My favorite part of the day is when I get to sit down and eat a meal with my family.
As we partake of the food we are blessed with, we talk. We laugh. We cry. We express frustration. Sometimes, we are silent. My wife, my children, my grandchildren and I are all very different people, but the table is what brings us together.
When I think about the family table, I think about Jesus and how much of His ministry was done over meals, around a shared table. He revealed Himself in the breaking of bread. Men and women were changed because as they sat and ate with Him, their eyes were opened and their hearts healed.
According to Dr. Anne K. Fishel, co-founder of Harvard University’s The Family Dinner Project: “Sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.”
Additionally, Fishel writes, “Studies also indicate that for young children, dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.”
Sadly, while families like mine are sharing a meal and enjoying the fellowship founded on Christ, many more American families are fractured by divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity, debt, online addictions or all-consuming jobs that keep parents and children apart.
The policies that elected government leaders put in place can make keeping families together easier or more difficult. And it’s clear that today the American family is not only in crisis but also under attack.
The statistics are heartbreaking. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway indicates that in September 2017, there were more than 440,000 children in the foster care system.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that in 2019 parents with a child under the age of 18 at home spent an average of just 1.36 hours per day total “caring for and helping household children” as their main activity (this total included activities such as physical care, reading, playing and education—meals were not included in this count).
And the National Fatherhood Initiative estimates that nearly 20 million children in America “live without a father in the home.” In black and Latino families, the statistics paint an even more dire picture: One in four Hispanic children and nearly half of all black children live with their mother only.
If you were to take a look at America’s family photo album, about one out of every four pictures would be missing a father figure.
Our culture tells us that gender is fluid, marriage is not the sacred union of a man and a woman and that a fetus in the womb is simply a mass of cells. Our nation celebrates the polarization of our society with identity politics and jeers at those who try to unite us.
Unfortunately, in this moment of crisis, many followers of Jesus have started trusting in the political agendas of the Donkey or the Elephant for deliverance. We have forgotten that we are called to follow a higher set of principles—the agenda of the Lamb.
From Scripture, we understand that life begins in the womb and that God’s design for the nuclear family centers around a father and mother in marriage. Yet, we live in a fallen world where laws and government policies defy God’s design for the family, rendering many homes as merely a shelter instead of the refuge of peace, protection, purpose and promise that God intends them to be.
In Ephesians 3:14-15, the Apostle Paul acknowledges that God defines the family when he writes: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”
So, as we think about what the family is and why we must protect it, we need to carefully discern whether or not the political platforms of the Donkey and the Elephant reflect the Kingdom priorities of the Lamb of God.
When I consider the life of Jesus, I see that He has an agenda for His Kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36). And I also see Him pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).
We are called by God to care for His family: children—born and unborn—orphans, single parents, immigrants, refugees, the elderly, the incarcerated, the homeless, those with different abilities, human trafficking survivors and abuse survivors. This is by no means an exhaustive list. To be pro-life is to be pro-all life.
Being pro-life means standing against domestic violence and child abuse in all of its forms, including the growing use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on children who suffer from gender dysphoria. It means supporting those struggling with addictions and mental health issues, aiding those facing poverty, and pursuing justice for the oppressed.
Those who follow the agenda of the Lamb must fight for religious liberty for all, as this First Amendment right is foundational to our society and to human flourishing.
The Lamb’s agenda calls us to submit to the government out of reverence for God but be willing to speak up when there is a clear violation of Biblical values. The Lamb’s agenda leads us to reject socialistic and communistic ideals that threaten personal freedoms and to speak Biblical truth to our culture and our leaders.
If we claim to follow Jesus, then we must pursue His agenda as we gather around His table together and as we live out His mission in the public square.
How do we bring the agenda of the Lamb to the voting booth?
Our policies need to be informed by Scripture, not the other way around. This is of paramount importance as the election for our next president—an election that could have generational consequences for our nation—is only a month away.
To say that America is more divided than ever is a vast understatement. A recent Pew Research survey indicates how far apart our two primary political parties are on just about every issue, which is why we need to focus on policies rather than personalities and politics.
For instance, our country is in desperate need of immigration and criminal justice reforms. Our children need to be protected from perverse and pornographic sexual education and gender-transition affirming curricula that schools are pushing on them at a young age. Racism, classism and sexism continue to cause suffering and harm.
There is no perfect presidential candidate. We cannot look to one man or one woman to save us from ourselves. Only Jesus can do that. Rather, we need to take a prayerful look at the issues and then take a thoughtful look at policies that are being set forth. Which are most aligned with the Lamb’s agenda? We must pray and think Biblically as we exercise our right and responsibility to vote in local, state and national elections.
Yet, while the issues surrounding the upcoming presidential election certainly merit our attention, we need to look beyond 2020. We need to think about the family table. And as we do, we ought to ask ourselves this question: Who was at Jesus’ table?
The men and women Jesus invited to follow Him could not have been more different. They were fishermen, tax collectors, political zealots and rebels, religious leaders, criminals, Samaritans, Romans, people who suffered physical and mental illnesses, young, old, rich, poor—“sinners.” I imagine Jesus’ followers often got into arguments with one another; (see Luke 22:24-30). They often had little in common socially except their relationship with Him.
But as they shared meals together with Him, their differences melted away as they embraced the agenda of the Lamb.
So, what does this mean for those of us who follow Jesus?
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with three administrations. Under President George W. Bush, I worked toward improving our nation’s educational system. Under President Barack Obama, I worked on addressing our nation’s fatherlessness crisis by serving on The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Under President Donald Trump, I have worked on immigration reform and protections for DACA recipients.
I have been heard because I advocate for others from the Lamb’s agenda, not from a certain political agenda.
Our Christian witness demands that we listen to each other, respect each other, learn from each other and work with each other, regardless of where we may fall on the political spectrum. Jesus told His followers in Luke 13:29, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” The table still represents our opportunity to nurture hearts and communicate truth while restoring God’s Biblical blueprint for the family. ©2020 Samuel Rodriguez
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Samuel Rodriguez is pastor of New Season Worship Center in Sacramento, California, and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. His latest book, “From Survive to Thrive,” is scheduled for release on Oct. 6.