The Right Is Wrong
About "Biblical Family Values"
BY MEG BARNHOUSE
I get confused when people talk about "Biblical family values." My confusion comes from knowing way too much about the Bible. I wonder which Biblical family's values they are talking about.
Are they referring to Abraham's family? His wife, Sarah, persuaded him to sleep with her maid so the maid could bear him a child and then, when Sarah had her own son, convinced Abraham to throw out the maid and her boy into the desert with no food or water? Is that the family that embodies the values they want to legislate?
Are they talking about Jacob's family? He was tricked by his father-in-law into marrying his true love's sister instead of the woman he loved. Jacob then married the woman he loved in addition to her sister, and the two sisters had a baby-birthing competition that resulted in the 12 tribes of Israel.
Eleven of those children then sold their brother Joseph into slavery instead of murdering him, which was their original plan. Then they took his torn coat of many colors home after having soaked it in animal blood and told their father that his favorite son had been torn apart by wild animals.
Put that family into modern times and you'd be talking years of therapeutic intervention, at the very least. Today's fundamentalists would be shaking their heads, hearing about a family like that, and talking about the breakdown of society and culture.
When they say "Biblical family values" are they talking about King David's family? He fell in love with Bathsheba, who was married to someone else. David had her husband sent to the front lines in battle. When he was killed, David married Bathsheba.
Is that the family that embodies the values they're talking about? Or is it their son's family they are pointing to? Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Let's look at the story of the family of Jesus. His mother was expecting before she was married, and Joseph raised Jesus even though he wasn't his own flesh and blood.
Those seem to be good values to me, but they aren't the ones preached by the traditional family values crowd.
Biblical families are real, like ours and the people's next door. They include stepchildren and feuds, adultery and intrigue, anguish and love, caring, intimacy, violence, revenge.
I can't see the Biblical family values people wanting to know actual Biblical families. I can't see them wanting those families in their neighborhoods or in their churches.
The Biblical families they are talking about are not the ones I spent so much time studying in seminary.
Do they think we don't read the Bible for ourselves? Maybe they haven't read it. Maybe they hope we let them feed the Bible to us in simple pieces. Easy to chew up. Easy to digest.
I heard a song writer from Lubbock, Texas, on Public Radio summarize one of these bite-sized Bible bits. He said, "We learned this: God loves you and He'll send you straight to Hell, and sex is evil, dirty and dangerous and you should save it for the one you love."
The radical Right can push whatever political agenda it wants to, and can try to legislate whatever morality it wants to. This is a democracy, and we are all free to push our values in the public arena.
When they talk about Biblical family values, though, be sure to ask them which Biblical family lived out the upright, sugary visions dancing in their heads. I'd be interested in the answer.
Meg Barnhouse, a former Presbyterian minister, is currently minister of the Unitarian Church in Spartanburg. She is a graduate of Princeton's divinity school.