May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day & Idolatry

Every July 4 many clergy and Christian bloggers inveigh against all the supposed idolatries linked with patriotism. So I’ve sarcastically wondered if the same indignant voices similarly bewail Mother’s Day, recalling Christ’s words in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

It wouldn’t make for a very traditional Mother’s Day message! But it turns out there are a few blogs on this topic, including one that cites theologian Stanley Hauerwas, the paramount Christian critic of American patriotism. He’s against Mother’s Day too, at least in church:

I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not at all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example:

—How many of you worship in a church with an American flag?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many worship in a church in which the Fourth of July is celebrated?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1st as the “New Year”?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day”?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

So there’s the purist approach, which envisions church insulated from and indifferent to the culture of its worshippers. This vision seems to view family and community as idolatrous distractions from God. But the more traditional view sees family and community, rightly understood, as divine instruments for pointing us towards Him.

In his Castel Gandolfo lectures, Pope John Paul II linked love of mother and father to “everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features.” And he said “Catholic social doctrine speaks of ‘natural’ societies, indicating that both the family and the nation have a particular bond with human nature,” and with God.

God doesn’t just ordain the church and its individual members, as Hauerwas often implies. We are all part of His larger creation that includes mothers, fathers, families and communities, which are all organically intrinsic to His purposes. Of course we don’t worship them but thank Him for the people among whom He placed us.

Christ of course had a mother for whom He was thankful. Thanking God for mothers on a special day isn’t wrong. Not doing so does seem wrong.


3 Responses to Mother’s Day & Idolatry

  1. Dan W says:

    Thank you for this article Mark. I’ve been lectured (a few times) with the same talking points Mr. Hauerwas mentions. In Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 we are instructed to honor our fathers and our mothers. Jesus reinforces this in Mark chapter 7:9-13. These scriptures are not referring to a special day set aside for our parents, but I believe it helps us remember to honor our parents throughout the year.

  2. Caligula says:

    Meanwhile, here’s what the loons of the left were doing about Mother’s Day

  3. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for this article. I think my two-seed Baptist ancestors had it right when they wrote in their magazine: “The Sectarian,” that July 4th, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, family birthdays and anniversaries should be celebrated, while Christmas, Easter, and Halloween(especially) should be down-played. Have some fun in life people, and be a good citizen. We have cemeteries all over the country started by Christians to honor our deceased family members and fallen soldiers. Marx himself said Americans worship their ancestors, and Christ did not say such things.

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