Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hauerwas on Marriage, Singleness, and the Church as First Family

It's been a bit since I posted anything on singleness, and so I want to post something new. This passage from theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas discusses the primacy of the church as the family of the believer, and how that shapes our notions of singleness and marriage. I like this passage because it not only gives a theological perspective on how the church validates both singleness and marriage, but it shows how the existence and meaning of the church redefines and transcends privatized and exclusive notions of family life. This stands in stark contrast to so much of the glorification of the privatized nuclear family in certain evangelical circles. The church is truly an inclusive community that offers God's hospitality to all and welcomes the stranger into its midst. The passage is taken from "The Hauerwas Reader," a compendium of Hauerwas's writings.

We, as church, are ready to be challenged by the other. This has to do with the fact that in the church, every adult, whether single or married, is called to be a parent. All Christian adults have parental responsibility because of baptism. Biology does not make parents in the church. Baptism does. Baptism makes all adult Christians parents and gives them the obligation to help introduce these children to the gospel. Listen to the baptismal vows; in them the whole church promises to be parent. The minister addresses the church with these words:

"Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include [those being baptized] now before you in your care?

With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.

We will surround [those being baptized] with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their services to others.

We will pray for [those being baptized], that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life."

With these vows the church reinvents the family.

From the beginning we Christians have made singleness as valid a way of life as marriage. What it means to be the church is to be a group of people called out of the world, and back into the world, to embody the hope of the Kingdom of God. Children are not necessary for the growth of the Kingdom, because the church can call the stranger into her midst. That makes both singleness and marriage possible vocations. If everybody has to marry, then marriage is a terrible burden. But the church does not believe that everybody has to marry. Even so, those who do not marry are parents within the church, because the church is now the true family. The church is a family into which children are brought and received. It is only within that context that it makes sense for the church to say, "We are always ready to receive children. We are always ready to receive children." The people of God know no enemy when it comes to children. (pgs. 612-613) (Emphasis in two sentences of last paragraph mine. Emphasis of the word always Hauerwas's.)