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FamilyLife focuses on reformation in the home

June 14, 2004

At FamilyLife, staff members regularly use a phrase that summarizes well the dilemma the ministry aims to answer: "When truth and life collide."

At FamilyLife, staff members regularly use a phrase that summarizes well the dilemma the ministry aims to answer: "When truth and life collide."

Bob Lepine, co-host of the "FamilyLife Today" radio program with Dennis Rainey, says those five words serve as an accurate summary of FamilyLife's purpose. Faith and life meet, for example, when a person who believes divorce to be unbiblical receives a phone call from a family member who is in an abusive marriage and either wants out of the marriage or is considering suicide.

"What happens oftentimes is we are swayed away from truth because of the challenges that we experience in life," Lepine said.

"That's the life and truth collision that a lot of people face, and they don't know how to respond biblically to those kinds of circumstances that are problematic. We think there is confusion inside the church and outside the church on issues like that and that's why we want to keep trying to press what we [FamilyLife] think the Scriptures teach into the hearts and minds of those listening to our programs or coming to our events."

FamilyLife was founded in 1976 as a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. It aims at reforming families along biblical lines "one family at a time," Lepine said. FamilyLife seeks to do so through the daily radio show "FamilyLife Today" hosted by Rainey and Lepine, along with a number of marriage and family conferences, as well as through publishing curriculum for families such as the "HomeBuilders Couples Series."

"Our mission today is to do what we can do to effectively develop godly families who will change the world one home at a time," Lepine said. "There is much confusion in the church and outside the church over what it means to be a biblical family and what it looks like to be a biblical family. We try to answer the many questions people have when they seek to build a biblical family."

During a recent interview with CBMW, Lepine discussed many issues pivotal to the ministry of FamilyLife such as gender roles within the home and the current debate over same-sex marriage. Lepine speaks at marriage and family conferences worldwide, oversees all radio planning and production for FamilyLife and is author of the book The Christian Husband (Servant Publishing, 1999). Lepine and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married since 1979 and have five children. For more information on FamilyLife, please see:

Below is a Q&A from CBMW's interview with Lepine.

CBMW: How critical is the issue of a biblical understanding of gender roles in the family within the contemporary setting?

Lepine: We have identified at FamilyLife what we think are four core messages that are necessary for a return to a biblical understanding of marriage and family. Those four core messages are, first, the need for personal repentance and purity-and that's both the evangelism and the sanctification element of what we try to do. People have to be rightly related to God. The second core issue is the marriage covenant-honoring marriage as a covenantal relationship. The third core issue is understanding God-ordained roles in marriage. We think that is one of the essential issues that is going to either make or break godly families in the future. The last of the issues is the need to pass on the legacy to pass on spiritual vitality to the next generation. We think if families could embrace those four things . . . you would have what we call a 'family reformation.' You would have families reformed around the biblical grid and you would eliminate a lot of the marriage and family issues that individuals face and that churches face today.

CBMW: What is at stake in this debate over roles in the family?

Lepine: There are two fundamental issues that underlie the roles. The first is the authority of the word of God. When we get into gender issues, the whole reason we are having the debate right now is because the culture is yanking us away from our biblical moorings. So the question is do we want to be culturally accommodating or do we want to be true to what the Scriptures teach? I don't see how anyone who is honest with the text and who is not biased by the culture, can go to the Scriptures and come away with egalitarian conclusions. I just don't think that's intellectually honest. I think what's happened is that the cultural pressure is so hard, so imposing, and I think it taps into something that is at the heart of our sin nature. Those two factors have caused people to set aside or to reinterpret what the text is saying to try to accommodate the culture and to satisfy what is in their selfish, sinful hearts, frankly.

And I think there is a second reason why this is fundamental: Gender issues reflect the character and nature of God. To the extent we distort [gender issues], we distort the image of God in man. There is a reason why gender issues emerge in the opening chapters of the biblical text, why gender issues are central to the whole creation ordinance. The reason is because God, in making man, said, "Let us make man in our image." And gender roles are a part of that-the very next statement, "male and female He created them." So the making of man in our image, how we understand gender, how we understand how God has made us uniquely, reflects ultimately on His character.

So, ultimately, we have the issue of biblical inerrancy and we have the issue of the character and nature of God. It's really less about how we function as men and women. It's more about whether or not we believe that the Scriptures are true and that God is how He has presented Himself in Scripture. Then we have to align our lives with what we believe is true about both of those things.

CBMW: Does FamilyLife deal at all with gender roles in the church?

Lepine: Because of the limited scope of what we think God has called us to, we have not taken an official FamilyLife position on women's roles in the church. We have applauded and appreciated the work of CBMW in trying to look at that biblically, and we support the efforts of CBMW to examine that issue and to advance that issue. But it's not something we feel is core to our mission. So we simply have deferred to groups like CBMW to address that and have tried to stay true to what God has called us to.

CBMW: In your view what are the most pivotal issues facing the Christian family as it attempts to live in a postmodern society?

Lepine: I think the first issue is that of the covenant and permanence of marriage. We really don't understand in this culture, not just the permanence, but also the whole definition of marriage. The definition of marriage is under attack now as people attempt to consider same-sex marriage as equal with heterosexual marriage. We've got to be anchored well on what the Scriptures teach on the institution of marriage.

Stop and think about it, of the three institutions that are divinely-ordained, the first one in terms of the order of creation was the marriage relationship. I think there is a primacy there ahead of the church and civil government. I think the marriage relationship, the family relationship, is God's primary relationship. We can survive as a civilization with a corrupt government. We can survive as a civilization with a weak church. But I don't think we can survive as a society or as a civilization with families that are weakened at their core. I think that's what we are facing today. We are facing the redefinition of marriage and family in the culture-issues like fatherlessness-and you'd even have to go back to mothers who have abandoned their responsibilities.

We ran a program on FamilyLife Today recently encouraging moms to make mothering their top priority. We had on a couple of home economics professors from The Master's College, and we talked about how young girls today aren't taught home economics and the home is not central to the thinking of young girls today. We aired this, and we got a note back to us from a high school senior, an 18-year-old who heard our program, and she said, "I heard your program, and the topic of homemaking is one of undoubted importance, but I was unnerved by the constant emphasis on the female's role as a homemaker. There were several instances in which the program pointed out that the tips were applicable to males, but on the whole, the message seemed to be directed at young women, which in my opinion fails to reflect the ever-expanding roles of women in today's world." She went on to talk about how we have overemphasized homemaking on this program. Well, bless her heart, at 18, she is a child of her culture. And these are the kinds of issues that we think have to be addressed in this culture: definition of marriage and the permanence of marriage. We've got to be addressing what it means to be a husband and what it means to be a wife, what it means to be a dad and what it means to be a mom. And we have to be embracing those issues as central to how a functioning family operates.

CBMW: You mentioned same-sex marriage, and that has certainly become a front-line issue of late. Is FamilyLife fielding a lot of questions about same-sex marriage from its constituents?

Lepine: A lot of our constituents are coming to us and saying, "Help us sort this issue out. Help us understand how we can address this issue." It almost feels in the culture today that you can't address it; [if you] bring it up, you are going to get shouted down so quickly, that there is no space for addressing it. We are trying to rally a voice that will say, "We must stand firm on the biblical definition of what a marriage is, and we must stand firm on the biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sinful practice, and we must do that in a way that reflects love and kindness and compassion to those who are trapped in the sin of homosexuality and to those who would disagree with us on the definition of marriage." We don't need to sound angry. We don't need to sound hostile. And I'm afraid that too many Christian voices sound that way on issues like this.

But we must stand strongly, and I think there are really two issues that will resonate with folks in the culture today whether they are Christians or non-Christians. I think one of those issues goes back to an experiment we embarked on 40 years ago as a culture when we unhooked sexuality from marriage. We said, "We are going to take sex outside the bounds of marriage, and it will be a better thing for us as a culture [if] people are allowed to express their love for one another sexually whether they are married or not. That is the experiment; that's the hypothesis we went to work to test with the sexual revolution of the sixties. Forty years later we can pull back and ask the question: Has our culture benefited from that experiment? Are we better today than we were 40 years ago when sex was a part of the marriage bond? I think there is a universal sense that the sexual revolution has had disastrous implications for us as a culture. Now the question is do we want a second sexual revolution? Do we also now want to say that we should not only take sex outside of marriage, but also take it outside of heterosexuality, and we will create a better world. Well, I'm not ready to embark on that experiment. In fact, I think history, and even current culture in Europe, shows us that that is a dangerous experiment to embark on.

The second thing I think we've got to say in terms of the same-sex marriage issue is that ultimately we are putting children at great risk. As we take marriage and define it in same-sex terms, we are going to have more and more children who are going to grow up in same-sex households, who are going to grow up with gender confusion as a result of that. We are going to have more and more children who meet and marry those kids who grew up in those gender-neutral households. We are going to have young boys at age 13 asking a question they've never asked before. When I was 13, I never stopped and said, "Gee I wonder if I'm really gay? I wonder if I'm a homosexual?" I never thought to ask that question. But today it's going to be something we encourage young men, pre-adolescence, to ask. And if you wonder if you are a homosexual and you don't know what the answer to that is, then the way you test your hypothesis is to experiment. We're going to have all kinds of homosexual experimentation going on. That's going to leave damage that we can't even imagine.

So, we think we are headed on a serious path, one that has significant cultural implications, and we've got to be speaking out, not just to say "thus saith the Lord," which we understand as being an appropriate answer to the question, but also to say to the culture, "God didn't just say this because He couldn't come up with a better idea. There are legitimate reasons why God has said sex ought to be between a man and a woman in the bonds of marriage. And we should not tamper with it." We come back theologically to Gen. 2 where God said, "It's not good for man to be alone. I'll make a suitable helper for him." He decided what the specifications of the suitable helper were. What the same-sex marriage movement is trying to say today is that we should be free to decide for ourselves what we think is a suitable helper. Ultimately, that is rebellion against the authority of God. That's why this is not just an issue about cultural preference, it's an issue about the character and nature of God.

CBMW: What are the most prevalent questions FamilyLife receives from Christians regarding the issue of gender roles within the family? Where does the most confusion lie among believers on this issue?

Lepine: I think there are a lot of questions about how submission should look in a marriage relationship-and that is no surprise. I think where it gets to be confusing for folks today is what does submission look like in an abusive marriage? What does submission look like when a husband is passive? What does submission look like if the husband is not a believer or is involved in immoral practices? There is still, I believe, an incorrect view even among those who want to embrace a biblical understanding that they ought to be submissive. There is an incorrect view of what submission is and what it ought to look like. We still have a lot of people who think submission means passivity or it means blind acquiescence to godless leadership, that you should never speak up and express your views and opinions, that you are not a participant in decision-making in a marriage relationship or that if a husband is involved in sin, you must accommodate his sin. None of those fits the biblical model of what hypotasso means. We've got a long way to go to try to help people understand that our understanding of submission is not the caricature of submission that is often credited to folks who embrace biblical submission. That is one of the things that comes up repeatedly in the area of roles. Also, I think the whole issue of passivity among men is a huge issue. What does it mean for a man to love and lead within a marriage relationship? I think that men are confused about what that looks like, and, again, I think our sin nature plays into our desire just to "veg," to be passive.

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