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Family Ministry: Not Just for ‘Traditional’ Families Anymore (Does such a thing even exist?)

This blog series, Family Ministry: Not Just for the Christian Right Anymore, explores how family-based faith formation ministry will help progressive Christian values take root first in homes and then throughout our communities and the world in order to spread justice and peace.

C’mon. Admit it. You were laughing at yourselves as you squirmed in your seat when you read the phrase “family ministry” in my blog last week. No need to feel any shame about it.

Family ministry has gotten a terrible, hateful rep in recent decades when a number of politically conservative Christian groups thrust their anti-LGBT, anti-abortion rights protest signs in the air, capturing the attention of the media and certain political circles in the 1980s and 1990s. Between the media stunts of James Dobsons’ Focus on the Family and its reasearch/policy/advocacy arm, the Family Research Council, and the money that pours into local and national political campaigns through the American Family Association, or the even more hateful protest of Fred Phelps at the Matthew Shepherd funeral and subsequent trials, you could see why people with more liberal leaning politics and progressive Christian theology would cringe and run for the hills (and out of the church) when they hear the phrase “family ministry.”

If you’re brave enough to take a look at the Focus on the Family website (as I did to research this blog), progressive or liberal-leaning folks may not be as initially offended as you might think. I could get behind their motto — “Helping Families Thrive.” I’m OK with strengthening marriage and parenting skills. I’m just fine with practicing faith in the home. In fact, that’s what I DO — train churches and families to practice faith in the home — as a coach, consultant and trainer.

Where I part ways with FOF and similar organizations is with our definition of family. As I said in my first blog post in this series, I don’t care one bit what your family looks like. If you’re a same-gender couple raising adopted children, you’re a family. If you’re a young, single person building “framily” for the first time after college, you’re a family. If you’re a grandparent raising grandchildren, you’re a family. If you’re a single person opening your home to foster children, you’re a family. If your family lives hundreds of miles away and your only contact is through Skype, you’re still a family.

Living into a ministry that welcomes families of all varieties takes bold, radical steps that I think Jesus would be proud of. If the progressive church supports and strengthens ALL families, especially the ones who have been denigrated for falling outside the realm of the narrowly defined ‘traditional’ family model, then those families will feel the unsurpassed love and grace of God that Jesus espouses. The Gospels simply do not describe few, if any interactions with his biological family (except occasionally with his mother, Mary.) The rag-tag bunch of followers he chooses really become his family who eat, sleep, walk and learn about Jesus’ new way to live and love together. Jesus welcomes all to his family, especially the sinners, who are the most willing to joyfully spread this message of grace and love for all to hear.

Maybe we can do the same? Offer so much love and grace to families who are put down simply for being who they are, that they become a welcoming, joyful presence in their communities. Maybe there would be more homes open to unaccompanied immigrant children who have fled for safety and sanctuary at the U.S. borders? Could that mean that more ‘regular’ church folks welcome people who live on the streets with no expectation of fancy dress on Sunday morning? Would some Christian youth step out of comfortable cliques to form a Gay-Straight Alliances at school so that LGBT youth have safe space to learn?

If THAT is the result of robust family ministry in progressive churches, then we HAVE learned something about following Jesus. Sign me up for family ministry!

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