The family is under serious threat today and we need to address this.
The biblical teaching
The Bible is quite clear in its teaching about the family:
God created humanity male and female
“God created man in his own image … male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Our society often focuses on people with a homosexual or bi-sexual orientation but, according to Scripture, these orientations are divergences from God’s intention. Obviously, we are called to love our homosexual or bi-sexual neighbour as much as our heterosexual neighbour. There is no excuse for doing otherwise, whatever emotional reactions we may experience. We must show compassion. But loving our neighbour does not mean accepting his/her sexual orientation as normal or approving of his/her behaviour. The Bible clearly teaches that God intended humanity to be male and female and the Genesis passages teach:
- It is not ideal for a man to be solitary.
- The best companion is a woman.
- Woman can also be his sexual partner with whom he can form a new family unit and, if possible, reproduce.
God intended heterosexual marriage
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The term ‘marriage, is not used at this early stage but it is clear that God intended the couple to form a new, stable family unit. Jesus quotes this in Matt 19:4-6. Nowhere does the Bible (Old Testament or New Testament) contemplate an approval of homosexual behaviour or marriage. Some people try to argue that the Bible only condemns homosexual promiscuity etc., but would accept a loving, faithful homosexual (sexually active) relationship. See Homosexuality and the church.pdf pages 5 and 7 on my website which shows this is not the case.
The reasons God intended heterosexual marriage include the following:
A heterosexual marriage brings the benefit of sexual complementarity
Genesis uses metaphorical descriptions but they are conveying important principles (just as Jesus did in his parables). Having created a male human, God says: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Man in isolation is not ideal. Genesis goes on to indicate that the only adequate partner for a man is a woman, not another man. (The same can be said for a woman. Woman in isolation is not ideal. Genesis indicates that the only adequate partner for a woman is a man, not another woman.). Obviously, same-sex companionship can be a deep relationship. But Genesis speaks of a search being made for a complementary partner and the only adequate partner is someone of the opposite sex. (Obviously someone with a homosexual orientation will not find fulfilment with a person of the opposite sex, which is a serious problem for them. However, although we must be compassionate, we have to face the fact that everyone has to practice self-control and self-denial in the area of sex, e.g. before finding the right partner in marriage or for couples where health problems make sexual relationships impossible. And, of course, significant numbers of heterosexuals remain single).
We might legitimately add that children need the benefits of sexual complementarity in their parents. One aspect of the family is educating children and they need to be educated in the differences between male and female. For this they need both a male and a female role model. Many single parents (divorced or otherwise) do an excellent job of providing parenthood but this does not alter the fact that children are missing out on the benefits of complementarity in parents. The current sexual revolution has not yet lasted long enough for psychological studies on the effects on children and grandchildren to show up all the damage contemporary society is inflicting on the young.
- A heterosexual marriage provides for reproduction
Having created male and female humans, “God blessed them and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen 1:28). God intends reproduction to be very important, where physically possible, in marriage because it guarantees the survival and growth of the human race. Same-sex couples may have children (by adoption, genetic donation, etc.,) but these children miss out on the benefits of sexual complementarity in parents.
God intended marriage to be regulated by society
The Old Testament law regulates marriage and divorce. The law restricts whom a man can have sexual relations with or marry (Lev 18:6-18; 20:11-12, 14, 17:19-21; Deut 22:30) and to whom he can will his property (Deut 21:15-17). If a man falsely accuses his wife of sexual immorality he is not allowed ever to divorce her (Deut 22:13-19). Adultery is forbidden (Ex 20:14). If a man commits adultery he must be punished (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). If a man marries a second wife he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights (Ex 21:10). When a man dies his brother in law must marry his widow and this responsibility is governed by the elders of the town (Deut 25:5-10).
Jesus places restrictions on divorce, as does St Paul (Mt 5:32; 19:3-9; 1 Cor 7:10-15). So clearly God intended marriage to be regulated by society and not to be a purely private decision.
- God intended children to be brought up in the family
This is clear throughout Scripture but is particularly so in the 5th commandment: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). This is not to say that the nuclear family of two parents and children is the only pattern in the Old Testament. Often there was an extended family. There was also polygamy in the Old Testament but this was disapproved of in New Testament times. Always, however, the family was based on heterosexual marriage.
The universality of the family
It is easy to speak of the family being a universal norm but it is not quite as simple as that, especially nowadays. As we mentioned there are extended families as well as nuclear families. There are other variations in certain cultures. Then, of course, there are single-parent and, more recently, same sex households.
Professor G P Murdock surveyed the family in 250 different cultures in 1949 and concluded that the nuclear (or extended) family was definitely universal. He defined the family as “A social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children, own or adopted, of the socially cohabiting adults.”
However some dispute Murdock’s view, referring, for example, to the Israeli kibbutz movement. A kibbutz is “a voluntary democratic community where people live and work together on a non-competitive basis.” Others point out that, whereas the kibbutz has taken over some family roles e.g. education, the family still functions, protecting the children in the early stages of socialisation. Another exception is said to be the Nayar people in Kerala, India. They had extended families (based on the female line) which are run by the oldest male. Some have doubted the accuracy of this historical information.
Others point out that the typical family before the modern era was not the intimate, caring family many have imagined. Before the industrial revolution children in poorer families joined in the family trade. After the industrial revolution children as young as 6 or 7 worked in factories or coal mines. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the nuclear (or extended) family was the norm.
In fact some claim that the industrial revolution encouraged the nuclear family. As work became available in cities parents moved, leaving behind the wider family.
Since the 1970s the nuclear family has reduced by one third and other family models (such as single parent families) have increased threefold. Nevertheless the nuclear family is still very significantly present in British society.
The functions of the family
It is the context for procreation
It is obvious from Scripture, physiology and common sense that God intended marriage to be heterosexual in order to create the family. Arguments to the contrary, however popular, are special pleading.
The nuclear family provides the context for a stable, committed and permanent heterosexual relationship between an individual couple. If individuals are involved in temporary sexual relationships these relationships are inevitably comparatively shallow emotionally. Hence the depth of a loving commitment possible in heterosexual marriage is important for the production and raising of children.
It is a “cradle of love.”
The Roman Catholic Church has stated: “The human being is made for love and cannot live without love.” This requires a small circle of intimate associates. Only the family can provide this love, the wider community would be unable to do so. It means that “Each person is recognized, accepted and respected.”
It provides male and female role models
It is important that children experience these roles in the intimate setting of the family. The father-child relationship differs from the mother-child relationship. They complement one another and are important for the children to experience.
Ecologist Edward Goldsmith wrote: “There are a number of different family bonds, such as those that hold together a father with his daughter, a mother with her son, a mother with her daughter, a man with his younger brother, a girl with her younger sister, a brother with his sister. These bonds are all different and also asymmetrical. The relationship of a father to his daughter, for instance, is very different from that of a daughter to her father. The relationship of a father to his children differs even more noticeably from the mother’s relationship with her children.
It is important that children experience these complementary roles and learn from them. It will ensure they are better adjusted to life in the community. G.P. Murdock commented that adults gain fulfilment both from these heterosexual relationships and as a result of the strong emotional bonds with their children which are sustained most easily in the nuclear family. These strong emotional bonds are conducive to the efficient socialisation of the children.
The Roman Catholic Church comments: “Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the good of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” It adds that in homosexual relationships there is an “absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female willed by the Creator at both the physical-biological and the eminently psychological levels. It is only in the union of two sexually different persons that the individual can achieve perfection in a synthesis of unity and mutual psychophysical completion”
Linda J. Waite (Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago) writes that children raised by their own married biological parents experience less poverty, less drug and alcohol use and less crime and delinquency; they gain more education; they are more likely to marry; and they have better mental health compared with children from other family arrangements. They provide the best environment for raising children.
It provides security
This is not just physical provision and security (food, clothing, shelter) but psychological security. This allows children to develop their personalities in safety. The family is also an economic unit which ensures that the members are protected financially.
It forms the basis of society
Edward Goldsmith wrote: “The family … is the universal basis of all human societies and social structures.” Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski wrote that the typical family, a group consisting of mother, father and their progeny is found in all communities.
The Roman Catholic Church stated: “The first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.”
Reasons why the family is the basis of society
It is the basic unit of social behaviour
It trains children in social attitudes, avoiding excessive individualism. As the Roman Catholic Church puts it, the family is “the first and irreplaceable school of social life, and example and stimulus for the broader community relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love.”
It is the prime teacher of moral, spiritual and social values
As the Catholic Church puts it, “The family, in fact, constitutes ‘a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society’. By exercising its mission to educate, the family contributes to the common good and constitutes the first school of social virtue, which all societies need. In the family, persons are helped to grow in freedom and responsibility, indispensable prerequisites for any function in society. With education, certain fundamental values are communicated and assimilated … As well as being a source, the parents’ love is also the animating principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruit of love” The child learns about love, cooperation, toleration, sacrifice, obedience and discipline in the family. These qualities enable him to grow into a good citizen.
It has to be acknowledged that many married couples fall short of providing a good example to children. But the failures of or within marriage do not invalidate the basic principle.
Professor Talcott Parsons (who was Professor of Sociology at Harvard) wrote of ‘basic and irreducible functions’ of the family:
- The ‘primary socialization of children’
This takes place largely in the family in early childhood. It involves ‘the internalization of society’s culture’ i.e. social values being absorbed and accepted by the child and ‘the structuring of the personality’ i.e. the culture of society becoming part of the child’s personality. He added that ‘if culture were not internalized – that is, absorbed and accepted – society would cease to exist, since without shared norms and values social life would not be possible.’
- The ‘secondary socialization of children’
This takes place when the child is older and the family is less involved. There is increasing influence from the child’s school and peer group.
- The ‘stabilization of the adult personalities of the population of the society’.
When the primary and secondary socialization of children has taken place in the family, it needs to be kept stable in adult life. The emphasis is on the marriage relationship and the emotional security this can provide. So, again, the family is crucial. Parsons added: “This function is particularly important in Western industrial society, since the nuclear family is largely isolated from kin. It does not have the security once provided by the close-knit extended family. Thus the married couple increasingly look to each other for emotional support.”
The family, based on heterosexual marriage, is fundamentally important. This is clearly taught in Scripture but it is also confirmed by logical examination. It regulates procreation, avoiding the chaos and damage of ‘free love.’ It provides a stable, loving secure environment for children (and also for adults). It affords children male and female role models. It is crucial to society as the primary context in which children can learn moral, social and spiritual values.
However, there is today an increasing attack on (heterosexual) marriage and the family which needs to be seen as leading to a very serious undermining of society and which will do enormous damage if left unchecked. I examine this in my next paper “Attack on marriage and the family.”
 G.P.Murdock, Social Structure (1949), New York: Free Press.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 223
 Ibid 221
 George Peter Murdock, Social Structure, The Free Press, New York 1965, quoted by Goldsmith.
 G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 224
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 504
 Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (2000).
 The Ecologist, Vol. 6 No. 1 and Vol. 6 No. 2, 1976.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 467.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 493
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 238-239