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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This woman mocks pro-lifers every week but raises money to save animals

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By Ben Johnson

Tina Haver Currin and her husband, Grayson, have become heroes in the feminist blogosphere for mocking pro-life counselors who oppose abortion. But the feminist couple, who spend their Saturdays holding irreverent signs in the midst of sidewalk counselors in North Carolina, do not approve of killing in every case: They raise money for a no-kill cat shelter and have an abiding concern over “the ethics” of eating meat.

Tina, a “creative strategist” at Myriad Media and former English teaching assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a self-described “atheist” with a penchant for “black metal” – a genre of heavy metal music extolling Satanism, with occasional ties to the neo-Nazi movement. She met her husband, Grayson, through a friend and bonded over their love of similar music.

She says she and Grayson were driving past A Preferred Women's Health Center, a chain of abortion facilities with an office in Raleigh, in March when the site of pro-life sidewalk counselors angered them.

After her husband suggested they make their own signs to stage a counterprotest, they took pictures of themselves holding placards with such derisive messages as “Honk if you're horny” and “Bring back Crystal Pepsi.”

Another sign simply said, “pro-cat.”

They began documenting their shenanigans on their blog, Saturday Chores, and soon they received profile pieces in Cosmopolitan and The Huffington Post. The executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, Suzanne Buckley, recently sent Tina “a *heartfelt* thank-you” for her efforts.

“It's true that we're mocking people,” Grayson Haver Currin – who adopted his wife's maiden name when he married – told several media outlets. But Tina said their actions have been well received, except for “some creeps on the internet.”

While the couple cannot fathom anyone being concerned with unborn children – the first sign they ever made had an arrow pointing at pro-life advocates with the words “Weird hobby” – they are heavily involved in protecting stray cats from being put to sleep.

Tina is an organizer of the annual HepCat race to benefit the SAFE Haven Cat Shelter and Clinic, which its website describes as “a nonprofit, no-kill shelter” in Raleigh.

Tina, who has been a vegetarian since she was 12, told Cosmo that one of the first disagreements she and her husband had was over “the ethics and the politics of” eating meat. (The other was “about Grayson using gender pronouns.”) In time she convinced her husband to give up the joy of eating Bojangles chicken.

The born activist has taken to the streets throughout their marriage. She was arrested as part of the “Moral Monday” protests at the state capital, the weekly liberal protests against the policies of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. In addition to McCrory's policies on abortion, she has said she is “upset about voter ID laws, [and] reduction of education funding and social programs.”

“By the way, we support marriage equality, too,” she blogged.

But it was not until they began opposing the pro-life movement that she gained any notoriety. Now, she said, her movement has ballooned from just two people to dozens.

She told The Huffington Post she “probably” had 60 people supporting her side outside the abortion facility last week. A photograph for the following Saturday showed perhaps half that many people in attendance.

Her ultimate goal, she said, is to have enough pro-abortion protesters to “crowd them out,” so that pro-life sidewalk counselors “don't have a chance to show their signs.”

“We would love to see this more humorous take on combating these hateful things spread,” she told Cosmo


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Growing ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement draws fury

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By Hilary White
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Critics of feminism have long said that it is entering the final stages of its long career, with more of its assertions about the nature of human sexual and social relations being contradicted by the evidence and fewer young people following its dictates every decade. But in the last few weeks, it seems that feminism’s last gasp is being used to direct insults at young women who are lining up to publicly reject and ridicule it.

The Tumblr site Women Against Feminism has started a social networking trend in which thousands of young women photograph themselves holding signs bluntly denouncing feminism, giving a sharp indication that the feminist brand has become poison to young, hip, and internet-savvy women.

Mainstream and journalistic feminists have lashed out at the site and its followers, entering into an online spat over the increasingly popular photos. The signs say, “I am not a victim,” and “This is what an anti-feminist looks like.”

They continue: “I am an adult who is capable of taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I define myself and derive my value by my own standards. I don’t need to be ‘empowered’. I am not a target for violence and there is no war against me. I respect me and I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems.”

The messages held by the women pinpoint with pithy and acerbic precision exactly the reasons given by many critics that the movement has lost favour with young people. They call it a creed of double standards that promotes victimhood and endorses bullying of anyone who critiques it.

The site’s explanatory page, which was taken down for unknown reasons in the last two days, said, “Feminists are the only people who lose their minds with rage when you tell them that women already have the same exact rights as men. That’s not good enough. They want more. They desperately want to be victims. They want a privileged social position.”

The author goes on to accuse feminism in general of systematic censorship, discrimination, elitism and “policing other women” who do not toe the line – as well as baseline misandry. The anonymous creator denounced feminism’s adoption of “abortion as ‘empowerment’”:

This opinion is unpopular, but I don’t agree that I need to have my baby scraped out of my uterus in order to feel empowered. But the abortion industry (i.e. Planned Parenthood) makes a ton of money off this perversion of empowerment. ‘Abortion as empowerment’ teaches women to see their wombs as nothing but garbage bins full of disposable waste.

One of the contributors wrote, “I don’t need feminism because my self-worth is not directly tied to my victim complex. As a woman in the western world I am not oppressed, and neither are you,” says one. Another: “I don’t need feminism because I don’t need to bully someone to share my opinions with others.”

Some come right out and say that feminism promotes exactly the evils it purports to fight against: “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

Although the site and its contentious photos have been running around the internet for many months, arguments among journalism’s feminists started breaking out this week after a mocking Buzzfeed feature helped the site gain momentum on social media outlets.

Some feminist journalists simply flung insults. Lillian Kalish sniffed on Ryot, “These Women Who Think They Don’t Need Feminism Don’t Know What Feminism Is.” “Did these posters ever think to look up the actual definition of feminism?”

Nuala McKeever, in the Belfast Telegraph, called the women posting the photos “silly, ignorant, vacuous wee girls with absolutely no thoughts beyond their own self-absorbed inanities.”

Time Magazine’s Sarah Miller said, “I Really, Truly, Fully Hate ‘Women Against Feminism’—But…” Miller wrote, “[T]he tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant… We need feminism.”

But Miller added, “Still, the pain that we experience as women—even physical—does not give us the right to tell people there’s one way to think or feel, or to assume that we have some god-like understanding of everyone’s motivations.”

Cathy Young, however, responded in Time, saying, “Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right.” She writes, “The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists—but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.”

The site, Young says, “raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st Century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.”

Sarah Boesveld wrote in the National Post on Friday that the site shows that feminism has become “complicated” and “sometimes alienating.” She quotes an email sent to the paper by 22 year-old Australian Lisa Sandford, who “believes in equality for the sexes” but firmly rejects feminism as “rude and nasty” and intends to be a stay-at-home mother. 

Sandford wrote, “If feminism really accepted equality, they would not tell me my views are wrong, they would accept it and let me be.”

Browse the 'Women Against Feminism' archives here (warning: occasional strong language).


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Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse

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Welcome Baby Filipino 100 Million!

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By Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse

Population Research Institute welcomes the birth of little Chonalyn Sentino. Baby Chonalyn was born this past Sunday to parents Clemente and Dailin, and was feted in the Philippines as “Baby 100 Million.” PRI welcomes Baby Chonalyn as well, saying that she will be a blessing to her family, her community, and her nation.

The Philippines is one of the largest Catholic countries in the world, and its people value children. For this reason, it has been a target of the population controllers for decades. It was one of the countries singled out by Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council in 1974 for special “attention” and, more recently, has been bullied by the Obama administration into passing its first population control law. 

The bill, which was touted as being all about promoting “reproductive health,” was actually intended to drive down the birth rate. For example, section 15  requires that all couples receive a “Certificate of Compliance” from the local Family Planning Office before becoming eligible for a marriage license.

Some in the Philippines are decrying Chonalyn’s birth, repeating USAID’s talking points about the “dangers” of overpopulation. They welcome Chonalyn as an individual little girl, while simultaneously calling for future little girls and boys to be removed from existence.

The Philippine Star wrote that the birth symbolized a “large population that will put a strain on the country's limited resources.” Another paper cited the executive director of the official Commission on Population who bluntly said “We'd like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman's) lifetime.” And the Global Post cited “concerned advocates” who thought the current population was not a “complement with the country's economic growth.”

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

But many other Filipinos aren’t buying into the anti-people hysteria. Francisco Antonio, a Filipino Chemical Engineering graduate student at Yale, adamantly rebutted the notion that there are too many Filipinos, saying: “I celebrate life because population control is defeatism disguised as pragmatism. And because human creativity holds more potential for protecting this planet and its inhabitants than any other resource I know of.”

A Filipina currently living in California told PRI that she welcomed the transition of her country to 100 million persons: “Filipinos are not a burden to the world population, because we not only care for our own but also for others in the world. One of the greatest and most sought after exports of the Philippines is our skilled, motivated, and exemplary workforce. And these workers tirelessly cultivate their family and community abroad and in the Philippines. We are a very social and civic minded people. We care and share because it is part of our culture and we do it with a smile.”

 Ed, a Filipino accountant, also celebrated the birth of Baby Chonalyn: “The typical Filipino does not associate a baby with ‘cost’ or ‘expense’ but rather as a ‘blessing’ and a ‘gift.’ This is because Filipinos recognize that true happiness does not come from the accumulation of material wealth or prestige, but rather, from true, genuine, and strong relationships with other people. [Filipinos] value life, not because the Church says or the Pope says so, but because they recognize it to be true. And the truth about the value of life, will continue to shine, long after the debates are over.”

It goes without saying that we at the Population Research Institute also welcome Chonalyn’s birth. We need more Filipinos, not fewer. 

Reprinted with permission from Pop.org.


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