The New Order
In recent years, there has been an obvious influx of immigrants from mainland China as students, scholars, workers and family members. Many of them have responded to the Gospel and joined the churches. Quite a few Chinese churches have started Mandarin services or have witnessed the growth of their existing Mandarin congregations.
This is good news.
But whenever the Gospel penetrates a culture, it inevitably causes changes. And changes, even good ones, cause tensions and require adjustments for those who are involved.
One of these changes applies to the family specifically, the relationship between a couple and their parents. More often than not, it applies most acutely and intensely to the couple and the husband's mother.
This tension is caused by the difference between the biblical teaching of the priority of the marital relationship between husband and wife and the traditional Chinese teaching of the priority of the parents' relationship with their son over their son's relationship with his wife.
The biblical position can be stated in the words of Jesus in Mark 10:7-8: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one." Once a man is married, his most important relationship is shifted from his parents to his wife.
Traditional Chinese society is governed by a set of five relationships. These relationships are in the following order of priority or importance:
1. The king and his subjects. The king is the supreme ruler and his will carries. If he wants you dead, you will die.
2. Parents and children, or more specifically, fathers and sons.
4. Husbands and wives.
From this order of relationships, it is evident that the relationship between parents and sons, which ranks number two, is more important than and has priority over the relationship between husbands and wives that ranks fourth. In traditional Chinese society, when a man goes home, he would first greet his parents before he, with his parents' consent, would go and greet his wife. Wives are considered outsiders; whereas husbands and their parents and siblings are insiders. Wives are comparable to apparel, meaning they are replaceable. When a typical couple comes to North America and has accepted Christ and embraced the teaching of the one flesh concept, that couple may experience pressure from the husband's parents. The parents may still expect their son to confide in them rather than his wife. When they visit, they may take over the operation of the household, ignore the opinions of the wife, and allow very limited private time and space for their son and his wife.
From the perspective of the parents, they are acting normally. They live in their son's home, and their son should respect them and behave in the way he has always behaved toward them since childhood. But from the perspective of the wife, her relationship with her husband has been robbed. She has become a captive in her own home, with low status and no say.
The best solution is for the parents to come to know Christ and to accept the premise that their responsibility is to assist and support their children in bringing up the third generation. However, even if the older generation agrees to such a premise, it may still be difficult for some of them to carry it out consistently.
If there is no opportunity to work with the first generation, the next best thing is to ask the husband to talk with his parents. This may sound like simple advice, but it may be very difficult for some husbands to do because of their upbringing.
My prayers go to those who are currently struggling in such situations and for those who are helping people in such conflicts. But remember: God is able to open up a way when there is no way out.