Carolyn Moynihan

Shape or be shaped: Christians in an era of marriage decline

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan
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February 6, 2013 (Mercatornet.com) - Christians throughout the West are dismayed at plummeting church attendance figures. They blame video games, or left-wing teachers, or Richard Dawkins. But perhaps the real answer is closer to home -- their own families.

Divorce, single motherhood and cohabitation have been destabilising family life in America and other developed countries for decades. About one million children in the US each year experience the divorce of their parents, and more than half the children born to women under 30 are now born outside marriage. Reproductive technologies are also adding ambiguity -- and potential fault lines -- to family relationships.

Christians as a whole seem as likely as the average American to be caught up in these trends. At the same time religious practice and church affiliation are declining. It seems obvious that these twin crises of marriage and faith are related, but what are the dynamics? Did religion decline and then marriage, or did marriage decline and then religious practice? There is research that points both ways.

Without attempting to settle this question a new report from family scholars at the Institute for American Values investigates one way in which fragmentation of the family impacts on the individual believer and therefore on churches. The report, Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? focuses on the religious and spiritual lives of young adults who experienced the divorce of their parents.

Reviewing a raft of studies on the subject, co-authors Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Zietlow and Charles E Stokes conclude that, compared to those who grew up in intact families, these young people on the whole feel less religious and are less likely to be practising a faith on a regular basis. Specifically:

Two-thirds of young adults who grew up in married parent families, compared to just over half of children of divorce, say they are very or fairly religious.

More than a third of people from married parent families currently attend religious services almost every week, compared to just a quarter of people from divorced families.

This highlights a very significant fact: as in all other areas of life, parents play a key role in their children’s spiritual formation and religious practice. Normally, they are the ones who take them to church, teach them their prayers, talk to them about God and answer their questions about matters of faith. Their loving care makes intelligible the belief that God is a father (the Father) and also like a mother, fostering the child’s trust in God and acceptance of his will as taught systematically by the church. Studies show that the greatest predictor of the religious lives of youth is the religious lives of their parents.

When this “domestic church” is ruptured by divorce it can therefore undermine a child’s whole religious life. For one thing, many parents stop attending church. Children of divorce are less likely than those from intact families to report that their mother encouraged them to practice their faith (about half compared with four-fifths), and even less likely (about one-third compared to two-thirds) to report this of their fathers. This does not seem surprising given that children generally live with their mother post-divorce, and also given the bitterness of many fathers over access arrangements. Still, as in other areas of life, loss of dad’s input leaves an unfillable gap in children’s lives.

And lest anyone think that the amicable divorce, in which both parents stay involved in the child’s life and minimise their conflict with each other, would be less disruptive to a child’s faith, the report finds this is not generally the case. In one study the grown children of “good divorces” often compared poorly with those who grew up with unhappily married parents. And those raised in happy, intact marriages were more than twice as likely to attend religious services compared to those from low-conflict divorces.

On the positive side, some individuals from divorced families eventually become much more religious. The report notes that “as young adults, children of divorce are surprisingly likely to feel that they are more religious now than their parents ever were.” However, the note of scepticism towards parents here indicates a reason that young adults from divorced families are more inclined to reject the church (or other religious community) of their childhood, either switching to another or describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.

The church response

The question begging to be answered at this point is how faith communities can prevent some of personal suffering, social chaos and haemorrhaging from their own ranks that comes from the disintegration of marriages and the increase in unstable cohabiting relationships. This is not, however, a question that the Shaping Faith report itself gives us a lot of help with. Its chief concern is pastoral responses to children of divorce and other broken families.

In this respect alone much ground has already been lost. In a national US study, of those young adults who regularly attended a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds said that no one -- neither from the clergy nor the congregation -- reached out to them, while only a quarter remembered receiving that kind of help.

Also, the report notes that where the underlying ideal of marriage presented to a congregation is the “companionate” or “soul mate” model (as opposed to the institutional or child-centred model) the strong focus on the couple relationship can make it more difficult to see the family as part of a religious community, and for couples to take their troubles to the pastor. More about this important subject later.

In contrast to the neglect of young people from broken families, a paper by Evangelical Lutheran pastor Amy Zietlow, which forms the second part of Shaping Faith, describes how local congregations can become places of refuge, nurture and healing for them. Pastors and youth leaders should work harder on providing faith role models. They should listen to those affected by divorce and provide an environment where they can question and search as they come to terms with what has happened. The church (building) itself can provide a “sanctuary” and place of hospitality for young people divided between “mum’s house” and “dad’s house”. These are all good, practical suggestions.

It is not until the very end of the report, however, that the all-important question of preventing divorce (and other forms of family breakdown) is addressed head-on. A final recommendation notes:

"One of the most profound ways that we can support children of divorce is by helping there to be fewer children of divorce in the first place. It is more important than ever for churches to reflect deeply on their role as custodians of the marriage tradition, and to engage actively in preparing and strengthening congregants and people in the community to have healthy, lasting marriages."

How? Well, a little agreement among churches on what the marriage tradition is would be a good start.

Unfortunately, the Institute for American Values itself is currently sowing confusion about that tradition by leading a campaign to embrace same-sex marriage as part of the solution to marriage decline. They are proposing as a remedy the very thing that at least some churches and other marriage advocates see as fatal to the institution and a symptom of what is already wrong with it.

The case for gay marriage rests largely on the assumption that marriage is a committed romantic relationship between two people to which sexual intercourse of a procreative character (if not outcome) is incidental rather than of the essence. In other words, it depends for its credibility on the soul-mate ideal which has supplanted the child-centred, institutional ideal of marriage -- and in doing so has contributed massively to decline of marriage in the West.

This is because the soul-mate marriage, with its undergirding of equal gender roles and economic contributions and its carefully planned births, seems to work for upscale Americans but has proved unattractive to or at least unattainable by people down the socio-economic ladder. The IAV itself in its manifesto for a “new conversation about marriage”, as it does in the Shaping Faith report, identifies “soul-mate issues” as one of the problems besetting marriage, overlooking the fact that gay marriage would institutionalise this very model.

The real solution: marrying romance and children

What is really needed, as family law professor Helen Alvare indicates in a response to Shaping Faith, is a new conversation about healing another kind of divorce -- that between the romantic couple and the children they are capable of generating.

It’s too late to begin such a conversation when a couple is about to marry. By that time (and given historically high ages at first marriage in the U.S.), men and women in the United States have been instructed over and over and over again that sex is one thing and children are entirely another…

Without “re-orienting” (early and often) what is most celebrated in American culture about what men and women do together (sex, romantic love) -- away from the couple themselves and their individual and joint happiness -- how are we to get to the place where children’s interests are privileged? In the earliest discussions of sex and life skills and vocations, then, schools and churches and families need to link the relationships between men and women to children.

Alongside state and federal governments, churches have a massive role to play in this mission, Alvare, a Catholic, observes. She adds, “It is a bit shocking, in fact, they have not played it to the hilt by this time in our nation’s marriage crisis.”

In another response economics professor Catherine Pakaluk, also a Catholic, stresses the need for churches and pastors to exercise their teaching prerogative about marriage with far greater clarity and energy. If they want to stop the damage that family breakdown is doing to individuals and the church, and start making an impact on family formation, they need to exercise “visionary leadership on basic moral teaching,” she says.

With IAV’s efforts to get conservatives and churches to embrace gay marriage as part of the solution to the decline of marriage, the task of achieving clarity on basic moral issues just got more complicated for the Christian community as a whole. Those most likely to suffer the ill effects are, again, the children.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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Are you praying for the upcoming Synod on the Family? You should be, and here’s why

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By John-Henry Westen

Catholics, and all Christians who value family values, should be praying earnestly for the Catholic Church as a struggle over critical family issues is coming to a head in the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which takes place October 5-19. 

Augmenting the concerns is the fact that some of the cardinals closest to Pope Francis himself are increasingly in public disagreement over crucial matters related to faith and family. For some, the concerns reach right to the pope himself.

While Synod preparations have been going on for a year, Sunday’s weddings of 20 couples in St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis presented a figurative, and perhaps foreboding launch.

In a press release prior to the ceremony, the Rome diocese inexplicably went out of its way to highlight the fact that some of couples the pope was going to marry were cohabiting. "Those who will get married Sunday are couples like many others,” it said. “There are those who are already cohabitating; who already have children.”

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream press took the bait and seized upon this statement to run headline after headline pushing the confusing notion that the event was a prelude to, or evidence of, a change in Church teaching on marriage.

Headlines like: 

All I can do is pray that the public fallout from these wedding ceremonies does not foreshadow the public outcome of the Synod. If so, we could be headed for a tragedy akin to the tragedy of the late sixties when, despite the proclamation of the truth of Humanae Vitae against contraception, the effect among ordinary Catholics was a near universal rejection of the teaching in practice.

What to expect at the Synod

The official list of those taking part in the Synod includes 114 presidents of Bishops’ Conferences, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, 25 heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, nine members of the Ordinary Council for the Secretariat, the Secretary General, the Undersecretary, three religious elected by the Union of Superiors General, 26 members appointed by the Pontiff, eight fraternal delegates, and 38 auditors, among whom are 13 married couples and 16 experts.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of Cardinal Kasper’s intervention at the Consistory of Cardinals earlier this year, in which he laid out a contentious proposal to allow Catholics who have been divorced and then ‘remarried’ outside the Church to receive Communion. 

Since then a bevy of heavy-hitter cardinals have fought that proposal, including:

Today, however, Cardinal Kasper said the “attacks” from these cardinals were not so much directed at him but at Pope Francis, since, claims Kasper, he discussed his intervention with the pope and gained his approval.

The claim has some basis, since the day after Kasper made the proposal, before it was made public, Pope Francis praised it publicly.  According to Vatican Information Service, the Holy Father said:

I read and reread Cardinal Walter Kasper's document and I would like to thank him, as I found it to be a work of profound theology, and also a serene theological reflection. It is pleasant to read serene theology. And I also found what St. Ignacius described as the 'sensus Ecclesiae', love for the Mother Church. ... It did me good, and an idea came to mind – please excuse me, Eminence, if I embarrass you – but my idea was that this is what we call ‘doing theology on one's knees’. Thank you, thank you.

Of note, Vatican correspondent Sébastien Maillard, writing for France’s La Croix, reports today that Pope Francis is “irritated” by the release of a book containing criticisms of the Kasper proposal by five cardinals.

As LifeSiteNews.com reported yesterday, one of those authors, Cardinal Raymond Burke, is being demoted from his headship of the Apostolic Signatura. The only post planned for the 66-year-old cardinal thus far is patron of the Order of Malta. 

Cardinal Burke’s pre-Synod interventions go beyond the divorce and remarriage question and into the matter of homosexuality.  In a recent interview Cardinal Burke gave a clear refutation of the misuse of Pope Francis’ famed ‘Who am I to judge’ quote to justify homosexuality.

While the issue of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality is seldom raised in reference to the Synod, with most of the emphasis being placed on the question of divorce and remarriage, it is mentioned in the working document, or ‘Instrumentum Laboris’, of the Synod.

As with the matter of divorce, no doctrine regarding homosexuality can be changed, but much confusion can still be sown under the auspices of adjustments to “pastoral” practice. Without a clear teaching from the Synod, the effects could be similar to the shift in “pastoral” practice among dissenting clergy after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, which led to the use of artificial contraception by most Catholics.

Already and for many years there has been de facto broad acceptance of homosexual sexual practices in many Catholic schools, universities and many other institutions, with many staff being active homosexuals in open defiance of Catholic moral teaching.

Regarding the Synod’s deliberations on homosexuality, it does not bode well that one of Pope Francis’ personal appointees to the Synod is retired Cardinal Godfried Danneels.  The selection is remarkable because of Danneels was caught on tape in 2010 urging a victim who had been sexually abused by a bishop-friend of Danneels, to be silent.  Then, only last year Danneels praised as a “positive development” that states were opening up civil marriage to homosexuals.

Then, just this week, as reported on the Rorate Caeli blog, one of the three Synod presidents gave an interview with the leading Brazilian newspaper in which he said that while stable unions between homosexual persons cannot be equated to marriage, the Church has always tried to show respect for such unions.

The statement matches that of another prominent Synod participant, Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who in 2010 spoke of giving more consideration to ‘the quality’ of homosexual relationships. “We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships. A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous,” Schönborn said.

In the end, while there is currently a public battle in the Vatican that is unprecedented in modern history, the faith will not and cannot change.  As faithful Catholics, and Christians, we must cling to the Truths of Christ regarding the family and live them out in our own lives first and foremost.  That is difficult, to be sure, especially in our sex-saturated culture, but with Christ (and only with Him) all things are possible. 

Plead with heaven for the pope and the bishops in the Synod.  LifeSiteNews will be there reporting from Rome, and, with your prayers and support, be of service to those defending truth.

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Poet: I ‘would’ve died’ for my aborted daughter’s ‘right to choose,’ just ‘like she died for mine’ (VIDEO)

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By Ben Johnson

What kind of mother asks her baby to die for her? And what kind of media outlet celebrates that?

To take the second question first, The Huffington Post is promoting a video featuring Scottish “poet” Leyla Josephine, celebrating her decision to abort her daughter. The video, “I Think She Was a She,” was uploaded to YouTube a month ago.

In the video Josephine, decked out in military camouflage, justifies herself in part by saying that she would have been willing to serve as a sacrifice to abortion just as she offered her daughter to the idol of “choice.”

“I would’ve supported her right to choose – to choose a life for herself, a path for herself. I would’ve died for that right like she died for mine,” she said.

In the next rhyming line, she addresses her unborn daughter: “I’m sorry, but you came at the wrong time.”

“I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed," she continues – a phrase she repeats a total of six times. She repeats the phrase "This is my body" three times. (She also takes the Lord's name in vain once.)

In the early part of the video, she describes her belief that her child was a girl and imagines a life where she had given birth to her daughter.

“I know she was a she,” she says. “I would have made sure that there was space on the walls to measure her height,” she adds. “I would have made sure I was a good mother.”

At one point she appears to describe the emotional aftermath of her choice as “a hollowness that feels full, a numbness that feels heavy.”

But she later calls the idea that her child was a girl or a boy “bull---t” and affirms, yet again, she is not ashamed.

This provokes a few observations:

1. If she knew her child's sex, she must have had a late-term abortion. Our gentle, healing restoration is needed in a world marred by so much aggression and anger in the name of political orthodoxy.

2. Fr. Frank Pavone has written, ”Did you ever realize that the same four words that were used by the Lord Jesus to save the world are also used by abortion advocates? 'This is My Body.'” To paraphrase him, he notes the difference. One, by surrendering His life on the Cross, gave life to the world. The abortion industry uses this phrase to impose its will on the bodies of separate, living human beings who have not harmed anyone.

3. The most chilling phrase in the video is her statement, “I would’ve supported her right to choose...I would’ve died for that right like she died for mine.”

First of all, her daughter did not die for the “right to choose.” Her daughter was not sacrificed for the inalienable “good” of keeping abortion-on-demand legal (and, in the UK, taxpayer-subsidized). Politicians are bribed to maintain it; no baby needs to die for it. Josephine's child died because HuffPo's hero of the moment chose not to carry the baby to term and place him/her in the hands of loving adoptive parents who would have cherished her baby – whether it was actually male, female, or intersex.

Josephine describes the emotions that actually led to the abortion only metaphorically – e.g., she compares the abortion to chopping down a cherry tree – but that angst is the root (so to speak) of the abortion, not the great and grand cause of assuring that other women have the right to go through the same soul-crushing grief.

That intimation that her daughter died for “choice” – that she offered her baby as a living sacrifice on the altar of abortion – confirms the darkest rhetoric of the pro-life movement: That for some in the movement, abortion is sometimes regarded as an idol.

And that raises one other, more universally held question: What kind of parent asks his son or daughter to die for the “right” to abortion? Parents are supposed to be the one who sacrificially care for their children, who forsake their own comfort, who do whatever is necessary – even die – to keep their children safe, healthy, and well. Josephine's blithe, “Sorry, but you came at the wrong time” sounds as hollow as a gangland assassin's apology to the family caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. Abortion severs the love that God, or Mother Nature, or evolution, or whatever you choose to believe in placed within every pregnant woman to link the mother to her child.

The abortion lobby's rhetoric, which increasingly disregards the value of unborn life, is untethered by the bonds of human compassion, is fundamentally selfish and cold-blooded, and lacks a sense of humanity and brotherhood to the point of obliterating maternal love itself.

“Will a woman forget her child, so as not to have compassion upon the offspring of her womb?” God asks through the prophet Isaiah. “But if a woman should even forget these, yet I will not forget thee, saith the Lord.”

The pro-life movement exists precisely to set this upside-down order aright, to reinstate the natural love and compassion everyone should have for all of God's creation – most especially that between a mother and the innocent child she has helped create and fashion with her own DNA.

Cross-posted at TheRightsWriter.com.

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Cardinal Dolan greets worshipers and guests on the steps of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan after Easter mass on April 8, 2012 in New York City. Lev Radin / Shutterstock.com
Lisa Bourne

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Catholic leaders criticize Cardinal Dolan’s defense of gay group at St. Patrick’s Parade

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By Lisa Bourne
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New York Cardinal John O'Connor on the cover of the New York Post on January 11, 1993. http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan defended his decision to serve as grand marshal for the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Wednesday, in the wake of widespread criticism from Catholics after he praised the organizing committee for allowing a homosexual activist group to march.

“If the Parade Committee allowed a group to publicize its advocacy of any actions contrary to Church teaching, I’d object,” Dolan stated in his weekly column. On the contrary, he argued, “The committee’s decision allows a group to publicize its identity, not promote actions contrary to the values of the Church that are such an essential part of Irish culture.”

Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, was not impressed with the cardinal’s argument. This is precisely about publicizing advocacy contrary to Catholic teaching,” he said.

“As a Catholic father I find there is rapidly contracting space where this shameful agenda is not stuck in the faces of my children,” Ruse told LifeSiteNews. “The Church should be protecting our children rather than abetting those who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of innocent souls."

Pat Archbold, a popular blogger at the National Catholic Register and who runs the Creative Minority Report blog, lambasted Dolan for suggesting the embrace and promotion of “gay identity” can be separated from the sin of homosexuality.

“This identity is not a morally-neutral God-given attribute such as male or female, black or white,” he said. “The identity is with the immoral choice to engage in immoral behavior.”

“The best that can be said in this situation is that these people choose to proudly identify themselves with an intrinsic disorder.  But in reality, it is worse than that,” he continued. “The people find their identity and pride in sin.  Either the Cardinal knows this or he doesn't, either way Cardinal Dolan reveals himself unequal to his responsibility as a successor of the Apostles.”

The parade committee changed its longstanding policy on September 3 after decades of pressure from homosexual groups. Upon being announced as the parade’s grand marshal later the same day, Cardinal Dolan said he had no trouble with the decision at all, calling it “wise.”

The organizers had never prohibited any marchers, but did not ban issue-focused banners and signs, whether promoting homosexuality or the pro-life cause.

Cardinal Dolan stated in his column Wednesday that he did not oppose the previous policy.

“This was simply a reasonable policy about banners and public identification, not about the sexual inclinations of participants,” he explained.

“I have been assured that the new group marching is not promoting an agenda contrary to Church teaching,” he said as well, “but simply identifying themselves as ‘Gay people of Irish ancestry.’”

The homosexual activist group that will march is called OUT@NBCUniversal, which describes itself as the employee resource group for LGBT & Straight Ally employees at the media giant.

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The network held the broadcast contract for parade coverage. Reports indicated the contract was about to expire, and that NBC joined in pressuring on parade officials.

Cardinal Dolan conceded in his column there were many thoughtful reasons for criticizing the parade policy change, and noted that he shared some of them.

“While a handful have been less than charitable in their reactions, I must admit that many of you have rather thoughtful reasons for criticizing the committee’s decision,” he said. “You observe that the former policy was fair; you worry that this is but another example of a capitulation to an ‘aggressive Gay agenda,’ which still will not appease their demands; and you wonder if this could make people think the Church no longer has a clear teaching on the nature of human sexuality.” 

However, he said, the most important question he had to ask himself was whether the new policy violated Catholic faith or morals.

In stressing that homosexual actions are sinful while identity is not, Cardinal Dolan said, “Catholic teaching is clear: ‘being Gay’ is not a sin, nor contrary to God’s revealed morals.”

Making opinion paramount, the cardinal offered that the parade committee “tried to be admirably sensitive to Church teaching,” and even though the original policy was not at all unfair, the committee was “realistic in worrying that the public perception was the opposite, no matter how often they tried to explain its coherence and fairness.”

“They worried that the former policy was being interpreted as bias, exclusion, and discrimination against a group in our city,” Cardinal Dolan wrote. “Which, if true, would also be contrary to Church teaching.”

When the decision was announced and Cardinal Dolan named the parade’s grand marshal, Philip Lawler, director of Catholic Culture and editor for Catholic World News, called it a significant advance for homosexual activists, and a significant retreat for the Catholic Church.

Pointing out in his column that the media will be correct to concentrate on that narrative at next March’s event, Lawler identified what he said is almost certain to be the result of the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“Next year there will be only one story-line of interest to the reporters who cover the annual parade in the world’s media capital: the triumph of the gay activists,” Lawler wrote.

“Photographers will be competing for the one ‘money’ shot: the picture of the contingent from OUT@NBCUniversal marching past the reviewing stand at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, under the benign smile of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.”

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