22nd November 2018: Patron of Explore, Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham address to Explore invited guests to mark the charity’s 18th birthday.
“It is my privilege to welcome you to this event today. I express my thanks to the Lords Speaker for his agreement to us holding this session in this lovely setting.
My thanks too to Lisa and the team for all the preparatory work they have done.
I first came across Explore when I was Bishop of Southampton. I met the indefatigable Rex Chester’s who shared the story. It led me to promoting the work in schools in South Hampshire, Christchurch & Bournemouth.
When I moved to Southwell & Nottingham I agreed to become a Patron as I believe that Explore has demonstrated time and again the value of their work in schools. I love the way couples simply go in and share their stories. I honour them for telling the stories with such honesty about failure and difficulty alongside the delights and joys. Presenting marriage as if it is all a bed of rose petals helps no one understand why it is such an important institution. Presenting it as a bed of roses including the thorns matters.
I recognise that I have had a privileged life in this regard. My parents set me a wonderful example of marriage and family life. So did my wife Rosemary’s parents for her, and then myself. We have now been married 36 years, have 4 adult children, 2 of whom are now themselves married. I have 3 sisters all now married for long periods. We are thus an unusual family. Not a divorce in sight.
However my ministry has meant my meeting and working with people in every kind of family shape imaginable. I visit East Africa regularly and talk with people there about their marriages and family patterns. I have no illusions about variety, pain, anguish and hurt alongside the joys and delights of marriage.
Throughout my ministry I have also specialised in work with children and young people. I have therefore had plenty of opportunity to listen to, talk about and observe the impact on young lives of broken marriages and relationships. This is part of what encourages me to promote work that helps young people themselves hear stories of good marriage and have the opportunity to ask, talk and debate it for themselves.
Marriage as an institution
One of our society’s modern ills is loneliness. It is highlighted by people of all ages as a serious problem. Current research estimates 1 in 4 people are suffering daily, this is therefore of epidemic proportions. Yet human beings are made for community; it makes no more sense for a human to be in isolation than it does for an ant or a bee. As the ancient writer of Genesis noted, ‘ God said, It is not good for the man to be alone.’
Even as adults social rejection is cognitively understood as being similar to physical pain. Brain scans have shown that “social pain”, such as being shunned by a community, activates the same region – the dorsal anterior cingulate – as bodily trauma. When humans feel threatened by isolation, evolved responses drive us into a state of cognitive hyper-vigilance. We voraciously scour situations for social information that might allow us to re-establish personal connections.
In survey after survey of people a key factor that matters most is Family.
So Archbishop Justin writes in Reimagining Britain,
“A happy family, lived out amid difficulty and challenge, is among the deepest satisfactions of human existence, and when it is prevalent in a society it lays the foundations for hope and national character in a way that is impossible to replicate in any other form of human institution. Some of life’s gifts – stability and fidelity, the knowledge of love and community – are often givens within the family or household, so that the values lived in the micro are practiced for the macro. The good family is the foundational intermediate institution in society, and one to which every human being necessarily belongs in one way or another. It addresses issues of care, isolation and rootlessness. It is a gift of God in any society, bearing burdens, supporting the vulnerable and stabilizing both those who believe themselves autonomous and those who feel themselves failures.”
Human connection begins and flourishes with stable families. As an institution the family is a key brick, a cornerstone, on which society may develop; it is an essential for preserving other institutions. It is with the stability of families that society itself finds core stability.
Talking about childhood stability stats
It is well researched that children born to married parents tend to achieve better cognitive and social outcomes, on average, than children born to other family structures. Research suggests this is largely due because married couples are on average less likely to split than cohabiting couples.
This stability sees children to married parents significantly less likely to engage in risky and anti-social behaviour. Pre-teen children in cohabiting couples are reported to have slower socio-emotional development, lower educational attainments and more difficulties in school. This has been directly linked to the fact children in households where the parents are cohabiting but not married were significantly more likely to experience a period of separation from one parent by the time they turned seven. Household stability in early childhood is crucial to development.
This importance does not fade in teenage years. Mental health problems among teens in the UK are even more prevalent than reported. 27% of teenagers in cohabiting households experience mental health problems, considerably larger than the figures for teenagers with married parents. Self esteem, long associated with closeness and trust in relationships is strikingly higher amongst children with married parents. Whilst the statistics tell us that cohabiting relationships encourage more development than separated parents, they remain significantly less supportive than the security and stability of marriage.
Britain already has one of the world’s highest levels of family breakdown; nearly half of our teenagers are not living with both natural parents.
The ‘family’ as we have known it is in the midst of great change. Whilst family cannot be uniformly defined and has always been a dynamic concept, the course we as a society are on now threatens not only to change the structure of the family unit but to move away from the stability and security we have traditionally valued. Society is at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, diminishing the healing power of good families by treating the institution as suspicious. Social responsibility is changing, we are on a trend where more outsourcing of care for our vulnerable family members is happening, including our children. This social support is important but we need to be aware that it could also risk diminishing the loving family connections we hold, and know to be commonly for our good.
Family is the base of communities, connecting generations, pairing the vulnerable with the strong. Similarly, marriage is the beginning of new families. We all recognise that not every marriage can or will last forever. Every family has its difficulties and griefs, no marriage has never seen conflict or difficulty. It is important that we see these difficulties as points to fortify and develop relationships, It is important that we teach children that entering into lifelong covenanted relationships is great and for all our good. We equally have to teach that such relationships have to be kept being worked at, and that such work is worth it.
Good work is being done to educate the rising generation. The new relationships and education bill which has recently passed through the house gives room for the teaching children about marriage and family life. But given the crucial importance of family, of marriage, of relationships; this conversation should be one of great priority.
In closing I look forward to hearing more of the specific work being undertaken by Explore and hope you will want to support it. I remain inspired by, and committed to, the vision of marriage held out in the preface to the Marriage Service in the Church of England.
Marriage is given that a husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together. In times of need as well as in plenty, in sadness and in joy, in sickness and in health; It is given that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love. It is given as the foundation of family life, in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance with God’s will, to his praise and glory. In marriage a couple belong together and live life in the community; it is a way of life created and hallowed by God, that all should honour.” – Wedding liturgy