A Pride Message: Fighting for All Kinds of Families

A Pride Message: Fighting for All Kinds of Families.
Micah Royal

God wants to strengthen all kinds of families, not just traditional ones.

God wants to strengthen all kinds of families, not just traditional ones.

This is a sermon Micah Royal, a Progressive Christian Alliance pastor, preached about a year ago during a time the local Fayetteville, NC ministerial council had set for the churches in Fayetteville to focus in prayer and preaching on stronger families. We are sharing this message because it talks about a more inclusive vision of the family, which includes families with same-sex partners, single parents, and with GLBT youth.

Nehemiah 4:14, New Living Translation
14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Ephesians 5, New Living Translation
21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.
Nehemiah 4:14, New Living Translation
14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Ephesians 5, New Living Translation
21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

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Today we are starting a series celebrating our God-given image, praising God that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Also Pastor Kat and I have been asked to join the other churches in Cumberland County Ministerial Association in having a “fight for our family Sunday”.
To tell you the truth when I first heard the phrase “Fight For the Family”, my hackles went up. I began to think of groups that use the term “family” a lot that I have heard over the years: a radio program I used to listen to years ago that argued that women needed to sacrifice their careers and stay home with children and that gays were out to recruit our children; a preacher I remember hearing saying that people fighting for civil rights were battling the families. I thought even of a deacon at an old church my family visited once who went off like a cannon when someone talked about inter-racial couples, railing against the dangers of miscegenation. At first I wasn’t going to join the council in their fight for the families Sunday, because I was worried that I might be asked to, like these preachers before me that I have mentioned, say what I can no longer say – that hate is a family value.
But the more I prayed about it, the more I realized God was giving me, and giving our church, an opportunity to speak out a positive word about family – to celebrate our families – to share what God’s real values for a family is if it is not hate. Is there something God has to say to us about our families, something that is not a word of hate but of hope? Then when Pastor Kat suggested we take November to focus on celebrating who God has made us to be, it dawned on me that we should both celebrate and fight for the unique types of families God has granted us here at our ministry.
Do the verses we have read for our “Fight For Our Families Sunday” speak a word to us about our families, and the state of our families?
I see three things that stand out to me. First, I think we need to realize that despite how these verses get twisted by folks for whom prejudice is a family value, God does not give us simply one picture of what a holy family is but several; second, I think we need to realize that our families take real work and see what that work is; finally, I think we need to realize that ultimately defending our families does not depend upon us but on the defender of our souls Himself, Jesus Christ.

The Bible is not intending to dictate one family model at the expense of others, say those headed by two women or two men.

The Centurion and the man he loved (Luke 7) is an example of a family headed by two men who loved and sacrificed for each other.  Yet Jesus holds it up as a family blessed by God due to faith.

The Bible is not intending to dictate one family model at the expense of others, say those headed by two women or two men. In fact the Centurion and the man he loved (Luke 7) appears the be an example of a family headed by two men who loved each other -- and was blessed by Jesus for the faith it displayed.

First I want to look at the fact these verses do not really promote one particular type of family over another, but instead promote doing the work to make families work.
I have already mentioned how some people use the image of fight for the family as a rallying cry not to build up the families that are actually there but instead to tear down ones they feel are not “holy enough”. For instance some will read the description given here in Ephesians as a picture of the only “holy” family that there is – with a dominant husband over a quiet submissive wife. So they try to argue that the old 1950′s Father Knows Best/Leave It to Beaver family is exactly what God requires.
So some folks argue that the woman who says to a man “don’t hit me anymore” and, kids in tow, leaves a place of abuse are somehow going against God’s plan. Some think that if a woman isn’t staying at home as a housewife but has a career that she is pursuing she is somehow going against God’s plan because after all isn’t she supposed to be quiet and submissive; isn’t the wife supposed to be submissive to the husband who is head of the household? In some states in our country, people try to argue from this image that if a couple is not one man, one woman but instead a gay couple they can’t have children because after all, isn’t God’s model in the Bible here one man, one woman?
I think this way of reading sections of the Bible like the one in Ephesians we just read is wrong-headed through and through. Why do I say this?

I say this because the Bible does not actually give us just one type of family, as some folks who throw around the phrase “family values” say. If you do a study of the holy families of Scripture you will see quite a hodge-podge of different families.

I say this because the Bible does not actually give us just one type of family, as some folks who throw around the phrase “family values” say. If you do a study of the holy families of Scripture you will see quite a hodge-podge of different families.

I say this because the Bible does not actually give us just one type of family, as some folks who throw around the phrase “family values” say. If you do a study of the holy families of Scripture you will see quite a hodge-podge of different families. We see yes just one man and one woman in Adam and Eve. But what about Abram, the father of our faith? He had two sons from two different women, Sarai and Hagar. God makes a covenant with Abram, and with both of his sons. We see Jacob having thirteeen sons from at least three different women. Each of those sons are a part of the blessing of Abram’s family. We see Jesus in a composite family – he, and his mother, with no earthly father, but a step-father who adopts him. We see a same-sex family in the story we read a few months ago of the centurion and his lover: two men committed to each other out of love, whom Jesus holds up as a model of faith. Each of these different types of families are families God blessed in the Bible.
Very few families in the Bible fit this ideal of one man, one woman yet each of the ones I’ve described are blessed by God and a part of the story of salvation.
Similarly the picture of the family pictured in Ephesians 5 is not at all what we make it out to be. Often we picture it as the 1950′s Father Knows Best with the strong man, the quiet woman who listens to him, and the obedient children. But this is not what is described here. Instead what is pictured here is not something any of us in modern America want. It is similar to what I saw in a science fiction film I watched with a friend earlier this year where they imagined what it would be like here if the South won the Civil War: where the man ran the home like a king, with a quiet woman who couldn’t vote, kids he whipped into submission, and his couple of slaves who served like family.

Far from being a "Father Knows Best" family, the family order in Ephesians included slaves.  Do we really believe God is encouraging us to have slaves or treat people as property?  Is it more likely God is dictating how families should look, or that God is describing families as they were in Paul's day and presenting principles that apply to any type of family?

Far from being a "Father Knows Best" family, the family order in Ephesians included slaves. Do we really believe God is encouraging us to have slaves or treat people as property? Is it more likely God is dictating how families should look, or that God is describing families as they were in Paul's day and presenting principles that apply to any type of family?

I say this because if you study the term “head” in the Greek and Roman world it was a legal term for the oldest male in a family. The family head owned the property, and all the women, children, and slaves of the household had to agree with him. And generally a family had one or two slaves. So it was like a pyramid with the oldest man on the top, the woman underneath him obedient to him, the children (sometimes even adult children) obedient to her, and the slaves obedient to everyone else. If you read on from Ephesians 5 into Ephesians 6 you see that Ephesians breaks things down into these other relationship by giving directions regarding not just husbands and wives but also how children and parents can manage to fulfill Paul’s admonition, as well as how slaves and slave-owners can manage it. When you realize that all of these different groups are covered by the Ephesians 5 picture of family you realize that the only way you can say that since there is one man who is head of the house and one woman, any other family is bad and wrong, is by also saying every family needs not just a man and a woman but well-behaved kids and a few well-behaved slaves to boot. I don’t think any of us want to go back to the days of slavery.
But Paul never says this image of the family in Ephesians is true for all time. He never says that a family has to be one man, one woman, two kids, and a bunch of slaves. If he did that would mean God could not use and bless the many different kinds of families we just spoke of that are described elsewhere in the Bible, including even Jesus’ family.
What Paul actually does is say instead “submit one to another” and begins to describe how that would look in the time and culture of his day. Paul’s actual admonition – one we need to live out to fight for our families – is submit one to another not have your family look like mine. Paul accepts the family structure of his day, not because it is one that is right for all time, but because it is the one he has inherited, and demonstrates how to live this admonition then and there in that type of family. Paul’s advice to us would not be “have your family look like mine” but instead “submit one to another in the family you have”.
This leads us to my second point – which is my answer to, what does Paul mean to submit one to another? I think Paul is telling us not fight to have a different sort of family then you have but fight for the family that you do have. Paul is showing us that it takes real hard work, it takes getting out of your comfort zone, it takes fighting against the grain, it takes sacrifice to make your family work. Paul is saying we must work hard to have healthy and holy families, whatever family structure we have.
Paul’s answer – which really is God’s answer through Paul – is that the key to having a strong and healthy family is that we submit one to another. Often people get the wrong idea of what submit means. They think it means to blindly obey. This is why some people think a submissive wife is a quiet woman who never voices her opinion. This is also why some people read Paul’s words and walk away with the horribly wrong message that a child should be seen and not heard.
But to submit to one another means something very different. It means doing what Paul describes in Philippians 2–
“2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Here Paul shows us that submitting to one another means doing like Christ did for us – putting aside your own desires and comfort for another person, to work to see them excel. It is putting another’s needs equal with yours in importance and, at times, ahead of yours.
Isn’t this what it takes to make our families strong?
Too often when couples come to me for counsel as a pastor, very quickly I hear from them “well if only my spouse would do this, if only they would do that, then things would work”. I want to shake them and say, “wait a second. What are you doing? Isn’t marriage a two-way street? Isn’t a partnership a partner-ship?” Sometimes if I find a little more pastoral way to say that to them, I find they have in fact done a lot and they are the only one doing the heavy lifting in their relationship. Many, many times though I find that they have become so caught up in the way their spouse or partner doesn’t meet their needs that they forget to meet their spouse or partner’s needs themself. Either way, when marriage or your partnership becomes a one-way street, someone is not submitting to their other half. When your focus is on “what can my spouse or life-partner do for me?” and that alone, there is no way you can be submitting to each other in Christ because you are not submitting to them. For a couple to submit to each other in the Lord both partners have to be equally invested, both partners have to be willing to put aside their way of doing things and consider their partner’s point of view, both have to be willing to listen to and respect each other’s feelings, both have to treat each other’s romantic and yes sexual needs as important, both have to respect the other’s career as equal to their own.
This can mean at times sacrificing – maybe losing some time at the office to have some time reinforcing your love through romance; maybe losing some time at a hobby to really take time to listen and be there for them at a hard time; maybe losing the argument because you’d rather have your spouse know you love them than think you are right.
Submitting one to another is key between parents and children too. Just the other day I was talking to someone who told me how distraught they were to know couples with children who talk as if their children are a burden or a chore; who are more interested in a night out or a few more hours at the job than really spending time with their kids. They shook their heads and said “Don’t they realize that once they have kids it isn’t about what they want, but what is best for their children?” Sadly too many children don’t have that. So we see fathers who really ought to be there for their children who are never seen or heard from again. So we have dead-beat moms and dads who refuse to pay child support because they don’t want to take responsibility for the children they raised. So we have two-parent homes where the parents don’t take time to help their kids in school, don’t take time to teach their kids the birds and the bee’s, let alone play baseball or go fishing with their kids. And then we wonder why so many children become caught up in drugs, have irresponsible sex which result in the tough choices such as between becoming a pregnant teen or having unwanted abortions, and get caught up in gangs. Could it be that if those kids got more attention, love, and support at home that these other unhealthy options would be less attractive to them?
Even Paul’s words to children speak volumes. There is the obvious word to children: respect your parents, they raised you. But both as young people who live in our parents’ home – some of us are that – and, as most of us are, adult children who may be raising children of our own this command can be hard.
It can be hard because some of us either because of who we are – whether that is gay, or with different talents and interests than our parents – or because of where we are called – perhaps to this particular faith, that particular church, to a particular work for God our parents don’t appreciate, to a cause our folks don’t like, or even into the ministry, at times know deep in our hearts there is no way we can be true to ourselves and God while doing exactly what our parents want. For instance when I first told my parents I was called to be a preacher, their jaws dropped, and they tried to talk me into any other job than this. But I knew, as I still know, deep in my heart this is what I had to do.
How do we honor parents when they disagree with our choices?
One of you actually gave me a perfect example a few weeks ago in the church. I was talking with a lady in our church who is a lesbian. She had talked about difficulties relating to her father, wondering how to honor him since he did not agree with who she was as a lesbian woman. Then she began to talk about how she felt out of place in the traditional “gay scene” of gay bars and night clubs. She said “some lesbians I know can hook up for one night stands, but me, I don’t know, I can’t. I just feel sex should between two people who love each other and are committed to each other. It was how I was raised, and I don’t feel a need to change it just because I came out”.
I turned to her and said, “You know what, you shouldn’t abandon that. Saving sex for someone you love and are committed to is right, it is Christian. One’s sexuality is not an excuse for one night stands. That is what the Bible says is right for you, whether you are gay and straight. Settling for a one night stand is settling for less than God’s best. And you know what? Keeping to the good and positive things you have been taught by your parents, even if some things weren’t so good and have to be discarded, actually honors them”.
You see sometimes when we find that there are choices in our life God leads us to – whether to a certain job, to certain relationship, to come out as gay or bisexual, to speak up for a certain cause, or to ministry – that our parents oppose, whatever our age we can begin to throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget that there are good, positive things we have been taught. We can become so busy coming out we forget the good advice about relationships we were given by parents – to not rush in to fast, to wait for the right person, to be faithful and true to who we are with. We can be so busy pursuing our career or calling our parents don’t agree with that we can forget that they modeled being with us as children and that maybe we should not let our disagreements hold us back from being there with them and other family members when they need us.
So I think we honor our parents by living out the good things they taught us even if our choices are not what they would make, and by not allowing our differences to cause us to forget the good they have done.
All of these types of choices involve putting aside what makes you comfortable and doing real work to build a solid foundation for our families. Solid strong families don’t just happen. They take work and focus. And it doesn’t matter if you are a in a traditional two-parent family, a one-parent family, or a family with two mommies or daddies, you can do the work and if you do the work you will build a solid foundation
Now this can make the task ahead of us seem overwhelming. I have known many a person when they realized the ways their own issues made it hard for them to relate the way they wanted to with their spouse or partner say “Why don’t I just throw in the towel? I don’t think I can ever be the person I need to be?” Similarly I have known many a person when they finally had a child say “Look at all the things that have gone wrong in my family growing up. How can I ever learn to be a good parent?” And of course I have heard unconventional families like mixed race couples, single parents, or same-sex couples say “how can we ever get people to look at us and treat us like the loving parents we are?”
This is where the promise of Nehemiah speaks volumes – “Don’t be you afraid of them: remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Ultimately we see obstacles – our own bad upbringings, our failings, our shortcomings, society’s judgment of families like ours – and feel we are fighting alone, an uphill battle for our families. But Nehemiah reminds us in these moments to remember Godi. To remembert that if we invite Him in, our God will fight for us, our God will fight for our families, and our God will give us the strength and wisdom to build our families to last.
This means if you want your family to be solid and strong you have to realize that though you need to work hard, ultimately it will take more than your hard work. It will also take God being in the center. God being included. The Psalms say it well in Psalm 127 – “1 Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” (Psalm 127:1) Unless we invite God into our families as we build them, our homes will not be on a solid foundation.

The arc of history is long but bent toward justice" -- Dr. Martin Luther King. Who will fight for my family? Who will defend it it from discrimination?  God is on the side of the oppressed. God will set right the injustice you face every day when you choose to stand up against it.

The arc of history is long but bent toward justice" -- Dr. Martin Luther King.

Also it is a reminder that ultimately God is the one who will defend our families, even the unconventional ones. Martin Luther King used to say the arc of history is long but bent toward justice. That is true about families that are put down for being inter-racial. That is true about families put down for being single parent. That is true about same-sex families. You may ask “who will fight for my family? Who will defend it?” The God of the Bible is the God on the side of the oppressed, the God who says at the day of judgment “Whatever you have done to the least of these my family, you have done to me”. God will set right the injustice you face every day when you choose to stand up against it. When you do, you can know God stands with you and will fight for you.
In closing I want to end with a song about the need for Christ to be the center of our families, entitled “Two Sets of Joneses”. As you listen to it, search your heart for what changes you need to make in your family and commit before God to work together with Him to keep Him the center of your family and to change things so your family truly represents His loving will.

TWO SETS OF JONESES
This here’s a song about two sets of Jones’
Rothchild, Evelyn, Rueben, and Sue

And just for discussion through random selection
We’ve chosen two couples who haven’t a clue

Rothchild was lucky to marry so wealthy,
Evelyn bought him a house on the beach.

Rueben and Sue, they had nothing but Jesus
And at night they would pray that he would care for them each

Chorus:
And the rain, came down,
And it blew the forewalls down
And the clouds they rolled away
And one set of Jones’, was standing that day

Evelyn’s daddy was proud of young Rothchild,
He worked the late hours to be number one
Just newly weds and their marriage got rocky,
He’s flying to Dallas, she’s having a son.

Rueben was holding, a Giddeon’s Bible,
And he screamed “it’s a boy” so that everyone heard
And the guys at the factory took a collection,
And again God provided for bills he incured

(Chorus)

So what is the point of this story,
What am i trying to say
Well is your life built on the rock of Christ Jesus
Or a sandy foundation you’ve managed to lay

Well needless to say Evelyn left her husband
N’ sued him for every penny he had
But I truly wish that those two would find Jesus
Before things get worse than they already have

(Chorus)

And the rain, came down,
And it blew the forewalls down
And the clouds they rolled away

There’s two sets of jones’
Which ones will you be?

li de di, li de di, li de di, li de di
li de di, li de di, li de di, li de di
li de di. li de di, li de di, li de di di di di

Micah lives in the Sandhills of NC with his wife Katharine and their two dogs, Isaiah and Gabriel. They – Micah and Kat, that is – are working on planting new socially progressive ministries and churches together in the Sandhills area of NC, including Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church for All People in Fayetteville and a Bible study group in Lumberton.


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