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Credo
5 December 2022

One of the most worrying developments that we witness in the West and also in some affluent countries in Asia is the evolution of marriage and the family. There is a notable decline in the traditional family, even as avant garde arrangements emerge and rise in prevalence.

One of these trends is the exponential rise in the number of single-parent families. A 2019 Pew Research Centre study showed that “almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%)”.

Another development is the rise in the number of couples who choose cohabitation over marriage. In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 4.85 million cohabiting couples, an increase of a whopping 1,000 percent from 1960!

In some countries, the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the practice of no-fault divorce have also contributed to the erosion of the traditional family. Other contributing factors include certain laws on adoption (such as adoption by singles or by homosexuals), surrogacy, abortion and social egg freezing.

These trends are worrying because they are disassembling one of the most important institutions in human society and culture.

From time immemorial the traditional family is the bedrock of society, the basic cell of human community. This important truth is eloquently articulated in the Apostolic Exhortation of the late Pope John Paul II on the role of the Christian family in the modern world (Familiaris Consortio):

The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life: it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principles of the existence and development of society itself.

For the Christian, the family is not a malleable man-made arrangement that can be altered according to the dictates of the prevailing culture. The family was instituted by God, created by him for the benefit of human beings and the flourishing of society.

The basic biblical family unit comprises a man and a woman—united in the sacred covenant of marriage—and their offspring or adopted children. The extended family includes relatives by blood or marriage such as grandparents, nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Marriage is the foundation of the family. The modern or postmodern dismantling of the traditional family often begins with the dissolution of the institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman—an obvious example being same-sex marriage.

The ease with which the marital union can be dissolved in modern society has also contributed to the erosion of the institution of marriage, which in turn will have adverse consequences for the family. Legislations that make divorce swift and easy such as no-fault divorce (known also as no-reason and amicable divorce) are examples of how the law can shape public attitudes towards marriage and the family.

The role of Christian families in a society where this important institution is crumbling cannot be exaggerated. As salt of the earth and light of the world, the Christian family can truly be counter-cultural by displaying the beauty of marriage and family as God had intended it.

But in order to do this, Christian marriages and families must resist the cultural trends that are sweeping societies across the world. They must conform to the pattern that is ordained by God (Gen 1 and 2). Each of its members must embrace his or her respective obligations and responsibilities, as a husband and a wife (e.g. Eph 5:25–33) and a parent and a child (e.g. Eph 6:1–4).

Ideally, all the members of the family should be committed to Christ and to his service. It is in this vein that the Orthodox Church has delightfully portrayed the Christian family as a “small church”, all of whose members are living according to God’s will and for his glory.

The Christian family therefore participates in the mission of the Church in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and in displaying the beauty of God’s plan for humankind. It does this in the hope that it may prevent modern society and culture from becoming the tragic victim of the very perversions it has created.

References:
[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/12/u-s-children-more-likely-than-children-in-other-countries-to-live-with-just-one-parent.
[2] Social Science, LibreTexts, “12.4A: The Decline of the Traditional Family”, https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Introduction_to_Sociology/Book%3A_Sociology_(Boundless)/12%3A_Family/12.04%3A_Recent_Changes_in_Family_Structure/12.4A%3A_The_Decline_of_the_Traditional_Family.
[3] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981), https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.