Family. This one word evokes a particular meaning to the reader, doesn’t it? Something specific. Something defined. Something wholesome, perhaps? A television show is “family oriented” or an activity is “family friendly.” What does it mean to you? The lines surrounding the definition are not rigid, and they are becoming increasingly fluid. A traditional, nuclear, family is not what we once pictured it as. Roles are changing rapidly around us, and if we, as ministers of the Gospel, are to preach the love of Jesus without discrimination, what does that mean and how does that look?
Sure, we are all know that “society is different” and “times they are a-changin’!” – but when things affect you personally, you become all-too aware of where there are lags in our ministry and motivation.
I love my family. I am daddy’s girl, I look up to my mom, and my siblings have morphed into dear friends. Growing up, we were the picture of ‘traditional.’ Everything normal, everything happy. In recent years and months, and even as I type, I am suddenly confronted with the idea that normal is changing, and happiness isn’t the be all and end all. What is? Love. Love for God and love for others. Love for our family, however that might look.
Ten years ago (even five, really), I wouldn’t have been able to define “polyamorous triad,” and if I did know what it meant, I would have never expected it to be a part of my lexicon, not to mention my family story. Never would mentions of divorce and infidelity ever come into mind as being in the realm of possibility. But you know what? Life happens. People change, people grow; and as they grow and change so does our understanding. I cannot stop loving my loved ones. I continue to strive to love as Jesus loves, despite bumps along the way. How can I not? As an officer, an ordained minister, it’s my calling to share in Jesus’ love. I have no room to judge or condemn. Until you experience something yourself, you never know how you will react.
All of that isn’t to say, “hey look at my family, aren’t we a bunch of kooks!,” rather, it is to show that even circumstances thought to be so static and just right “as is” do change and while they change I cannot sit by on the sidelines wondering what to do and letting life pass by. Should I change with it?
Yes. And no.
As I write this, I am supposed to be writing my sermon for Mother’s Day. I was finding verses on being Children of God and what it means to be in His family. 1 John 3:1 reads, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Later in 1 John, we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands” (1 John 5:2). And what are God’s commands? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
I’m pretty sure changing the Greatest Commandment isn’t a good idea. Likewise, I shouldn’t seek to change the Gospel just because it might not gel with someone else’s belief system. But I CAN change my approach. I can change the borders of my understanding as the borders of family continue to change. This won’t be easy. Some might see loving others as endorsement or acceptance of lifestyles contrary to what we see as the Biblical standard. No one is saying we need to water down the message, and loving others doesn’t compromise our own beliefs and doctrine. We need to look head on at the world around us, literally right beside us. The growing definition of what family means WILL affect you and your ministry if it hasn’t already. So the question is: what are we going to do about?
Tell you what, let’s start with love. I can’t tell you HOW to love and how your ministry to your immediate family, your family of origin, your adopted family, your corps family…(you get the idea) is going to look and how it will work. Most likely, steps made today will have to change sometime in the future. This is fluid. Don’t be scared, rather, see this as a challenge – the good kind. A challenge of loving God and carrying out His commands as best we can. We will make mistakes, I know I have. Ah, but remember, if we are jumping headfirst into love and loving others, this also means we are jumping headfirst into forgiveness and grace. Take my hand; let’s dive together!
(Captain Marianneke (Anney) Summerifeld is the Corps Officer of the Burbank Corps in California.)