Christians who have adopted the slogan "family first" as a euphemism for biblical morality might be surprised to see how frequently the Bible puts family second.
Look, for example, at chapter 8 of Luke, when Jesus' mother and brothers, thinking he is out of his mind, ask to see him. Jesus replies, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."
Look at Luke 9, when a man says, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me look back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replies, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Look at Luke 11, when a woman cries out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." Jesus replies, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
What's going on here? Is Jesus dissing his mom? Clearly not: Christ was without sin. But he was also without the sin of yearning for the favor of others--even parents--who cheer what is not godly.
Parents are our first applauders. As children, we desperately yearn for their approbation, and to some extent that sticks with us for life. Jesus is not only our elder brother in rising from the dead, but in showing us how to place God's kind words (well done, good and faithful servant) above even those of our parents, and certainly above those social arbiters who may decide that we are hopelessly dorky.
The willingness to forgo applause from society's trendsetters distinguishes tough Christians from the Mr. Pliables of the world. That independent spirit also seems to characterize Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia; to their credit, they do not seem to care how they are treated in The Washington Post.
Pressures to flip come daily. A Christian student taking a test or writing a term paper to be read by an adversarial professor has to count the cost of being on the Lord's side: I may be graded down. A Christian humanities or social sciences professor writing an article has to count the cost: If I am a fool for Christ, my colleagues will consider me just a fool. A Christian talking to her non-Christian parent has to count the cost: If I talk about Jesus, my mom will think I'm weird.
None of this is to say that we should be personally obnoxious: Whether we are presenting the gospel or a Bible-based political position, we should search out points of contact. Furthermore, we should be prepared to meet and talk with all kinds of people, just as Jesus ate with and taught all kinds.
But, when crunch time comes, as it always does, we must not shrink from asking ourselves, whose applause do I covet? Do I desperately want to become a member of a certain club? If necessary, we need to give up first parental applause, and then the prizes offered by those who place other gods before God.
Garrison Keillor recently contrasted Minneapolis, which he says wants to be hip, with its twin city St. Paul, apparently content to be square. Mr. Keillor wrote that "Minneapolis, not St. Paul, is a mecca for performance artists, people who can't sing or dance or write or act but who can crawl through a pile of truck tires wearing a shower curtain.... Minneapolitans lean forward and watch them, perspiring, afraid that some subtlety may escape them. St. Paulites look at each other and say, 'Whose idea was this?'"
As I look at new Bible translations that appear to give in to feminist pressures, I ask, "Whose idea was this?" And I think of how the original St. Paul gave a hip performance for a while in Acts 17, impressing the elite of Athens. But then--inexplicably, by worldly standards--he blew it by talking about the resurrection of the dead. Several Athenians did come to believe, but Paul gave up his opportunity to win broad Areopagus acclaim.
Every Christian intellectual, every Christian journalist, every Christian Bible translator these days, faces that same temptation: Do I become (within the Keillor framework) a Minneapolitan, or do I stick with St. Paul?