One of the most powerful parts of Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is Chapter 7, entitled “Families Are Resistance Cells.” In it, he writes:
Family is where we first learn to love others. If we are lucky, it is also where we first learn how to live in truth.
The loosening of family ties and of traditional commitments to marriage has left Americans without the kind of refuge in the home that anti-communist dissidents had. US Christians, alas, are not especially different from unbelievers.
There is a strong model of anti-totalitarian resistance based in the Christian family: the Benda clan of Prague. The Bendas are a large Catholic family who suffered greatly in 1979 when the Czechoslovak state sentenced their patriarch, Vaclav, to four years in prison for his activities fighting for human rights. Vaclav Benda and his wife, Kamila, both academics, were among the only believing Christians working at the topmost level of the Czech dissident movement.
[Benda wrote,] The family cannot survive as a community if the head and center is one of its own members. The Christian statement is simple: it has to be Christ who is the true center, and in His service the individual members of this community share in the work or their salvation. One hopes that the well-grounded family can exist even without it distinctively religious affiliation; however, the focus of service to something “beyond”, whether we call it love, truth or anything else, seems essential…
Benda said that the family house must be a real home, “that is, a place which is livable and set apart, sheltered from the outer world; a place which is a starting-out point for adventures and experiences with the assurance of a safe return” – in other words, a haven in a heartless world. The loving, secure Christian home is a place that forms children who are capable of loving and serving others within the family, the church, and the neighborhood, and indeed the nation. The family does not exist for itself alone, but first for God, and then for the sake of the broader community – a family of families.”
About all this, Dreher observes:
In the coming soft totalitarianism, Christians will have to regard family life in a much more focused, serious way. The traditional Christian family is not merely a good idea – it is also a survival strategy for the faith in a time of persecution. Christians should stop taking family life for granted, instead approaching it in a more thoughtful, disciplined way. We cannot simply live as all other families live, except that we go to church on Sunday. Holding the correct theological beliefs and having the right intentions will not be enough. Christian parents must be intentionally counterculture to approach to family dynamics. The days of living like everybody else and hoping our children turn out for the best are over.
The Benda family model requires parents to exercise discernment. For example, the Bendas didn’t opt out of popular culture but rather chose intelligently which parts of it they wanted their children to absorb. To visit the Benda family home is not to step into Spartan barracks but rather into a place filled with books and art and life. The Benda family judged that they could be open to the good things in the world around them because of the disciplined moral, intellectual, and spiritual lives they lived within the family.
And they acted with openness to the world. Vaclav Benda taught that the family does not exist for its own purpose but for the service of something beyond itself. When you pay a call on Kamila, you sit on chairs and sofas that are well worn from years of hosting guests invited to share in the joy of her clan’s Christians lives. True, they had to judge carefully who to let their home and what to say around them, but there was not doubt in the minds of Vaclav and Kamila Benda that their role as Christians was not to draw the shutters and hide, as so many Czech Christians did, but to be of active service to the church, and the world. For those who survive Vaclav – Kamila, her children, and grandchildren – it still is.
There is a lot to think about here. And it is all very relevant to the young adults of our church–especially as you think about founding a household. Maybe that is what we should say to ourselves when we consider marriage: “I am about to found a household.” We are called not only to marriage (if singleness for the kingdom is not your gifting and calling), but to bearing children (assuming God grants that blessing), and therefore, to founding and cultivating and guarding a family, a mini-society in which children can grow and the world can be ministered to for Christ’s sake. The health of the church, and the spread of the gospel, the continuation of the knowledge of the faith–all these things are (at least partly) carried on by God’s institution of the family.
So, if you’re just beginning one, or getting ready to start one, let these thoughts shape your decisions. And, if you’re not there yet, cultivate a life of following Jesus now that will flow seamlessly into this other kind of life, when your opportunity arrives.