The Family Project > Blog > The Family: Public or Private?

The Family: Public or Private?

Multigenerational family in kitchen

by Glenn Stanton

There is much talk today – particularly in the same-sex marriage debate – that because marriage is a private institution, one should be able to marry whomever they love. The thinking goes that no one should be able to criticize what kind of marriage another wants to form, or if they want to form one altogether. Certainly marriage and family are private institutions, with deeply personal aspects, actions and feelings. But they are also very public institutions.

The first institution God established was a family. It was not a government, a business or an institution of learning. It is not even His body, the Church. Not yet.

So God creates humanity in two similar, yet very different, forms: male and female. And God immediately blessed them and commanded them to get busy doing things. This part of God’s Word is what is called the “cultural mandate,” the explanation of what God instructed the first humans to do – to be fruitful and reproduce after their own kind, to start a family from their union as man and wife.

Bartolome Murillo, Holy Family w/ Infant St John the Baptist (1670)

Bartolome Murillo, Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist (1670)

God’s order – to fill the earth – serves both a personal and public purpose. So, is family a private or public institution? We can conclude that family is much more public than it is private. And it starts with marriage, which does four essential things that all societies need:

  1. Marriage socializes men. Anthropologists tell us that a society’s most serious problem is the unattached male. Apart from the family, they don’t tend to be very pro-social creatures. They don’t tend to settle down. Marriage is the fix for this. Natural marriage socializes men by channeling male sexuality and aggression in socially productive ways. And it is women who do this through marriage. Ask any married man who has been married 10 years or more if he is a better man because of his wife’s influence. The answer should be obvious to him.
  2. Marriage regulates sexuality. Marriage establishes sexual guardrails, a requirement for every successful society. We cannot survive with everybody doing whatever they want sexually. Every society must have socially held and enforced boundaries, mores and standards about sexual behavior; marriage is how societies manage human sexuality.
  3. Monogamous marriage protects women from exploitive males. When we do not have a social norm of monogamy, women become commodities—things to be collected, used and discarded. Marriage helps protect women by regulating sex. It is the democratization of sex, if you will. When women socialize men through marriage and parenthood, men are more likely to care for and respect their wives and other women. When fewer men are married to women, fewer men care for and respect them. This is a culturally universal truth because there is a universal male and female nature.
  4. Marriage provides mothers and fathers for children. Healthy children define a growing society. And marriage is the way we ensure that the next generation grows up with the irreplaceable benefit of being raised by mothers and fathers. No society since the beginning of time has found a better way of doing this, and it’s unlikely one ever will.

God created family, but leading thinkers also recognize its necessity for the health and safety of every community. The term “nuclear family” did not arise from the 1950s American suburbs, but from the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He explained in the first book of his classic work Politics that the family – mother, father, children – serves as the first building block of every society. From that nucleus comes the extended family, then the village, then the town, then the state.

Marriage and family are primary social goods, and are essential to human society.

Learn more about God’s irreplaceable design in The Family Project® – a 12-session DVD curriculum that explores why God’s plan for families matters today. Take your small group on a life-changing journey to strengthen and encourage families! Get The Family Project® curriculum today.

Glenn Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and the co-author/co-creator of The Family Project, as well as the co-author (w/Leon Wirth) of The Family Project book.

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