We hear a lot these days about family values. The Christian right has made this such an issue that political candidates have been conditioned to believe that mentioning family values frequently in their campaign speeches is an easy way to score points with voters. Of course, if a candidate also associates "family values" with the so-called biblical principles on which our country was founded, he is certain to score even more points with the Christian right. It has become a cheap way to get votes.
The duplicity of this political tactic is twofold: (1) our country was not founded on "biblical principles," and (2) the "family values" found in the Bible are completely contrary to what the religious right supposedly stands for. One has only to read unbiased histories of the Revolutionary War period to learn that the so-called founding fathers of our country were steeply entrenched in Deistic philosophy and even in some cases openly hostile to Christianity, and if some of those in Christian fundamentalist groups would just dust off their Bibles and actually read them for a change, they might be horrified at the type of "family values" they would encounter on the pages of their inspired word of God.
Let's take the family of Abraham as an example. This man was considered to be the father of all the faithful (Rom. 4:16-17), and both he and his wife Sarah were listed among the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:8-12. So how did they measure up in terms of the type of family values that the Christian right claims to stand for? Not very well, it seems. In Genesis 16, we learn that Abraham and Sarah after struggling with the problem of Sarah's infertility solved it by having Abraham impregnate Sarah's handmaiden Hagar (vs:2-4). As a result, Hagar gave birth to Abraham's first son, Ishmael (v:15).
Now let's suppose that the religious right should learn that a political candidate whose wife was infertile had impregnated his wife's maid in order to have children. Would such a man be considered worthy of endorsement by the Christian Coalition? If news of his private life became public knowledge, it would probably end his public career, but a biblical character who did this very thing has been lauded for thousands of years as a great hero of faith. Go figure.
It gets even worse. After Hagar became pregnant, she despised Sarah for having given her to Abraham, so this caused friction in the family. When Sarah complained to Abraham, he said, "Your maid is in your hand; do with her as you please" (v:6). Say what! A man impregnated a servant and then told his wife to do with her whatever the wife wanted. How's that for family values?
What Sarah pleased to do was deal with Hagar so harshly that Hagar finally fled from Sarah's presence (v:8). In the wilderness that she had fled into, Hagar encountered Yahweh (as people routinely did in those days), and he advised her to return to Sarah and submit to her (v:9). In other words, Yahweh's advice was for Hagar to go home and eat dirt. It's called "family values."
After Sarah had borne her own son Isaac, the conflict between Hagar and her intensified, and Sarah asked Abraham to "cast out the handmaiden and her son" (Gen. 21:10). To Abraham's credit the request grieved him "because of his son" (v:11), but apparently Yahweh wasn't so easily distressed. He told Abraham to listen to whatever Sarah had said to him (v:12), and so Abraham rose early the next morning, gave bread and a bottle of water to Hagar, and sent her and the boy away (v:14). Another triumph for family values, biblical style!
Now let's imagine this story in a modern setting (if it is at all possible to do so). Our hypothetical political candidate (a champion of family values, of course) after impregnating his wife's maid, advises his wife to deal with her jealousy in whatever way she wishes, and so the wife treats the maid in such a way that she runs away and puts herself into a situation that endangers both her and her unborn child. Then when the maid returns home submissively and finally gives birth to her baby, the wife orders her husband to throw the maid and her child out to survive the best way they can. Such a scenario would reduce some of the complaints that the Christian right makes about the morality of Bill and Hillary Clinton to mere trivialities.
If their treatment of Hagar and Ishmael had been the only flaw in the moral character of Abraham and Sarah, we could overlook it. After all, no one is perfect. The biblical saga of Abraham and Sarah, however, indicates other flaws in their character that can hardly be considered "family values" that civilized people would want to emulate. Genesis 12:10-20 records a famine in the land that forced Abraham and Sarah to go into Egypt. Sarah, it seems, was such a raving beauty that Abraham feared the Egyptians would kill him in order to get her, so a plan was devised. He asked Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was his sister so that his life would not be in jeopardy while they were in Egypt (v:13). This was apparently what they told the Egyptians, and, sure enough, Sarah's beauty was immediately recognized. The princes of Egypt commended her to Pharaoh, who took her into his palace and rewarded Abraham with sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and female servants (vs:14-16).
What a paragon of virtue! Here is a biblical hero of faith who concocted a lie about his relationship to his wife and then, to put it bluntly, pimped her to the king of Egypt for flocks and herds and female servants. In the case of Hagar, we have an example of how Abraham treated his female servants, so we can well imagine that if any truth is in this story, Abraham didn't lack for female companionship while Sarah was cavorting in the palace with Pharaoh. In today's society, Abraham and Sarah would be called "swingers." Is this the kind of "family values" that the religious right wants our country to practice?
Christian fundamentalists will no doubt quibble that technically Abraham and Sarah didn't lie when they said that she was his sister, because she was biologically Abraham's half-sister (Gen. 20:12), but intention is the primary factor in determining if a statement is a lie, and Abraham and Sarah had clearly conspired to deceive the Egyptians about their relationship. If that isn't lying, what is?
But there were other questionable escapades in the biblical
Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis
20, we learn that Abraham and Sarah pulled
this same trick again, this time on Abimelech, the king of Gerar. The
were pretty much the same. Abimelech learned that Sarah was really
wife and returned her to Abraham with a reprimand for their deception.
Nevertheless, they again came out of the deal smelling like a rose.
gave Abraham sheep, oxen, and servants and gave Sarah a thousand pieces
of silver. Family values paid rather handsomely in those days.
Go to Part Two of this