Man, Woman and Family: Convergence Among Faiths
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Man, Woman and Family: Convergence Among Faiths

Man, Woman and Family: Convergence Among Faiths

Michael Nazir-Ali FAITH MAGAZINE January - February 2015

Everyone who is anyone was there: Evangelicals and Catholics; Jews and Muslims; Sunni and Shia; the “Dharmic’ religions of Asia; and scholars from different disciplines. I am referring, of course, to the colloquium Humanum, which was held recently in Rome and was organised by a number of discasteries in the Vatican, led by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Coming after the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, and preceding this year’s follow-up, it had a special appeal for many.

Pope Francis inaugurated the colloquium by declaring that the complementarity of man and woman was part of the order of creation and was the foundation for the co-existence of diversity. This was why the Church continued to insist that marriage was between a man and a woman, so that there could be a union of those who were similar and yet also different. This is also the basis for a proper anthropology of family, in which children need both a mother and a father.

This theme was repeated throughout the event. On the excellent DVDs, Peter Kreeft kept pointing out that the complementarity of male and female was a feature of the universe and of our language about our fellow-creatures in it. Tom Wright, also on film, pointed out that the imago dei of Genesis 1:26, 27 had, as background, the idea of a god’s image being placed in a temple. According to Genesis 2, Adam bears this image even in solitude but it is most fully expressed in his relationship with the woman, later called Eve. The creation together of man and woman, in God’s image, and their placement in the temple of the world, is Genesis’s response to the surrounding religions of the time.

As might be expected, complementarity was strongly affirmed by the Muslim and Jewish speakers. The former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, appealed to the insights of science and history. According to him, it is the meeting of opposites that generates diversity. Because of the time it takes for a human child to grow up, pair-bonding seems to have been the norm in pre-agricultural societies. It was the emergence of “added value” in agricultural societies, along with the monopolisation of land and the means of production by the powerful, that made non-monogamous relationships possible. Monogamy reflects monotheism (Christians might say the relational in the Godhead) and also the covenant between God and Israel.

Sr Prudence Allen, a Thomistic philosopher, set out four principles of complementarity: equal dignity, significant difference, synergetic relationships and intergenerational relevance. Scientific discoveries need to be harmonised with revealed truth. She pointed out, in this connection, how the facts of conception, as we now know them, confirm complementarity.

Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the CDF, was not the only one to remind us that the ego struggles against the demand of mutual dependence, which complementarity implies. The Buddhist, the Venerable Nissho Takeuchi, spoke, in this context, of the “hypocrisy of the ego” in recoiling from unconditional love. Professor Wael Farooq, a Muslim, emphasised the importance of “wise love” rather than the “blind love” of mere passion so prevalent these days. In this, he was supported by a young Argentinian, Ignacio Ibarzabal of Grupo Solido. This group is in the vanguard of a “rebellion of sound love” against the ephemeral, experimental and dysfunctional. As Pastor Johann Arnold of the Bruderhof told us, this “sound love” leads to the communion of marriage and of families.

For many faiths, the home is central to our understanding of community, and the wider community derives its strength from the family. Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers showed us how the weakening of marriage and family, among the African-Americans with whom she works, has led to a threadbare social fabric. She told us that those arguing for transient relationships and different forms of family may be doing this as a way of justifying their own preferred sexual culture. As Russell Moore, a Baptist, put it, the so-called sexual revolution is just another form of patriarchy with men still calling the shots. Cooke-Rivers told us that unwed, cohabiting women still aspire to get married. This is why, according to Janne Haaland Matláry, a former Norwegian Secretary of State, contemporary “rights” culture has to be brought into harmony with Natural Law. As Nuremberg had shown, there is a higher law than the positive law of nations and every child has the right to be brought up by his or her parents.

We should affirm the authority of God’s Word, said Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and that gender is God-given. Sex was created for the bonding of a pair and for the sake of the family. Such a bonding is life-long. We should not only defend but celebrate these things. People should be given confidence that, even in a broken world, biblical marriage is possible. This can be done through testimony by married people, on appropriate occasions, such as the renewal of marriage vows. We should publicly recognise and reward faithfulness and the nurture of children. Small church groups should be so structured that they support married as well as single people. We should co-operate in a media strategy, especially regarding the new media.

The importance of preparation, for both religious and civil marriage was emphasised. Both Church and State have a responsibility to ensure adequate preparation for those planning to get married. There should be support also for parenting, with mothers and fathers equipped for their complementary roles in bringing up children. Where divorce is easy, thought should be given to how couples are to appreciate the seriousness and solemnity of the step they are taking. The pre-nuptial covenants emerging in parts of the US were given as examples. There was also a call for the state to recognise and support marriage through the tax system, though it was recognised that this could take different forms in different countries.

The Colloquium has laid down an enormous challenge to those who question or deny the importance of the normative family for personal and social flourishing. Will the challenge be taken up, or will we continue to be dished out the tired old nostrums of the permissive society with little to back them up?

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