2007-10-14

Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (8): contradictions

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from one Marlene Winell‘s Leaving the Fold. Although Family Background is the focus of this series of blog notes it is only one of 15 chapters in this book. Previous posts are archived here.

Contradictions

Consider the spiritual family model upheld by many Christian fundamentalists:

  • God is the Father
  • Jesus is the Son
  • The Church is the Bride
  • Christians are the children of the Father, and see themselves as brothers and sisters

Winell is not the only one to find it curious, even disturbing, that there is no Mother in this model.

Winnell points to the disconnect between the ideal happy nurturing spiritual family of the above model and reality of believers’ day to day families. While one might expect the ideal model to be an inspiration for real families to emulate, this is not the rule. Rather, what appears to be happening is that the model is so perfect, so ideal and at the same time so much more “real” than any earthly relationship, that one can overlook (even see as a distraction or obstacle) responsibilities towards one’s natural family.

“Thus it becomes possible to excuse, even justify, much hypocrisy. The family can be non-nurturing and even abusive, because the human family is not the one that really counts. Indeed, continuing family dysfunctions merely reinforce teachings about original sin and human depravity” (p.124, my emphasis).

Children do see the contradiction, however. And they suffer the damage.

My comments follow (not Winell’s):

Comment 1: The Bible speaks of the Bride as currently making itself ready for the wedding, to be without spot and blemish. Among the fundamentalism of my experience this gave licence to portray the believers as the only imperfect members, the spots and blemishes, of the sacred trio. The implication was that we were the impurities and it was therefore our sinfulness that was in part responsible for the delay in the return of Jesus. This combination of our natural sinfulness and our urgent need to become perfect obviously puts unhealthy pressures on those trying to get through life, pressures that can only be aggravated in a close family context.

Comment 2: I sometimes wonder if the model of the Bride, the woman, being the one who is required to remove every spot and blemish for the already perfect master — and the Bible does command the wife to submit to her husband as to Jesus Christ — reinforces an unhealthy one-sided expectation among men about the purpose and role of women. Their job is to be man’s help, to be perfect and beautiful for them.

Comment 3: Many fundamentalist churches at least promote themselves as being family-oriented. And many indeed are. But their family orientation is always subsumed beneath the priority of the “spiritual family”. The pressures this places on members who are attempting to fulfil too many goals and other priorities makes human family life, not to mention fulfilment of needs of all involved, barely workable in many cases.

Comment 4: The Mother does get a look in, however, in some quarters. Some do like to extend this model so that the Church is also the Mother. Given that the Church is also the Bride waiting to be “married” to Jesus at his “Second Coming”, the logic of this would mean that her children today (Christians) are in fact illegitimate, bastards. But given that their Father then is also the Father of the Husband, . . . well, let’s not go down the path of attempting to understand such incestuous mysteries . . . .

Comment 5: The closest one branch of the Church gets to including a Mother is to exalt an “immaculate virgin” to that role. This of course points to a whole other problematic area of Christianity. . . .

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Neil Godfrey

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