The changing place of the family and its consequencesBetween 1971 and 2006, the proportion of families with dependent children headed by a lone parent in the United Kingdom increased from 8 per cent to 25 per cent. Marriages are less stable and there has been an increase in partnerships and parenthood outside marriage. Whilst divorce has risen from 6 divorces per thousand married men and women in 1971 to 12 in 2006, official statistics show that the main contributor to the rise in lone parent families is those who were never married in the first place.
The great majority of workless households are those headed by a lone parent, and, sadly, the UK leads the way amongst comparable European countries. Around 17 per cent of children aged 0-17 lived in workless household in the UK in 2007, compared with less than 10 per cent in France and less than 6 per cent in Italy and the Netherlands.
Workless households – a proxy for poverty – are clearly a social ill, but there is a real danger of prescribing the wrong medicine. Previous governments have sought to encourage, support and incentivise lone parents into work. But even those with a secular humanist worldview acknowledge a clear link between little positive parental involvement and behaviour problems in early childhood, problems which often escalate. In time, then, it should come as no surprise that the fragmentation of our society characterised by family break-ups and the less esteemed place of the family is related to crime. Here, we clearly see the escalation, as having an absent or remote father, and separation from a biological parent, are known risk factors for future offending, so topical in light of the major disturbances in English cities in 2011 (See relevant article by Pastor David Kay – Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church).
The strategy of helping lone parents into work to solve the poverty problem comes at the price of less parental involvement, in effect tackling one issue but creating another. What the government should be asking is this: how can we reduce the number of lone parent families?
A sizeable proportion of lone families are those with a teenage mother, a group particularly vulnerable to a number of undesirable consequences. For example, many often continue to smoke and fail to take advantage of available healthcare, with concomitant negative health outcomes for both themselves and their babies.
41,768 under-18 year olds became pregnant in 2006 in England and Wales. Almost half of these pregnancies were ended by abortion, over 4,000 of which involved girls under the age of 16. Further, about 20 per cent of conceptions by girls under the age of 18 are not first time pregnancies. There were around 50,000 teenage mothers in England in 2005, more than 80 percent of whom were described as NEET (not in education, employment or training), and were disproportionately likely to live in deprived areas.
Another consequence of our increasingly liberal society with its equivocal views on the family and morality is sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The sheer scale of the STD epidemic in the USA – the only country with higher teenage pregnancy figures in the developed world than the UK – should alarm us, as figures for the UK, after all, show the same trends. One estimate puts the number of cases of recurrent genital herpes in the USA at 20 million. Currently no cure is known.
Doctors have also shown a very strong relationship between promiscuous sex and the incidence of cervical cancer. Contributory factors include age at which virginity is lost, frequency of intercourse and the number of different partners.
We could go on, but in a way this is merely descriptive. What is called for now is analysis, Biblical exposition and a vision for the future.
What has caused this change?
No-one can deny that a major shift has taken place, and whilst many will accept that there have been negative consequences they will often point to what they see as the positive trade-off of a more tolerant and less repressive society. However, although that is the politically-correct and perhaps even the prevailing view, what many do not realise is that this shift has happened by stealth, orchestrated as it has been by those with a particular liberal agenda. Dr Ted Williams’ book ‘Lessons in Depravity’ is helpful in charting this phenomenon.
The sex education movement has been particularly prominent in the liberalisation of society. But what the movement has done is attempt to solve a problem <em>it</em> created, a bit like a man seeking relief by taking off a pair of ill-fitting shoes he put on himself. Thus, it is often claimed by advocates of sex education that they will reduce the number of illegitimate births, but major studies in countries such as Sweden and the USA show this is clearly not the case*. The Senate Labour and Human Resources Committee in the USA was told that using sex education programmes to reduce the number of illegitimate births “is like trying to stop a raging forest fire by pouring gasoline on it.”
Here in the UK, Brook, the sex education specialists, have been closely linked with the ethos of the failed Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. At a cost of £280m, conception rates amongst teenagers have fallen from about 41,000 to 39,000 during the period covered. The ‘strategy’ was destined to fail because its central premise – that ignorance causes conceptions (and diseases) and therefore education is the solution – is faulty. There is a lack of evidence to support the premise and as with the ineffectiveness of health education about smoking, diet and drugs it is not hard to see why. There appears to have been a complete lack of understanding of the extent to which young people’s attitudes towards sex are shaped by the media, their peers and advertising.
Amongst the many other possible reasons for the shift in attitudes is the decline in church attendance amongst adults and the fading vision of large evangelistic Sunday schools for whole communities of children. Without a large proportion of God-fearing men and women in the country, and with fewer children being taught in Sunday schools, standards of morality were inevitably set to decline, as over time rotten fruit replaced the good fruit associated with such positive influences.
But why has there been such a decline in church attendance? Two men must loom large in any answer to that question: Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. Darwin’s so-called scientific theory of evolution has led many over the last 150 years to question the Biblical account of creation. Even many professing Christians no longer hold to the straightforward historical account provided at the beginning of the Bible that God created the world in 6 days. With such a low view of Scripture, exacerbated during Darwin’s time by higher criticism, amounting to accepting some parts but rejecting others, it is unsurprising that churches have declining attendances. Christianity is a religion of a book, and if that book no longer has primary significance as God’s divinely inspired and inerrant word, then when it is no longer convenient to follow its commands – such as observing Sunday as the Lord’s day and keeping it as a day focused on worshipping God – then inevitably church attendance will fall.
50 years later, Sigmund Freud’s similarly unscientific theories began to have an equally significant, and negative, influence. Freud succeeded in turning pastoral issues into medical problems. These ‘neuroses’ – often associated with guilt – have become the focus of the modern psychotherapeutic movement, of which Freud is the founding father. Part of Freud’s legacy is the use of secular counselling techniques by ‘Christian counsellors’, rather than Christians accepting the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with problems of living as they did for the previous 1900 years. Like the sex educationalists, Freud’s successors seek to provide a solution to a problem they have effectively created, and in so doing have shifted man’s attention away from the Bible and God’s ministers to man’s flawed wisdom.
Throwing off moral absolutes like the 10 commandment, and encouraging us to be our own moral judges, we can see post-modernism emerging. Here, you create your own standards and your own truth. According to these charlatans we are no longer to feel guilty, it being purely a result of our upbringing and a repressive society.
Of course, the opposite of a repressive society is a permissive one, one that is tolerant of behaviours condemned by the Bible as sinful. Fuelled by a prurient media, filled to the rafters with gossip and smut, over a period of no more than half a century, we have become an ‘almost anything goes’ culture, and to challenge that view is to be labelled a bigot. But running the risk of being accused of ‘protesting too much’, it must be said that true Christians have no more aversion to the practice of homosexuality, for example, than they do for adultery. No, we simply believe the rights and wrongs laid down in the Bible and seek to uphold them. Sticking with the case of homosexuals, we don’t hate them but much rather seek to help them, giving them a way up and out of an addictive lifestyle leading to so much unhappiness.
What does the Bible say about marriage and the family?The Bible is clear about the institution of marriage. In Genesis 2: 23-24 we read: ‘And Adam said: This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ As ever our interpretation will depend upon whether we have a high or view of Scripture. In other words, do we believe in the divine inspiration of God’s word and its inerrancy and authority? So in this instance, do we believe that the book of Genesis is literal history? Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ did, quoting from the early chapters of Genesis when teaching about marriage in Matthew 19. The apostle Paul followed Jesus’ example by quoting Genesis 2 when teaching about marriage in Ephesians 5.
The Bible teaches that marriage is always, and only, between one man and one woman. Beyond that, Paul teaches how marriages are to function. Ephesians 5: 22-23 says “wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body” and Ephesians 5: 25 says “husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
Here, the relationship between husband and wife is likened to that between Christ and the Church. The emphasis is on love and commitment to one another, and not a mandate for the husband to behave as a ‘control freak’. Husbands and wives have different roles in the marriage and society, and they are mutually dependent.
Much more could be said. But two further points warrant particular attention in our discussion. Firstly, the Bible is crystal clear that all forms of fornication – sexual intercourse outside of marriage – are wrong. There are too many texts in the New Testament alone to cite them all, but Romans 1: 24-32; 1 Corinthians 5: 10-11; Galations 5: 19-21; Colossians 3: 5, 8-9; Revelation 21: 8; 22: 15 provide a sample.
Secondly, although I suspect this is almost beyond the grasp of many of us, marriage is so sacred that even adultery need not, or perhaps even should not, end in divorce for Christians. Jesus explains in Matthew 19 that sexual immorality is the one exceptional circumstance in which divorce may be permitted. But there are instances when this option need not – should not – be exercised. In 1 Corinthians 10: 13 it says “no temptation has overtaken you except as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” In other words, others like you have faced this sort of situation before and you will be able to deal with it and there is a way up and out of it.
In this instance, the way out is conditional on the adulterer being genuinely repentant and asking the wronged spouse for forgiveness. However, if there is the requisite repentance, the wronged spouse is Biblically duty-bound to forgive: Jesus commands us in Luke 17: 3-4 to forgive seven times a day.
In less extreme circumstances, most marriages have tensions, but commitment to stay together sees them through difficult times. Granting ‘quickie’ divorces upon modest grounds is very much the ‘thin end of the wedge’, but our legislative system has allowed this phenomenon to develop. And with this in mind, we come to a close with just the opening lines really of a vision of the future.
Where do we go from here?
The Deputy Prime Minister – despite himself being the beneficiary of married parents and being we suppose happily married himself – thinks that marriage is a 1950’s anachronism. What this teaches us is that Biblical truths really are spiritually discerned, knowing as we do that the institution of marriage goes back some way being 1950! And the Deputy Director of the Young People Division of the Department for Education recently said to this writer that there was little the government could do to bring back family values.
We don’t agree. Without claiming to be any sort of political or economic expert, surely tax breaks for married couples make sense, given the huge benefits accruing to society as a result. Why do we incentivise working mothers through tax credits to have their children looked after whilst they go to work? It makes no sense.
We are not proposing making marriage compulsory or telling women they cannot work. We realise that in previous generations, in our fallen world, men have behaved very poorly and the feminist reaction has been understandable. Women no longer want to feel trapped and economically dependent upon men who treat them badly. But whilst this is understandable, we cannot agree with it. The price has been too high to pay. In previous generations, roles within the family were more readily accepted. There is nothing wrong with the Biblical model, just so long as men remember to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. We need to teach Biblical family values with the greatest urgency as if the country’s future depends upon in. To a degree, it does.
But the real change our society needs will come from deep-seated personal transformations. The lesson from church history is that during times of revival, whole communities have been radically reshaped. Pubs and prisons empty, as by God’s grace, following conversion, lives are changed. Individuals pursue holiness, become more fruitful and in turn have an effect upon the prevailing culture. Modelling something quite different, Christians can impact culture rather than be swept along by it. The conclusion of the anthropologist, J.D. Unwin’s classic study of all civilisations, both ancient and modern, was that a culture inevitably declines unless monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the standard for family life.
And perhaps this family life should be a fruitful one, in the reproductive sense. Prevailing wisdom favours birth control to stem world population. This is rarely questioned. But is it right? There is a strong case to be made for the reverse, certainly in the developed world where the baby boom has rapidly given way to just the opposite. In the United States, for example, in 1950, there were 16 workers to every retiree. By 2004 the ratio was 3.5 to 1 and set to go as low as 2 to 1. Thus low fertility rates can very simply be seen as a cause for real concern, and of course in countries like the USA there is little danger of over-crowding. No, the population density is <em>much</em> higher in many other prosperous countries.
John Jefferson Davis says on this matter “these considerations mean that Christians who have larger families, and who raise their children well, are making a contribution of great significance to both society and the kingdom of God. Such Christian families produce young people of character and diligence who will contribute to the solution of the difficult problems facing the Social Security system and other facets of American life. Christians who have larger families are also contributing to the expansion of God’s kingdom in the world…. American evangelicals are quite aware – at least in principle of the biblical mandate for the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20). They need to rediscover the relevance of the Cultural Mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1: 28). God wants his kingdom to expand through evangelism and through the raising up a godly seed (Malachi 2: 15).
* Chapter 2 ‘Contraception’ of Evangelical Ethics by John Jefferson Davis has been used as a reference source in this article. The book is highly recommended.