Everything that is an idol is something that God created. Men worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. And God created the family. The family might not be an idol, but it isn't God and God created it, so it can be one. Very often, the family supplants God.
In Numbers 21 God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole for men to look at. Jesus talked about it in John 3. However, in 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah destroyed that very image, because the people had made it an idol, burning incense unto it. Something of God's design became an idol.
The great commandment is to love God. The second is to love your neighbor. Love is most replaced by mere sentimentalism when it comes to family, when people don't love their family, but use their family as an excuse for not loving God or their neighbor. It isn't love for family, but sentimentalism for family. The "love" for family is the enemy of actual love for family. The family rather than a means to an end, becomes the end itself. As an end, it is an idol.
America is itself gullible on the family. Sentimentalism is bred into American life. You can see the Norman Rockwell painting with family at the kitchen table. Stories are written and films are produced with this idyllic portrait of American life with the family at the center. You read the credo or motto, "God, Family, Country," as if it is biblical. Even though it isn't scriptural, the motto itself is sentimental. In so many cases, both family and country take the place of God. Any time family and country unseat God, they themselves will suffer.
Christmas is as sentimental a family time as ever with all of the trappings on full -- the tree, the presents, the food, the entertainment, the laughter. All of this creates these images and moments that people cling to. Sometimes those circumstances are sabotaged by people and behavior, that ruin the moment, turning it into controversy and bitterness, sour times that were supposed to be sweet. If they could get a "not like" on a facebook page, they would.
Family counseling and and therapy abounds. We read about the dysfunctional family. People strive for that perfect family about which the Mormon denomination has thrived with its promotion of the family. Married men and women seek to be the "cute couple," which looks like a successful Christian one. Everyone gets along and plays games and spends loads of family time on trips and vacations. You've got unbelieving cute couples, believing cute couples, that really do like each other. A child may come along and they've got just the perfect little family with the white picket fence and the warm fireplace and and one wonderful family photo, everyone smiling in their casual matching clothes. The adorable little one has the cute outfit with all the cute gear and latest toys that might guarantee a future. It's a dream.
A recent book, Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism, by Todd M. Brenneman, reads:
The issues that primarily motivate evangelicals---abortion, school choice, homosexuality---conceptually revolve around attacks against the family or home. The sentimentalized home (conceptualized as a nuclear, heterosexual family unity) is sacred, and evangelicals should do whatever they can do to protect it.
The author says something like this about the family many times in his book.
So how is the family an idol? First, I want to consider what Jesus and the Apostles said about it. In many ways, the scriptural terms have been hijacked to support what Jesus was against. Matthew 10:35 and 37 record the Lord Jesus:
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. . . . He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Earlier in Matthew 8:21-22, Jesus preaches,
And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
In Matthew 12:50, we read Jesus say,
For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Later in Matthew 19:29, we hear the Lord,
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
Mark and Luke bring these same teachings. And you can also read a few other gems, one in Luke 2, when Jesus is twelve years old in the temple and his family leaves Him there in Jerusalem, where Mary and He have this exchange in verses 48-49:
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
With Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana, you read another dialogue with his mother in John 2:2-3:
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
So much could be said to unpack these, but because of space, I'm going to let them speak for themselves. The Apostle Paul said more. Here's the thinking and practice though that I hear or see contrary to what Jesus said, making the family the American idol.
One, people often use family as an excuse for faithlessness to God or not serving Him. This is very common and the assumption is that acceptance is mandatory. You can't say "no" to family. Family isn't often the real reason, but the family card is many times the easiest card to pull.
Two, the popular family member is the one who lets things go. He doesn't say anything about family disobedience. If he does, he is the worst family member. He is causing disunity in the family and he "just doesn't get it." You wish.
Three, parents adjust their interpretation of the Bible to what their family does. This is a common basis for interpretation of scripture. There are numbers and numbers of examples of this. As children misbehave and veer away, new views of passages emerge.
Four, rather than fulfilling the Great Commission, churches sentimentalize the mission of the church around family. I made note of that above from the book on evangelical sentimentalism. Churches are family centers, not kingdom or gospel or discipleship centers.
Five, the church is for the edification of the family, not the members for the edification of the body of Christ. If the family isn't feeling edified, it might find someplace where that will occur. Those places are out there. An irony is that edification of the family isn't what is happening.
Six, marriage success leaves out the husband sanctifying the wife like Christ sanctifies the church. That doesn't always look so cheery or so "cute." Sanctification looks messy, but the goal through the leadership of the husband is the glory of God, not being a cute couple.
Seven, families protect family members from discipline. They shield their family from the convicting work of the Word of God through the church.
There are far more than these, and I would even be interested in hearing from others what they see or have seen. The truth about the family helps the family.