A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Encourage Marriage!

 In the August edition of the Messenger we published an article by Bob Renshaw on the effect of the media on personal relationships. One of our readers wishes to disagree in part, and propose alternatives.

While I agree with Bob Renshaw that the normalisation of casual relationships can only cripple families and is particularly harmful to children, the solutions he offers are unlikely to prove acceptable to Christians. This is because his advice does not conform to the teaching of Christ – a major problem. Jesus does not give us commands because they don’t work for us, but because they do.

Mr Renshaw’s dismissal of learning Te Reo Maori ignores the critical role of enculturation in the handing on of Christian tradition. This is not a waste of time, but an important foundation to the promotion of family values among Maori and the whole Church.  We are commanded to love each other and this means loving our people as we really are. Language is critical to self-identity.

The characterisation of anti-violence education as “current fashion” cannot be reconciled with core Christian teaching. If we could learn this one lesson from Christ about peace between neighbours and enemies we would know virtually everything there is to be known about family and human relationships.

Mr Renshaw’s advice that the Church should forget about speaking out, because the affected groups do not attend Church, is also surprising. Church-goers have the same problems with family violence, divorce and youth disengagement as does the rest of society, and if we have less it is because of the values we teach, not despite them.  There have been many epochs of Christian history where the Church has not been the dominant political institution in society, yet the message has still been heard. It is still being heard now and always will be; but not, of course, if its members stop speaking. The duty to teach and proclaim has been known to the Church since its earliest hours

And yes, the children actually are better off than being subjected to the cold misery of economic deprivation and the brutal parental alienation that separation brings

Mr Renshaw is right that we should discourage casual relationships but wrong when he says we should celebrate “long-term relationships”. We should encourage marriage. Here is the risky part, because encouraging marriage might mean abandoning some cherished ethical notions which Mr Renshaw gives voice to in his last paragraph, that “we have to accept the fact that some relationships are doomed, for whatever reasons”. I have seen many relationships end that are not doomed. I have seen many marriages survive adultery.

Contrary to popular wisdom, a marriage can survive violent episodes. There can be forgiveness and healing. And yes, the children actually are better off than being subjected to the cold misery of economic deprivation and the brutal parental alienation that separation brings even in the best case scenario where the parents play nice and access is generous. No, this does not mean violence should be ignored. Women and children should not have to live in fear. It is a matter of prudence and degree.

Here is another risky part – encouraging marriage might mean encouraging young people to marry quite young, instead of suggesting they wait until after they have completed their education, partied up large and done their O.E. This is easier for a mother to countenance in theory than in practice. Am I going to be able really to suggest and promote the marriage of my teenage daughter? Just putting it out there – so far I haven’t been put to the test!

Mr Renshaw’s basic impulse to pitch in and support our young people is right and should be welcomed, but the impatience he expresses about some of our best tools should be treated with caution. If there is a solution to the break-down of the family within our society it will come from the teaching of Christ, and not from outside.

Juliet and Andrew have four children 7 -11 years, are members of Francis Xavier parish Whangarei NZ. She trained as a family lawyer and now studies theology part time

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