Family Structure -- By: Eugene S. Gibbs

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 36:0 (NA 2004)
Article: Family Structure
Author: Eugene S. Gibbs

Family Structure

Eugene S. Gibbs

Eugene Gibbs (Ed.D., University of the Pacific) is Professor of Christian Education at ATS.

Many Evangelical Christians have become champions of what they call the “traditional,” or “biblical,” or even “natural” family. They take this to mean a husband, a wife, and 2.1 children: a nuclear family. James Davidson Hunter believes it has become for them “…a symbol of stability and traditional moral virtue”(quoted in Clapp 1993, 10). These virtues are especially found in the ideal of lifelong faithful monogamy, bread-winning fathers, stay-at-home-with-children mothers, no premarital sex, and heterosexuality. Tim LaHaye in Battle for the Family, James Dobson and Gary Bauer in Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids, and Pat Robertson in a chapter in The New Millennium entitled “The Assault on the Family” all project the nuclear family, along with U.S.-style capitalism, as the biblical model for Christian families and also as the foundation of historic America (cited in Clapp 1993, 10). Evangelist James Robison relates faith and nuclear family to the “American way of life” (quoted in Clapp 1993, 11).

While many Christians might support some of these ideals as virtues, in fact the nuclear family as we know it, in the main is a product of Germanic westward invasions between the 6th and 9th centuries that broke up the Roman household (familia) into more independent peasant agriculture as a basic unit of economic production (Brundage 1987).

During the period of feudalism the households of the nobility grew to great size, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. They included relatives, allies, and servants. Also a wife might have six to eight children (Bresc 1996). Even peasant marriages took place only after much deliberation by the feudal lords, as the household was the major unit of economic production. The heads of household of both the prospective husband and wife had to determine what the new alliance between the two kinship groups brought about by the marriage would bring for the advancement of both (Fosssier 1996).

By the twelfth century often only one son was allowed to marry and carry on a noble lineage (Quale 1988). Children were perceived to belong to that lineage rather than to the mother. The kinship group grew in importance and independently arranged marriages were discouraged (de La Ronciere 1988).

With the colonization of North America the extended or augmented household became the norm. This started with a nuclear family, but expanded to

meet the needs of the community. What we might call “famili...

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