‘Reactivating the Extended Family’ was the title of Jubilee Centre’s first ever research report, on how a biblical social vision could be applied to public policy in Britain. 35 years later, we are revisiting the subject and making it a theme in 2020. It also marks Jubilee Centre’s acquisition of the Family Matters Institute.
Healthy families are central to a Christian understanding of flourishing society. They are the primary institution where commitment, sacrificial love, support and guidance can grow. There is abundant evidence that children growing up in a stable home do better emotionally and educationally and have fewer
mental health issues. On the other hand, family breakdown is estimated to cost society around £51 billion annually.
Whilst few people would disagree privately that the best environment for children is to be raised by their own mother and father in a loving home, we cannot say that in public without simultaneously appearing to put down people whose marriage has broken up, or mums who are raising their children alone, or same sex couples with a child. What was intended to be a positive affirmation comes across as a bigoted, judgmental opinion.
How have we got here? Somehow family has changed from a public good to a private choice. We have elevated the values of personal choice and individual autonomy, decoupling them from any consensus around what is good and right about family life. Today it’s more important to promote the right of the person to choose (and choose again) their close relationships for self-fulfilment, than to affirm certain types of family structure which bring long-term flourishing, especially for children.
Yet despite these cultural innovations which seek to maximise personal freedom, an astonishing 89% of 16-29 year-olds in Britain say their life has no overall meaning or purpose. Something seems to be wrong with this narrative.
The Bible’s account of creation shows that human beings are endowed with a tremendous sense of purpose. That includes the development of language and culture, cultivating the earth’s potential and stewarding the creation. But this ‘creation mandate’ includes something even more fundamental: God’s first instruction to Adam and Eve was the shared project, ‘Start a family!’ Fill the earth with descendants who will bring order to creation and carry on this mandate.
The task before us
God gives each generation the task of bringing forth the next generation of human beings to take their place on earth. This is so taken for granted now in a world that seems to be overpopulated, and where human life is cheap, that we miss the wonder, privilege and responsibility of this task. Instead there is an insidious tendency to reduce having children to a consumer choice, rather than a sacred trust which future generations need us to fulfil.
This doesn’t mean that every woman will be a mother, nor every man a father. But there are possibilities for everyone to have a significant role in nurturing, protecting, teaching and training children – firstly through extended families, then in professional or volunteer capacities via schools, voluntary groups or churches. And opportunities abound in the other direction too – for both children and adults to support old people who are frequently lonely and needing practical and emotional support.
Every child born belongs to a family. Families carry cultural knowledge and values, including faith, from one generation to another. They provide the foundation for personal and emotional security and wellbeing throughout life.
Families matter. Let’s celebrate them, and help provide the motive, opportunity and support for them to thrive according to God’s purposes, and the rest of society with them.
This blog was first published in the January 2020 edition of our Engage News Magazine.