The debate on the changing nature of family and the effects of this upon society is news this week. The Family and Parenting Institute are having their conference this week and Dr. Katherine Rake has been making the headlines with her remarks. Her speech was based around the forthcoming publication of Family Trends British Families Since the 1950’s
The newspapers have covered this in the following ways:
The Daily Telegraph had a front page article claiming that the “Nuclear Family is broken”.
The Guardian took a different slant, proclaiming “Working fathers must learn to juggle time for their families”.
The Daily Mail highlights the political aspect involved here with the following headline, “Now it’s war: David Cameron in savage attack on Labour’s ‘pathological’ refusal to accept marriage IS key to happy families”. In this article which follows on from their veiled attack on Dr. Rake yesterday in this profile of her.
At this point I don’t want to get into the political fighting on tax breaks for married people, (I am actually in favour of the return of the married mans tax allowance which this is actually all about). What I do want to do is highlight why these issues are important for us to engage in intelligently as Christians and the complexity of it.
My starting point on this is the report. Even if you / your church doesn’t buy the whole report I would urge you to get hold of a copy. My reasoning for the importance of this investment is that it will help your strategic planning for the coming years. To engage with society as it is, realistically, the church needs to understand that society and base their knowledge on factual information. This book will have the data in to do this. Secondly, Rake is basically a futureologist, in the same way as Mustard Seed man Tom Sine. That is she looks at the patterns of what has been happening, in this case over a 50 year period and is making reasoned predictions about what will happen in the next decade or so. In terms of missiology these types of people are vital. They are not mindless mystic megs, they are people who have painstakingly analysed the data and trends of the immeadiate past to see what they logically tell us is likely to happen. If as a church we want to be visionary rather than reactionary we need to engage with these people and their predictions for the way society is likely to go.
In terms of Christian approaches to family life nobody is disputing that marriage is a good thing. In fact the majority of the population appear to believe marriage is a good thing. However, and here’s the rub, we don’t do marriage very well in our society. Whether we like it or not both inside and outside of the church divorce is an ever present reality. A Barna Group survey within the US in 2001 showed that born again Christians are just as likely to divorce as other people. With the rise in co-habitation amongst non-Christians it is actually quite possible that we will reach a situation in the not too distant future where Christians will have higher levels of divorce than the general population precisely because they are getting married, (i.e. statistics for divorce cannot include the figures for co-habiting couples who split up so whilst Christian partnerships may actually be more likely to last(?) they will not appear to if one looks soley at statistics).
Rake sums up the key changes that have occurred in family life as follows:
” Over the past 10 years, the very ways that families can be started has changed:
By the beginning of this year almost 33,956 civil partnerships had been contracted since their introduction at the end of 2005.
Assisted reproduction counts for the conception of about 10,000 children a year or about 1 per cent of children born in the UK.
Family structure has changed with
Fewer people are getting married: marriage rates are at a historic low only 270,000 were married last year compared to 480,285 at the peak in the 1972.
Cohabitation is set to rise. By 2021, 22 per cent of couples are likely to be co-habiting while in 1996 that figure was only 12 per cent.
But marriage is still the most common form of partnership for men and women 52 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women were married in 2006
The contours of our population have changed also:
One in five children now belong to an ethnic minority and that number is expected to rise, with mixed heritage families meaning some ethnic groups ceasing to exist as we currently imagine them
The number of over sixty fives overtook the number of under sixteens in 2007
Not surprisingly, what childhood means has also shifted:
71 per cent of adults reported playing the street of area near their home everyday when they were children, compared to 21 per cent of children today
All these trends make family life complex. Families are pulling society in multiple directions between work and home life, singleness and cohabitation and marriage; between growing older and forming families across our many cultural divides.”
Over the next few days I intend to unpack what I think these changes in family might mean for us as Christians and as a church. As usual many of my ideas will have been influenced by others and where I know who has influenced the thinking I will reference, but most of this is likely to come out as unreferenced thoughts throwing together a range of stuff I have both heard and thought about personally.
For those who are interested in looking at the future and what some of the “intelligensia” think are the main challenges for society the Big Ideas, “Question Time, What Next?” is worth taking an hour out to watch on You Tube. Susan Neiman talks particularly intelligently about the relationship between secular and religious society.