Christians need to create families; and here is how; give up the Romantic modal!

by | May 5, 2023

There is a crises occuring – and has been occuring my whole life in the Church; that the so called leaders of the Church are doing nothing about; because they have no vision. Harsh words I know; but read on. In 2014 Pew Research a leading network of academics who study the phenomena of religious practice found the following: In the United States, the median age of Christians is 49 years old, compared to 46 years old for the general population. In Europe, the median age of Christians is 42 years old, compared to 40 years old for the general population. Similarly, in Australia and New Zealand, the median age of Christians is 49 years old, compared to 38 years old for the general population. So that leads to an obvious question: where are all the young people – where are all the children? The same study found the following: Christians have an average of 2.2 children, compared to 2.6 for the general population and 2.9 for Muslims. In Europe, Christians have an average of 1.6 children, compared to 1.7 for the general population and 2.6 for Muslims. Christians are simply not having enough children!

Brethren, let me challenge you in the simplest terms; how old are you; and how old would you say are the adults in your church? Now do the same exercise for all the fellowships to which you have belonged? The vast majority of you will know exactly what I am getting at when you perform – and if you are fortunate enough to belong to a trend bucking church – then kudos to you; that is not the picture for most Christian fellowships in the west. We have walked into a demographic time bomb; because our leaders were weak, selfish and absorbed in everything that was not important to the survival of the Church. Christians in the west average a birth rate of 1.6; which is lower than those of no religion at 1.7; and significantly lower than those of the average Muslim family at 2.1 according as found by the European social survey. This pictures changes dramatically once we move outside of Europe; and the figures are far healthier. However, that does nothing to help Christians in Europe.

Whilst a significant part of the problem is our inability as Christians to hold on to our youth; a topic I have touched on in other articles; and part of our problem is that their is a huge imbalance between men and women in the Church; something that Muscular Christianity does address (and I talk about this all the time). There are two other parts to this picture; I have spoken about – one at length; which is how thinly spread Christians are in the west; making it hard for us to find one another, and how lacking we are in society; in carving out a distinct identity of our own – so that we could spot one another in a crowd; I mean could you? The other major element of our problem is: that we have bought into the same failed model as the rest of the western world as to how we couple up.

The romance modal is the one popularised in literature from the 1700s and in movies since the time people first filmed a train. The idea is that in some fatalistic way; you will happen chance upon the ‘love of your life’; and then eventually marry and live happy ever after; considering the increasing number of marriages that fail in divorce; and the decreasing number of people getting married in the first place; and the rising endemic of single people in all age groups; (fact check me if you think I am making it up) and I think it is fair to say – that for too many people; the romantic modal is failing too many – for us to go along with it; but go along with it we did! I want to say again; what I said at the beginning of this article; we have inherited a catastrophe from visionless ‘leaders’, who were too weak willed to help the church cut a different path; contrary to the wider trends of society. They accepted the changes of society; unquestioningly and uncritically; of course, they tried to sprinkle some Christianity over the top – and failed – but that was about it! Christians pastors and leaders have created a Church that turns relationships and sexual urges into a fetish; only to be discussed in dark corners of the church with blushed faces; and no sense of how to actually create a culture in which people can couple up; invariably, therefore the only modal was that of the world’s dating; again and again; outside of the Church setting; and community; which had lead countless Christians – understandably to fall into sin. This author included.

By far, the most successful push back – and drastic attempt at counter culture within these compromised visionless churches was that advocated by Joshua Harris, in which Christians; were encouraged to discern – in a community setting – whether a they were a good match; with a clear view to marriage. It correctly identified the shallowness of the romantic modal; and the pain that emerged from it. His thesis was to replace ‘dating’ with ‘courtship in community’; in which family and trusted adult both advice and chaperone the couples courting. Christian critics, who have no concept of ‘church discipline’ criticised the book; (one supposes they were happy with sleeping together). The problem with this approach; is that it can be incredibly damaging if a strong culture and surroundings are their to support it; and where the emotional intelligence of the community is being driven by characterisations of its own values; and how to live them out. The only problem with the I kissed dating goodbye thesis; is that it leans into the error of perfectionism; that is the bane of the purity movement in the USA; and it does not fully appreciate how important a wider community context is to make work. The author himself has gone onto repudiate his own work and his own life as a Christian. He was right and I can prove he was right, with the proper adjustments, why; because we have an example of folks who have lived it successfully for centuries. They are Christians called the Amish!

To make something like this – work – you need the Benedict option; its that simple; and its only in a Benedict option style community can this work successfully; don’t take my word for it; look at the Amish community has a birth rate of 5.2 compared to the national average of the USA of 1.8; add to this modal a robust muscular Christianity (as I talk about ad nauseum) and you have a working modal that could really shake it up for the western Church; perhaps that one stat was not enough; how about this; over 90% of all Amish adults are married; and they have a retention rate of their youth which is also over 90%. If wisdom is known by her children – then Amish are wise!

However, I hear you object that we are not in a Benedict option Christian; well the answer is simple – get into one; and advocate the forming of them in your own area! However, lets see how this modal works amongst the Amish and see if we can adapt for our time; without just trying to re-write ‘I kissed dating goodbye’. The Amish have a structured understanding of what happens; and everyone in their communities understand it; and is committed to it; these stages are:

  1. Socializing: Young Amish people are encouraged to socialize with one another in a variety of settings, including church services, but especially youth group events, and communal activities. However, these interactions are generally supervised and limited, with the goal of maintaining emotional and physical purity. The point is though; they are being ENCOURAGED to socialise; within community!
  2. Courtship: If a young man and woman are interested in each other, they may enter into a period of courtship, in which they spend time getting to know each other under the watchful eye of their families and community. Courtship may involve going on group dates, attending church events together, or doing household chores or other tasks together. Please note – they are not dating alone!
  3. Engagement: If the courtship goes well and the couple feels that they are meant to be together, they may become engaged. This is typically a private agreement between the couple and their families, and may involve the exchange of gifts or other tokens of affection.
  4. Marriage: After a period of engagement, the couple will be married in a church ceremony.

Christians need to be deliberate about socialising in such a way as that it is understood by all; that you are there to find a partner; and that we deliberately seek to get married anyone single in our circles, unless of course; they are a committed celibate. That means Christians circles need to be highly social and highly relaxed about talking to someone you like; it needs to normalised that the women of the Church; are going to be approached suitors. That couples will be attending these events together; that includes both engaged; discerning and married couples. Christians should be known as the people – always trying to get one another married. IF we are not willing to commit to genuine Benedict modals of Church, then we should expect some couples to go too far; and it should be understood; in our circles, that when two people are discerning; that more than ever; they need a mother or father of confession and relate to them closely in this period; and if they make a mistake; and falter which some will; some mechanism of reparation and restoration is in place. We have to lower our denominational walls; to increase the success of creating couples; (a happy accident to which) will be a more unified Church. Christian fellowships need to be deliberate about mixing and mingling their congregations; pastors have to be brave; prioritising the good of the whole body; over their own bank balance. We need to values large families in Christian circles. So Christian – have at it – try to get everyone you know married; and try to cultivate a culture; in which Christians have no need to go to bars; pubs or clubs; because they know every Christian outing they go to – everyone is trying to get them married anyway.

The demographic bomb is going off, now, as you read this article; but for the Church there is a way of turning things around – and its being even more committed to everything our faith teaches; not being less so! I will leave you to consider my argument with the story of the life of Saint Valentine ringing in your ears; if I have won you to my position please share this article with others.

Valentine; lived in Rome and was a priest there who dedicated much of his time supporting persecuted Christians in the city; who were suffering at the hands of that savage hater of the Church Claudius the Goth II; he had come to the attention of the Roman authorities because of his great activism in the cause of the Church. He was noted for defying the ban of the emperor upon those men; who had not yet finished their term in the army to marry; due to it being a Christian imperative the saint – against the law – blessed a number of couples; including a number of Christian soldiers and their wives! He was arrested – at his trial it was asked by the emperor:

“Why, Valentine, do you want to be a friend of our enemies and reject our friendship?”

The Saint replied “My lord, if you knew the gift of God, you would be happy together with your empire and would reject the worship of idols and worship the true God and His Son Jesus Christ.”

He was asked what he thought about Jupiter and Mercury, to which he replied replied, “They are miserable, and spent their lives through corruption and crime!”

He was decried in the court with the words: “He blasphemes against the gods and against the empire!”

A back and fourth ensued between emperor and saint; which the Valentine valiantly defended the faith and advertised its many benefits finally making this appeal to emperor and the court in the likeness of the Apostles before him: “Believe in Jesus Christ, be baptized and you will be saved, and from this time forward the glory of your empire will be ensured as well as the triumph of your armies.”

Claudius became sympathetic and intrigued saying: “What a beautiful teaching this man preaches.” to wit the court replied: “See how this Christian misleads even the Emperor.”

Whist in prison St Valentine continued to bless the marriages; and facilitate the couplings of Christians he knew to be single and in need of spouse; he healed one of the daughters of court of blindness; leading him to convert and destroy his idols. St Valentine – for these crimes against the law of the emperor and the gods of Rome; was with other Christians; whom he encouraged to the end martyred by torture and beheading on 14 February in the year 268 AD.