What does the gospel say to family life today?

In March 2021, the Archbishops commissioned a project to look at issues around family and households; this was the third of four Commissioners arising from Justin Welby’s 2018 book Reimagining Britain (which I reviewed here), the previous ones covering housing and care respectively, alongside the ongoing commission on racial justice.

Before I read the report myself, I decided to think about what issues I would like to see tackled which are hallmarks of our contemporary cultural approach to family and household life. For me, the issues cluster into three or four groups, though they are inter-related and each has an impact on the others.

1. The loss of confidence in lifelong, committed relationships.

The most obvious sign of this is the decline in marriage as the normative pattern of couple relationship, and the rise of cohabitation as either prior to marriage or an alternative to it. But the consequences of this change are well documented, and include the impact of divorce, parental relationship breakdown and fragmented, unstable family structures on children—their education, mental health, physical wellbeing and earnings potential. Research on all these can be found at one of the Coalition for Marriage resource pages here.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the breakup of relationships has led to an increase in older people living alone, raising issues around loneliness, care support, and the pressure on housing as the number of single-person household has grown. Astonishingly, fully one third of all households in the UK now comprise a single person. This must surely be a major factor contributing to the ‘epidemic of loneliness’ in the UK today.

2. The loss of value in parenting and child-rearing

There is something very strange in our majority cultural narrative about having children: they are mostly a problem. Almost all the reports appear to focus on the cost of having children, how demanding and inconvenient they are, and how they bring the ‘parenting penalty’ to careers and earnings, especially for women who continue to play the major role in parenting. This is, in part, a result of thinking of all of life in economic terms, but it also comes from detaching sexual relationships from reproduction and child-rearing more broadly.

These changes in values are reflected in a dramatic drop in the ‘fertility rate’, measured as the number of children born to women of child-bearing age. The current fertility rate in the UK has plummeted to 1.53; in order to remain stable, a society needs a fertility rate of 2.2. This is affecting all Western countries, and the UK is not in the worst position—Italy’s fertility rate has fallen to 1.24, and it is provoking national debate.

This demographic issue has massive implications on all aspects of national life, so it is remarkable that so little is said about it. It has been conjectured that Germany’s demographic crisis was a major factor behind Angela Merkel’s decision to admit so many migrants to the country—without these, who is going to pay for and look after Germany’s older population?

Feminist Louise Perry argues that this crisis is rooted in a feminist rejection of motherhood as a vocation for women, and that our modernist outlook is, in effect, making us sterile.

Demographic imbalance may well represent the greatest threat to the long-term stability of Britain, and indeed the rest of the world. Put simply, our age pyramid no longer looks like a pyramid…

We look at stagnant growth and we blame government mismanagement. We look at recruitment problems in the care sector and we blame the work-shy young. We look at lengthening hospital waiting lists and we blame chronic under-investment. We look at inter-ethnic conflict and we blame a failure of assimilation efforts. Very few people piece all of these political problems together and recognise that they are in fact the same problem. Put bluntly, there are not enough babies being born and the sticking plaster of mass migration is not going to hold for much longer. This is the most urgent political problem of our times and almost no one is talking about it.

3. The sexualisation of relationships

In some ways, this is the most obvious feature of the contemporary approach to relationships. Sex is primarily viewed as a leisure activity, even a right, which has only tangential connections to committed relationship. The sexualisation of our culture is evident in the all-pervasive presence of pornography, accessible even to children on smartphones. Sex as an end in itself, detached from lifelong commitment and child-bearing, also leads to a view of marriage and committed relationship as detached from parenting.

4. Increased cost of housing

The commodification of housing, the failure to build new houses, the growth of single-person households, and the massive growth of the population through migration, have created the perfect storm of inaffordability. Families with children now need to have both parents working, and contract out much childcare, if they are to be able to afford housing costs.

5. The ambivalent view of singleness

It feels to me that our culture has a deeply ambivalent view of singleness. On the one hand, those who are single are portrayed as being free to enjoy a life of choice and leisure, without the commitments either of another person who might limit their freedoms, or the burden and responsibility of parenting. On the other hand, those who are single seem to be defined largely by what they don’t have, and have to watch others enjoy what they long for.

6. Rise in violence against children

This was not something I had been aware of, but noticed it in my reading for writing this article. In the last ten years there has been a shocking rise in the number of violent offences committed against children—and this cannot really be explained simply by increased awareness and reporting. As a society, we are becoming more violent against one of the most vulnerable groups, and it is hard to believe that this is unconnected with the general breakdown in relationships, both between couples and across families more generally.

Putting all these facts together, it would be no exaggeration to say we are facing a crisis of marriage and family life in our culture.

What might the gospel say to this situation?

The biblical narrative offers an egalitarian vision of humanity made male and female in the image of God, given the task of exercising God’s delegated dominion over the world, primarily through men and women being joined together in marriage and having a fruitful relationship which includes the birth and raising of children. Alongside this, the fruitfulness of kingdom life means that, for some, celibate singleness is a parallel calling. Annabel Clarke of Engage puts it well:

The Bible values singleness and marriage. Single people are equally valuable and competent as married people. At the same time, God’s design from the start has been for marriage to reflect his covenant relationship with the church, to be foundational to society, and to be personal experienced by most people.

The exposition of marriage by a group of 14 bishops earlier this year bases its discussion on Church of England doctrine:

The BCP goes on describe the goods of Christian marriage in Anglican teaching as threefold:

  • First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
  • Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
  • Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Common Worship re-orders (and re-words) these into a) companionship, b) the gift of sex, and c) the bearing of children.

The discipline of lifelong marriage as the context for sexual intimacy limits male desire, provides women with security, and offers children stability and protection. Forms and patterns of relationship on their own cannot do this, so biblical teaching about marriage also fills this form with qualities, in particular the role of men being to give themselves up in love to those they are committed to, rejecting all abuse of power (see Eph 5).

And the use of the primary kinship metaphor to describe the people of God as ‘brothers and sisters’ undermines the idea that the ‘nuclear family’ is the norm. Households based around marriage and child-rearing in scripture are open social structures which includes others in community, and this includes care for those who are single, elderly, or vulnerable in other ways.

This brief sketch cannot answer all the contemporary questions around families in such a short space, but provides the basis for an answer to the issues above. So the question then arises: is this how the Families Commission report proceeds?

The simple answer appears to be ‘no’. Martin Davie has offered a more detailed analysis of the report here, and some summary criticisms. Here I want to make three main observations.

First, the report (and many of the supporting papers) take a thoroughgoing sociological approach, rather than a theological one. There are extensive comments on what people think, and contemporary attitudes and realities. These are mostly summarised in the main report (the shorter one is much more broad-brush), but the details can be found in the briefing papers here. These all appear to have been compiled by one person, who also seems to have written the final report, which is surprising given the membership of the Commission.

But this approach is deeply problematic. On the one hand, it purports to be ‘objective’, in that it deals with facts about society and social attitudes. On the other hand, this is a deception: decisions are made about which facts to explore, and which to pass over. The presentation of the facts is not at all objective, but reflects the agenda of whoever has made the decisions on which facts to include—but without offering a rationale for these decisions. So, in this case, the compelling evidence that a commitment to marriage as the best context for sexual intimacy and as the best context to raise children is completely passed over—but no explanation is offered for why this is not considered important.

Secondly, and related to that, theology appears to be largely absent. The Church’s own doctrine of marriage gets very little coverage, and does not form the basis for a critique of contemporary cultural norms. What theology there is, is mostly relegated to a page of supporting papers—and some of these are just terrible. Adrian Thatcher’s opens by mocking the Catholic Catechism, then trashing the Church’s own doctrine of marriage on the grounds that domestic abuse still happens in committed ‘traditional’ marriages, as if that is a knock-down argument. And where is the contribution from Elaine Storkey, who was a member of the Commission? Her paper appears nowhere.

It is no wonder that Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation, complains that, in this report, the Church has ‘given up on marriage’:

In fairness to the authors, marriage gets a good run, in sharp contrast to almost all government policy papers on the family. But it’s how its portrayed that I take exception.

Marriage is damned with faint praise. Yes, most people aspire to it. Yes, most families are married. But marriage was glorified by the Victorians, according to the report, and has now been replaced by other popular structures that are now commonplace and normalised. There are as many bad marriages as good cohabitations. And family change has always been with us. There was even a cohabiting couple in the Bible. So we should acknowledge that the way families structure their lives is equally valid and equally good.

This is just wrong. Marriage has always been linked to childbirth. In my PhD research, I found plenty of sources showing that cohabiting was virtually unknown in England at least between 1580 and 1960…

Alas the report, or at least this key section on families, has nothing to say on the social function of marriage or why states and societies throughout history have regulated marriage in one form or another. The social function of marriage is to bond men to the mothers of their future children. The psychology behind this is deeply compelling. To be fair, the report mentions this in passing because it’s our quote that makes it to page 44. But it is then brushed aside with a switch to the importance of commitment.

Thirdly, the headline from the report is that ‘we must value families in all their diversity.’ But this is not a conclusion from research; this appears to be an a priori assumption that the report adopts from the beginning. And what is shocking is that this assumption is one that potentially causes children harm. Not to make an evaluation of different patterns of relationship and their different impact is to make a decision: to ignore the evidence of the impact, for example, of divorce, or the breakdown of a relationship, or the impact of prior cohabitation on later marriage stability, and so on. Given that there is very clear evidence that stable parental relationships do children good, and overall unstable parental relationships disadvantage them, the Commission and its report have decided to take a position of studied indifference to the welfare of children in these different situations.

The absurdity of this approach is revealed early on, in this remarkable comment on p 14 of the Summary Report:

Having talked to many young people and adults, we concluded that neither the importance of family and marriage nor the values that surround them are in decline. Most young people told us that they expect to be married at some time in their life, but it might be some way into the future after they have established a career and pursued other interests. There is a clear distinctiveness about marriage. It represents an important rite of passage and publicly recognises statements of life-long commitment between the partners. In the last ten years this rite of passage has been extended to include the legal recognition of committed, loving relationships between partners of the same sex.

The idea that ‘neither the importance of family and marriages nor the values that surround them are in decline’ flies in the face of all the evidence, all around us! You only have to read news headlines or watch a programme or film to see how radically attitudes have changed over the last 30 years or so. And the following sentences themselves contradict this claim! Marriage is now subjugated to career; it is optional rather than the norm; and it is detached from historic patterns, and disconnected from procreation. The idea that the introduction of gay marriage—which was not even on the agenda a generation ago—shows there is ‘no change in attitudes’, is breathtaking.

There could not be a better illustration of the incoherence of the report’s approach.

Why has such a great opportunity to speak into culture, and boldly to encourage Government to support marriage through its policies, been squandered? I think there are two reasons.

First, the report arises from a lack of coherence in theology at the heart of the Church of England, in this case in relation to marriage and sexuality, but it applies in other areas too. Many both within and outside the C of E believe that being a ‘broad church’ is a strength, but this report shows the reality. Because the contributors do not share coherent theologies of marriage, and do not appear to see the Church’s own doctrine as of central theological importance, the Commission has been unable to offer a theological critique of culture and a theological contribution to questions of policy. Just as certain impurities in a metal give it fatal weakness so that things made with this lose structural strength, the fault lines of our theological views have fatally weakened our ability to speak into culture.

Secondly, the whole conversation seems marked by a lack of courage. We appear to have lost our nerve and no longer have the confidence to say ‘There is a better way, and this is it’. As Martin Davie notes:

The Bible and the Christian tradition see marriage between two people of the opposite sex as the God given setting for the procreation and upbringing of children, but the report suggests that all types of family arrangement can have equal value. The question is why?  Why were the report’s authors unwilling to say that marriage is the gold standard for family life, given by God and empirically producing the best outcome for children?  In addition, why were they unwilling to say, as the Bible and the Christian tradition have always said, that sexual activity is something that should only take place within marriage?

I suspect there are multiple factors that contribute to this loss of courage, including an anxiety about potentially losing the assumed privileges of establishment. But if anxiety about our status causes us to lose our courage, of what value is that status in the first place?

Just in the last week, the Church Times reported a survey which showed plummeting belief in God in the UK:

People in the UK are less likely to believe in God than the people of almost any other country in the world, a new study suggests…

In 1981, three-quarters of the surveyed UK adults said that they believed in God, compared with just under half (49 per cent) in 2022. Just five countries had a lower percentage of belief in God: China (17 per cent), Sweden (35 per cent), Japan (39 per cent), South Korea (41 per cent), and Norway (46 per cent).

It is striking that two of those five countries (Sweden and Norway) have churches which have also taken this ‘don’t rock the boat’ approach, particularly in relation to marriage and sexuality. What Britain needs more than anything is a Church that will offer a courageous account of a better way to live.

In my review of Reimagining Britain, I ended with this observation:

There are more, detailed questions I could ask about the final sections of the book—but I think I have already asked enough of those. The book overall left me with a bigger question: what is the nature of the hope that we have to offer, and what should be our strategy in thinking about the future of society?

Do we focus on what is realistic, looking for some of the positives in the situation that we are faced with, and attempting to build on those? Do we avoid some of the starker, more difficult challenges and assumptions that our culture makes? Do we first of all deal with the problems, with the symptoms that we find in our world, and do we work hard to avoid causing any unnecessary offence by challenging the starting places, trying to find practical partners in a project to improve the world? That appears to be the approach taken by this book—and I can see both its appeal and its practical application. This is a strategy informed by pastoral realism.

Or do we do something quite different? Do we look at some of the fundamental assumptions made by our culture about what the world is like, how things happen, and what it means to be human—and seek to offer a radically different vision of all of this? Do we seek to place the radically new and challenging perspective of Christian faith up against the starkly contrasting assumptions and values of contemporary Western culture—and see what emerges from this challenge that we can act on? Are we prepared to address not just the symptoms (something that the church has consistently done in its practical action) but also prepared to diagnose the causes?

Whether this is just a function of my temperament, or whether from theological conviction, I would always opt for the second.

I am more convinced than ever that this second option is what we need—and this report singularly fails to offer it.

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48 thoughts on “What does the gospel say to family life today?”

  1. Starting with the quote about little co habitation before 1960′ s and employing that as the starting point for a change in Western values, and yes their are arguments for starting before that time, it seems that those values have expontentially grown and morphed to reap the harvest today and are now values which are used to evaluate.

    There was an adage that came to some prominence in the NHS senior managemt: a problem can not be resolved or overcome by the same thinking that caused or created it.

    And that is the problem here, as I read of the report.

    The pastoral response of the church is a necessary one to brokeness, but when that response becomes the message of aspects of human flourishing, it takes on, embeds, the thinking, values, that created the problem. It becomes part of the problem: not only that it encourages a faster spin of the wheel of ever more unfettered self expressive individualism.

    To repeat: the problem can not be resolved by the thinking that created it.

    • Yes—the answer appear to be ‘We all need to try a little harder.’ There is no critique of the fundamental assumptions behind contemporary cultural thinking.

      • “There is no critique of the fundamental assumptions behind contemporary cultural thinking.”

        It seems to me that the prevailing thinking can be summarised as dissatisfaction with the world as God created it: if we want fulfilling lives, free from natural disaster, we have to ‘reinvent’ everything.

        And much of the justification (in the West) for doing that is laid at the door of Christianity on the one hand and the natural world on the other. The former is a miserable set of proscriptions and abuses from which we must be set free; the latter is an existential threat to humanity from which only a self appointed set of global technocratic dictators will be able to save us. Much the same atheistic thinking underpins both narratives.

        We’ve surely seen enough godless social innovations to recognise their inevitable misery; but now we’re about to step boldly into the world of AI, digital captivation of every individual, and (in a few months) a WHO with total authority to declare ’emergencies’ of all kinds (not just pathogenic) at will and to mandate universal medical interventions as the essential lifetime saviour for every foetus that is fortunate enough to have escaped termination.

        Where’s the Church of England in all of this?

        • a WHO with total authority to declare ’emergencies’ of all kinds (not just pathogenic) at will and to mandate universal medical interventions

          Oh, don’t let the tinfoil hat brigade scare you. The self-important drama queens at the World Heath Organisation can claim the authority to declare anything they like, but nobody has to listen to them. They have no ability to enforce anything on any sovereign country such as the United Kingdom. If a UK government were to decide to just ignore aWHO mandate, absolutely nothing would happen. And a good thing too, as I wouldn’t put it past them to ban, say, Coca-cola to fight obesity (as that sort of little Hitlerist lifestyle micromanagement seems to be what the busybodies there much prefer to be doing instead of their actual job of watching out for worldwide medical emergencies, which is why they missed the last one until it was basically too late to do anything). A WHO declaration is just as toothless as a UN resolution.

          That’s the good news: the WHO can’t tell our government to do anything. The bad news of course is that the idiots in our government are quite capable of coming up with overreacting, moronic ideas like the sugary drinks tax all on their own, and then we do have to suffer everything tasting like soap.

          • overreacting

            I mean overreaching, of course; the government has no business trying to control what we eat and drink.

  2. Well, so the Archbishops have commissioned a project to look into the ‘tents of the wicked’ – people who are not Christians and have discovered that they’re not Christian because they have rejected Christian values.

    I’m not a C. of E. man – and don’t really understand what Archbishops are for – but I did imagine that their primary task was to sustain the flock – i.e. those who had come to Jesus and were in the number of the Saviour’s family.

    1. Loss of confidence in life-long committed relationships – well, if you’re a Christian who is married to a Christian, this doesn’t apply. 2. – again, Christians (i.e. those within the number of the Saviour’s family, those who have come to trust in Him for their salvation) do value parenting and child rearing. 3. Considering having-it-off for purely recreational purposes as very important is, and always has been, the domain of the wicked – not a characteristic of those who have been born again. 6. Violence against children – well, Christians don’t do this – so we are looking into the tents of the wicked here (but on the other hand, for centuries pseudo-Christians – those pretending to be Christian but are not – have used the ‘spare the rod spoil the child’ verse to justify the most hideous malpractice when bringing up a family).

    On 4. – increased cost of housing, contracting out child care, etc ….. I get the impression that there may have been one small window from the 1950’s to the 1970’s when this didn’t apply; I know that in the 1930’s and 40’s they did the usual trick of involving the grandparents in bringing up the children (at least that’s what seems to have happened with my father).

    The basic problem is that people (namely those people studied in the project that the Archbishops commissioned) are not saved – and probably don’t want to be saved. And based on the article, the Archbishops haven’t actually come up with any serious suggestions for presenting the life-giving Word in this situation.

  3. Secularism is an unbelievable disaster.

    Secularism is inhabited by people who think it is perfectly ok and normal to surround precious children with access to p********** at the touch of a button, and just do damage limitation afterwards (or not, as the case may be). It is like strangling their flourishing at birth. It is an indication of how much they do not care / are deadened.

    Premarital sex clearly deadens conscience, since people before that experience would not even dream of killing babies. Let alone their own. They would not even dream of harming them.

    You can say (why?) that turning away from God is not connected with the sexual revolution, but it is so very heavily correlated with it not just mathematically but also thematically.

    Get. Secularism. Out.

    • Christopher – I wouldn’t expect C. of E. bishops to take a Christian approach, since I don’t see much evidence that many of them are Christian. What sort of missionary activity would you suggest when dealing with people who are basically hardened against the gospel?

      • They are not hardened against the gospel at all, only their age/culture is. Investigate how that happened and reverse it.
        Belt and braces: you can also observe cultures that are not hardened, including our own at other dates, and replicate those conditions.

    • The problem with having government imposed religion is that you dont get to choose which religious values are imposed. Someone else does and they probably wont agree with every aspect of your own domestic circumstances.

      Freedom of religion is better for everyone.

  4. Harry Benson’s research is outstanding. He is a proper nuanced academic as well as a campaigner.

    If cohabitation is so unavoidable how come it was avoided (together with so many of the other modern atrocities) for hundreds of years in an era of far lesser surveillance?

    The C of E report is that of a self-gravedigger. All types of families are equally good. Yes, the realities and statistics tell us that. 3 is the same number as 6000. 245 is the same number as 17. Which is worse? Its unintelligence? Its dishonesty? Or its uncaring for the precious souls of the young and not so young?
    It also does not distinguish between the gift of singleness and the sort of singleness which the present regime wrongly imposes on so many: e.g., virtuous women who will never find an equal mate because men are given cheap sex.

  5. My final point at this stage. The fact that a third of households are a single person certainly does indeed contribute to loneliness.
    It also makes the so called housing shortage a nonsense, since it is only the unhealthy cultures that are not living together as families, and building more housing only encourages that.
    And finally it makes the idea that this is not a rich country perfectly ridiculous.

  6. One wonders if “the starkly contrasting assumptions and values of contemporary Western culture” are so embedded in the church that it has not even been noticed that observations of it are no basis for developing a Christian resonse to the current situation.

    The bible is quite clear on all of this and at 48 years old, has observably always been at odds with “the world” in my lifetime, yet is very rarely taught in a clear and concise manner.

    It might also be observed that during this period the ideas around egalitarianism have ballooned, and fuelled the individualism and independence normalising people doing whatever they chose in this area as in many others. This too has reflected the starkly contrasting assumptions and values of contemporary Western culture with the biblical and historical narrative.

    You can’t have it both ways in a fallen world, even the church. One reaps what one sows.

  7. The approach of measuring the comparative strength of two approaches, Chrsitian and secular, was already taken in my What Are They Teaching The Children? chapters. It was of course a walkover, and that is an unspeakable tragedy. We already had the answer, and (not ‘we’ but) ‘they’ blew it. With all the human fallout.

    Patrick Dixon, The Rising Price of Love took a very well documented approach to give a similarly unnecessarily devastating picture.

    If people are impervious to reason, they are unqualified for office. Get them out immediately.

  8. I’m afraid the foreword word from the Archbishops was enough for me.”for God so loved the world that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live among us, to demonstrate a radical new way of relating to one another, to show abundant care, grace and mercy to the least likely people.”

    To me on a par with the coronation ‘ I come not to be served but to serve” as a misappropriation of Jesus’ words – but maybe that’s just me….

    • David – not just you (of course) and I hope you’re being sarcastic with the last comment.
      The whole point of the coming of Jesus was the crucifixion and resurrection. The other points made by the bishops, while nice, are peripheral. They don’t see this – so we can assume that they are not saved. How do you preach the gospel message to bishops in such a way that they’ll hearken to it? If they’re not saved by now, I reckon that they’re hardened against the gospel.

  9. It is perhaps only of tangential relevance, but “the biblical narrative offers an egalitarian vision of humanity made male and female in the image of God…” really, Ian? The creation narratives may do this, but the rest of the Old Testament isn’t remotely egalitarian. Having said that, a lot of your points about society sadly are very true. I can’t comment on the report itself.

    • Great point Penelope.
      Does the Gospel embrace the social and polictical, philosophical concepts of egalitarianism as developed of today?
      Does the Genesis of equal value, extrapolate into a dogma of equal rights, exactly the same,
      a universallyy applicable, absolute. To the unborn even?
      Is there not an equal but opposite, Genesis, egalitarian responsibilty, equated- to -value -in -the – eyes -of -God?
      Sure there is, even as it shouts in indignant denial, to God, in close proximity, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ( Don’t you dare judge me, God!).

    • Penelope – you are (of course) right.

      After the creation narratives, we get a long list of examples where the creation narratives were violated – and as a result everything went horribly wrong. For example – Jacob marrying two women (when the creation ordinance makes it clear that one was the biblical standard). His family life was horrible – and the family rivalry was a major component in the scenario that led his other sons to dump Joseph in a cistern, leave him for dead, and tell his father that he had been eaten by wild animals.

      We could go through more examples, but briefly – all the examples where the creation ordinances are violated (i.e. just about all the narratives of the Old Testament – the OT society that is presented to us) pointedly show us that these creation ordinances are a good thing (in the sense that the alternatives invariably lead to major difficulties).

      I think the life of Samson is very useful for teaching about family life (and how not to go about it).

    • Penny, much of the OT narrative has remarkably egalitarian features set within a patriarchal context. What scripture reports is not the same as what it affirms.

    • Up to a point.

      Moses doesn’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt alone – he has his brother Aaron, and also his sister Miriam doing it. Judges has Deborah (a married woman) ruling over Israel and planning military campaigns. Queen Esther rescues the Jewish people from genocide at the hands of Haman. Judith (a pious young widow) saves Israel on her own initiative, by seducing the Assyrian General Holofernes and then decapitating him in the night. Jael does something similar, killing the Canannite commander Sisera by driving a tent-peg through his head. Rahab (a prostitute or brothel madam) is instrumental in the capture of Jericho when she provides cover for Joshua’s spies, and is one of the few Old Testament personalities who gets pointed to in the New Testament (Matthew, Hebrews, and James).

    • ‘It is perhaps only of tangential relevance, but “the biblical narrative offers an egalitarian vision of humanity made male and female in the image of God…” really, Ian? The creation narratives may do this, but the rest of the Old Testament isn’t remotely egalitarian.’
      Of course, the Hebrew Scriptures were written over hundreds of year into cultures that were patriarchal in many aspects. But when we read them from the perspective that the bible offers itself (eg the story of God’s creation, human sin and Christ’s redemptive love) we recognize the critique they are often offering to the cultures they spoke into. Important to use the right categories too in the passages relating to women; many are ‘descriptive’ but certainly not ‘prescriptive.’ If Ian will allow me, can I commend my book which deals with this more fully? https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Patriarchal-World-Twenty-five-Empowering/dp/0281084076

      • I am in awe that I inspired a response from ELAINE STORKEY, such a great and inspiring name for Christian women! I have noted the book, thank you! However, I do think that when we say “the Bible saying something happened isn’t the same as saying that it was right” although this is often surely correct, it can also sometimes be a cop-out.

  10. It’s interesting because I think there are three major changes in society that have happend in my lifetime that the church has not adapted to and are, to my mind, a major reason for decline in attendance

    1. The new requirement for families to have all adults in full time employment, which greatly reduces leisure time and family time

    2. Increased travel. People are now much less likely to retire from work living in the same community or even region in which they were born. People are expected to travel large distances to look for work “on your bike” etc

    3. Increased access to information via the internet.

    I think rather than society under valuing parenting, I think it’s actually the opposite. Parenting now is far more hands-on and time consuming than parenting of my generation was. Fewer people are choosing to have children because they know they cannot meet the modern cost. Parents are working more, spending more time on education and family time.

    I think it’s a bit silly to look wistfully back to an age when sex was only for procreation because that age never existed and certainly not within living memory.

    • I think it’s a bit silly to look wistfully back to an age when sex was only for procreation because that age never existed and certainly not within living memory.

      There are still people alive who remember before 1960, and before that date sex certainly was for procreation, at least for women (men, of course, have always been able to behave abominably and avoid their responsibilities).

    • Pete, I agree with you that these are changes. I am not sure though what you mean by ‘the church has not adapted.’ The first is not a ‘requirement’; it is the result of a combination of monetarist policies and decisions. And it forms a vicious circle: because fewer people marry or remain in marriage, there are more single-person households, and that pushes house prices up. If half of the one-third who live alone had remained in relationships, one sixth of the housing stock would suddenly flood the market, and house prices would plummet, so parents would immediately not need to both work.

      We do precisely undervalue parenting—as shown by your comment ‘increased travel’. We choose to spend money on holidays, concerts, eating out (the average weekly spend on food per person in the UK is just under £50 plus £13 eating out or on takeaways; in our house we spend less than half that), clothes (monthly average £80).

      Parenting isn’t about being wistful; it is basic biology. If your parents had not been willing to invest in parenting, you would not be here. And for Christians it is about a theological vision of what God has called us to be.

      • Telling society that it shouldn’t have changed isn’t going to get more bums on seats. A few of my friends do try to practice the large-family-with-mum-at-home model and its obviously very hard financially even if they have one really good salary.

        I think generally more forethought and planning goes into having children now than in my parents generation and, as I said previously, more is expected from parents. My husband’s parents were dirt poor when they had him. I think a couple today would think twice about bringing a baby into poverty. That’s not to criticize my husband’s parents (who are wonderful parents), just to say it’s not as easy as saying children are not valued now.

        I think you’ve misunderstood my point about travel. It was about work, not leisure. Before the early 90s a significant number of people were able to find work in the community in which they were born into. Now that’s pretty rare. This comment wasn’t particularly connected to parenthood, although it does mean that overworked parents are less likely to be able to rely on childcare from their own parents. 3/4 of my grandparents worked their whole lives within 20miles of where they were born. Both my husband and I work thousands of miles from where we were born and actually both of us work hundreds of miles from where our employer is located.

        The church, across all denominations, is largely based around ideals of community and a significant proportion of ministry is devoted to Christian education.

        In the 21st century adults can get better, quicker education online than from their parish church, are less likely to have an attachment to the community and are put off by the increasing commitment of time that is expected from many churches. If I go to church Im going to be pressured to go to the prayer group or help at the soup kitchen and lose family time and hear a sermon Ive heard before with flaws Ive noticed before.

        Im not offering easy solutions, but it’s not rocket science why people don’t go to church any more.

        • Peter – do you consider ‘bums on seats’ to be the objective of the church? It isn’t; the objective should be to proclaim the central gospel message, with a view to bringing people to repentance and to trust in Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

          I don’t think that anyone here (except perhaps for Christopher Shell) imagines that it would be productive to tell *society* in general that it shouldn’t have changed; Christians (i.e. those who trust in Christ and hence are saved through Him) are not of the world. This (I think) is the basic problem of the C. of E. (also the C. of S.) that it sees itself as a church *for society* rather than a church for those who have come to believe and hence, having been transported from death to life no longer really belong to society. The problem with the Archbishops and the project they commissioned is that they don’t see it as their job to proclaim The Word with the consequence that those who come to believe are transported (through the Holy Spirit) to a completely different – and better – mindset and way of thinking.

          Based on this perspective, I think it’s probably fairly clear to you how I’d respond to the rest of your comment – except that I’m not sure if your husband reads your comments here, but if he does, he might not like the description ‘dirt poor’. There wasn’t much money at all in the household where my mother was brought up, but she’d consider that such a description ‘dirt poor’ was a pejorative, which only snobs would come up with to describe her situation – snobs with more money, who were infinitely poorer than her household in terms of the important things in this life, where both her parents had come to believe and were saved.

          • Jock

            I’ve no idea what the church of England’s objective is.

            I think blaming individuals in this generation for societal changes they had no say in is neither proclaiming the gospel nor growing the church.

          • Peter – I’d agree with all of this – (a) it is not at all clear what the C. of E.’s objective actually is! (b) blaming individuals in this generation for societal changes isn’t proclaiming the gospel.

            I’d also say that this generation really does need the gospel message (just as my grandfather’s generation did when he came to faith back in 1923 – courtesy of the Lowestoft revival of 1921).

            But `growing the church’ is not the objective – the objective is that people be brought to faith (and if the church grows as a result of this, then that is all to the good – but if it isn’t clear to Christians what the C. of E. is actually for, then don’t expect the C. of E. to grow).

        • I think a couple today would think twice about bringing a baby into poverty.

          Do you have any statistics to back that up? I thought that in general people on lower incomes had more children.

          Im not offering easy solutions, but it’s not rocket science why people don’t go to church any more.

          Surely it’s good that not as many people go to church. It means that there are fewer people there who aren’t really committed. It shouldn’t be easy to go to church; it should require commitment, and the barrier to entry should be high enough to keep out those who don’t really mean it. Time-wasters need not apply.

    • A reminder, well within 12/24 hour living memory:
      “What does the gospel say to family life today?”
      is the title.
      Is it to be taken, Peter that your answer is
      1. nothing?
      2 I don’t know what the gospel is?
      3 It doesn’t apply to me?
      4 It doesn’t affect the way I live?
      5 I take my cue from society around me?
      6 my living memory doesn’t extend to the 6O’ 7.They have nothing to do with me , nor have had any influence?
      8 my own living memory and life experience are the only or main measure. They are my only functional categories and scope of what history comprises: my own life span – history begins with my birth and ends with my death?
      8. It’s none of your business?

    • Peter – I respectfully think that your first point has nothing to do with the case. I know that my father was mostly brought up by his grandparents (and slept in their house when he was a child). His father was a fisherman (away at sea for several days at a time), his mother also had to work – so the past you speak of when people seemed to have more leisure and family time is something that probably didn’t exist, except for the middle classes, and probably only for a short period of time (say late 50’s through to late 70’s). That didn’t stop church attendance – my father’s experience was standard for families of fishermen – and the churches were packed on Sundays (the middle class Church of Scotland was poorly attended, but the Fishermen’s meeting halls were vibrant).

      • Jock

        I think it’s undeniable that prior to the 1990s it was pretty common for women to be primarily “housewives” and now it’s considered a bit wierd.

        Of course there are lots of cases that don’t fit this. I’m not talking about every single couple, just about changes in society

        • Peter – you’re shifting it a little. You were giving reasons for decline in church attendance – and you suggested that all adults out working (and consequently less leisure time and ‘family time’) was a factor in this. That is the point I was responding to.

          You’re thinking about this from a very ‘middle class’ perspective. Yes – for my grandparents it was the men who went out fishing and the women didn’t go to sea. It was usually the women who gutted the fish and did other such land-based tasks (such as keeping the accounts for the fishing boat) – so they weren’t restricted to being ‘housewives’ – there were other necessary tasks that they had to do. There wasn’t leisure time or ‘family time’. These were middle class concepts for people from the sort of moneyed background that Enid Blyton portrays in her children’s books (e.g. Famous Five).

          I was simply pointing out that in a fisher community, which was a working community (very little leisure time of ‘family time’) nevertheless everybody went to church – so yes – I entirely agree with you that things have changed dramatically for the middle classes – they have much less leisure time and ‘family time’ – but I don’t think that this change in the ‘middle class’ lifestyle is responsible for decline in church attendance, since the ‘working class’ didn’t have the luxury of leisure time of ‘family time’ and nevertheless they went to church anyway.

    • Ian Paul – I wonder why you use the word ‘we’ here? Are you personally part of this high-spending, lots-of travelling trend? I’m aware that this is the way-of-the-world, the way in which society in general is going, but I was under the impression that this was not, in general, the lifestyle of Christians (by which I mean those who trust in Jesus, that in His work in the crucifixion their sins have been dealt with – people who know that in and through him they have passed from death to life).

      This I see as the basic problem with the Archbishop’s commissioned project; there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between Christians and the world; they present it as if the ‘bad stuff’ is all part of the life of Christians.

      • I use ‘we’ for the same reason Daniel does in Dan 9. I note explicitly that in our household we do not follow this pattern of consumption.

        Yes, I agree that the problem with the report is that, well, it doesn’t appear to bring the gospel to bear at all.

        • Ian – this is (of course) very important – and where I (for one) see my own deficiencies. Daniel uses ‘we’ because he actually identifies with the people (and we know from Jeremiah and Ezekiel just how sinful and at enmity with God they were). In the same way, we see Moses identify himself with the people when God wants to annihilate them from the face of the earth and make a great nation from Moses – and Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. In the same way, Jesus took sinful flesh (although he did not sin) and identified himself (in some sense) with sinners ……. That may be at the heart of the cry ‘why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was identifying with sinners.

          If we want to bring people to salvation, we have to (in some sense) identify with them in the same way as Daniel (in Daniel 9:1). This is very hard; when I see people with values that seem to be diametrically opposed to my own, I somehow seem to consider them as being from a different planet – there isn’t any identification or solidarity; I wouldn’t consider using ‘we’.

          That is (of course) a completely different topic – and has nothing to do with the way the project of the Archbishops approaches things – they don’t have the starting point of a people set apart and ‘in Him’, reaching out and identifying with a society of people who aren’t.

  11. About 30 years ago I recall a conversation with a sociologist whose area of research was the reduction of fecundity (perhaps a better term than fertility) particularly in Italy. It was when I first learned of the stable rate of 2.1 (rather than 2.2) children per woman. At the time the rate in Italy was 1.3. His research suggested not that children were seen as not important, but that they were seen as very important. Unfortunately, this means that they need to have (in our consumer capitalist society) lots of money spent on them. Therefore, couples often could only afford to have one child.

    I suspect that there are actually many reasons for the reducing fecundity. On is the importance of ‘career’. Women don’t reject motherhood, they just postpone it. But fertility (q.v.) decreases with age. So when the decision to have children is made, it is harder.

  12. On a more general level, perhaps part of the overall problem is the shift in the meaning of ‘family’. It is now seen simply as a couple with, possibly, children. Two hundred years ago, a family included uncles, aunt, cousins, grandchildren, etc. etc. These would have generally lived close by each other. These would have been part of a wider local community. Those who were not married were still very much part of this. (I read somewhere that in Jane Austin’s time 30% of women did not marry. No wonder Mrs Bennet was so concerned to marry off her five daughters!)

    I don’t think it was secularism which did for this. Some blame must rest with the industrial revolution and the consequent movement of people to towns and cities and the breakup of long term communities.

    If one wants a Christian response to this, then perhaps it is the local church which should become the place where people can find this broader community.

  13. I was born in 1950. My childhood was free and I could run and play all day without my mother worrying about me. I would turn up when I was hungry. None of my friends had divorced parents. As a teenager I understood that sex before marriage was frowned upon and single parenthood was very rare. Kissing and cuddling was the limit unless you risked getting pregnant. When the Pill first became available in the 1960’s it was only dispensed to married women.
    In the 1980’s I was married with two children and my husband committed adultery. He wanted to stay married but in an “open” relationship. I divorced him on the grounds of adultery. My children were the only children in the primary school with a single parent (how far we have fallen since then).
    I became a Christian through the trauma and married a Christian a few years later.
    Fast forward to my two grandchildren. The first one born to a single parent in the 1990’s and one we were very involved in bringing up. The second one born cleft (the NHS wanted to murder him in the womb in 2007). Both are lovely young people and my grandson’s cleft has been sorted by the NHS who wanted to kill him. But life for them is so different. My granddaughter is now 26 and lives alone and my grandson is 15. He has recently been confirmed. He is living through a school life where so many are “identifying as something they are not. He asked me the other week “Will there be anyone left for me to marry?” What a mess we have made when we have turned away from God’s laws.

    • ‘He asked me the other week “Will there be anyone left for me to marry?”’

      What we as a nation have done to our children over the last few years is so evil that I cannot think of any reason why God should not deliver the most fearful judgement on us. But unless things rapidly change we look set to do it to ourselves anyway.

      In human terms we are offering our children nothing but soulless misery or even an early death as the vision for their futures. Our own C of E is either silent or complicit in all of this. I doubt that anything short of Christians leading a prolonged period of repentance and national mourning will unleash the spiritual power necessary to confront and defeat the satanic forces which have overtaken us and much of the Western world too. God of course remains sovereign and endlessly merciful; but he needs us first to echo the anger and sorrow he must be feeling. I still don’t see it happening but I pray that it will.

    • Tricia – well, the story of your conversion is very encouraging – and I think that you are clearly in a very good position to advise the Archbishops about what the church should be doing to be useful for Christians on the subject of their project (about issues around family and household).

      There are those of us looking on from outside (i.e. from the position of stable happy marriage) who can only pontificate at a theoretical level – and end up talking sanctimonious garbage, but you found yourself married to an adulterer – and you did absolutely the right thing by divorcing him. People who imagine that an ‘open marriage’ is somehow OK are utterly despicable, the lowest of the low. How to deal with the situation? How can ‘The Church’ be of practical help? How did you become a Christian and how can the church help others in a similar situation to come to faith?

      Your own experience should be extremely valuable here.

      • Thank you Jock for your comments. I was troubled over my divorce, but Jesus does not forbid divorce – he states that the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery, and once I read that passage I understood the significance of a marriage only being valid once it has been consummated – the two become one flesh and are united in marriage. This is why the new Act of Parliament ties itself in knots when it states that a heterosexual couple must consummate but a single sex couple do not. Single sex couples cannot meet the criteria for marriage as it has been known in this country for over a thousand years.
        The problem now is that divorce has become like OT times, “I divorce you” – not fault divorce. The church needs to teach the real meaning of marriage and the struggle it can become to carry in loving someone – there will be good times and bad. My sister has recently died after 62 years of marriage and her husband is bereft. It was not always an easy marriage, but they weathered the storms together as so many previous generations have done.
        My children and my husband’s children have been damaged by the divorce. My daughter was a very rebellious teenager without her father around and she berated my husband with “you are not my father” in many rows! She is now the closest of our family! So we weathered that storm.
        The value of being a “together” family for your children and grandchildren is wonderful to see in those around me.
        I am sure that this generation is ready for real Christian teaching on the true meaning of marriage as so many have been damaged by the relaxation of divorce laws and the sexual revolution.
        This new attack on the young where they are being told that they can remake themselves in the image of their choice is a demonic attack. Psalm 136 tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Science backs us up as we know there are either xx or xy chromosomes and this is unchangeable no matter how you mutilate your body. I weep fir my grandson living in this nightmare and those of his friends who are confused about who they are.

        • Tricia – yes – I think that very alarming things are happening in society – and the conditions for some sort of Christian revival are most definitely there. People must begin to see the problems with their own lives – how long until they turn to Jesus?

          Your grandson will be all right – although perhaps it could take much longer than he might like. I was somewhat ‘puritanical’ about things in my younger day and I didn’t meet anyone who was suitable until I was 33. I’m now 56 and we’ve been together for 23 years. We have one child – a 7-year old son. So your grandson still has plenty of time.

          I’d say that the current situation in society could have advantages for decent people, though. People are much more open about their depravity than they used to be. The promiscuous are open about their promiscuity, so it’s easier for a decent person to avoid a liaison with someone who might have a tendency towards adultery. Also, the weirdos are now open and upfront about their weirdness (because weirdness seems sadly normal these days), so your grandson can avoid them, smiling politely so as not to cause offence, but keeping them at arm’s length. Before, people who didn’t hold Christian values pretended to do so.

          But definitely – things have gone horribly wrong. None of my uncles and aunts got divorced; most of my cousins seem to have had at least one divorce – and this seems to be standard in society at large – so things have gone horribly wrong.

          But there is something radically sick at the heart of society – and if ever the gospel message was needed, it is now.

  14. I empathise with many on this post
    Church and People have forsaken God’s Law and have not obeyed the Gospel of the Kingdom. We have” cast off restraint” ,Philosophical Liberalism [ which does not like restraint or rules] is a default position in most ,if not all our institutions.
    We all know the prevailing problems of such theologies and philosophies.
    What does The Gospel of the Kingdom say about all this?
    Well, Repent.[not a Gospel, to my knowledge , been much preached for decades.]
    The Holy Scriptures are able to make us wise concerning Salvation.
    What shall we do?
    Well “Take with you words and return to God”
    What words? I suggest Daniels Confession [Ch,9] Note well he did not blame persons or circumstances and incuded his himself in his condemnation.
    OR Joel 2:17 Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
    or EZRA Ch .9.
    The Word of God is not a wooden sword as some profane people
    call it, neither is it a rusty sword not fit for purpose but as Paul wrote —1 COR.10:11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

    The Gospel of The Kingdom is not an invitation – Act 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:


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