Thursday, November 18, 2010

Losing or regaining a Sacramental Sense of Marriage

I woke up early this morning and turned on the television to MSNBC. The talking heads were conversing around the usual themes of Washingtonian politics, the 2012 election (we're so far removed from the '10 election) and other stuff. Then they came on with this story: A collaboration between Time Magazine and the Pew Foundation where the experts studied the "State of our Unions." One of the studies key findings is:

A new “marriage gap” in the United States is increasingly aligned with a growing income gap. Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. The survey finds that those in this less-advantaged group are as likely as others to want to marry, but they place a higher premium on economic security as a condition for marriage. This is a bar that many may not meet.
(Pew Charitable Trusts, 18 Nov. Para. #2)

The speaker in the MSNBC story claims that marriage has become an institution for the wealthy rather than the less wealthy. Also, men benefit more from marriage than women do. (happier, live longer, more prosperous). A higher percentage of women are suggesting that marriage is no longer a prerequisite for their happiness as it has been in the past. All of these facts are changes that have taken place from the last few decades.

More and more people, since the recession started, believe that they can't afford to get married. Here's another head scratcher -- 60% of the young people under the age of 30 believe that marriage is obsolete but 95% of them want to get married. There are 8 times as many out of wedlock births as compared to 1960. Americans are accepting broader definitions of family: single men living with children; Unmarried couples living together. According to Hope Yen, study participants said that "
Three out of five people said a same-sex couple with children is a family."

These are radical shifts, if true in the emergence of a new understandings for sacramental and pastoral relationships, church community, and Christian life in the broader world that go well beyond creating blessings of unions for same sex couples. How will established parishes welcome couples, regardless of gender, who are living with one another with no immediate intention of getting married because they can't afford it or don't think it is necessary? What can we do to provide affordable day care, weekday schools for single parent families, including men, and their children? We say that we desire to welcome more young people into our midst. The study suggests: "The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29, who are more likely than older generations to have an unmarried or divorced parent or have friends who do. Young adults also tend to have more liberal attitudes when it comes to spousal roles and living together before marriage. (Yen, 2010, Para. #9)

I don't have the data but my inference is that many Episcopal Churches are primarily composed of "traditional" families (mother, father, children, grandchildren). We certainly welcome divorced and remarried people much more so than in the past; nonetheless, I don't know of many congregations who intentionally open their doors to economically disadvantaged single parents with children or to younger singles and couples who are not necessarily interested in marriage.

How shall the sacraments change to reflect the changing values of the culture. (relativism or new means of evangelism?) I love the idea that the culture's understanding of "family" is broadening even as I wonder about the potential disadvantages for children who are raised without a primary mother or father figure and/or must work through the difficulties of living in a stepmother/stepfather scenario. The Church has many roles to play in these situations with Christ's love for the outsider being at the center of the Church's intentions and programs.

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