations generally involve divergent ways of conceptualizing theological concepts (e.g., the meaning of communion, the identity of Christ) or implementing biblical realities (e.g., baptism, church polity).

Theological disagreements that involve matters accepted by some and rejected by others as being sinful are of a different nature. It is a necessary corollary of holding theological convictions in a Christian community to hold oneself and others accountable for convictions that condone behaviour defined as sinful. The need is then to evaluate such convictions to determine if they are faithful to the witness of Scripture. This is the measure of faithfulness, and it needs to be a decision discerned by more than a few.

Even in calling others to account for faithful reasons, Christians overstate when they judge or curse others, but it is not inappropriate for hard conversations or even rebukes to occur. Those who feel the need to rebuke need to examine themselves; neither pride nor hypocrisy are acceptable before God. Excommunication is seen as the ultimate response to those who resist calls to return to faith, but I don’t think many Christians really understand the full implications of what excommunication entails. Nevertheless, there are biblical texts that can provide guidance where it is seen to be necessary.

Does a parting of the ways need to be painful? I think there will always be some pain, but how much depends a lot on how Christians conduct themselves in the process. For example, my observation is that the departure of Artisan Church from the BCMB Conference was less painful because the believers there discerned where they felt God was calling them to go and made a decision accordingly. They left of their own accord, which was painful, but less painful than could otherwise have been foreseen.

Jubilee Church in Manitoba discerned a call to be an affirming church, and attempted to remain in the MBCM despite being informed of the conflict that MBCM leaders saw with the Confession of Faith. This forced a discernment moment upon delegates to the convention, and I think it caused more pain than was necessary. Let me be clear. I am no fan of conflict, and I deplore disunity. But where conflict is unavoidable, then acting with integrity demands embracing a degree of conflict to prevent it from causing greater disunity than already exists.

I think that a large contributor to the present problems is that MBs have pushed the family metaphor for too long without addressing the basis for being called a family. As a result, we have long since ceased to be a family even while we spoke superficially about being one. And now that we need to discern the ties that truly bind us, we will discover them only with difficulty, because of our neglect.

This does not mean that we reject one another in cultural or biological relational terms. Those relationships must remain; it is only social relationships that allow us to gain any opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to others, to share our faith. And the fact that we do not have comprehensive knowledge or empirical certainty does not hinder us from being bold in living and speaking our faith. It should incline us to be quick to listen, and be humble and gracious in our actions. It seems from what I understand from others that being quick to listen is a scarce commodity. That is a tragedy.

I don’t have all the answers, nor do I pretend to. And I don’t know all the stories of hurt that others have experienced. There are probably too many for me to know. But nothing I have heard motivates me to doubt that what MBs have confessed together about what it means to be women and men created in the image of God, together, should be revisited or revised. I have yet to hear a theological argument for why this should happen.

One thought on “Talking About Family

  1. I’m deeply saddened by both the division being caused by this issue and what appears to me to be a failure of the church to adhere to sound biblical teaching. When scripture warns us not to judge it directs that warning to judging people who are not claiming affiliation to the church. But the Holy Spirit speaking through St Paul seems more disturbed by the failure of the Corinthians to apply discerning judgement of one who is living contrary to biblical principles than he is in judging the one guilty of incest. (I Corinthians 5) Brian I commend you. Not politically correct in this postmodern world but faithfully courageous. My your tribe increase. Sieg Wall

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