Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The biblical definition of the family unit

Up til now I've found this whole Chick-fil-A thing unworthy of comment.  But yesterday I heard a fleeting mention of the story on the radio, in which Dan Cathy's quote was repeated again. You know, the quote about how they "are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit."

The problem is, I grew up in one of those fundamentalist churches where you really read the Bible a lot. From front to back, over and over again. And for the life of me, I don't know what to make of this phrase. Is there a single coherent biblical definition of marriage or the family? There are so many different families that take so many different shapes in the Bible.  At times the family members do shocking things to each other, and they rarely seem to suffer any consequences for this. Thinking over just a few of the examples, I'm at a loss for what the biblical family unit looks like, but here are some possibilities:

Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac
Genesis 16:  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will [a]obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had [b]lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived...
Genesis 21:  And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac....And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child (Ishmael) under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept...
 Judah, Er, Onan, and Tamar
Genesis 38: ...And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.
And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
King Solomon
1 Kings 11: ... But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites. Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines...
And then, of course, there's Lot's traditional Biblical family...

Which of these, exactly, is Dan Cathy supporting? It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?


  1. It does make you wonder whether these types have ever actually read the bible.

  2. Anonymous8/09/2012

    And then there's the 7 wives to every husband verse in Isaiah that was used by the mormons to justify their practices.

  3. happyathiest8/10/2012

    The problem is, you're approaching this from a rational, logical position, but that's not what's going on with Cathy and his peers. Of course their view of "traditional marriage" doesn't actually originate in the Bible. They're already clinging to this cultural contruct when the discussion begins, and then they want to find a more authoritative backing for it so it doesn't just sound like what it really is - a personal, emotional preference.

  4. Wow, the story of Judah and Tamar is really something.

  5. Anonymous8/13/2012

    These make for fantastic stories, but not what the socially conservative types have in mind, really.

    I always think it's weird to read through the Bible with kids, because some of this stuff would undoubtedly be R-rated if it was a new narrative that someone just made up in contemporary times.

    1. I know! I remember occasionally thinking it was amazing that the adults in my life would tell me these stories where people were treating each other in horrible ways, while I was personally surrounded by the rhetoric of kindness and compassion. Mixed with the judgmental rhetoric of hellfire and damnation for everyone who didn't believe exactly what we believed, of course.

      I have a couple of kids Bibles that are pretty innocuous and sterilized. I should look through and see how they handle these stories.

  6. He must have been referring to the New Testament - at least this is the usual defence when someone has the nerve to employ critical thinking to scrutinize and question Old Testament horror stories. Pick and choose the parts that suit your indoctrinated opinion and either close your eyes to blatant contradiction and fallacy, or minimize those inconsistencies into supposed meaninglessness. These movements that are fueled by hate and fear are the true defilers of humanity and any notion of God. It is sickening, but sites like The Feminist Agenda give us hope. :-)

    Lala musings: Chick-Fil-A: An American Mecca