We speak here of course of the family in its natural sense, its Biblical sense, its logical sense, as the unit (ideally speaking) of a father, mother, and children, living in relative harmony and happiness. The Bible knows no other family. In his fascinating work The Book that Made Your World (Thomas Nelson, 2011) Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi gives some telling insights as to why Jesus Christ and Christianity alone can save the family. He speaks as a man not only well grounded in Scripture, but also well familiar with the religions of the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East.
Let it be clear: the family is in crisis. And Biblical Christianity alone can save it. No other religion or worldview can. That is why Christians in Africa must think deeply before they would ever follow the decadent contemporary ways of the West, I often tell my students over there.
Why does the family suffer? Why must we put stickers on our cars today here in the West to tell everybody that we are pro-family? Why is there often such open antagonism against so-called “traditional family values” in the West, while almost every decadent value is being championed as liberating and morally good? What lies behind it? Though Mangalwadi does not say it in so many words, my silent observation from reading our culture in the light of his book (and the Bible) is this: modern humanity’s obsession with sex lies at the root of our woes. Our culture is one that mourns the death of a Hugh Hefner (1926-2017), but yawns at the tragic demise of the traditional family.
Mangalwadi opens his chapter entitled “Family” with the story of Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to America in 1831-1832, four decades after the failed French Revolution. This visit led to his timeless classic Democracy in America published in 1835. Tocqueville wrote, “I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans, if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the prosperity and growing power of this nation is, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women”.
Tocqueville continues: “In almost all Protestant nations girls are much more in control of their own behaviour than among Catholic ones…” and later he says “Certainly of all countries in the world, America is the one in which the marriage tie is most respected and where the highest and truest conception of conjugal happiness has been achieved”.
So what is the big deal? It is this: a nation can only be as free as its women and children are. But its women and children can only be happy and free if the crucial Biblical barriers protecting our God-given sexuality, marriage, and family-units are firmly in place and widely honoured.
Jesus’ Teaching against Sinful Lust, Easy Divorce and Polygamy
This is what puts Christianity apart from everything else before it or after it. This is why Jesus’ teaching towers above everyone else’s, yes also above that of Moses and the Old Testament. In the teaching of Jesus (and his apostles) three impenetrable barricades protecting marriage and the family (and consequently society) were firmly established and divinely sanctioned.
The first and most foundational is the prohibition against all sinful lust. “For you have heard that it was said: you shall not commit adultery,” said Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, “but I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.
In condemning sinful lust for the reasons He did, Christ’s teaching is completely unique in the world. This is why. He does not condemn all sexual desire in itself as evil (a la the ancient Gnostics, some mistaken church fathers and one Mahandas Gandhi for instance) but because the body of my neighbor is precious and holy and may never be reduced to some object of my sinful fantasies. Coveting it amounts to idolatry which will destroy my soul. My unrestrained lusting will eventually dishonor my neighbor, his wife (or daughter), my own life and family, bringing God’s displeasure upon me. In fact, unrestrained sinful lust lies at the root of the modern plague of adultery, sexual abuse, pornography, sex trafficking, rape, and incest that is ravaging our world.
Mangalwadi tells us how some forms of Hinduism (and yoga!) are steeped in the most perverse sexual immorality, as the graphic images at some Hindu temples show plainly. Their most popular goddess Khali is depicted as a woman of lust and extreme bloodthirsty violence, and very much resembles the whore of Revelation 17 who makes war on God’s saints. Somewhere in his lectures on yoga, Mangalwadi asks why the West, that has now become so enthralled with this Hindu form of meditation, doesn’t ever look to India to see if yoga has really brought them any good! But from one extreme, Hinduism takes you to another, condemning all sexuality as vile and evil. Mohandas Gandhi relates at length in his autobiography how by the age of 35 he started to pursue brachmacharya, abstaining from all intimate relations with his wife, as the noblest ideal of a wise man.
All of this makes you appreciate God’s Word so much more, for it presents to us human sexuality as a gift from God within marriage, while tirelessly warning us against the fire that will consume us, in this life and the next, if we pursue it beyond its holy boundaries.
The second barricade protecting the family is the prohibition against easy divorce. This too comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It seems certain that many Jews misinterpreted Moses’ ancient ruling to regulate divorce, by taking it as an excuse to send your wife away for almost anything. That is common in Muslim cultures as well today, for by simply repeating three times “talaq” (away!) a Muslim man can send his wife packing in a fit of rage, for very little reason. India itself has been in the news recently for the battle its Muslim women are fighting against this horrible practice that can render a mother of children homeless in a matter of minutes.
In Christ’s day, divorce was seemingly rampant and very easy among the Jews. Hence the question of the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce ones wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19) Our Saviour’s response was as simple as it was sublime. He simply went back to “the beginning”. In doing so He did not simply condemn all divorce (for the royal law still triumphs over everything), but He stood man alone against a cultural tide of easy-divorce eroding women’s rights, God’s glory and the foundations of society.
The third barricade protecting the family is Jesus’ implicit rejection of polygamy. “Have you not heard, in the beginning He made them male and female? Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19). Not the example of Abraham, Jacob, or David but of Adam and Eve in the garden shall be your pattern. Mangwaldi shows abundantly clear how polygamy downgrades all women, even though it is so commonplace among all societies from ancient times.
Mangalwadi tells a story from Mohammed’s life illustrating his point. A Muslim is allowed no more than four wives at a time. The prophet however had received revelations allowing him as many as thirteen! To prevent jealousy he spent one night with each of them in turn. One day it was his wife Hafsa’s turn, but she was away visiting her father. She returned home unexpectedly only to find Mohammed in the arms of Mary, his Coptic concubine. Hafsa reproached him bitterly and threatened to tell his harem. Mohammed promised to stay away from Mary, but Hafsa nonetheless went and talked with Aisha, who also despised the Coptic girl. The scandal spread and Mohammed found himself ostracized from his own harem. But then he received another revelation – Sura 66.15 – absolving him from keeping his promise to stay away from the attractive maid. The revelation required that he disciplines his wives and that they submit to him. Needless to add, the prophet promptly obeyed the angel’s word. The wives were terrified and fell in line. Aisha’s father, Abu Bakr, pleaded with him, to forgive the foolish wives and Aisha herself observed yet again how quickly Mohammed’s prayers were always answered!
Mangalwadi also shows how many efforts failed to introduce monogamy in India and how scared the British rulers were to challenge it. Even India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, deeply convinced of how polygamy degrades women, failed in his efforts to pass it into law during his tenure.
Why Women Flocked to the Early Church
Add to these three holy barriers the apostolic command to love one’s wife as Christ loved his church (Ephesians 5), or the prophetic refrain echoed by James that to care for the widows and the orphans is the true sign of genuine religion (going beyond mere talking). Add to it also Early Christianity’s resistance to give young girls into marriage against their will, as well as its stand against all abortion and infanticide, and its no wonder why women flocked to the church in great numbers during the first three centuries.
Remember, widows of old had no future in this world, from the Nordic regions of the Vikings to the tropic villages of India. When their husbands passed away, they often had to follow on the burning pyre, for widows were seen as a liability. But in the church of Jesus they heard, “we will always be cared for”. The church in Rome somewhere around 200 AD at one time cared for more than 160 widows! And never mind how much Roman society liked to normalize homosexuality, the fledgling Messianic Christian community all around the Eastern Mediterranean said: “No, whoever lives in whatever sin of sexual immorality, will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (see I Cor. 6). The good news is though, that the blood and Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ are perfectly able to save and cleanse us from any sin! In fact, the church in Corinth had many such folks in their midst, whose lives had been turned around by grace.
How exceedingly blessed are the women and children who lived in times or places where the three barriers against sinful lust, easy divorce and polygamy were firmly established in the heart of their societies! For sadly, one after the other these barriers have been demolished around us. How many among us are aware, that a crucial UN resolution for protecting the traditional family was passed in Geneva in 2015, thanks to the backing – not of countries like Canada, Germany or the UK – but of China and Russia and others in Africa and the Middle East. Oh how have the mighty fallen! How have the tables been turned!
Just look at what is happening where those barricades have been removed. Traditional marriage is viewed as a slave cage; domestic violence is on the rise; legalizing polygamy is around the corner, porn is sucking billions into a black hole; divorce has seldom been easier (even though its consequences are ever so hard), sexual abuse at the work place is in the news every day, etc. Our women and children are in grave danger, for they are anything but free, and our men even more so. How many men have not lost their calling to lead with gentleness, to protect the innocent, and to live with moral integrity? Our society has never been more enslaved, as it is “slouching towards Gomorrah”, as Judge Robert Bork of the US once wrote in the nineties.
Let us also not forget that sexually obsessed societies over time become less creative and less productive. A BBC article some ten years ago showed how that taking boys away from girls in their skimpy clothing, will make them perform better in the classroom! Yes, in the end, everything suffers, even the arts and the economy, when decadent values rule, and the church won’t escape the impact either. So it seems that on the eve of His return, Jesus Christ’s teaching is proven right on every count. Marriage and the family, and the wellbeing of our society, will only be safe in His Father’s righteous hands.